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Unfair trial leads to reforms to protect justice

Igual Coll v. Spain  | 2009

Unfair trial leads to reforms to protect justice

… when an appeal court is brought to deal with a case involving fact and law and to consider the question of guilt or innocence as a whole, it cannot, for fair trial reasons, decide these matters without directly assessing the evidence presented in person by the accused…

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, March 2009

Background

César Igual Coll lived in Valencia. He was charged with failing to pay family maintenance to his wife and son. However, Mr Igual Coll was cleared because he was unemployed at the time and had no money to make the payments.

The case went to appeal. The appeal court did not hold a public hearing. It did not take any evidence from Mr Igual Coll or give him a chance to explain why he was unable to find work. Nevertheless, the court concluded that he should have found a job, in order to make the payments, and convicted Mr Igual Coll. He was sentenced to eight weekends in prison and ordered to pay the outstanding money.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that, when convicting Mr Igual Coll, the appeal court had made new conclusions about the facts of the case without holding a public hearing or taking evidence from him. In the circumstances, this had breached Mr Igual Coll’s right to a fair trial.

Follow-up

Changes were made to the case law of the Spanish Constitutional Court, which were later taken up by the Supreme Court. In addition, the Law on Criminal Procedure was changed in 2015 to strengthen procedural safeguards and help prevent the problem happening again.