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21.01.2019

Pausing for thought in French Prison Conditions

Written by Harun Martin

It is exceptionally hard to convince the UK Courts to doubt the mutual trust they hold in other European countries. The Court have long held that in the absence of ‘clear and cogent evidence’ of the kind approaching an international consensus, the Court will trust that European countries will adhere to their obligations and treat individuals with dignity and respect.

In spite of this the divisional court paused for thought in July 2018 following the case of Shumba, Bechian and Henta v France [2018] EWHC 1762 (Admin), and found that the Appellants faced a real risk of Article 3 breach if extradited to France.

Harun Matin of National Legal Service acted for the third appellant, Mr Henta and with the expertise of Alison MacDonald QC and Emilie Pottle a vast amount of evidence was served to demonstrate to the divisional court that such a real risk existed.

This is a landmark case, as it is the first time in which the UK has considered the conditions of French prisons, following the criticism of such conditions by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in April 2017 and the release of statistics suggesting that some of the prisons were at 190% capacity.

The Court held at para. 87 that

“In relation to those four prisons, we are satisfied on the evidence that there may be substantial grounds for believing that the Appellants face a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment if they are extradited”.

As a result the Court chose to adjourn to request further information on the specific risk to the three extraditees.

In November 2018, following a flurry of material served on both sides, the Court sat again to determine if such a real risk would still pertain.

Ultimately the Court found that, on the basis of the further information served by the French Judicial Authority, the risk no longer existed in relation to the appellants. The actions of Allison Macdonald QC (representing Mr Bechian, Mr Shumba and Mr Henta) and Emilie Pottle (representing Mr Henta and Mr Bechian) and Saorise Towshend (representing Mr Shumba) as well as National Legal Service solicitor undoubtedly contributed to the French authorities’ specific guarantees of the three appellants rights, as well as to more generally shine a light on the actions of the French authorities.

The scrutiny of extraditing states is another level of international accountability, essential to protecting and advancing the rights of those detained in custody.