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EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
CASE OF NIKITIN v. RUSSIA
(Application no. 50178/99)
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Nikitin v. Russia,
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mr J.-P. Costa, President,
Mr A.B. Baka,
Mr L. Loucaides,
Mr K. Jungwiert,
Mr V. Butkevych,
Mr M. Ugrekhelidze,
Mr A. Kovler, judges,
and Mrs S. Doll?, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 13 November 2003 and 29 June 2004,
Delivers the following judgment, which
was adopted on the last-mentioned date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 50178/99) against the Russian Federation lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Russian national, Mr Aleksandr Konstantinovich Nikitin (the applicant) on 18 July 1999.
2. The Russian Government (“the Government”) were represented by Mr P. Laptev, Representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights.
3. The applicant alleged that supervisory review conducted after his final acquittal constituted a violation of his right to a fair trial and a violation of his right not to be tried again in criminal proceedings for an offence of which he had been finally acquitted.
4. The application was allocated to the Second Section of the Court (Rule 52 § 1 of the Rules of Court). Within that Section, the Chamber that would consider the case (Article 27 § 1 of the Convention) was constituted as provided in Rule 26 § 1.
5. By a decision of 13 November 2003, the Court declared the application partly admissible.
6. The applicant and the Government
each filed observations on the merits (Rule 59 § 1). The Chamber having
decided, after consulting the parties, that no hearing on the merits was
required (Rule 59 § 3 in fine), the parties replied in writing to each
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
7. The applicant was born in 1952 and lives in St. Petersburg.
8. In February 1995 applicant, a former navy officer, joined the environmental project of a Norwegian non-governmental organisation, “Bellona”, to work on a report entitled “The Russian Northern Fleet. Sources of Radioactive Contamination” (“the report”).
9. On 5 October 1995 the Murmansk office of Bellona was searched by the Federal Security Service (FSB RF, “the FSB”). The FSB seized the draft report, interrogated the applicant and instituted criminal proceedings on suspicion of treason, as the draft report allegedly contained information about accidents on Russian nuclear submarines classified as officially secret.
10. On 20 October 1998 the applicant’s trial on a count of treason through espionage and a count of aggravated disclosure of an official secret began before the St. Petersburg City Court. After four days of hearing, on 29 October 1998, the case was remitted for further investigation. The court found that the indictment was vague, which hindered the applicant’s defence and prevented the court from carrying out an examination on the merits. It also found that the investigation file left open the question whether the report contained any official secrets as such, and that it did not contain a “proper and complete” expert evaluation of possible open sources of the information, or of the estimated damage. The court ordered the prosecution to conduct an additional expert examination concerning the possibility of the applicant having obtained the controversial information from an open source and to take other steps to complete the investigation.
11. On 3 November 1998 the prosecution appealed against this decision, claiming that the case was clear enough for a court determination and that there was no need for further investigation.
12. On 4 February 1999 the order for the further investigation was upheld by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation (the Supreme Court).
13. On 23 November 1999 the St. Petersburg City Court resumed the applicant’s trial on the same counts.
14. On 29 December 1999 the St. Petersburg City Court acquitted the applicant of all the charges, having found that the applicant was prosecuted on the basis of secret and retroactive decrees.
15. The prosecution appealed.
16. On 17 April 2000 the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld the acquittal. The court found the charges based on secret and retroactive acts incompatible with the Constitution. The acquittal thus acquired final force.
17. On 30 May 2000 the Prosecutor General lodged a request with the Presidium of the Supreme Court to review the case in supervisory proceedings (protest na prigovor, vstupivshii v zakonnuiu silu). He challenged the judgment on the grounds of the wrongful application of the law governing the domain of official secrets, the vagueness of the indictment entailing procedural prejudice against the applicant, and other defects in the criminal investigation, in particular the lack of an expert report as to whether the disputed information had originated from public sources. He called for a reassessment of the applicable law, of the facts and evidence on the case file, and for its remittal for fresh investigation.
