1 - chapter

Prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment

Authors: Kirke Vaino, Gregori Palm

Key issues

  • Detention and care institutions struggle with a shortage of professional workforce. This, in turn, has a negative impact on the quality of services provided by these institutions.
  • The protection of the rights of prisoners with mental disorders remains problematic.
  • Several detention facilities are now operating in renovated or recently constructed buildings.

Political and institutional developments

The current situation in Estonia in areas covered by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights is reviewed in the annual report of the Chancellor of Justice’s inspection visits. In 2022, officials from the Office of the Chancellor of Justice conducted inspection visits to several detention facilities.

It is important to note that, in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment[1] not only prisons are considered places of detention, but also other institutions where individuals are held against their will. Such institutions include, among others, care homes, closed childcare institutions, and hospitals providing psychiatric care. Therefore, the problems highlighted by the Chancellor of Justice regarding detention facilities are broader in nature and not limited to prisons or detention centres.

The Chancellor of Justice pointed out that detention facilities continue to face a shortage of professional workforce. Both prisons and care homes are struggling with this shortage. It is emphasised in the annual report that without qualified personnel, it is not possible to significantly improve the quality of services in detention facilities.[2] Regarding care homes, the Chancellor of Justice has highlighted that there is a lack of activity supervisors in these institutions, which in turn leads to the inability of the facilities to always consider the individual needs of the residents. The Chancellor of Justice also found that care institutions often fail to provide meaningful activities for residents, resulting in unacceptable compromises in the care provided.[3]

The advisors of the Chancellor of Justice conducted an inspection of the psychiatric department of Tartu Prison on 4–6 May 2023. The results of the inspection have not yet been reflected in the annual report, but the findings of the Chancellor of Justice’s inspection exceeded the news threshold.[4] During this inspection, it was revealed that a significant portion of prisoners in isolated locked cells in the prison have mental disorders, and the healthcare staff at the prison do not monitor their health daily. The Chancellor of Justice pointed out that compared to 2020, the prison has made no changes to address the problem. The situation in the psychiatric departments of prisons has remained unchanged for years, and prisons have not followed the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture or the Chancellor of Justice.

The Chancellor of Justice notes that not all care home employees have undergone the necessary training for working with the individuals entrusted to their care. According to the Chancellor of Justice, the shortage of personnel often means that it is difficult to provide meaningful activities for the care recipients every day.[5]

Additionally, the Chancellor of Justice highlights as a problem the state-owned company AS Hoolekandeteenused, which, despite years of criticism from the Chancellor of Justice, still does not provide nursing care in the volume mandated by law. The annual report points out that the company has entered into nursing care contracts in a volume that does not meet the minimum requirements stipulated by law.[6]

According to the Chancellor of Justice’s annual report, body search of family members arriving for visits still remains an issue in prisons. Both the Chancellor of Justice and the Tallinn Circuit Court have criticised the situation where children coming to visit detainees are forced to undress completely.[7] The Chancellor of Justice emphasised that this issue has not been corrected even after the court decision entered into force.[8]

On a positive note, the Chancellor of Justice highlights that several detention facilities have now been renovated or are operating in newly constructed buildings. This, in turn, has led to an improvement in the quality of services provided in these detention facilities.[9]

In 2023, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment visited Estonia to inspect detention facilities. The committee provided its preliminary assessment to the Estonian authorities.[10] A more comprehensive assessment is not publicly available as of the writing of this report.

Legislative developments

The European Commission has initiated two infringement proceedings against Estonia, addressing the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and European Arrest Warrant proceedings, as well as the right to inform a third party of deprivation of liberty and the right to communicate with third parties and consular authorities during the deprivation of liberty.[11] In connection with this, a draft law (684SE) amending the Code of Criminal Procedure was initiated on 26 September 2022, it was adopted on 13 February 2023, and the amendments were published in the State Gazette on 1 March 2023.[12]

Case law

During the period covered by this report, the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter ECtHR) has not issued any decisions concerning Estonia where a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights has been identified.

On 24 February 2022, the ECtHR issued a judgment in the case of Virgo Raudsepp v. Estonia, concerning the complaint of a detainee that the prison did not ensure his right to have long-term visits from family members. In the case, the court did not form an opinion, as before the judgment, statements of a friendly settlement, signed by both parties, were submitted to the court. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that, according to the settlement, the state committed to pay compensation to the complainant.[13]

In 2023, the ECtHR rendered a decision involving Estonia in the case of Marius Mitt v. Estonia. The basis of the dispute was a situation where the complainant underwent a full-body search in prison in the presence of several prison employees, including those of the opposite sex. In this case, Estonia submitted a declaration agreeing that a violation had occurred concerning the detainee, as a full-body search had taken place in the presence of female prison employees. Estonia was willing to offer compensation of € 2340 to the complainant. The state also acknowledged its readiness to initiate criminal proceedings under § 324 of the Penal Code if signs of an offence were identified. Although the complainant was not satisfied with the amount of compensation offered by the state, the ECtHR decided to terminate the proceedings on the condition that the state fulfils the obligations it had undertaken.[14]

At the national level, the decision of the Supreme Court in case no. 3-18-477 is noteworthy. The court found that the Imprisonment Act is unconstitutional insofar as it denies detainees serving sentences in closed prisons access to a section of the Supreme Court’s website, which does not include the Supreme Court’s decisions, and to the Official Journal (Ametlikud Teadaanded) online publication.[15] The Supreme Court emphasised in the referenced decision that a detainee must be treated in a manner that ensures that serving the sentence does not cause more suffering than is inevitably associated with detention. According to the Supreme Court, the internet has become so essential in today’s society that disproportionately isolating a detainee from it constitutes degrading treatment in violation of human dignity.

