The applicant, Mr. Gorbulya, was serving a sentence of life imprisonment. He contended that each cell had a small window covered by three rows of metal bars and a dense metal mesh separating the window from the living area. The cells were lit during the day by a 60-watt bulb and at night by a 40-watt bulb. The artificial light produced very little light, making it impossible to read or write in the cell.
Mr. Gorbulya complained that his cell was not light enough to read and the lack of light was damaging his eyesight.
The Court reiterated that Article 3 of the Convention enshrines one of the most fundamental values of democratic society. It prohibits in absolute terms torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, irrespective of the circumstances and the victim’s behavior. To violate Article 3 ill-treatment has to reach a certain minimum level of severity which is assessed in each individual case. Ill-treatment that attains such a minimum level of severity usually involves actual bodily injury or intense physical or mental suffering. However, even in the absence of these, where treatment humiliates or debases an individual, showing a lack of respect for or diminishing his or her human dignity, or arouses feelings of fear, anguish or inferiority capable of breaking an individual’s moral and physical resistance, it may be characterized as degrading.
The Court emphasized that the state must ensure that a person is detained in conditions which are compatible with respect for human dignity. In the case at hand the Court found that Mr. Gorbulya had to spend almost all day in a cell with insufficient daylight and extremely poor artificial lighting. The Court concluded that the poor lighting in combination with limited access to outdoor exercise, natural light and air, the poor ventilation and the inadequate sleeping arrangements, violated Article 3 of the Convention.