18. On 13 September 2000 the Presidium of the Supreme Court dismissed the prosecutor’s request and upheld the acquittal. While it acknowledged that the investigation had been tainted with flaws and shortfalls, it found that the prosecution could not rely on them, as it had been entirely within the prosecution’s control to redress them at the earlier stages of proceedings. Moreover, the Presidium pointed out that the investigation authority had earlier been required to remedy exactly the same defects as that invoked in the request to quash the acquittal. It recalled that on 29 October 1998 the court had expressly instructed the investigating authority, inter alia, to conduct a study of information in the public domain to ascertain whether the applicant could have obtained the disputed data from open sources.
19. On 17 July 2002 the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation examined the applicant’s challenge to the laws which allow supervisory review of a final acquittal.
20. In its ruling of the same date the Constitutional Court declared incompatible with the Constitution the legislative provisions permitting the re-examination and quashing of an acquittal on the grounds of a prejudicial or incomplete investigation or court hearing, or on the grounds of a wrong assessment of the facts of the case, save in cases where there had been new evidence or a fundamental defect in the previous proceedings.
21. The Constitutional Court’s reasoning included, inter alia, the following:
“... Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention provides that the right not to be tried or punished twice does not prevent the re-opening of the case in accordance with the law and penal procedure of the State concerned, if there is evidence of new or newly discovered facts, or if there has been a fundamental defect in the previous proceedings, which could affect the outcome of the case.
It follows ... that the national legislation may provide, subject to the above requirements, for a system by which a case may be re-opened and a final judgment be quashed, and to specify where, depending on the case, a procedure for re-opening on the grounds of new or newly discovered evidence, or the supervisory review should apply.
Any exclusion from the general prohibition to resume proceedings to the detriment of the acquitted or convicted person may only be justified in exceptional circumstances where a failure to rectify a miscarriage of justice would undermine the very essence of justice and the purpose of a verdict as a judicial act, and which would upset the required balance between the protected values and interests involved, such as the rights of convicted persons and the interests of the victims of crime. In the absence of any possibility to reverse a final judgment resulting from proceedings tainted by a fundamental defect crucial for the outcome of the case, such an erroneous judgment would continue to have effect notwithstanding the principle of general fairness, ... and the principle of judicial protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.
3.2. According to the [Constitution and the Convention] any possibility to quash a final judgment and to review a criminal case provided for at the national level must be subject to strict conditions and criteria clearly defining the grounds of such review, given that the judgment concerned has already become binding and determinative of the individual’s guilt and sentence.
However the grounds for review of final judgments provided for in the Code of Criminal Procedure [of 1960] go beyond these limits. At the same time as establishing a procedure for review of final convictions and, especially, acquittals,... it is necessary to formulate definite grounds for its application with sufficient distinctness, precision and clarity, to exclude its arbitrary application by courts. Having failed to do so, [the legislature] misrepresented the conditions for the quashing of final judgments in criminal cases which follow from [the Constitution] and Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention. ...
Furthermore, [the power] of a supervisory
instance to remit a case for fresh investigation where it concludes, through
its own assessment of evidence, that the previous investigation has been
prejudicial or incomplete, is incompatible with the constitutional principles
of criminal procedure and with the Constitutional Court’s jurisprudence,
because it gives the prosecution an unfair advantage by enhancing its chance
to prove guilt even after the relevant judgment has entered into force.
It follows that a court of supervisory instance cannot quash a final acquittal
only on the grounds of it being unfounded ... Accordingly, the prosecutor
is not entitled to request the supervisory review of such a judgment on
the grounds of it being unfounded ...”
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
A. Applicable legislation
22. Section VI, Chapter 30, of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1960, (Ugolovno-protsessual’nyi kodeks RSFSR), in force at the material time, allowed certain officials to challenge a judgment which had entered into force and to have the case reviewed on points of law and procedure. The supervisory review procedure (Articles 371-383) is separate from proceedings in which a case is reviewed in the light of newly established facts (Articles 384-390). However, similar rules of procedure apply to them (Article 388).
1. Entry into force of a judgment
23. Pursuant to Article 356 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a judgment enters into force and is subject to execution as of the day when the appeal (cassation) instance pronounces its judgment or, if it has not been appealed against, when the time-limit for appeal has expired.
2. Grounds for supervisory review and case re-opening
Grounds for setting aside judgments which have entered into force
“The grounds for quashing or changing a judgment [on supervisory review] are the same as [those for setting aside judgments which have not entered into force on cassation appeals]. ...”
Grounds for quashing or changing judgments [on cassation appeal]
“The grounds for quashing or changing a judgment on appeal are as follows:
(i) prejudicial or incomplete inquest, investigation or court examination;
(ii) inconsistency between the facts of the case and the conclusions reached by the court;
(iii) grave violation of procedural law;
(iv) misapplication of [substantive] law;
(v) inadequacy of the sentence to the gravity of offence and the convict’s personality.”
Grounds for re-opening case files due to new circumstances
“Judgments, decisions and rulings which entered into force may be set aside due to newly discovered circumstances.
The grounds for re-opening of a criminal case are as follows:
(i) the entry into force of a judgment by which a false witness testimony or an expert opinion, forgery of evidence, an investigation or court records or other documents, or a false translation, which entailed the pronouncement of an unfounded or unlawful judgment, is established;
(ii) the entry into force of a judgment by which criminal abuse of powers by judges performing their judicial function in connection with the case is established;
(iii) the entry into force of a judgment by which criminal abuse of powers by investigation officers dealing with the case is established, if it entailed the pronouncement of an unfounded or unlawful judgment, or a decision to terminate the prosecution;
(iv) other circumstances unknown to the court at the time when the case was examined, which alone or combined with other facts established earlier, prove innocence or the commission of a more or a less grave offence than the one of which an individual was convicted, or the guilt of a person who has been acquitted or whose prosecution was terminated.”
3. Authorised officials
24. Article 371 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provided that the power to lodge a request for a supervisory review could be exercised by the Prosecutor General, the President of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and their respective Deputies in relation to any judgment other than those of the Presidium of the Supreme Court, and by the Presidents of the regional courts in respect of any judgment of a regional or subordinate court. A party to criminal or civil proceedings could solicit the intervention of such officials for a review.
4. Limitation period
25. Article 373 of the Code of Criminal Procedure set a limitation period of one year during which a request calling for the supervisory review of an acquittal could be brought by an authorised official. The period ran from the day when the acquittal entered into force.
5. The effect of a supervisory review on acquittal
26. According to Articles 374, 378 and 380 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the request for supervisory review was to be considered by the judicial board (the Presidium) of the competent court. The court could examine the case on the merits, and was not bound by the scope and grounds of the extraordinary appeal.
27. The Presidium could dismiss or uphold the request. If the request was dismissed, the earlier judgment remained in force. If it upheld the request, the Presidium could decide whether to quash the judgment and terminate the criminal proceedings, to remit the case for a new investigation, or for a fresh court examination at any instance, to uphold a first instance judgment reversed on appeal, or to amend and uphold any of the earlier judgments.
28. Article 380 §§ 2 and 3 provided that the Presidium could in the same proceedings reduce a sentence or amend the legal qualification of a conviction or sentence to the defendant’s benefit. If it found a sentence or legal qualification too lenient, it had to remit the case for a new examination.
29. On 1 July 2002 a new Code of Criminal Procedure entered into force. According to its Article 405, the application of supervisory review is limited to the cases where it does not involve changes to the detriment of the convicted person. The acquittals and decisions to terminate prosecution cannot be the subject of a supervisory review.
B. Relevant materials
30. On 19 January 2000 the Committee
of Ministers at the 694th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies adopted Recommendation
No. R (2000) 2 on the re-examination or re-opening of certain cases at
domestic level following judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Recommendation encouraged the Contracting Parties to examine their
national legal systems with a view to ensuring that there exist adequate
possibilities to re-examine the case, including the re-opening of proceedings,
in instances where the Court has found a violation of the Convention.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 4 OF PROTOCOL NO. 7 TO THE CONVENTION
31. The applicant contends that the supervisory review proceedings which took place after his final acquittal constituted a violation of his right not to be tried again in criminal proceedings for an offence of which he had been finally acquitted. He alleges that he was at least liable to be tried again on the same counts, as the very fact of lodging a supervisory request by the Prosecutor General created the potential for a new round of prosecution. He invokes Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention which, in so far as relevant, provides:
“1. No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings under the jurisdiction of the same State for an offence for which he has already been finally acquitted or convicted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of that State.
2. The provisions of the preceding paragraph
shall not prevent the re-opening of the case in accordance with the law
and penal procedure of the State concerned, if there is evidence of new
or newly discovered facts, or if there has been a fundamental defect in
the previous proceedings, which could affect the outcome of the case.”
A. The parties’ submissions
32. The Government consider that, for the purposes of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7, the supervisory review proceedings did not constitute a second trial. They contend that the domestic law at the material time did not permit the supervisory instance to convict the applicant, but only to quash the previous judgments and to remit the case for fresh examination in adversarial proceedings. In support of their position they invoke the Constitutional Court’s ruling of 17 July 2002 in the applicant’s case. The Government submit that the applicant’s acquittal cannot be said to have been invalidated or suspended at any time, given that the prosecutor’s request was dismissed by the Presidium.
33. The Government further point out that, following the recent change in the legislation, final acquittals can no longer be challenged by way of supervisory review, and other judgments cannot be challenged by way of supervisory review to the detriment of a convicted person.
34. The applicant contests the Government’s
position and submits that, contrary to the ne bis in idem principle, the
prosecutor’s request made him liable to be tried again for an offence of
which he had been finally acquitted. Although the outcome remained unchanged,
he was effectively prosecuted twice for the same offence. He claims that
the supervisory review was not justified as an exceptional re-opening permitted
by the second paragraph of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7, because the Presidium
had established no fundamental defect in previous proceedings which would
call for a reassessment of the case.
B. The Court’s assessment
35. The Court notes that the protection against duplication of criminal proceedings is one of the specific safeguards associated with the general guarantee of a fair hearing in criminal proceedings. It recalls that the aim of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 is to prohibit the repetition of criminal proceedings that have been concluded by a final decision (see, among other authorities, Gradinger v. Austria, judgment of 23 October 1995, Series A no. 328-C, p. 65, § 53). The Court further notes that the repetitive aspect of trial or punishment is central to the legal problem addressed by Article 4 of Protocol No. 7. In Oliveira v. Switzerland, (judgment of 30 July 1998, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-V), the fact that the penalties in the two sets of proceedings were not cumulative was relevant to the finding that there was no violation of the provision where two sets of proceedings were brought in respect of a single act (p. 1998, § 27).
36. Turning to the supervisory review of an acquittal conducted in circumstances such as the present case, the Court will first determine what elements, if any, of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 are to be found in such proceedings. For this purpose, it will have regard to the following aspects:
- whether there had been a “final” decision before the supervisory instance intervened, or whether the supervisory review was an integral part of the ordinary procedure and itself provided a final decision;
- whether the applicant was “tried again” in the proceedings before the Presidium; and
- whether the applicant became “liable to be tried again” by virtue of the Prosecutor General’s request.
Finally, the Court will consider whether, on the basis of this case, the supervisory review could in principle have given rise to any form of duplication of the criminal proceedings, contrary to the protection afforded by Article 4 of Protocol No. 7.
1. Whether the applicant had been “finally acquitted” prior to the supervisory review
37. According to the Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 7 to the Convention, which itself refers back to the European Convention on the International Validity of Criminal Judgments, a “decision is final ‘if, according to the traditional expression, it has acquired the force of res judicata. This is the case when it is irrevocable, that is to say when no further ordinary remedies are available or when the parties have exhausted such remedies or have permitted the time-limit to expire without availing themselves of them’”.
38. The Court notes that the procedural law at the time allowed certain officials to challenge a judgment which had entered into force. The grounds for supervisory review were the same as for bringing an ordinary appeal. As far as acquittals were concerned, the request for supervisory review could be brought within one year after entry into force of the judgment. Assuming that the Presidium had granted the prosecutor’s request and the proceedings had been launched anew, the ensuing ruling would still constitute the only decision in the applicant’s criminal case, with no other decision remaining concurrently in force, and that decision would be “final”. It appears, thus, that the domestic legal regime in Russia at the time did not regard decisions such as the acquittal in the present case as “final” until the time-limit for making an application for supervisory review had expired. On that basis, the decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Court of 30 May 2000 not to accept the case for supervisory review would be the “final” decision in the case. On such an interpretation, Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 would have no application whatever in the present case, as all the decisions before the Court related to the same, single set of proceedings.
39. However, the Court recalls that a supervisory request for annulment of a final judgment is a form of extraordinary appeal as it is not accessible to the defendant in a criminal case directly, and its application depends on the discretion of authorised officials. The Court has, for example, not accepted that supervisory review is an effective domestic remedy in either the civil or the criminal contexts (see Tumilovich v. Russia (dec.), no. 47033/99, 22 June 1999; Berdzenishvili v. Russia (dec.), no. 31697/03, 29 January 2004), and it has found that the quashing of a judgment on supervisory review can create problems as to the legal certainty to be afforded to the initial judgment (see Brumarescu v. Romania [GC], no. 28342/95, § 62, ECHR 1999-VII; Ryabykh v. Russia, no. 52854/99, §§ 56-58, 24 July 2003). The Court will therefore assume in the following paragraphs that the appeal judgment of 17 April 2000, by which the applicant’s acquittal acquired final force on that day, was the “final decision” referred to in Article 4 of Protocol No. 7.
2. Whether the applicant was “tried again” in the proceedings before the Presidium
40. The Court observes that the Prosecutor General’s request for supervisory review of the acquittal was examined by the Presidium. Its determination was limited, at that stage, to the question of whether to grant the request for supervisory review. In the circumstances of the present case, the Presidium did not accept the application for review, and the final decision remained that of 17 April 2000.
41. It follows that the applicant was not “tried again” within the meaning of Article 4 § 1 of Protocol No. 7 of the Convention in the proceedings by which the Presidium of the Supreme Court rejected the Prosecutor General’s request for supervisory review of the applicant’s acquittal.
3. Whether the applicant was “liable to be tried again”
42. The Court has next considered whether the applicant was “liable to be tried again”, as he alleges. The Court notes that had the request been upheld, the Presidium would have been required, by the then Article 380 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, to choose one of the options set out at paragraph 27 above. Importantly, the Presidium was not empowered to make a new determination on the merits in the same proceedings, but merely to decide whether to grant the Prosecutor General’s request or not.
43. It appears therefore that the potential for a resumption of proceedings in this case would have been too remote or indirect to constitute a “liability” within the meaning of Article 4 § 1 of Protocol No. 7.
44. Although the elements discussed in the preceding paragraphs 40-43 are in themselves sufficient to demonstrate that supervisory review in this case did not lead to a violation of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7, the Court notes that there exists a substantive, thus more important, reason to reach the same conclusion. It considers that the crucial point in this case is that supervisory review could not in any event have given rise to a duplication of criminal proceedings, within the meaning of Article 4 § 1 of Protocol No. 7, for the following reasons.
45. The Court observes that Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 draws a clear distinction between a second prosecution or trial which is prohibited by the first paragraph of this Article, and the resumption of a trial in exceptional circumstances, which is provided for in its second paragraph. Article 4 § 2 of Protocol No. 7 expressly envisages the possibility that an individual may have to accept, in accordance with domestic law, prosecution on the same counts where a case is re-opened following the emergence of new evidence or the discovery of a fundamental defect in the previous proceedings.
46. The Court notes that the Russian legislation in force at the material time permitted a finally decided criminal case to be re-opened on the grounds of new or newly discovered evidence or a fundamental defect (Articles 384-390 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). This procedure obviously falls within the scope of Article 4 § 2 of Protocol No. 7. The Court, however, notes that, in addition, a system also existed which allowed the review of a case on the grounds of a judicial error on points of law and procedure (supervisory review, Articles 371-383 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). The subject matter of such proceedings remains the same criminal charge, and the validity of its previous determination. If the request is granted and the proceedings are resumed for further consideration, the ultimate effect of supervisory review would be to annul all decisions previously taken by courts and to determine a criminal charge in a new decision. To this extent, the effect of supervisory review is the same as a re-opening, because both constitute a form of continuation of the previous proceedings. The Court therefore concludes that for the purposes of the ne bis in idem the supervisory review may be regarded as a special type of re-opening falling within the scope of Article 4 § 2 of Protocol No. 7.
47. The applicant’s argument that the supervisory review was unnecessary and amounted to an abuse, is not relevant to the question of compliance with Article 4 of Protocol No. 7: the manner in which the power was exercised is relative to the overall fairness of criminal proceedings, but cannot be decisive for the purpose of identifying the procedure as a “re-opening” as opposed to a “second trial”. On the facts of the present case, the proceedings aimed at bringing about a supervisory review were an attempt to have the proceedings re-opened, and not an attempted “second trial”.
48. Finally, the Court notes that the conformity with the requirement of lawfulness under Article 4 § 2 of Protocol No. 7 in the present case is undisputed.
49. The Court concludes that the
applicant was not liable to be tried or punished again within the meaning
of Article 4 § 1 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention, and accordingly there
has been no violation of that provision.
II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
50. The applicant maintains that the supervisory review proceedings conducted after his final acquittal constituted a violation of his right to a fair trial. He invokes Article 6 § 1 of the Convention which, in so far as relevant, provides:
“In the determination of ... any criminal
charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a]
A. The parties’ submissions
51. In their post-admissibility submissions, the Government state that the supervisory review proceedings did not constitute a new examination of the applicant’s criminal charge because the request to quash the acquittal lodged by the Prosecutor General was dismissed by the Presidium of the Supreme Court without entering into the merits. They inform the Court that, as Article 380 § 2 prohibited the Presidium from increasing a sentence or changing a legal qualification for a more serious one without remitting the case for new examination, the Presidium itself was unable to replace an acquittal with a conviction at the same time as granting the request for re-opening. They also claim that, since the supervisory review proceedings had no negative impact on the applicant’s final acquittal, they cannot constitute a violation of the applicant’s right to a fair hearing within the meaning of Article 6 § 1.
52. The Government point out that the supervisory review in the present case was conducted in accordance with the procedure prescribed by law. In particular, the prosecutor’s request was lodged within one year of the entry into force of the acquittal.
53. The applicant, on the contrary,
maintains that the very possibility to challenge the final and enforceable
acquittal violates his right to a fair trial. He states that, although
the supervisory review complied with the formal requirements imposed by
law at the material time, it was not necessary. He claims that, in the
circumstances of the case, the prosecutor’s call for supervisory review
proceedings was clearly abusive and incompatible with the Convention principles.
B. The Court’s assessment
54. The Court has found above that supervisory review in this case was compatible with the ne bis in idem principle enshrined in Article 4 of Protocol No. 7, which is itself one aspect of a fair trial. The mere fact that the institution of supervisory review as applied in the present case was compatible with Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 is not, however, sufficient to establish compliance with Article 6. The Court must determine its compatibility with Article 6 independently of its conclusion under Article 4 of Protocol No. 7.
55. In particular, the Court recalls that it has previously held that the institution of supervisory review can give rise to problems of legal certainty, as judgments in civil cases remained open to review indefinitely, on relatively minor grounds (see Brumarescu and Ryabykh, both cited above). The position for criminal cases is somewhat different, at least in so far as acquittals are concerned, as the review could only be requested during a period of one year following the date of the acquittal in question.
56. The Court, moreover, observes that the requirements of legal certainty are not absolute. In criminal cases, they must be read in conjunction with, for example, Article 4 § 2 of Protocol No. 7 which expressly permits a State to re-open a case due to the emergence of new facts, or where a fundamental defect is detected in the previous proceedings, which could affect the outcome of the case. A possibility to re-examine or to re-open cases was also considered by the Committee of Ministers as a guarantee of restitution, particularly in the context of the execution of the Court’s judgments. In its Recommendation No. R (2000) 2 on the re-examination or re-opening of certain cases at the domestic level following judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, it urged Member States to ensure that their domestic legal systems provided for a procedure by which a case could be re-examined or re-opened.
57. A mere possibility to re-open a criminal case is therefore prima facie compatible with the Convention, including the guarantees of Article 6. However, certain special circumstances of the case may reveal that the actual manner in which it was used impaired the very essence of a fair trial. In particular, the Court has to assess whether, in a given case, the power to launch and conduct supervisory review was exercised by the authorities so as to strike, to the maximum extent possible, a fair balance between the interests of the individual and the need to ensure the effectiveness of the system of criminal justice.
58. The Court gives particular weight to the argument that, in the applicant’s case, the Presidium was indeed only deciding the question whether the case was to be re-opened or not. Had it quashed the acquittal, this would necessarily have entailed a separate set of adversarial proceedings on the merits before competent courts. The decision by the Presidium thus marked a procedural step which was no more than a precondition to a new determination of the criminal charge. The Court notes that the Presidium of the Supreme Court dismissed the prosecutor’s request, having found that it invoked defects which had been entirely within the prosecutor’s control to redress before, not after, the final judgment. The prosecutor’s request could itself be criticised as being arbitrary and abusive. However, it had no decisive impact on the fairness of the procedure for re-opening as a whole, which was primarily a matter for the Presidium’s deliberation (see, mutatis mutandis, Voloshchuk v. Ukraine (dec.), no. 51394/99, 14 October 2003, and Sardin v. Russia (dec.), no. 69582/01, 12 February 2004). Accordingly, the arbitrariness of the Prosecutor General’s request for re-opening could not be, and was not, prejudicial for the determination of the criminal charges in the present case.
59. The Court concludes that the authorities conducting supervisory review in the present case did not fail to strike a fair balance between the interests of the applicant and the need to ensure the proper administration of justice.
60. As for the proceedings before the Presidium of the Supreme Court, their outcome was favourable for the applicant and therefore, in respect of these proceedings, he cannot claim to be a victim of violation of his right to fair hearing. Moreover, according to the established case-law of the Convention organs, Article 6 does not apply to proceedings concerning a failed request to re-open a case. Only the new proceedings, after the re-opening has been granted, can be regarded as concerning the determination of a criminal charge (see, inter alia, X. v. Austria, no. 7761/77, Commission decision of 8 May 1978, Decisions and Reports (DR) 14, pp. 171, 174; Jos? Maria Ruiz Mateos and Others v. Spain, no. 24469/94, Commission decision of 2 December 1994, DR 79, p. 141).
61. Accordingly, the Court finds no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
1. Holds that there has been no violation
of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention;
2. Holds that there has been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
Done in English, and notified in writing
on 20 July 2004, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
S. Doll? J.-P. Costa
In accordance with Article 45 § 2 of the
Convention and Rule 74 § 2 of the Rules of Court, the concurring opinion
of Mr Loucaides is annexed to this judgment.
CONCURRING OPINION OF JUDGE LOUCAIDES
I have voted with the majority that there has been no violation of Article 4 of Protocol no. 7 and Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in this case. However, the reasons for my finding as regards the applicant’s complaint under Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 of the Convention are different from those of the majority. In my opinion, the applicant was not a victim in respect of this complaint.
In order to examine the merits of the complaints in question, we should first be satisfied that the applicant was either tried or prosecuted (see Zigarella v. Italy, application no. 48154/99, Reports 2002-IX) through, or as a result of, the request by the Prosecutor General to the Presidium of the Supreme Court that the case be reviewed in supervisory proceedings.
However, the Presidium of the Supreme Court dismissed the prosecutor’s request, with the result that no supervisory proceedings against the applicant have ever taken place. In the circumstances, I do not see how the applicant can be considered a victim as regards his complaint that supervisory review proceedings took place after his final acquittal, and that such proceedings constituted a violation of his right not to be tried again in a criminal procedure for an offence of which he had been finally acquitted.
In other words, the Prosecutor General’s request for a review of the case having been dismissed, one cannot speak of any commencement or recommencement of a prosecution or trial of the applicant.
It is true that Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention speaks of the right not to be “liable to be tried or punished again for an offence...” (emphasis added). However, in my opinion, no one can be considered “liable” to be tried or prosecuted, in any real sense, for an offence unless all the necessary legal prerequisites for that trial or prosecution, according to the relevant national legal system, are satisfied. In this case, one of the essential prerequisites for the further trial or prosecution of the applicant, at the material time, was the approval of the request of the Prosecutor General for the revision of the case, a condition that was not satisfied.
Moreover, after his acquittal, the applicant
has never faced a charge, in one form or another. In the absence of such
measures, I do not see how he could be considered as having been “liable”
to prosecution for the purposes of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 of the Convention,
unless we stretch the concept of “prosecution” beyond its normal or established