The Lithuanian saga of limiting evidence in trials – the genesis and new cases

By Donatas Murauskas, Assistant Professor at Vilnius University Law Faculty

The European Court of Human Rights continues to deal with cases against Lithuania concerning equality of arms in trials. Earlier cases could be linked to the heritage of the Soviet rule and practices, recent cases are illustrations of increasing reliance on national security in (criminal) intelligence in discovering relevant facts to be used later in national proceedings. In all cases the law or state authorities limit possibilities of one party to challenge some of decisive or at least important evidence in judicial proceedings. The question arises every time – was the measure proportional or not? Continue reading

The Recent ECtHR Judgment Kövesi v. Romania. Reactions of Romanian Authorities and Implications regarding the Rule of Law

By Dragoș Călin

In the recent judgment in the case Kövesi v. Romania (application no. 3594/19) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the former anti-corruption directorate chief prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi, now the first European Public Prosecutor.

In fact, in February 2018, the Minister of Justice, Mr. Tudorel Toader, proposed that Kövesi be removed from office, referring, among other things, to three Constitutional Court decisions adopted in connection with the activity of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) and to public statements she had made. The Section for prosecutors of the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM) refused by a majority to endorse her dismissal, largely rejecting the Minister’s criticisms of the prosecutor and finding no evidence that her management had been inadequate. In April 2018 the President of Romania, Mr. Klaus Iohannis, refused in turn to sign the dismissal decree, which prompted a complaint to the Constitutional Court (CCR) by the Prime Minister. Continue reading

The Future of the Rule of Law in Sports Law: Ali Riza and Others v. Turkey

This blogpost was written by Jernej Letnar Černič who is Associate Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law at the Faculty of Government and European Studies of the New University (Ljubljana/Kranj, Slovenia). He is co-author of the forthcoming book on “The Impact of European Institutions on the Rule of Law and Democracy: Slovenia and Beyond” (Oxford, Hart/Bloomsbury, 2020).

Are domestic and international sports arbitration bodies obliged to follow the rule of law and ensure at least basic procedural safeguards? Fair trial guarantees have been, for quite some time, a hot potato in (international) sports arbitration. Athletes have been, in the past, mostly unsuccessful when arguing for a violation of Article 6 (1) of the ECHR before the ECtHR (see for example Bakker v. Switzerland (26 September 2019, admissibility decision); Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland, 2 October 2018). Nonetheless, the Court already recognized the right to public hearings before CAS (Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland, para. 183). Therefore, it appears that a consensus has been increasing for fair trial guarantees to be introduced and/or strengthened both at the domestic and international levels. The Second Section of the European Court of Human Rights has on 28 January 2020 in its seminal judgement in the case of Ali Riza and Others v. Turkey confirmed the importance that sport arbitration bodies uphold basic fair trial guarantees in compulsory sport arbitration such as the right to an independent and impartial tribunal by introducing strict normative safeguards against conflicts of interests.

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Tell me more, tell me more: the obligation for national courts to reason their refusals to refer to the CJEU in Sanofi Pasteur.

By Jasper Krommendijk (Radboud University, the Netherlands)

On 13 February 2020, the ECtHR found for the fourth time ever a violation of Article 6(1) ECHR for a failure of the highest national court to give proper reasons for its refusal to refer preliminary questions to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in Sanofi Pasteur. In 2014 and 2015, the ECtHR already determined a breach for a similar omission of the Italian Court of Cassation in Dhahbi and Schipani, while the Lithuanian Supreme Administrative Court was given a rap over the knuckles in 2019 in Baltic Master. This time it was the French Court of Cassation who took the blame in a claim for damages for bodily harm resulting from vaccination against hepatitis B. The company Sanofi Pasteur was found liable by lower French courts and appealed to the Court of Cassation. It unsuccessfully requested the Court to refer questions about the Product Liability Directive 85/374 and, more specifically, the obligation for the victim to prove the damage, defect and causal relationship between defect and damage. The Court dismissed the appeal whereby it explicitly noted that it did so without a need to refer. In this comment I will argue that this judgment shows once again the unpredictability and inconsistency in the case law of the ECtHR. What is needed is a Grand Chamber judgment as well as guidance from the CJEU to tell us more about the exact requirements for national courts. Continue reading

Murtazaliyeva v. Russia: on the examination of witnesses and the “corrosive expansion” of the overall fairness test

