Human Rights Guide


Pfeifer and Plankl v. Austria

European Court of Human Rights
25 February 1992


The applicants, Mrs. Plankl and Mr. Pfeifer, both were detained in prison and communicated with each other via letters. Some passages from one of the letters from Mrs. Plankl to Mr. Pfeifer were deleted by the investigative judge as they contained “jokes of an insulting nature against prison officers”. 


The applicants complained that the deletion of the passages from the letter violated their right to respect for their correspondence.

Court's ruling

The Court recognized that some measure of control over prisoners’ correspondence is not of itself incompatible with the Convention, but the resulting interference must not exceed what is required by the legitimate aim pursued. The Court agreed that there was a legitimate aim for the interference with the applicant’s rights, namely, "the protection of the rights ... of others" and "the prevention of ... crime". However, the Court was unable to find that the interference reached that objective. It pointed that although the letter contained strong criticism of the prison conditions and certain prison officers, it was meant to be read only by its addressee and the investigative judge. Thus the Court considered the interference disproportionate and not necessary in democratic society. Therefor the Court found a violation of the applicants’ right to respect for their correspondence.

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