On 1 August 2022, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) gave its ruling to the preliminary request on the case C‑422/21, concerning an application for annulment of a decision which excluded him from material reception conditions. The request aims at clarifying the interpretation of Article 20(4) and (5) of the Reception Conditions Directive (no. 2013/33/EU). The case concerns TO, an applicant for international protection who benefited from the material reception conditions as guaranteed in the EU Directive and the Italian legislation and was housed in a temporary accommodation centre. The police authorities reported an incident in which TO verbally and physically assaulted a railway employee and two officers of the municipal police. After TO failed to submit his observations when he was invited to, the Italian authorities adopted a decision to withdraw material reception conditions.
The referring court affirmed that the Reception Directive 2013/33 authorises the Member States to determine the sanctions applicable to serious breaches of the rules of the accommodation centres and to seriously violent behaviour and that these sanctions may also include the withdrawal and restriction of material reception conditions. First of all, this referring Court aimed at clarifying whether ‘seriously violent behaviour’, which may be sanctioned under the Directive also covers acts committed outside an accommodation centre. The CJEU held that the concept of ‘seriously violent behaviour’ covers any such behaviour, irrespective of where it occurred in order to ensure an interpretation that preserves these rules’ effectiveness.
Secondly, the Italian court asked whether Article 20(4) and (5) of Directive 2013/33 must be interpreted as precluding the imposition on an applicant for international protection who has engaged in seriously violent behaviour against public officials of a sanction consisting of a withdrawal of material reception conditions. Addressing this second question, the CJEU referred to its judgment in Haqbin (C‑233/18), which established that the Reception Directive does not explicitly preclude a sanction concerning material reception conditions and accepted that the Member States can adopt this type of measures to protect themselves against the possibility of abuse of the reception system in the event of serious breaches of the rules of the accommodation centres or seriously violent behaviour. However, in the same Haqbin judgement, the CJEU held that when these sanctions consist of the withdrawal of the full set of material reception conditions or conditions relating to housing, food or clothing, this would be irreconcilable with the requirements of the Directive to ensure a dignified standard of living for the applicant, since this would preclude the applicant from being allowed to meet his or her most basic needs such as a place to live, food, clothing and personal hygiene. Additionally, the Court found that these sanctions would either not comply with the proportionality requirement enshrined in the Reception Conditions Directive as not even the most stringent sanctions should deprive the possibility of meeting the applicant’s most basic needs, regardless of how serious and reprehensible the conduct might be. The Court further confirmed that no procedural safeguards would be able to exclude the risk that the applicant concerned may, as a result of that withdrawal, find themselves unable to meet their most basic needs. Finally, the Court clarified that depending on the circumstances of the case and subject to the requirements set out in Directive, Member States may impose sanctions that do not have the effect of depriving the applicant of material reception conditions, such as being held in a separate part of the accommodation centre, being prohibited from contacting certain residents of the centre, being transferred to another accommodation centre or to other housing, or even being held in detention.
In conclusion, the Court ruled that the Receptions Directive does not allow sanctions consisting of the withdrawal of material reception conditions on applicants for international protection who have engaged in seriously violent behaviour against public officials relating to housing, food or clothing, in so far as it would have the effect of depriving the applicant of the possibility of meeting their most basic needs. As well, the Court indicated that any other sanctions must comply with the conditions laid down in the Directive, including respect for human dignity and of the principle of proportionality.