On 18 December, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in the case of Murtazaliyeva v. Russia, finding no violation of the right to a fair trial in a case concerning the conviction of a Chechen woman for terrorist offences.  The most significant aspect of the judgment concerns the applicant’s complaint that the domestic courts’ refusal to call two defence witnesses violated Article 6 § 1 and § 3 (d) of the Convention.[1] As the Strasbourg case law was underdeveloped in this area, this case provided an important opportunity for the Court to clarify Convention standards.  Unfortunately, in doing so, the Grand Chamber yet again expanded the scope of the “overall fairness of the proceedings” test under Article 6 § 1, which now also serves as the final benchmark in this area. In this blog post, it will be argued that the increasing recourse by the Court to this test risks depriving defendants of meaningful procedural protection. Continue reading

Unravelling Salduz and the EU: Grand Chamber judgment of Beuze v. Belgium on the right of access to a lawyer

This guest blog post was written by Cedric Serneels, Teaching Assistant & Researcher at Institute for European Law, KU Leuven

On 9 November 2018, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its long-awaited judgment in the case of Beuze v. Belgium. In the present case, the Court was confronted with the question when a restriction on the right of early access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings renders those proceedings unfair and thus constitutes a breach of Articles 6(1) and 6(3)(c) of the European Convention. The majority ruled that under the principle established in Salduz v. Turkey a systematically applied general and mandatory restriction on the right of access to a lawyer will only amount to a breach of Article 6 ECHR when it compromises the overall fairness of the criminal proceedings. Accordingly, the mere existence of such a restriction does in itself not constitute a violation of the Convention. In a Concurring Opinion, analysed below, it is asserted that the majority interpreted Salduz in a way that departs from and even contradicts that judgment’s original meaning and that it adopted a much more relative — and thus less protective — approach without sufficient justification. While the Court was unanimous in finding a violation of the Convention, the soundness of its legal reasoning has thus been fiercely contested. Further, it will be argued that this ruling is particularly interesting for EU lawyers as well, as it provides an example of the two-directional interplay between EU fundamental rights law and the Convention. Continue reading

Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland: Strasbourg’s Assessment of the Right to a Fair Hearing in Sports Arbitration

This guest post was written by Cathérine Van de Graaf, a PhD student at Ghent University.

In Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland, the European Court of Human Rights considered the lawfulness of proceedings at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in Lausanne. In its analysis, the Court focussed on three elements: the free acceptance of the arbitration clause by the applicants; the status of the CAS as an independent and impartial tribunal established by law and the absence of a public hearing. Continue reading

Correia de Matos v. Portugal: Fragmented protection of the right to defend oneself in person

Dr. Dorothea Staes (affiliated researcher, The Perelman Center for Legal Philosophy, ULB, Belgium and trainee at the European Commission)

In the Grand Chamber judgement Correia de Matos v. Portugal of 4 April 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: the Court) decided by a majority of nine votes to eight that the right to a fair trial was not violated with regards to the applicant, who was not allowed to conduct his own defence in the criminal proceedings against him. The blog focuses on how this judgement upholds fragmentation between the interpretation of human rights by the Court and the United Nations Human Rights Committee (hereinafter: HRC). It also develops arguments as to why harmony – instead of fragmentation – should have been the preferred option. Continue reading

Tariq v United Kingdom: Closed Material Procedures Green-Lit by European Court

Lewis Graham, PhD Student at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

The First Section Committee recently handed down its Decision in Gulamhussein and Tariq v the United Kingdom (Application Nos. 46538/11 and 3960/12) (hereafter “Tariq v UK”). It acts as a de facto appeal from a UK Supreme Court decision handed down seven years ago, and sees the European Court of Human Rights returning to the thorny issue of Article 6 protections in the context of closed material procedures. The takeaway point is this: the ECtHR has clarified the position of its previous case law, and in doing so has ultimately approved the UK courts’ approach to Article 6 in the context of closed material procedures. Continue reading

Regner v. Czech Republic: has the European Court of Human Rights forgotten the fair trial rights when national security is at stake?

By Andrea Preziosi, University of Birmingham

On 19 September 2017, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered a controversial judgment concerning the extent of fair trial rights in relation to the withholding of information on grounds of national security.

