Right to a fair trial

  • When a person is charged with a crime, or involved in some other legal dispute, they have the right to a fair trial. This means a fair and public hearing, within a reasonable time, by an independent and impartial court.
  • The European Court of Human Rights has highlighted thousands of cases of unfair trials - including many which led to the imprisonment of an innocent person.
  • People have used the European Convention on Human Rights to get a retrial and to make sure that governments develop proper rules to avoid similar miscarriages of justice.

 

Examples

Failure to investigate attack on Roma settlement leads to local reforms

All of the Roma inhabitants of a village had their houses burnt down by other locals. The authorities were warned, but refused to intervene. After the attack, the authorities did not investigate properly and the courts failed to give the victims a fair trial. Their application to Strasbourg led to compensation and local programmes to combat discrimination and exclusion.

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Reinstatement of judge said to be the victim of political corruption

Oleksandr Volkov was dismissed from his role as a Supreme Court judge. His lawyer argued that he had been the victim of political corruption, which sought to undermine the independence of the Ukrainian judiciary. The Strasbourg court ruled that his dismissal had been filled with bias and manipulation, in breach of his basic rights. Mr Volkov was reinstated as a Supreme Court judge in 2015.

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Fair trial reforms after innocent man was sentenced to 40 years in jail

Neđo Ajdarić was 52 when he was given an unfair trial, wrongly convicted of three murders, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was released after winning his case in Strasbourg, and changes were introduced to help ensure fair trials in the future.

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Unfair trial leads to reforms to protect justice

César Igual Coll was cleared of failing to pay family maintenance, because he was unemployed and had no money. However, his case went to appeal. The appeal court held no public hearing and no evidence was taken from him. Nevertheless, César was convicted and sentenced to jail. The European court ruled that he had been denied a fair hearing. Changes were made to protect fair trials in Spain.

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Arbitrary detention in psychiatric hospital leads to reforms to protect liberty

Frits Winterwerp was detained in a psychiatric hospital. He said that he was not mentally ill and he should be released. However, he was repeatedly prevented from making his case in the Dutch courts, which kept extending his detention without hearing from him. The European court ruled this had violated his right to liberty. Reforms were made to protect people in Mr Winterwerp’s situation.

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Unreasonably long legal proceedings lead to reforms to speed up access to justice

The European court identified numerous cases where legal proceedings in Lithuania had taken an unreasonably long time. One example was that of Donatas Šulcas, whose case lasted for almost nine years. Following rulings by the European court, a wide range of reforms were made to reduce delays in civil, commercial, administrative and criminal cases.

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Reforms to address unreasonable legal delays

Dozens of applicants complained of excessive delays to legal proceedings in Germany. One was Rüdiger Rumpf, who waited for over 13 years to have an administrative issue decided upon. The Strasbourg court identified a structural problem concerning a lack of remedies for excessively long proceedings in Germany. This led to significant reforms to tackle the problem.

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Justice for the victims of Soviet oppression

Klaus and Yuri Kiladze were eleven and nine years old when their father was killed by the Soviet authorities. Their mother was then sent to a gulag, their family apartment was seized and they were taken into abusive State custody. Decades later, a Georgian law was passed establishing a right to compensation for victims of Soviet oppression. Yet the national courts still denied them justice.

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Suspicions of a biased judge lead to reforms to protect a fair legal system

DMD Group was involved in a valuable legal claim against other companies. A judge in charge of allocating cases arranged to hear the claim himself, then abruptly dismissed it. The DMD Group suspected the judge had deliberately arranged to reject their case. The European court said that the rules allowing the judge to control the case had been unfair – leading to reforms to the justice system.

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Reforms after bank refused to pay out pensioner’s savings

Ruža Jeličić was a citizen of the former Yugoslavia. She worked in Germany in the 1970s and 80s and kept savings of German marks in a bank in the former Yugoslavia. However, along with thousands of others with foreign currency savings, she was banned from withdrawing the money after moving back home. After Mrs Jeličić stopped working and her husband died, she had no money to live on.

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Case highlights the need to protect the impartiality of judges

Mrs M had her legal dispute presided over by a judge who was closely related to two of the lawyers representing the other side. The Strasbourg court ruled that Mrs M’s fears of impartiality had been justified and her right to a fair trial had been breached.

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Unfair trial leads to fairer criminal procedures

Two men were convicted of a robbery on the basis of evidence which had been manipulated by police. The Strasbourg court ruled that the defendants had an unfair trial. The law was changed to improve the identification of suspects and protect the right to a fair trial in Albania.

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Reforms introduced after police failed to properly investigate a racist attack

One night in the village of Gánovce-Filice, Roma villagers were beaten with baseball bats and iron bars by other locals. The Strasbourg court ruled that the authorities failed to properly investigate, or punish those responsible. The case was re-opened and legal changes were made to help the authorities’ tackle racist crimes.

