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France: Severely disabled inmate’s jail conditions breached human rights law

Judges ruled today that the detention conditions of a severely disabled prisoner violated European human rights law.

In its chamber judgment1 in the case of Helhal v. France (application no. 10401/12) the

European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights

As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that France was to pay the applicant 7,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,000 in respect of costs and expenses.

The case concerned the compatibility of a disabled prisoner’s state of health with his continuing detention and the arrangements for his care in prison.

The applicant, Mohammed Helhal, is an Algerian national who was born in 1972. He is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for murder, attempted murder and assault. He has been detained since September 2014 in Poitiers-Vivonne Prison.

On 28 March 2006, while he was in prison in Nancy, Mr Helhal fell several metres while trying to escape. He sustained a fractured spine resulting in paraplegia of the lower limbs and urinary and faecal incontinence. Following the accident he was transferred to prisons in Mulhouse, Metz, Fresnes and, in 2009, to Uzerche Prison.

The court found in particular that, although the Helhal’s continuing detention did not in itself constitute inhuman or degrading treatment in the light of his disability, the inadequacy of the physical rehabilitation treatment provided to him and the fact that the prison premises were not adapted to his disability amounted to a breach of Article 3 of the convention.

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