EU Watch

Citing Torture Concern, Italy Court Blocks Prisoner Extradition to Romania

The court said Italian authorities must reexamine the risk of inhuman or degrading treatment that could occur once the prisoner is returned to Romania.

by Valeria Pescini

Uncertain fate

The Italian Court of Cassation has overturned a lower court’s ruling that government must surrender Romanian national C.D. Enache to Romanian authorities, pursuant to a European arrest warrant. The Court of Cassation agreed with Enache’s appeal against the extradition order, issued by the Court of Appeals of Venice, because it would violate Italian law forbidding any extradition that places the person in danger of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Court of Cassation’s decision makes reference to established case law that requires the government to exhaustively ascertain that deported people are not at grave risk upon their return. This is especially true when the extradition has been requested by states, like Romania, with prison systems notorious for their abuse and substandard conditions.

European precedents

The Court also referred to case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – in particular, the joined cases of Aranyosi and Căldăraru, which affirmed that extraditing states must seek all necessary information and perform ‘concrete and precise’ checks on the prison conditions and treatment in a destination country.

In the present case, the Court of Cassation determined that the information provided by Romanian authorities was insufficient in order to verify the prison conditions awaiting Enache. The Court was particularly concerned that Romanian authorities refused to say to which prison Enache would be sent, nor would they detail the detention regime Enache would live under.

In addition to citing CJEU case law, the Court of Cassation also made reference to a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling concerning minimum individual space in prisons. In Muršić v. Croatia, the ECtHR held that the cell space provided to each inmate must be taken into consideration when determining violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. The ECtHR ruled in Muršić that cells should be at least three square metres in size or else risk violating Article 3.

New evaluation needed

In the present case, the Italian court determined that there was a ‘strong presumption’ that Romania would violate Article 3 in its detention of Enache. Because of this presumption, the court said, the burden fell on Italian authorities to ensure that their Romanian counterparts would agree to three elements to compensate adequately for any lack of personal space: a fixed, short-term of the detention; the detainee’s sufficient freedom of movement and access to adequate activities outside the cell; and the existence of generally fair prison conditions.

According to the Court of Cassation, the information provided by Romanian authorities failed to satisfy these three elements and did not give any assurances about the overall quality of Enache’s detention. Because of this, the Court overturned the appellate court’s ruling and ordered a new evaluation – following the principles mentioned above – in order to ascertain the real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment awaiting Enache in Romania. The Court referred the case back to a different section of the Court of Appeal of Venice for a new judgment.