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Hungarian prison conditions are still not up to the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights

Hungary has failed to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights that established large-scale rights violations concerning detention conditions. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has expressed concern several times regarding the recent surge in the number of persons detained in Hungarian penitentiaries, which led to overcrowding and substandard detention conditions. Additionally, evidence is provided by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) that there is still a lack of effective remedy for prisoners against decisions taken in the prison system, along with the compensation system suffering from several shortcomings already clearly identified by the Committee of Ministers.

The HHC has been closely following the execution of the pilot judgment issued in the Varga and Others v. Hungary case by the European Court of Human Rights. As part of these efforts, the HHC has uncovered that Hungarian prisons are overcrowded again, which clearly shows that the Government has failed to implement a lasting solution to the structural problems brought to light by the István Gábor Kovács v. Hungary (15707/10) and Varga and Others v. Hungary (14097/12) group of cases. 

Therefore, the HHC has prepared a new submission to provide evidence that a lasting solution to the structural problems of substandard detention conditions has yet to be implemented, which, as the HHC argues, requires the Government’s commitment through a criminal policy preferring restorative justice and alternative sanctions and investing in the institutional system of implementing alternatives.

Thus, the purpose of the HHC’s submission is, on the one hand, to provide the Committee of Ministers with a comprehensive view of the prison conditions in Hungary by sharing the practical experience and other information available to the HHC and, on the other hand, to refute or support the claims of the Government’s latest Action Report on the basis of the available data and the HHC’s practical experience and to make recommendations accordingly. The submission contains the most recent information and related recommendations on the following:

  1. The surge in prison population resulted in prison overcrowding, as well as the highest prison population in 33 years, which is caused by the underuse of non-custodial sanctions in all phases of criminal procedures.
  2. Other substandard conditions of detention beyond overcrowding (e.g. pest infestation, insufficient reintegration activities, the overall ban on physical contact between visitors and detainees constituting a violation of Article 8 of the Convention as established by the ECtHR) that lead to inhuman and degrading punishment remain unresolved.
  3. The lack of effective remedies against decisions taken in the prison system, as well as compensation for inadequate detention conditions, suffers from a number of shortcomings.
  4. Further shortcomings remain unresolved regarding the material conditions and treatment of persons with disabilities in prisons.

In the final part of its submission to the Committee of Ministers, the HHC communicated its firm view that the group of cases should not be closed at this point and respectfully recommended to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to continue to examine this group of cases under the enhanced procedure. In HHC’s view, the Hungarian Government should be under scrutiny for not having tended to the issues above in a meaningful way that would have been in line with the content and spirit of the related ECtHR judgments.

 

The entire communication of the HHC is available here:

Communication of the HHC to the Committee of Ministers in the István Gábor Kovács and Varga and Others v. Hungary cases (December 2023)

 

The HHC’s short response to the Government’s January 2024 Action Report is available here:

Communication of the HHC to the Committee of Ministers in the István Gábor Kovács and Varga and Others v. Hungary cases (February 2024)




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Hungarian Helsinki Committee