Facts

The case began with an application lodged by Mr Regner, a Czech citizen who had worked for the Ministry of Defence in different high-profile posts and had his security clearance revoked on the basis of information provided by the intelligence service. Continue reading

Zherdev v. Ukraine: Article 3 of the ECHR and Children’s Rights at the Stage of Police Interrogation

By Prof. Dr. Ton Liefaard, Professor of Children’s Rights / UNICEF Chair in Children’s Rights, Leiden Law School, Leiden University, The Netherlands[1]

The Zherdev v. Ukraine judgement of 27 April 2017 by the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter: the Court) further augments the Court’s line of recognising the vulnerable position of children in police interrogation and custody. What is the impact of this recognition on the threshold to find a violation under Article 3 ECHR, and to what extent does the judgement reflect international legal standards relating to children in conflict with the law, and global concerns regarding police violence towards children?

This commentary begins with a brief overview of the relevant facts of the case. It then addresses the Court’s judgement, focusing on the allegations in relation to Article 3 and to a certain extent Article 6 ECHR. It explores the Court’s threshold to assess ill-treatment in the context of children in police custody, and highlights relevant international standards in that regard. This commentary concludes with a final note on the important role of lawyers in preventing and addressing ill-treatment, and the complex issue of children’s waiver of legal counsel. Continue reading

Van Wesenbeeck v. Belgium: Balancing defence rights with law enforcements’ possibilities to apply observation and infiltration methods

By Sofie Depauw, PhD Researcher at Ghent University, Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy (IRCP).

With its judgment in the case of Van Wesenbeeck v. Belgium, the Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has taken a stance with regard to the scope of defence rights in case of observation and infiltration methods. More specifically, the Court judged that, despite the lack of access to the confidential case file and the applicant’s inability to examine undercover officers, the right to a fair trial had not been violated. According to the Court, the supervisory role of the Indictments Division constituted a sufficient procedural guarantee to compensate for both interferences. Whereas it remains to be seen whether this judgment will hold, as the case can still be referred to the Grand Chamber, it is however interesting to take a closer look at the Court’s considerations in this regard and the dissenting opinion relating to the right to examine witnesses. Continue reading

Crossing the Very Fine Line between Justice and Vengeance: Massive Purges in the Aftermath of the Attempted Coup in Turkey

Guest post by Duygu Çiçek – LL.M. in Human Rights from the University of Edinburgh (2015-2016)

Turkey’s recent attempted coup of the 15th of July exposed various discussions and conspiracy theories about the reasons behind the coup as well as future concerns regarding political dynamics at the domestic and international level. This contribution, however, will specifically focus on the massive purges occurring in the aftermath of the failed coup and the human rights implications of these violations within the ambit of the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence, with a specific focus on the example of lustration.

Turkey’s current de-Gülenization movement has employed harsh measures, including torture and ill treatment of detainees, arbitrary detention of people in the absence of due process, as well as the screening, suspension, and dismissal of tens of thousands of teachers, public employees, judges, prosecutors, academics, and journalists accused of aligning themselves with the Gülen movement. The recent Decree-Law no. 672 enacted under the state of emergency does not only regulate the dismissal of public officials who are related to FETÖ (“Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization”, accused of creating a parallel state and organizing the coup attempt), but also bans them from working in the public field in the future, aiming to sweep out the influence of this movement from state institutions as well as the private sector. All these measures violate the European Convention on Human Rights (“the ECHR” or “the Convention”) and go beyond what can be justified even under the state of emergency invoked by the Turkish government.

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Al-Dulimi and Montana Management Inc. v. Switzerland: Norm conflict between UNSC Resolution and ECHR?

Guest post by Cedric De Koker, Phd Researcher, IRCP, Ghent University.

On 21 June 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered its judgment in the case of Al-Dulimi and Montana Management Inc. v. Switzerland (no. 5809/08). At issue was a potential norm conflict between the obligations stemming from a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution and the protections offered by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a recurrent theme in the Strasbourg jurisprudence (see amongst others the Al Jedda and Nada-judgments).

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Baka v. Hungary: judicial independence at risk in Hungary’s new constitutional reality

By Pieter Cannoot, academic assistant and doctoral researcher of constitutional law (Ghent University)

On 23 June 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held that Hungary violated the right of access to a court (article 6, §1 ECHR) and the freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR) of András Baka, the former President of the Hungarian Supreme Court (now: Kúria). Several constitutional and legislative reforms led to the early termination of Mr. Baka’s mandate, expelling the critical judge from the highest office in the Hungarian judiciary, without providing any possibility for judicial review. The judgement is only the latest episode in a series of worldwide condemnations of Hungary’s new constitutional and human rights reality.

