A former police constable, currently serving a prison term at the Corradino Correctional Facility, has been awarded €5,000 by way of non-pecuniary damages by the European Court of Human Rights.
The court found that Jean Pierre Abdilla had lacked an effective remedy concerning detention conditions before the local courts.
Mr Abdilla had been sentenced, back in December 2009, to a 16-year jail term over drug-related charges. He was also fined €40,000 and the punishment was confirmed on appeal four years later.
Throughout his detention, save for two brief periods in 2011 when he was placed in the high security unit at Division 6, the man was placed inside various cells within Division 2, a 200-year-old structure, with triple-barred windows, lacking light and air, with three skylights that were kept closed even in summer.
Six years into his prison term, the overall conditions of his detention led Mr Abdilla to file an application before the European Court in September 2015 claiming that those conditions violated his right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in terms of Article 3 of the convention.
The applicant further claimed a breach of Article 13 since he lacked an effective remedy under the Maltese system, in respect of the conditions faced behind bars.
Not only was the environment squalid and foul-smelling, but after December 2011, he had been moved to a cell that was uncomfortably close to the prison bakery, a source of fumes and excessive heat, the applicant alleged.
Three years later, he had been moved to a cell that was “very small” with “very little ventilation” causing him to suffer claustrophobia.
The applicant had also complained about the “non-nutritious” quality of the food, served in small, take-away boxes from a kitchen that was “so dirty that mice were found dead in it”.
The lack of an automated toilet-flushing system, inadequate showers, insufficient hot water during the winter months, a non-functioning emergency buzzer as well as humid and cold cells were among the many conditions described by the applicant.
He also complained about the meagre earnings from the “Work and Pay” scheme, claiming that he was paid some €15 for a full day’s work, whilst forking out some €100 a month for personal hygiene and a TV subscription.
After taking note of these complaints, countered by submissions on behalf of the Maltese government, the ECHR observed that the applicant had given “no details whatsoever” as to the alleged squalid environment prevalent in Division 2.
Moreover, the applicant had failed to substantiate his claim regarding the defective emergency buzzer when he allegedly needed help when confined to bed. Nor had he brought evidence to rebut the government’s statement that all cells were above the standard size recommended by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
On the basis of all evidence, the court concluded that the overall conditions “did not subject him to distress or hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention”.
However, the court unanimously held that there had been a violation of Article 13 of the Convention, noting further that despite the government’s suggestion made in earlier cases before the ECHR, “no new remedy has yet been put into place” to ensure the timely handling of such complaints and also to prevent were necessary the continuation of such conditions.
For this reason, the court awarded the applicant €5,000 payable by the Maltese state within three months from judgment.
Legal aid counsel Yanika Bugeja assisted the applicant.
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