Update on Prison Conditions in Europe
Since the early attacks on prison conditions in Europe in Part 1 countries, there has been significant reticence by Courts in England and Wales to acknowledge the reality of the appalling conditions in which many extradited people are detained on their return. For the defence, the challenge is always one of evidence, particularly given the time lag between a CPT visit and the publication of the corresponding reports. Finding credible sources of information about the internal conditions of prisons is a constant struggle.
Since the Lithuanian cases of Janovic  EWHC 710 (Admin) and Nesukaitis  EWHC 304 (Admin) attitudes towards these problems have necessarily changed. Dicta in Jan Rot v District Court of Lublin,  EWHC 1820 (Admin) and Targosinski v Judicial Authority of Poland  EWHC 312 (Admin), effectively that prison conditions need not be considered in Category One countries, has been superseded. Courts have considered conditions in countries including Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and now Belgium. We have moved on a little.
That being said, disappointingly our Courts have not been at the forefront of a desire to preserve the Article 3 rights of those returned by extradition. The now more-or-less rebuffed test of “something akin to international consensus” meant our courts looked to the decisions of other EU states for the confidence to make an issue of information suggesting minimum standards were being flouted in requesting states. The tempered progress in examining prison conditions is a clear manifestation of the politics and diplomacy at the heart of Extradition.
The truth of the situation is that prison conditions in many countries with poor CPT reports are not improving. There is a lack of political will and/or financial resources available in many of those countries to address the problems. As long as that is the reality, Courts will have to increasingly scrutinise those conditions, no matter how uncomfortable the exercise.
The focus of these cases now is, of course, the adherence to diplomatic assurances which have been routinely accepted by our Courts guaranteeing certain conditions of detention. Since Aleksynas  EWHC 437 (Admin) we have seen greater and greater use of them, and practically speaking, they are written with heavy handed guidance from the CPS and tailored to allay the Court’s concern in each jurisdiction.
What next for European prison conditions?
Romania has problems in adhering to its assurances, although its government appears to show strong will to resolve the problems. Grecu  EWHC 1427 (Admin) has allowed extradition to continue. The interesting question is how many breaches will be tolerated?
Have withdrawn their assurance for all requests after May this year without significant further information being provided. Conditions, we understand, are not substantially different that existed during GS  4 W.L.R. 33 but evidentially the position remains difficult. We also await an unreported decision as to alleged breaches of the assurance.
Purcell  EWHC 1981 (Admin) has been decided and extradition can continue to Belgium. Transcripts are not available online but can be provided. It does not appear that the strike issue is completely over, however, and the Netherlands have just stopped extradition pending further information being provided to them (see https://www.liberties.eu/en/short-news/19774).
The third decision in Kirchanov and Others (as yet unreported) determined that despite the breaches of the original assurance, return can continue on a new formulation. That being said there is some merit in pursuing any cases in Varna, Burgas or Sofia, where conditions are considerably worse than in other areas and where it is arguable that even the new assurance cannot be adhered to.