June 30, 2010
Can you keep an accused person in a metal cage during a public hearing? This practice is clearly humiliating as the Court judged in the case of Ashot Harutyunian v. Armenia but is it also at odds with the presumption of innocence? According to the European Court of Human Rights it is not.
In Armenia, during criminal trials at the Court of Appeal all the accused have to sit in a metal cage, because of security reasons. Like the Strasbourg Court, I don’t completely see how a cage is necessary for this purpose. When the goal is to protect the accused, a bulletproof glass would logically be more efficient. When the security of the rest of the audience is at stake, I think handcuffs would be sufficient and in case of real danger you could put the accused feet cuffs on. These are alternatives that are in my eyes more discrete and certainly less humiliating.
Since the metal cage is intentionally used for security reasons (an aim that is questioned by the Court under article 3) the Court does not think it is at odds with the presumption of innocence and consequently it does not find a violation of article 6 ECHR. I do not agree with this conclusion of the Court. That the authorities do not intend to make the accused appear guilty, does not mean that this is not the effect of the measure. Justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.
When I was reading this case, I had to think of a previous case of the Court issued in March 2010. In the case of Jiga c. Roumanie, the Court had to adjudicate the question of whether making an accused person appear in prisoners clothing at a public hearing was at odds with the presumption of innocence. In that case, the Court did find a violation of article 6. I would have drawn the same conclusion in this case. Putting an accused in a metal cage like an animal in a zoo, is not only humiliating, but it also creates the impression that he is already convicted to a prison.