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Government accepts breach of Article 3 ECHR rights of child held in solitary confinement

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Photo by Hédi Benyounes on Unsplash

The Government has entered into a “friendly settlement” agreement with a young man, referred to as ‘AB’ in court proceedings, who was locked in his cell for more than 23 hours a day during the first 55 days of his detention in Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution in 2016 and 2017. AB was 15 years old at the time.

The Government had contested AB’s claim throughout domestic proceedings and denied before the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court that AB’s Article 3 rights had been breached. Before the Supreme Court, AB argued that the solitary confinement of children violates Article 3 ECHR, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment, in all circumstances or, in the alternative, unless exceptional circumstances arise in which the treatment is “strictly necessary”. In AB v Secretary of State for Justice [2021] UKSC 28, the Supreme Court declined to find in AB’s favour on the basis that the European Court of Human Rights had not considered whether, or in what circumstances, the solitary confinement of children is lawful.

AB then submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights, following which the Government accepted that there was a breach of Article 3 ECHR in the circumstances of AB’s case and agreed to pay him compensation.

So-called “friendly settlement” agreements are permitted under Article 39 ECHR, which provides that the European Court of Human Rights may place itself at the disposal of the parties with a view to securing a settlement agreement which is based on respect for human rights. If a friendly settlement is reached, the case will be struck out of the list and the European Court of Human Rights will not consider the merits of the application. In a decision handed down on 14 December 2023, AB’s application was struck out on that basis.

Dan Squires KC, Ayesha Christie and Rosalind Comyn represented AB, instructed by Claire Salama at the Howard League for Penal Reform.

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Read the Howard League for Penal Reform’s press release

Press coverage includes The Guardian