Kargakis v. Greece: Protection in Substance for Detainees with Disabilities but a Web of Missed Opportunities

By Andrea Broderick (Assistant Professor of International and European Law, Maastricht University, The Netherlands) and Delia Ferri (Professor of Law, Maynooth University, Ireland)

Delia Ferri and Andrea Broderick have collaborated on several recent publications, including the first textbook on International and European Disability Law and Policy: Texts, Cases and Materials (Cambridge University Press, 2019), and the first Research Handbook on EU Disability Law (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020).

On 14 January 2021, the ECtHR released its ruling in the case of Kargakis v. Greece (press release available in English). The case centres on the conditions of pre-trial detention of Mr. Kleanthis Kargakis in Diavata Prison, the lack of an effective remedy to complain about those conditions and the length of judicial review proceedings. Taking into account the fact that Mr. Kargakis is a person with disabilities and having regard to the duration of his imprisonment, the Strasbourg Court held that the conditions in which he was detained amounted to a violation of Article 3 ECHR, containing the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court also found that Greece breached Article 13 ECHR, which enshrines the right to an effective remedy, on account of the fact that the domestic court did not adequately examine the conditions of detention and health issues experienced by the applicant.

The ruling in Kargakis v. Greece is noteworthy due to the Court’s finding that the pre-trial detention conditions in Diavata Prison exceeded the threshold of suffering inherent to the deprivation of liberty because the prison facilities were not adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. While the Strasbourg Judges did not explicitly discuss Greece’s international law obligations to provide generalised accessibility measures and individualised reasonable accommodation, the ECtHR acknowledged the rights of detainees with disabilities to an accessible place of detention. In that sense, the decision fits neatly into a long line of previous cases, such as Price v. UK, Z.H. v. Hungary and Grimailovs v. Latvia, in which the Court has recognised the general duty of Contracting Parties to the ECHR to provide accessible prison settings, alongside the obligation to take all ‘reasonable steps’ to address the individual needs of detainees with a disability. Unfortunately, the Court did not refer to, or incorporate into its reasoning in Kargakis v. Greece, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In that regard, the decision constitutes a missed opportunity to foster convergence between the ECHR and the CRPD.

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