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Neighbourly Murders* , Forced Forgetting and European Justice – Marguš v Croatia

This guest post was written by Carole Lyons, Law School, RGU, Scotland

On 27 May 2014, a Grand Chamber of the ECtHR, in Margus v Croatia, pronounced upon the contentious issue of the use of amnesties in post-conflict settings. The case concerned a Croatian army commander who had been convicted of several murders of civilians in 1991. He had benefited from an amnesty in relation to the murders in 1997 but in 2007 was convicted of war crimes. Just two months before Croatia became a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in November 1996, the Croatian Parliament had passed a Law on General Amnesty.[1] Under the provisions of the latter, immunity from prosecution was granted in relation to crimes committed during the war which took place between 1991 and 1995 after Croatia’s declaration of independence from the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Continue reading

Lawyer-client confidentiality at risk following Strasbourg’s decision in Öcalan v. Turkey

This guest post was written by Daniel Machover, Charles Kuhn and Christopher Honnery, respectively Head of the Civil Litigation Department, In-house Criminal and Regulatory Barrister, and Legal Researcher at Hickman and Rose.

 

The European Court of Human Rights’ (“ECtHR”) Chamber judgment in the case of Öcalan v. Turkey (No. 2) does nothing to further the debate on lawyer-client privilege. The ECtHR missed an important opportunity to confine the creeping interference with privilege that has characterised the post 9/11 world.

This decision was eagerly awaited in the UK because of the unsatisfactory framework left by the 2009 House of Lords decision in a Northern Irish case, In Re McE. In that instance an Irish solicitor, Manmohan Sandhu, had been convicted after security forces secretly recorded him inciting paramilitary clients to commit murder. A number of terrorist suspects subsequently sought assurances that their legal meetings were not subject to surveillance. The House of Lords ruled that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (‘RIPA’) permits the RIPA Code of Practice on Covert Surveillance to authorise surveillance of communications between solicitors and their clients both in custody and outside it in those exceptional circumstances where this will be compatible with the Convention. They rejected arguments that the express terms of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), as well as the common law on privilege, prevented electronic surveillance of privileged conversations. Since then there has been an amendment to RIPA to clarify that such surveillance must be judge authorised, and an amendment to the Code of Practice to clarify that it is justified only to prevent threat to national security “or to life and limb” – a criterion so loose as to be nearly meaningless.

In reaching its decision the House of Lords reviewed European case law but omitting consideration of S and Marper v UK, where the ECtHR had elaborated the limits to the state’s margin of appreciation and defined very clearly the need for proportionality in Article 8 cases. A number of commentators have opined that the European Court was unlikely to overturn the principle set out In Re McE but that it could – and should – clarify the proportionality question which the House of Lords had left unanswered. The case of Öcalan v Turkey was an opportunity to do just that.

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El Haski v. Belgium: Continued Debate on the (In)admissibility of Evidence Obtained through Ill-treatment

Earlier this week, the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in El Haski v. Belgium, a case on the admissibility at a criminal trial of evidence potentially obtained through ill-treatment of third persons in a third State (Morocco). The ECtHR ruled that the Belgian authorities should have excluded the evidence from the trial. The applicant, who had been convicted for his membership of a terrorist organisation (le groupe islamique combattant marocain; GICM), was granted € 5,000 compensation. The Belgian media quickly picked up on the judgment. Headlines titled “Terrorist receives compensation” and comments referred to “growing criticism” of the European Court “in most Western European countries, including Belgium”, “because Strasbourg systematically exceeds its competences”.

In this post I will first attempt to place the judgment in the wider case law of the Court on the admissibility of evidence obtained through violations of art. 3. I will return to the assessment of the case in the Belgian media at the end of the post.

