(CN) – Parting with the advice of its magistrate, the European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday prison conditions must be assessed before prisoners can be extradited – regardless of the prisoner’s newly minted opportunity to challenge inhuman conditions in court.
The Luxembourg-based high court’s decision stems from Germany’s request for a preliminary ruling in the case of of a Hungarian man sentenced to prison in absentia on charges of bodily harm, property damage, fraud and theft. After German police arrested the man, Hungarian authorities demanded he be extradited to serve out his prison sentence.
The man opposed extradition, claiming he would be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment common in Hungarian prisons. The German court deciding the extradition asked Hungarian authorities for details on where the man would be detained and for assurances he would be treated well.
While Hungarian authorities were slow in providing the German court with the requested information, they eventually answered and noted 2016 legislation that gave inmates access to the courts to complain about prison abuse. But the delay in receiving answers – and concerns the Hungarian legislation hadn’t fully taken effect – led the German court to ask for clarification as to whether the legislation was enough to allow the extradition.
But while the EU court’s magistrate advised a finding that Hungary’s improvements meant the man’s extradition should proceed – and that Germany’s probe into conditions at Hungarian prisons was too involved – the full European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday that German authorities must assess general conditions of any and all prisons where Hungary expects to hold the man.
Furthermore, the EU court said the man’s new ability to challenge prison conditions in court isn’t enough to rule out a “real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment.”
Pointing to a 2017 finding by the European Court of Human Rights, the EU high court said that while the legislation may give prisoners an avenue to seek remedies for prison overcrowding and other unsuitable conditions, it hasn’t been tested and the rights court reserved the right to re-examine its effectiveness when put into real practice.
As for prison conditions, the EU high court advised German authorities to consider the detainee’s age, gender and overall health and to look especially at the amount of personal space he’ll have in a Hungarian prison. Taking a cue from past European Court of Human Rights rulings, the justices advised a minimum of just over 32 square feet of personal space.
Furthermore, the EU high court said that while being confined in a space smaller than that may be acceptable for short periods of time, the 20 days Hungary expects to hold the man in tight quarters is too long – particularly since Hungary has indicated the time “may be extended in the event of ‘circumstances.’”
It’s up to the German authorities to make the correct determination within the scope of Wednesday’s ruling, the EU high court said.