Applicant name X.
Applicant type Natural Person (prisoner)
Country Germany
Decision no. 1628/62
Date 12/12/1963
Institution Commission (Plenary)
Type Decision
Outcome Art. 8 Inadmissible
Reason Manifestly ill-founded
Type of privacy Informational Privacy
Keywords Prisoner; secrecy of letters; right to communication (with lawyer and court); rights and freedoms of others;
Facts of the case The part of this case that is relevant for the right to privacy concerned letters written by a prisoner to his lawyer, the court and other legal authorities, which were monitored and partly blocked by the prison authorities, on grounds of, inter alia, that conditions for sending letters were not respected by the prisoner and that he made false claims and unfounded accusations with respect to third parties in his letters.
Analysis The Commission discusses the question of whether partially blocking letters is legitimate under the right to privacy (Article 8 ECHR) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 ECHR). It accepts that the interference is based on relevant laws and prison regulations. The Commission suggests that blocking letters can be deemed legitimate for the purposes of protection of the rights and freedoms of others (Article 8 ECHR) and the reputation of others (Article 10 ECHR).

The final question is whether the censorship could be considered necessary in a democratic society. With regard to this question, the Commission suggests ‘that these Articles leave the Contracting Parties a certain margin of appreciation in determining the limits that may be placed on the exercise of the rights in question’. A certain margin of appreciation refers to the fact that the Contracting Parties only have a limited discretion. Still, the Commission sees no violation of articles 8 or 10 on this point. This is remarkable in light of later jurisprudence, because the prison authorities have opened and read all letters. Such a regime would currently not be permissible – prison authorities should have a reason to open specific letters or correspondence by specific prisoners. This fits in a broader trend in which the Commission and the Court used to emphasize that by its very essence, imprisonment entails a restriction of (human) rights, while in its current approach, the Court only allows for restrictions that are strictly necessary in light of the prison-regime. Although authorities have a wider margin of appreciation with respect to prisoners than vis-à-vis normal citizens, prisoners are currently treated first and foremost as citizens.

What makes the decision of the Commission poignant is also that the applicant complaints in particular of his correspondence with the Commission, his lawyer and relevant legal authorities being blocked. Again, in contemporary case law, such is only allowed in exceptional circumstances, because the prisoner should have a right to exercise its rights to complain, for example about the treatment in prison, to petition and to a fair trial, while these could be crippled if prison authorities block or censor such correspondence or if prisoners would refrain from such communication out of fear for repercussions. Although the ECtHR currently discusses this issue under Article 8 (and sometimes 6 or 13) ECHR, in this case, the Commission refers to Article 25, the predecessor of the current Article 34 ECHR.

Again, the Commission seems quite lenient and does not resent the fact that prison authorities check all correspondence by prisoners. The Commission ‘noted with satisfaction that, independently of the present application, the Respondent Government has taken the initiative of amending the above prison regulations so as to avoid in the future any interference with applicants’ right to address themselves to the Commission in its official languages; whereas, apart from the suppression of the letter written on 23rd October 1961 in English, no further interference with the Applicant’s correspondence seems to have occurred, and he has been able to bring his complaints fully before the Commission; whereas, on these grounds, and with particular regard to the fact that on the above date the Applicant was informed that he was authorised to rewrite his Application in German, in which language the Secretariat is authorised to deal with correspondence, the Commission finds that an examination of the case as it has been submitted does not disclose any appearance of a violation of the provisions of the Convention; whereas it follows that this part of the Application is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 27, paragraph (2) (Art. 27-2) of the Convention.’

Documents Decision