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The ‘significant disadvantage’ in a ‘20 million case’

In a recent case the Court used the ‘significant disadvantage’ criterion to declare a complaint inadmissible. In Liga Portuguesa de Futebol Profissional v. Portugal the Court made a clear distinction between the human rights issue at stake and the case at large (which concerned 20 million euros). Continue reading

No Access to Court: on Prison Leave, Social Reintegration and Legal Formalism

In the recent judgment of Boulois v. Luxembourg, the Grand Chamber denied a prisoner his right of access to court (Art. 6, § 1 ECHR) in a case concerning the refusal to grant him prison leave. The Grand Chamber’s reasoning is tainted by legal formalism and fails to do justice to the importance of social reintegration prospects for prisoners.

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How significant is the ‘significant disadvantage’ of the new admissibility criterion (Part I)?

In its decisions in the cases of Holub v. the Czech Republic and Bratři Zátkové, a.s. v. the Czech Republic the Court has unanimously declared the applications inadmissible. The Court used the new admissibility criterion to determine that. Continue reading

A flight without passengers – new pilot judgment issued

The Court issued a pilot judgment last week in the case of Rumpf v. Germany. After reading the judgment it seems important to remind ourselves once more about the nature and objective of the pilot judgment procedure (PJP). It is described by Erik Fribergh, Registrar of the Court: “Rather than deal with these cases in the standard, individual way, the object of the procedure, right from the start, is to help create the conditions at national level in which all of these pending and potential claims can be settled. The specific feature of the PJP is that instead of dealing with each individual case, the Court singles out one or a small number of applications for priority treatment and adjourns all other applications until the pilot case has been decided.”[1] Continue reading

Admitting a wrong to avoid having to repair it? (That’s not how it works, says the Court in Hakimi v. Belgium)

Obviously, all governments hate it  when an important criminal who after a long investigation and trial has been convicted, finds a violation of his article 6 rights that necessitates a retrial. The Belgian government thought they had found a way around this, but it didn’t work. Continue reading

Gäfgen v. Germany: threat of torture to save a life?

In Gäfgen v. Germany , the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was confronted with a difficult issue: can police officers threaten to torture a suspect if they believe this may save the life of an innocent child? The Court clearly answered that they cannot. However, it did leave what could at first sight be interpreted as an opening for such conduct: it held that the Convention had not been violated by the domestic decision declaring the evidence obtained as a result of the threat of torture admissible.

Gäfgen v. Germany concerned the following facts. A man had lured a child into his flat, killed him through suffocation and hidden the body. Afterwards he demanded a ransom of the parents who were unaware that their child had already been murdered. They paid the ransom after which the police followed and arrested the suspect. During his interrogation the police, acting under the assumption that the child was still alive, threatened the suspect with considerable suffering if he persisted in refusing to disclose the child’s whereabouts. The suspect subsequently confessed to the crime and disclosed the whereabouts of the child’s body. The German courts, having established that the confession of the suspect had been extracted under duress, did not allow it as evidence during the ensuing criminal trial. However, they did declare the evidence obtained as a result of the ill-treatment, including the child’s body and the tire tracks found at the dumping site, admissible. During the trial the suspect confessed again, despite having been made aware of his right to remain silent and of the inadmissibility of his earlier confession as evidence.

This case offers clear similarities to the ticking time bomb scenario that certain politicians, philosophers and lawyers use to claim that it is justified to torture one person, someone who is suspected of having planted a bomb somewhere, in order to save the lives of – possibly thousands of – others. This case also shows that too many factors of such a scenario are uncertain and that it can thus never take hold in reality.

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The chilling effect of 690, 000 euro

In the case of Handölsdalen Sami Village and Others v. Sweden the applicants argued that legal costs at a national level that amounted to 690, 000 euro were in breach of the right to access to court under Article 6.

The applicants were four Swedish Sami villages. The case concerned domestic proceedings about a disputed right of the Sami to use private land for winter grazing of their reindeer. Large numbers of landowners brought proceedings against villages, including the applicants, seeking to obtain a judgment forbidding them from using land without concluding a contract with the respective owner. The Sami villages contested the action. The District court found against the applicants. The court ordered the applicants to pay the landowners’ legal costs, amounting to approximately 400,000 euro. The applicants appealed. The court of appeal upheld the district court’s judgment and ordered the applicants to pay the landowners’ legal costs in the appeal proceedings, amounting to approximately 290,000 euro. The applicants appealed to the Supreme Court, which refused their leave to appeal.

In the proceeding before the Court in Strasbourg the applicants asserted that, given the high legal costs of the proceedings, they did not have an effective access to court. The applicants also stated that these costs can lead to bankruptcy of the villages. Continue reading