ECtHR, H.A. and others v. Greece, 19951/16, 28 February 2019

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Country of Applicant: 
Date of Decision: 
H.A. and others v. Greece, application no. 19951/16, 28 February 2019
Court Name: 
European Court of Human Rights, First Section
Relevant Legislative Provisions: 
International Law
International Law > UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The detention conditions, to which the applicants had been subjected to in police stations, while being under protective custody as unaccompanied minors, violated Article 3 ECHR.  Violation of Article 3 in conjunction with Article 13 on account of the applicants’ inability to bring a complaint against the detention conditions.

Their placement in protective custody was an unlawful detention measure under Article 5, as there were no time limits, no vulnerability assessment and no consideration of this form of custody as one of last resort. The applicants had no possibility to exercise their rights under Article 5 (4), as they could not establish contact with their lawyer and the lack of official detainee status would have raised practical obstacles in any attempt to challenge their detention.


The nine applicants in this case were apprehended at Greece’s border while trying to enter the country and were transferred to various police stations in Northern Greece.

They claim that, although they were unaccompanied minors at the time, no age-appropriate procedure was followed by the Greek. They were placed in protective custody in cells that did not meet adequate standards of hygiene; there was no access to light and no yarding. The duration of detention varied among the applicants from 21 to 33 days. Some of the applicants claim that they were ill-treated by police officers and that requests to communicate with a lawyer or to see a doctor were ignored.

Following complaints by some of the applicants, two criminal investigations into the detention conditions and disciplinary proceedings regarding the police officers’ conduct were initiated. The two investigations closed as the police was found to have taken all necessary measures to protect the applicants in the light of a large number of unaccompanied minors and an absence of available facilities. The disciplinary proceedings were also completed without any finding of violation on behalf of the police due to lack of sufficient evidence.

With regard to the Diavata reception centre, where they were transferred after their detention, the applicants complain that the facility was not child-appropriate, the living conditions were substandard and there was a serious lack of safety and medical and psychological care.

The applicants complain that the conditions in the police stations and the Diavata centre amounted to treatment prohibited under Article 3 ECHR, while the inability to complain about them violated Article 3 in conjunction with Article 13. Under Article 5 (1) d, (2) and (4) they complain that their placement in protective custody was an irregular measure of detention, as they were not treated as minors, there was no notification of a detention decision and they had no opportunity to access a lawyer or otherwise challenge their detention.

Decision & Reasoning: 

Article 3 – Police stations

The Court first analysed its own case law regarding the duration of detention and its relationship with other relevant factors such as the detainee’s vulnerability and the detention place’s shortcomings. In terms of the characteristics of detention in police stations, the Court referred to its previous findings that police stations increase feelings of isolation for the detainee with negative consequences in their psychological well-being. These consequences are further compounded by the fact that the applicants were all minors.

According to reports by the Greek Ombudsman and the CoE Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), police detention of minors may be justified only for the shortest periods of time possible, until registration is complete or a reception facility is found. The latter has also stated that detainees should be able to leave the police station for outdoors physical exercise, if detained for more than 24 hours, and concluded that the regime of protective custody of minors without any form of psychological or social support is unacceptable.

As the Greek government had not submitted any evidence contradicting the applicants’ inability to leave the police station, the detention conditions were found to amount to Article 3 ECHR treatment.

Article 3 – the Diavata centre

The Court took into account the purpose of safe zones in Northern Greece, which were created to address urgent accommodation needs for unaccompanied minors in the context of “increased migratory flows and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis”. Moreover, the applicants could move freely, as the Diavata centre was an open facility, and UNHCR mentions the existence of these safe zones without criticising them.

It concluded that the living conditions in that centre do not amount to inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3.

Article 3 – ill-treatment of two applicants

The Court reiterated that in cases concerning injuries sustained while an individual was under the control of police authorities the burden of proof lies with the Government to prove that these injuries were not the result of ill-treatment. Individuals, however, cannot benefit from this presumption unless they submit relevant medical documents, which the Court accepts as having increased probative value.

In the present case, the applicants did not submit any medical documents attesting to their injuries and they provided no comment or explanation on why there was an absence of such medical documents. According to its case law, allegations of ill-treatment cannot be supported unless there is appropriate evidence, or irrefutable presumptions that are sufficiently serious, precise and consistent.

The complaint under Article 3 that relates to the applicants’ ill-treatment is rejected as manifestly ill-founded both in its procedural and substantive aspect.

Article 3 & 13 – Complaint concerning detention conditions

Although the Court did not contest the Government’s claim that the police officers did inform the Prosecutor on the imposition of protective custody, the absence of a relevant administrative report on the measure does not indicate the date on which protective custody would end. Consequently, it was impossible for the applicants and the NGOs that followed up with their case to be informed of the duration of the custody and alert the prosecutor accordingly with regard to whether it was beyond a reasonable time or not. Moreover, the Prosecutor dismissed the complaint regarding the detention conditions more than six months later, interviewing only three adults who were detained with the minors.

Under the above circumstances, there has been a violation of Article 3/Article 13, as the referral to the Prosecutor was not an effective remedy with regard to the detention conditions nor for the transfer of the applicants to a reception centre.

Article 5 (1)

The principles that relate to immigration detention are first analysed by the Court before moving on to the examination of the case’s circumstances. In this context, the authorities’ power to detain immigrants, the conformity of the exercise of this power with the Convention, as well as the need to impose detention in good faith and in close link with the purpose invoked, all form part of the Court’s analysis on this point.

