Refusal to grant prisoner access to Internet websites containing legal information breached his right to receive information

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Kalda v. Estonia (application no. 17429/10) the European Court of Human Rights held, by six votes to one, that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.The case concerned a prisoner’s complaint about the authorities’ refusal to grant him access to three Internet websites, containing legal information, run by the State and by the Council of Europe. Mr Kalda, the applicant, complained in particular that the ban under Estonian law on his accessing these specific websites had breached his right to receive information via the Internet and prevented him from carrying out legal research for court proceedings in which he was engaged.

Although the Court found that states are not obliged to grant prisoners access to the internet, if they do, they must give reasons for refusing access to specific sites. In the specific circumstances of Mr Kalda’s case, the reasons included security and costs implications. The websites Mr. Kalda wanted to have access to include the Council of Europe's Information Office in Tallinn and two State-run databases, namely the websites of the Chancellor of Justice and the Estonian Parliament, containing legal information.

The Court noted that if the authorities had already made security arrangements for prisoners’ use of Internet via computers specially adapted for that purpose and under the supervision of the prison authorities, visiting these specific websites would not lead to additional cost.

Full decision is available here.