On 28 February, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in the case H.A. and others v. Greece (application no. 19951/16), regarding the detention of unaccompanied minors who were apprehended at Greece’s borders and were placed under “protective custody” in police stations in Northern Greece before being transferred to the Diavata centre.

The Court found that the detention conditions to which the applicants had been subjected in the police stations represented degrading treatment and could have caused them to feel isolated from the outside world, with potentially negative consequences for their physical and moral well-being. The Court also held that the living conditions in the Diavata centre, which had a safe zone for unaccompanied minors, had not exceeded the threshold of seriousness required to engage Article 3. It further took the view that the applicants had not had an effective remedy.

The Court also found that the applicants’ placement in “protective custody” was an unlawful measure of detention under Article 5 (1) f. The lack of time limits for “protective custody” can lead to arbitrary situations of prolonged child detention in violation of domestic law and, in particular, of Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, the authorities had not taken into account the applicants’ particular vulnerability as unaccompanied minors and not considered whether the measure was one of last resort.

The applicants had spent several weeks in police stations before the National Service of Social Solidarity (“EKKA”) recommended their placement in reception centres for unaccompanied minors. The public prosecutor at the Criminal Court, who was their statutory guardian, had not put them in contact with a lawyer and had not lodged an appeal on their behalf for the purpose of discontinuing their detention in the police stations in order to speed up their transfer to the appropriate facilities. Consequently, there has been a violation of Article 5 (4) of the Convention. In this vein, the Court emphasised that, even if they had had access to a review procedure, the fact that they did not have an official detainee status would have still raised significant practical obstacles regarding their possibility to challenge their detention before administrative courts.

Based on an unofficial translation by the ELENA Weekly Legal Update.A third-party intervention was submitted in this case by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), ECRE, AIRE Centre and the Dutch Council for Refugees and can be found here.