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Court: Jailing Russian prisoners far from families breached human rights law

Jailing prisoners thousands of miles away from relatives violated their right to family life, Strasbourg judges ruled today.

The European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of each applicant in the case of Polyakova and Others v. Russia (application nos. 35090/09, 35845/11, 45694/13 and 59747/14).

It was brought by applicants who are either prisoners, or the family members of prisoners, who were adversely affected by decisions of the Russian Federal Penal Authority (“the FSIN”) to imprison individuals far from their families.

The applicants complained that the decisions to allocate prisoners to remote penal facilities -and their subsequent inability to obtain transfers – had violated their right to respect for family life.

The court held that the distance between the penal facilities and homes of the prisoners’ families – ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 kilometres – was so great that it had inflicted hardship on the persons concerned.

In particular, one applicant (who is a prisoner) had been unable to see his mother prior to her death; whilst another applicant (a young child born after her father’s incarceration) had never been able to see her father. The location of the imprisonments had interfered with the applicants’ right to family life.

Furthermore, this interference had not been in accordance with the law. Quality of law standards require that domestic law affords protection against arbitrariness in the exercise of discretion left to the executive authorities. However, Russian law had not required the FSIN to consider the impact that a penal facility’s location might have on the family life of the applicants.

Moreover, the law had not provided the applicants with a realistic opportunity to obtain a transfer to another penal facility on grounds relating to the right to respect for family life – either through an application to the FSIN itself, or through a judicial review of its decisions.

The court also found a violation of Article 6 (right to a fair trial) in respect of one of the applicants.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The court held that Russia was to pay 652 euros (EUR) to Ms Polyakova in respect of pecuniary damage; EUR 24,800 to the applicants in total in respect of non-pecuniary damage; and EUR 2,220 to the applicants in total in respect of costs and expenses.

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