Protective custody of unaccompanied minors

The Court considered that applicants’ placement under protective custody in police stations may only fall under Article 5 (1) f since Article 5 (1) d, which the applicants had invoked, can only be related to the minor’s education or to the purpose of bringing the minor before a competent authority.

It then went on to assess the “protective custody” regime as measure of deprivation of liberty. It took particular note of the measure’s purpose as not being minor-related, the lack of time limits in the relevant legal provisions and the fact that this regime is applied to individuals in police stations were lengthy detention is in any case arbitrary. The latter is a problem that has been brought to the attention of the Greek authorities by the CPT.

Recognising the need to reconcile the State’s immigration policy with fundamental rights, the Court emphasised that immigration restrictions cannot deprive foreign unaccompanied minors of the protection linked to their status. It further observed that other domestic legal texts only allow for detention of children as a measure of last resort and for a short amount of time.

Moreover, the best interests of the child, as enshrined in Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, have to be respected when taking decisions that affect the child. As elaborated in Rahimi, national authorities must consider the child’s best interests and their particular situation as an unaccompanied minor. In the case at issue, the Greek government did not explain why the police did not opt for other temporary accommodation facilities but immediately placed the applicants in various police stations. The Court declined to accept the government’s argument that one police station was exclusively reserved for minors, as an element that could change the reality of the case.

The applicants’ detention violated Article 5 (1) ECHR.

Article 5 (4)

While the applicants might have known that they had entered Greek territory unlawfully, they could not know that they were falling under the "protective custody" procedure. Furthermore, they were placed directly in police stations without being notified of any decision informing them on the restriction of their liberty pending a more appropriate facility or any document informing them of their rights as unaccompanied minors.

The fact that protective custody is ordered until a reception facility is available makes it impossible for the minors to be identified by lawyers and to challenge an unreasonably lengthy detention. Moreover, the local Prosecutor, considered as their ex lege guardian, did not put them in contact with a lawyer and did not lodge any appeal to speed up their transfer to reception centres. Lastly, even if an appeal was available to the applicants, the lack of an official status of detainees would have created practical obstacles in challenging their detention before administrative courts.

There has been a violation of Article 5 (4).


Violation of Article 5 (1)  and 5 (4) of the Convention;

Violation of Article 3 in respect of the detention conditions in police stations;

No violation of Article 3 with regard to living conditions in the Diavata centre;

Violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3 with regard to  the detention conditions in police stations;

Applicants are each awarded compensation of EUR 4,000 for moral damages.


The AIRE Centre, the Dutch Council for Refugees, ECRE and ICJ submitted a joint Third-party Intervention, which can be found here. UNHCR also submitted an intervention in this case.

Case Law Cited: 

ECtHR - El Masri v. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [GC], Application No. 39630/09

ECtHR - Bouyid v. Belgium, Application no. 23380/09

ECtHR - Ireland v. United Kingdom, 18 January 1978, Series A No. 25

ECtHR - Labita v. Italy [GC], Application No. 26772/95

ECtHR - Jalloh v Germany (2006) (Application no. 54810/00)

ECtHR - Ramirez Sanchez v. France [GC], Application No. 59450/00

ECtHR - Lici v. Greece, no. 69881/12, 17 April 2014

ECtHR - Gäfgen v Germany (2008) (Application no. 22978/05)

ECtHR: Chiriţă v. Romania (dec.), no. 37147/02, 6 September 2007

ECtHR - Riad and Idiab v. Belgium, Application Nos. 29787/03 and 29810/03

ECtHR - Kanagaratnam v. Belgium no. 15297/09

ECtHR - A.A. v. Greece, no. 70586/11, 11 December 2014

ECtHR - McGlinchey and Others v. the United Kingdom, Application No. 50390/99

ECtHR - Kavouris and Others v. Greece, Application no. 73237/12, 17 April 2014

ECtHR - Tsarpelas v. Greece, no. 74884/13, 26 April 2018

ECtHR - Siasios et al. v. Greece, Application No. 30303/07

ECtHR - Vafiadis v. Greece, Application No. 24981/07

ECtHR - Shuvaev v. Greece, Application No. 8249/07

Efremidze v. Greece, no. 33225/08, 21 June 2011

ECtHR - Aslanis v. Greece, Application No. 36401/10, UP

ECtHR - Tenko v. Greece, no. 7811/15, 21 July 2016

ECtHR- Kaja v. Greece, no. 32927/03, 27 July 2006

ECtHR - Chazaryan v. Greece, no. 76951/12, 16 July 2015

ECtHR - Peidis v. Greece, no. 728/13, 16 July 2015

ECtHR: Ali and Others v. Greece, no. 13385/14, 7 April 2016

ECtHR: Grammosenis and Others v. Greece, no. 16287/13, 30 March 2017

ECtHR: Iatropoulos and Others v. Greece, no. 23262/13, 20 April 2017

ECtHR - Khlaifia and Others v. Italy (GC), no. 16483/12, 1 September 2015
Other sources cited: 

CoE Committee for the Prevention of Torture:

Standards in Immigration Detention, March 2017

Report on 2016 visits, September 2017


Authentic Language: 
State Party: 
National / Other Legislative Provisions: 
Greece - Decree no. 220/2007 - Article 19
Greece - Decree 114/2010
Article 13(6) b (transposition of Directive 2008/115/CE)
Greece - Law no. 3907/2011 - Art. 32 (transposition of Directive 2008/12/CE)
Greece - Law no. 3386/2005 - Art. 78A (protection from expulsion)