Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights
Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights is a provision of the European Convention which protects the right to a fair trial. In criminal law cases and cases to determine civil rights it protects the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within reasonable time, the presumption of innocence, right to silence and other minimum rights for those charged in a criminal case (adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence, access to legal representation, right to examine witnesses against them or have them examined, right to the free assistance of an interpreter).
Article 6 reads as follows.
- In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
- Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.
- Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:(a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;(b) to have adequate time and the facilities for the preparation of his defence;(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.
The majority of Convention violations that the Court finds today are excessive delays, in violation of the "reasonable time" requirement, in civil and criminal proceedings before national courts, mostly in Italy and France. Under the "independent tribunal" requirement, the Court has ruled that military judges in Turkish state security courts are incompatible with Article 6.
Another significant set of violations concerns the "confrontation clause" of Article 6 (i.e. the right to examine witnesses or have them examined). In this respect, problems of compliance with Article 6 may arise when national laws allow the use in evidence of the testimonies of absent, anonymous and vulnerable witnesses.
- Colozza v Italy (1985) – "When domestic law permits a trial to be held notwithstanding the absence of a person 'charged with a criminal offence' who is in Mr. Colozza's position, that person should, once he becomes aware of the proceedings, be able to obtain, from a court which has heard him, a fresh determination of the merits of the charge." (see also: Trial in absentia § Europe)
- Heaney and McGuinness v. Ireland (2000) – Case involving two Irish citizens imprisoned for choosing to remain silent and to use their rights not to incriminate themselves when suspected of an IRA-related terrorist act. "The Court ... finds that the security and public order concerns relied on by the Government cannot justify a provision which extinguishes the very essence of the applicants' rights to silence and against self-incrimination guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention."
- Perez v France (2004) – "the right to a fair trial holds so prominent a place in a democratic society that there can be no justification for interpreting Article 6 § 1 of the Convention restrictively"
- García Ruiz v Spain (1999) – The Court applied the fourth-instance doctrine, stating that it is not its function to deal with errors of fact or law allegedly committed by a national court unless and in so far as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention.
- Van Kück v Germany (2003) – the court took the approach of considering the merits of the case and in finding a breach based on the fact that the German courts had failed to follow the Strasbourg court's approach to medical necessity on hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery. This was in line with and an expansion of the earlier ruling in Camilleri v Malta (2000) in which the courts were more willing to consider the merits of the court's decision which compromised fairness, stating that the decision had been "arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable".
- Khamidov v Russia (2007) – the court considered "abundant evidence" contradicting the finding of the national court, with the result that "the unreasonableness of this conclusion is so striking and palpable on the face of it" that the decision was "grossly arbitrary". This once again showed the court's changing stance in considering the actual merits of a case. This therefore illustrates the court is developing an appellate function as opposed to a review function.
The Convention applies to contracting parties only; however, in cases where a contracting party court has to confirm the ruling of a non-contracting state, they retain a duty to act within the confines of article 6. Such was the case in Pellegrini v Italy (2001), a case concerning the application of a Vatican ecclesiastical court ruling on a divorce case.
In the determination of criminal charges, Engel v Netherlands set out three criteria to determine meaning of "criminal": a) the classification of the offense in the law of the respondent state, b) the nature of the offence, c) the possible punishment. Funke v France states that if the contracting state classifies the act as criminal, then it is automatically so for the purposes of article 6.
- "Heaney and McGuinness v. Ireland". Retrieved 17 June 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Perez v France". Retrieved 9 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "' . . . IT IS NOT ITS TASK TO ACT AS A COURT OF FOURTH INSTANCE': THE CASE OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-10-09.
- "REPORTS OF JUDGMENTS AND DECISIONS" (PDF). Retrieved 2021-01-12.
- "Courts' refusal to order reimbursement of top-up costs of transsexual's gender re-assignment treatment". Archived from the original on 7 August 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Khamidov v Russia". Retrieved 17 June 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- D. Vitkauskas, G. Dikov Protecting the Right to a Fair Trial under the European Convention on Human Rights. A Handbook for Legal Practitioners. 2nd Edition, prepared by Dovydas Vitkauskas Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 2017
- D. Vitkauskas, G. Dikov Protecting the Right to a Fair Trial under the European Convention on Human Rights. Council of Europe Human Rights Handbooks Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 2012
- N. Mole, C. Harby The right to a fair trial. A guide to the implementation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 2006
- R. Goss Criminal Fair Trial Rights: Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights Portland/Oxford: Hart, 2014