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