Belgian prison conditions
31 July 2017, the Divisional Court handed down the case of Purcell and Penall v Belgium  EWHC 1981 (Admin). The Appellants appealed against the order for their extradition to Belgium on the basis that if they are extradited, there is a real risk that they will be subjected to inhuman and/or degrading treatment due to the Belgian prison conditions. The thrust of the argument rests on the conditions of Belgian prisons during prison staff strikes.
What was the argument?
It was submitted that strikes were widespread and during industrial strikes, there was no guaranteed minimum service in prison. As a result, prisoners were detained in their cell for prolonged periods of time in intolerable conditions. As a result, they was also an impact on their access to health care, legal advice and family visits.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has, since 2005, called for a guaranteed minimum service during industrial strikes in Belgian prisons. The latest call for such action was released in a public statement on 13 July 2017.
The Appellants submitted that there was a breach of their Article 3 rights, unless Belgium provided further information and an assurance.
What did Belgium say?
In the present case, Belgium did provide the Court with information that the strikes occurred exclusively in French speaking prisons. They gave an assurance that the Appellants would be placed in Beveran prison. That is a Dutch speaking prison that opened in March 2014. Beveran prison is said to be below its maximum occupancy and provides regular facilities and activities to prisoners detained there.
However, the Divisional Court did not agree with the Appellants that the CPT report was sufficient to displace the presumption that Belgium prisons were Article 3 compliant. Therefore, no assurances need to be obtained in other extradition cases to Belgium.
On 1 August 2017, a judge in the Court of Amsterdam considered the case. The result was that all Belgian extradition requests were stayed. The decision came about as a result of the same CPT report that the Divisional Court had considered. The Dutch Judge has asked for further information about detention conditions in Belgian prisons and it will be interesting to see if the Court of Amsterdam will reach the same conclusion as the Divisional Court.
Other prison condition cases
This is one of a series of cases involving prison conditions. At the present time, there are cases involving Belgium, Hungary, Romania, and France, as well as others. Although conditions in some of those countries are very poor, some of the issues that are being raised sound very similar to the conditions in prisons in this country. The CPT report on prison conditions in this country can be found here.
Please contact us on 0207 388 1658, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to discuss your extradition matter with us further. We can advise if you would be eligible for legal aid for extradition matters. We have a dedicated team of lawyers specialising in extradition who are here to help you.
If you want to know more about the basics of extradition, you can read about it here
Cheryl Low, Solicitor