Trends and future outlook

The period under review is characterised by stagnation to a significant degree. A positive aspect is that the state is increasingly investing in ensuring that detention facilities meet modern standards. Estonia is one of the few countries worldwide where the oldest prison buildings are only 20 years old.[16] However, even with more modern conditions, a substantive change in the situation cannot occur as long as there is no change in the personnel of detention facilities. A shortage of human resources, primarily, characterises a large part of the aforementioned problems. There is a lack of qualified personnel in detention facilities, leading to deficiencies in their operations. In practice, this has manifested in inadequate knowledge of procedural rules and inadequacies in the provision of healthcare services. Detention facilities still face the challenge of having several positions unfilled.

Unfortunately, there is no indication at present that these issues are going away. As of 2022, there was a shortage of nearly 200 guards in prisons alone. The spokesperson for the Prison Service of the Ministry of Justice summed up the situation by saying: “Unfortunately, year after year, the labour market situation is getting tighter.“[17] The shortage of healthcare specialists has not disappeared either. Rather, developments suggest that it may worsen.[18]

It is clear that without sufficient workforce, it is not possible to ensure quality care, healthcare, and often rehabilitation for detainees, despite the modern facilities.


A detainee applied for a short-term meeting with family members without a glass partition. The prison granted the request but later changed the meeting time and informed that the meeting would take place with a glass partition. The detainee filed a claim for compensation for non-pecuniary damage against the prison.

In a previous court decision in case no. 3-19-293, the unlawfulness of the prison’s conduct was established. The Supreme Court noted that when assessing the intensity of the violation of the detainee’s rights, it is important to assess his overall situation. For the detainee, the meeting might be more important, the longer he has not had the opportunity to meet with family members directly. The complainant had been in custody since 2015 and had repeatedly requested meetings with family members without a glass partition since June 2018, but due to the complainant’s transfer to another prison, the meeting had not been facilitated. Courts also overlooked the age of the children, which is a significant factor affecting the intensity of the violation. The Supreme Court, referring to its previous decision and the practice of the ECtHR, found that communication restrictions have a significant impact on the relationship with the father, especially in the case of a small child, and meeting separated by a glass partition is not a good solution for establishing and maintaining contact with a small child. The complainant’s youngest child was five years old at the time of the requested meeting. Physical contact is extremely important in the relationship between a parent and a child at this age. In these circumstances, the violation of the complainant’s right to family life cannot be considered to be of low intensity.[19]


  • Allocate more state resources to recruit professional workforce for prisons and care homes.
  • Allow detainees to meet with their families without a glass partition.
  • Pay increased attention to the protection of the rights of detainees with mental disorders.

[1] Riigi Teataja. 2006. Piinamise ning muu julma, ebainimliku või inimväärikust alandava kohtlemise ja karistamise vastase konventsiooni fakultatiivne protokoll, RT II 2006, 24, 63.

[2] Õiguskantsler. 2022. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2021/2022. Kontrollkäigud.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Muru, M. 2023. Õiguskantsler: psüühikahäiretega vange eraldatakse kambrisse ja neile ei anta piisavalt arstiabi, Eesti Päevaleht, 05.09.2023.

[5] Õiguskantsler. 2022. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2021/2022. Kontrollkäigud.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Tallinna Ringkonnakohtu 28.02.2022 otsus haldusasjas nr 3-21-161.

[8] Õiguskantsler. 2022. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2021/2022. Kontrollkäigud.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Euroopa Nõukogu. 2023. Council of Europe anti-torture Committe (CPT) visits Estonia, 09.06.2023.

[11] Riigikogu. Kriminaalmenetluse seadustiku muutmise seaduse eelnõu 684 SE.

[12] Riigi Teataja. 2023. Kriminaalmenetluse seadustiku muutmise seadus. RT I, 01.03.2023, 4.

[13] Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohtu 24.02.2022 otsus asjas Virgo Raudsepp vs. Eesti, nr 22392/20. 

[14] Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohtu 17.05.2023 otsus asjas Marius Mitt vs. Eesti nr 13329/21. 

[15] Riigikohtu üldkogu 15.02.2023 otsus asjas nr 3-18-477. 

[16] Õiguskantsler. 2022. Õiguskantsleri aastaülevaade 2021/2022. Kontrollkäigud.

[17] Velleste, E. 2022. Töövarjupäev vanglas: Eesti vanglates on puudu ligi 200 valvurit. Kas töö konti murrab? Maaleht, 08.09.2022.

[18] Begunkova, M. 2022. Arstide puudus kimbutab haiglaid, sanktsioonid võivad probleemi süvendada, Delfi, 26.08.2022.

[19] Riigikohtu halduskolleegiumi 26.05.2022 määrus asjas nr 3-21-1411.


  • Kirke Vaino on Advokaadibüroo LINDEBERG advokaat. Kirke on omandanud magistrikraadi Tartu Ülikooli õigusteaduskonnas. Kirkel on alates ülikoolist olnud huvi kriminaalõiguse vastu. Enda magistritöö teema kirjutas ta ähvardamise paragrahvist. Kuna karistusõigus on sedavõrd tihedalt seotud inimõiguste temaatikaga, siis on Kirke huvi karistusõiguse vastu kadunud üle ka inimõiguste temaatikasse.

  • Gregori Palm on Advokaadibüroo LINDEBERG vandeadvokaat ja partner. Gregori on omandanud õigusteaduse magistrikraadi Tartu Ülikooli õigusteaduskonnas. Gregori tegutseb peamiselt kriminaalõiguse valdkonnas ning oma igapäevatöös puutub ta seeläbi pidevalt kokku inimõigusi puudutavate küsimustega. Alandava kohtlemise teema on tihedalt seotud vangide õigusega. Tegemist on teemaga, mis tõusetub kriminaalmenetluses alatasa.