ECtHR Rule Delay in Parole Board Review of Prisoner's Detention Unlawful
In Chamber judgment in the case of Betteridge v. the United Kingdom (application no. 1497/10), which is not final the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
A violation of Article 5 § 4 (right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned Mr Betteridge's complaint about the delays in his case being heard by the Parole Board.
The Court noted in particular that, even though the national courts had acknowledged in June 2009 that there had been a violation of Mr Betteridge's right under the European Convention to a speedy review of his detention, the Parole Board hearing in his case had still not taken place for some eight months after that. Furthermore, although steps had been taken by the authorities to try and address the systemic delays in Parole Board hearings by the time of the judgment in Mr Betteridge's case, the fact remained that the authorities had failed to anticipate the demand which would be placed on the prison system following the introduction of the IPP sentencing scheme (indeterminate imprisonment for the public protection) and that it was for the State to organise its judicial system in such a way as to enable its courts to comply with the requirements of the Convention.
The applicant, Samuel Betteridge, is a British national who was born in 1954. He was convicted of rape in 2005. At the time of lodging his application he was serving his sentence of imprisonment for public protection ("IPP") at HM Prison Whatton, Nottingham (England), an indeterminate sentence, with a tariff of three and a half years (less 98 days spent on remand).
Mr Betteridge's tariff expired on 18 December 2008. A few months prior to that, the Parole Board gave a pre-tariff advisory opinion on his case. The Board did not recommend that his security category be downgraded to open prison conditions as it was not satisfied that he did not represent a risk of re-offending.
No Parole Board review had taken place by the time the tariff expired. A hearing was initially planned for May 2009, then rescheduled for September 2009.
In the meantime, Mr Betteridge brought judicial review proceedings challenging the delays in fixing a Parole Board hearing in his case. The High Court handed down its judgment in June 2009 and, acknowledging that the delays in Mr Betteridge's case had been caused by lack of man power in the Parole Board, found that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 4 of the European Convention. It refused, however, to order the case to be heard as it considered that it would be inappropriate for Mr Betteridge to jump the queue at the expense of those who had not sought judicial review. Noting that the Parole Board hearing was scheduled some two or three months later, it also found that there was no conceivable claim for damages as the pre-tariff hearing had made it clear that there was no chance of Mr Betteridge being released upon expiry of the tariff.
Mr Betteridge did not appeal as his counsel advised that the Court of Appeal was bound to conclude that it could not prioritise any individual case, given the evidence of a systemic lack of resources.
The Parole Board hearing fixed for September 2009 was subsequently cancelled. At the rescheduled Parole Board hearing on 13 January 2010 the Parole Board recommended that Mr Betteridge be moved to open prison conditions.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
Relying on Article 5 § 4 (right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), Mr Betteridge complained that he had not had a speedy review of his detention after expiry of his tariff due to delays in his case being heard by the Parole Board.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 23 December 2009.
Decision of the Court
The Court accepted that it would have been unfair and impractical to fast-track prisoners, such as Mr Betteridge, who had pursued judicial review proceedings to the detriment of prisoners who, also entitled to a speedy review of their detention under Article 5 § 4 of the Convention, had not. It also acknowledged that, by the time of the High Court's judgment in Mr Betteridge's case, steps had been taken by the authorities to try and address the systemic delays in Parole Board hearings.
However, it could not accept the Government's argument that as the delay had been admitted by the relevant judicial institutions and redressed under domestic law, there had been nothing left for the European Court to adjudicate in Mr Betteridge's case. The violation of Article 5 § 4 had been accepted from 18 December 2008 (when the tariff expired) to September 2009 (when the Parole Board hearing was scheduled to take place). Following the cancellation of the September hearing, the delay in the case continued until 13 January 2010. There was nothing to distinguish that period of delay from the initial period for which the national courts had found a violation. Therefore the failure to implement Mr Betteridge's rights under Article 5 § 4 had continued for some eight months after the High Court ruling.
Furthermore, the fact remained that the delay in reviewing Mr Betteridge's case was the direct result of the failure of the authorities to anticipate the demand which would be placed on the prison system following the introduction of IPP sentencing and that it was for the State to organise its judicial system in such a way as to enable its courts to comply with the requirement under the Convention of a speedy hearing to review the lawfulness of detention.
The Court therefore concluded that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 4 as concerned the delay of more than 13 months in Mr Betteridge's Parole Board review.
As to the applicant's Article 13 complaint, the Court considered that Mr Betteridge's complaint about being unable to obtain a date for his Parole Board review through litigation had already been examined and therefore found that no separate issues arose.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The court held that the United Kingdom was to pay Mr Betteridge 750 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
It also awarded EUR 2,000 for his lawyers' costs and expenses.