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Torture of man in custody influences reforms to end police abuse of detainees

Olsi Kaçiu was tortured by police and forced to give a statement which was later used to convict him. The Strasbourg court found that his torture and unfair trial had violated Mr Kaçiu’s basic rights. As a result of this case and others, a range of reforms were introduced to prevent the ill-treatment of detainees and the use of evidence obtained through ill-treatment.

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Reforms introduced after failure to pay compensation to Chernobyl rescue worker

Anatoliy Burdov was exposed to radiation whilst working on the emergency response to the Chernobyl disaster. He was entitled to certain social benefits, but the authorities refused to pay - even when ordered to do so by Russian courts. The Strasbourg court said that this violated Mr Burdov’s rights. As a result, reforms were introduced to improve the enforcement of judgments.

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Legal reforms after court-ordered child support was unpaid for thirteen years

Snežana Boucke had a baby daughter out of marriage. The father was ordered to pay child support. The authorities failed to make sure the order was enforced, and the payments were not made for 13 years. The Strasbourg court ruled that this breached Ms Boucke’s right to have court rulings properly enforced. The case led to significant reforms to improve the enforcement of court orders.

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Legal aid system introduced after woman suffering from domestic violence was unable to access the courts

Mrs Airey wanted to be legally separated from her husband, who was allegedly a violent alcoholic. However, there was no legal aid and she could not afford the lawyers’ fees. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the lack of legal aid effectively denied Mrs Airey access to a court, breaching her basic rights. Legal aid for such cases was introduced in Ireland in the following year.

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Failure to investigate allegations of police ill-treatment

Market trader Ágoston Kmetty was allegedly beaten for 3 hours by officers in a police station. However, no charges were brought against any officers. The Strasbourg court held that the prosecutor had never properly investigated – refusing even to question the officers allegedly involved. Subsequent changes improved the remedies available to victims to ensure that crimes are properly investigated.

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An end to government control over the right to appeal to the Constitutional Tribunal

Mr Millan wanted to appeal his case to the Constitutional Tribunal. However, the law said that a government body could refuse permission – which it did. Whilst the case was in Strasbourg, the government settled the case – agreeing that people should be able to appeal without government permission.

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Legal reforms to tackle delays in getting justice

Hundreds of applicants complained of excessively long proceedings in Turkish courts. One was Fatma Ormancı, whose claim that the government had failed to protect her husband from terrorism was undecided for almost 6 years. The Strasbourg court found that applicants in over 280 cases faced excessively long delays in Turkish legal proceedings – leading to substantial reforms.

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Justice for the family of asbestos poisoning victim

Hans Moor was exposed to asbestos during his work in the 1960s and 70s. This gave him cancer, which was diagnosed in 2004. Hans Moor died in 2005, aged 58. Just before his death, Mr Moor had brought a claim for damages against his former employer for failing to take precautions against exposure to asbestos. The claim was continued by his wife and children.

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Changes to legal procedures after detainee denied the opportunity to make his case in court

Peter Frommelt asked to be released whilst awaiting trial for financial crimes. When this was considered on appeal, neither he nor his lawyer were allowed to make any legal arguments. The Strasbourg court ruled that this had been unfair. The procedures were changed, allowing people to make comments to a court in such circumstances.

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"Totally insufficient" investigation of a suspicious death and the reform of criminal investigations

Tatiana Trufin’s brother was killed in suspicious circumstances. Despite evidence of an attack, the authorities did very little to investigate for the next 12 years. The Strasbourg court ruled that their efforts had been totally insufficient. This influenced reforms to improve the effectiveness of criminal investigations in Romania.

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Reforms to protect access to justice after applications to Strasbourg highlight unreasonably long legal proceedings

The European Court of Human Rights identified well over a thousand cases where Italian legal proceedings had taken an unreasonably long time. One example was the case of Mr Ceteroni , whose litigation about his family business had lasted for over a decade. A wide range of reforms were introduced to reduce delays.

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Court system reformed after justice delayed for over a decade

Aleksandar Caminski was attacked by five people. Charges were brought against the suspects, but it took 11 years for them to be brought to trial. The Strasbourg court found that this delay was unreasonably long. Along with other cases, this helped bring about significant changes to cut the length of proceedings in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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Man infected with HIV through blood transfusion faces years of legal delays

Mr C was infected with HIV by a hospital blood transfusion. He claimed compensation. However, five years of delays in Danish courts meant that he died of AIDs before the case was examined. The European Court of Human Rights found that the delays had breached Mr C’s right to have access to a court in a reasonable time. Danish court practice was changed to help avoid such delays in future.

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