Italy/ECtHR: ‘Pilot’ judgement condemns Italy for inhuman and degrading treatment in overcrowded jails

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Series Details Volume 15, Number 2
Publication Date February 2013
ISSN 1756-851X
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In its ruling in the Torreggiani and others vs. Italy case issued on 8 January 2013, the second section of the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg condemned Italy for violating article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) due to prison conditions experienced by seven detainees in Busto Arsizio and Piacenza (in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna) regarding cases 43517/09, 46882/09, 55400/09, 57875/09, 61535/09, 35315/10 and 37818/10.

On 5 June 2012, the court informed the parties that it would issue a “pilot” sentence, in view of the structural and systemic problem of overcrowding in the Italian prison system for which a state of emergency was declared in 2010. The “several hundreds” of applications against Italy that it has received “from different Italian prisons” on similar grounds confirm the “chronic disfunction” of the Italian prison system. Official statistics also support this view, indicating a slight decrease in overcrowding from 151% in 2010 (67,961 prisoners when the maximum capacity of the prison system is 45,000) to 148% (66,585) on 13 April 2012, in spite of measures adopted in the context of a “prisons plan” to resolve the emergency.

The structural and systemic nature of the problem allowed the court to apply article 46.1 of the ECHR to its ruling due to the “growing number of people who are potentially concerned”, creating an obligation for the state to implement the measures required at a general and/or individual level to safeguard the rights of the applicant and other people in the same situation. A year is allowed to enable the state to implement the necessary measures, during which it will refrain from issuing judgements on cases submitted on similar grounds. It proposed specific measures, actions or policy directions to be adopted by the respondent state to remedy the problem.

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