Published: 2 Oct 2019
Gorlov & others v Russia
Case Nos: 27057/06 and 2 others
Judgment date: 2 July 2019
The case originated in three applications against the Russian Federation by Russian nationals who were either incarcerated or had been kept in a pre-trial detention centre. Each was subject to constant CCTV surveillance in their cells, monitored by female guards which they argued was in breach of their right to respect for private life.
On an unspecified date the third applicant lodged a complaint regarding his surveillance at the Ingodinskiy District Court. In July 2013 the District Court dismissed his complaint, observing that Article 83 of the Russian Code of Execution of Criminal Sentences and section 34(1) of the Pre-trial Detention Act enabled the use of audio and video equipment for surveillance and control with a view to preventing escapes and other crimes or breaches of internal order, and that the Constitutional Court had found that surveillance ensured detainees’ personal safety, respect for their rights and performance of their obligations.
In September 2013 the Zabaykalskiy Regional Court upheld the first-instance judgment.
The Court found that the permanent CCTV camera monitoring of the applicants breached their right to respect for their private life in contravention of Art. 8. It was not in dispute that their surveillance constituted an interference with their Art. 8 right.
Although, as the Russian government argued, the Russian Code of Execution of Criminal Sentences and the Pre-trial Detention Act permitted the use of CCTV monitoring in this manner, the Court held that the Russian legal framework concerning video surveillance in detention did not meet the “quality of law” (legal certainty) requirements of the Convention and that the applicants’ surveillance was not therefore “in accordance with the law”.
Russian law gave unrestricted power to those administering prisons and detention centres to carry out permanent video surveillance “it does not define with sufficient clarity the scope of those powers and the manner of their exercise so as to afford an individual adequate protection against arbitrariness. … [T]he national legal framework vests … an unrestricted power to place every individual in pre-trial or post-conviction detention under permanent – that is day and night – video surveillance, unconditionally, in any area of the institution, including cells, for an indefinite period of time, with no periodic reviews“. Whilst it may be necessary to monitor certain areas or detainees, Russian law did not provide detained persons with any judicial or other safeguards.
In addition, the Court found a violation of Art. 13 (right to an effective remedy), taken in conjunction with Art. 8, on the ground that there was no effective remedy at the domestic level to enable those affected to contest the video surveillance (second and third applicants).
It was not disputed that domestic law permitted the level of CCTV surveillance undertaken. The violation did not arise from a failure to comply with domestic laws, but from the inadequacy of the laws themselves. These laws were not “sufficiently clear, precise and detailed to have afforded appropriate protection against arbitrary interference by the authorities” with Art. 8 rights.
The Court decided (5-2) to refuse to award non-pecuniary damages considering, inter alia, that it was inevitable that the judgment would have effects beyond the confines of the case. Two dissenting judges called this a “grave error“, and interpreted the decision as giving greater leniency, including the non-payment of damages, to Contracting States with poorer records of compliance with the ECHR. In a strongly worded opinion, the judges stated that the majority’s decision amounted “to penalising applicants whose complaints are seen by the Court as requiring structural changes in the State party concerned. On the contrary, the Court should support such applicants who shed light on systemic violations of the Convention while also seeking individual justice”.