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Riina v. Italy

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Non-verbal Expression
  • Date of Decision
    March 11, 2014
  • Outcome
    Inadmissible
  • Case Number
    43575/09
  • Region & Country
    Italy, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
  • Type of Law
    International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Surveillance
  • Tags
    Imprisonment, Human Rights, Privacy

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rejected an application by Salvatore Riina who is currently serving a life sentence in an Italian prison where he is subject to constant video surveillance in his cell. Riina contended that the domestic remedies available to address his objections to this surveillance were ineffective but he didn’t express doubts that such remedies were available. In contesting the efficacy of Italy’s remedies, Riina relied on the fact that all five of his appeals to Italian courts were dismissed.

The ECtHR disagreed that these dismissals amounted to inefficacy and found that the rejection of Riina’s complaints by the domestic courts had not had a negative impact on the remedies available to Riina regarding the surveillance issue. The ECtHR noted that all of Riina’s previous complaints had been dismissed due to issues separate from surveillance. Riina could have, but had not, appealed the dismissal of the surveillance issue to Italy’s final court of appeal: the Court of Cassation. Had he appealed, the Court of Cassation may have taken issue with the fact that the lower appellate court had dismissed Riina’s case without ruling on the surveillance issue. In order for Riina’s claim to have been eligible for the ECtHR’s review, he needed to have first received either a substantive ruling on surveillance from an Italian court or a refusal to make a substantive ruling by Italy’s final court of appeal. So long as the surveillance issue had not been addressed domestically, Riina had not exhausted his domestic remedies pursuant to Article 35(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR).

In these circumstances the ECtHR declared the application inadmissible because Riina had not yet exhausted the domestic remedies available to him prior to filing an application with the ECtHR.

 

 


Facts

Riina is an Italian national currently serving a life sentence for a string of murders and for membership in a “mafia-type” criminal organization. As part of Riina’s sentence, he is detained under a special regime that includes continual video monitoring of his activities in his cell. The prison where he is currently detained, Milan Opera Prison, is not the prison he was detained in when he first complained of surveillance in his cell.

Citing his declining state of health, Riina has contested the extension of his special conditions of imprisonment on several occasions. However, the domestic court decisions revealed that he had raised the issue of video surveillance in his cell only once, and never while detained at his current prison. The one time that Riina did raise the surveillance issue, the appellate court dismissed Riina’s appeal on other grounds, never issuing a substantive decision on Riina’s surveillance. In total, Riina appealed five times to domestic courts and had all five appeals dismissed.

After the most recent dismissal, Riina lodged the current application before the ECtHR, claiming his constant surveillance violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): Article 8’s right to private life and Article 3’s prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. He contended that, because his appeals had been dismissed five times, the domestic remedies available to him were insufficient to protect his ECHR rights.


Decision Overview

In reviewing Riina’s application, the ECtHR reiterated that Article 35(1) of the ECHR requires applicants to have exhausted the domestic remedies that are available and effective to address the offense alleged.

Riina expressed doubts as to the effectiveness Italy’s domestic remedies, but not doubts as to whether such remedies existed. In contesting the efficacy of Italy’s remedies, Riina relied on the fact that all five of his appeals to Italian courts were dismissed. The ECtHR disagreed that these dismissals amounted to inefficacy and found that the rejection of Riina’s complaints by the domestic courts had not had a negative impact on the remedies available to Riina regarding the surveillance issue.

The ECtHR noted that all of Riina’s previous complaints had been dismissed due to issues separate from surveillance. Riina could have, but had not, appealed the dismissal of the surveillance issue to Italy’s final court of appeal: the Court of Cassation. Had he appealed, the Court of Cassation may have taken issue with the fact that the lower appellate court had dismissed Riina’s case without ruling on the surveillance issue. In order for Riina’s claim to have been eligible for the ECtHR’s review, he needed to have first received either a substantive ruling on surveillance from an Italian court or a refusal to make a substantive ruling by Italy’s final court of appeal. So long as the surveillance issue had not been addressed domestically, Riina had not exhausted his domestic remedies.

Accordingly, Riina had not exhausted domestic remedies with respect to his complaints concerning video surveillance, and the ECtHR, therefore, did not consider the merits of the claims raised under Articles 3 and 8 of the ECHR.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

The decision neither expands nor contracts the freedom of expression. The application was dismissed for failure to exhaust domestic remedies prior to bringing the case before the ECtHR. Thus, the ECtHR did not issue a judgment on the merits of the case.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

ECtHR decisions are binding on the parties involved. This decision reminds potential applicants from ECHR States Parties that they must exhaust domestic remedies or demonstrate that domestic remedies are ineffective prior to petitioning the ECtHR.

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