The re-examination of the evidences without being directly heard by the court is a violation of the right to a fair trial

In its judgment of 14 January 2014, which is not final, in the case of Cipleu v. Romania, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 6 (Right to a fair trial) of the Convention. The case concerned the complaint of a Romanian citizen regarding the violation of his right to a fair trial. The applicant complained that the criminal proceedings against him had not been fair, in particular in so far as he had been convicted without hearing evidence from him by the High Court of Cassation and Justice as the court of last resort.

The facts

The applicant’s family was involved in a car accident in which the driver fled from the scene of the accident. The applicant was sought by the police after an eyewitness alerted them. Asked who the driver was, the applicant said that he had been driving the car that evening. Because the applicant smelled of alcohol, he was taken for a blood test and then to the police station, where he made a written confession in presence of a lawyer. After a month, the applicant changed his statement and told the prosecutor that his wife had been the driver. The applicant was committed for trial on charges of failure to stop after an accident and drink driving. The Timis County Court found the applicant guilty as charged. The applicant appealed and the Timisoara Court of Appeal acquitted the applicant. The prosecutor appealed in cassation and the High Court of Cassation and Justice upheld the applicant’s conviction.

The law

Citing Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, the applicant complained that the criminal proceedings against him had not been fair, in particular in so far as the court of last resort had convicted him without hearing evidence from him.

Court’s decision

The Court stated that what matters for the purposes of Article 6 is that the High Court had to decide what weight to give to the applicant’s first statement and to his wife’s subsequent confession. The court re-tried the case, re-examined the evidence and gave it a fresh interpretation regarding applicant’s guilt or innocence. However, the issues raised could not be properly assessed without evidence from the applicant being heard directly by the court.

Considering that the lower courts convicted and acquitted the applicant based on the evidence directly heard, the High Court had convicted the applicant without hearing evidence from him.

The Court considered that, in the determination of criminal charges, the hearing of the defendant in person should nevertheless be the general rule and any derogation should be exceptional.

The Court concluded that the High Court failed to comply with the requirements of a fair trial and as a consequence held that there has been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention.