Mouisel v. France (Application No. No 67263/01 (2002) ECHR 740)
Petition alleging Jean Mouisel’s rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated. In the context of serious illness, Mouisel’s continued detention, and conditions of detention constituted torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; right to adequate medical treatment; right to conditional release for serious illness; right to be free from excessive hardship due to incarceration; State’s positive obligations to elderly, sick or frail prisoners.
Jean Mouisel suffered from chronic lymphatic leukaemia. He was sentenced in 1996 to fifteen years' imprisonment for armed robbery. In 1999, while in prison, his condition deteriorated, requiring chemotherapy. He was transported to the hospital in handcuffs and claimed he was restrained during chemotherapy, though this was not proven. He stopped treatment in June 2000 citing conditions of treatment and aggressive behavior by guards. A June 28, 2000 medical report, produced by a request of the Ministry of Justice, concluded Mouisel required treatment in a specialized clinic. On July 19, 2000 he was transferred to a prison closer to a hospital. On March 22, 2001 he was released on parole until March 20, 2005 on the condition that he was receiving medical treatment. Mouisel alleged his medical condition was incompatible with continued detention, and that detention and the conditions of his imprisonment violated his right to be free from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court determined that the prisoner’s Article 3 rights had been violated, however, the Court did not find Article 3 created a general obligation to release prisoners in ill health. Article 3 does create a positive duty for States to provide necessary medical treatment and to protect prisoners from distress or hardship beyond that inherent in incarceration. In Mouisel’s case, continued detention, particularly following the report, undermined his dignity and caused him unnecessary hardship. The prison was not equipped to deal with Mouisel’s declining health. Authorities failed to take appropriate measures like admitting him to hospital or another institution where he could be properly monitored. Given his sickness and frailty, handcuffing Mouisel during transport to the hospital was disproportionate to the security risk he posed. Finally, the conditions of Mouisel’s transfer to a second prison, then a hospital, rather than the recommended specialized care unit were not in accordance with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture’s recommendations.
Mouisel was awarded €15,000 in damages for the anxiety he experienced as result of his detention.
The decision clarified that Article 3 does not create an obligation to release prisoners on grounds of ill health, but it does create an obligation to preserve the physical integrity of prisoners. This obligation includes providing adequate medical care. Where prisons cannot provide an acceptable level of care, States may have an obligation to transfer the prisoner to a facility that can provide proper treatment. The State is responsible for preventing incarcerated persons from suffering hardship inherent in imprisonment. The State’s positive obligations to a detainee may depend upon factors such as age or illness. Finally, the Court sanctions the conditional release of prisoners with incurable diseases requiring regular treatment.