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Legal reforms after innocent hotel director was jailed for 14 months without proper evidence

Jėčius v. Lithuania  | 2000

Legal reforms after innocent hotel director was jailed for 14 months without proper evidence

The Jėčius case was very important from the legal point of view and revealed a serious problem as regards the legality of the preventative detention, as well as a denied access to a court and the right to defence.

Danutė Jočienė, Judge of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, writing in "The Impact of the ECHR on Democratic Change in Central and Eastern Europe"

Background

Juozas Jėčius was a hotel director. He was detained for over 14 months whilst awaiting trial for murder. He complained that there was no evidence connecting him with the crime. Nevertheless, the authorities refused to release him. When the case eventually came to trial, Mr Jėčius was acquitted.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court ruled that there had never been any proper evidence linking Mr Jėčius to the crime. Furthermore, certain periods of his detention had never been ordered by any Lithuanian court. In these circumstances, the authorities had violated Mr Jėčius’ right to liberty.

Inheriting the Soviet legal system, Lithuania was struck by the fact that the preventative, lengthy or unjustified detention on remand had not been in line with the requirements of Article 5 of the convention [the right to liberty]. It was also not legally possible to question the lawfulness of the detention. These problems had been identified by the ECHR in the first Lithuanian cases lost in Strasbourg. After twenty years of the application of the convention in Lithuania the previously mentioned problems under Article 5 (and 6) of the convention have, in principle, disappeared. This was due to the efforts of national courts to guarantee the convention rights at a domestic level.

Danutė Jočienė, Judge of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, writing in "The Impact of the ECHR on Democratic Change in Central and Eastern Europe"

Follow-up

Following the court’s judgment, in 2002 the parliament adopted a new code on criminal procedure partly to improve compliance with Strasbourg case law. The law changed the rules on pre-trial detention, to help prevent this situation from happening again. It listed circumstances when pre-trial detention could be justified; set rules about the time limits of such detention; and established a procedure where a detainee could challenge it in court.


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