ECHR judgment of 16 June 2019 in the case of “Julius Por Sigurporsson (v. Julius) v. Iceland” (application No. 38797/17).
In 2017, the applicant was assisted in preparing the application. Subsequently, the application was communicated by Iceland.
In the case, the application was successfully examined regarding the cancellation of the acquittal by the Supreme Court of Iceland without rehearing oral evidence which was deemed inaccurate and therefore was not taken into account. The case has violated the requirements of paragraph 1 of Article 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Circumstances of the case
The applicant was charged with criminal price conspiracy together with 12 other employees of various equipment manufacturing enterprises. The main evidence of his guilt was the recording of a telephone conversation regarding the exchange of price information with one of the co-defendants.
The trial court, which examined the case, received the applicant’s oral testimony in the presence of the other co-defendants, regardless of whether they had already given the latest evidence or not. After that, the trial court acquitted the applicant on the basis of the absence of the subjective side of the corpus delicti in the form of negligence, which, in the opinion of this court, was confirmed by the oral evidence of the other accused.
During the appeal proceedings before the Icelandic Supreme Court, although a hearing was held, the defendants and witnesses were not heard again. In accordance with the legislation of Iceland, the Supreme Court had full jurisdiction and could consider issues of fact and law, including the probative value of documentary evidence, but could not give a new assessment of the oral evidence given in the court of first instance without hearing them again.
However, the Icelandic Supreme Court found that the method of obtaining the testimony of the co-defendants “significantly reduced the probative value” of their testimony in court. In this connection, he quashed the acquittal against the applicant and sentenced him to nine months probation.
The applicant complained that his right to a fair trial had been violated due to the fact that he had not given oral evidence during the hearing at the Icelandic Supreme Court.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
Concerning compliance with article 6, paragraph 1, of the Convention. It can be agreed that the Icelandic Supreme Court did not have a direct obligation to obtain the applicant's testimony before his conviction was quashed. The fact that the applicant, who knew that the prosecution was seeking his conviction, did not ask again to hear the evidence (assuming that he had such an opportunity), it was not decisive: if the direct receipt of evidence was considered necessary, the court of appeal was obliged to act on own initiative.
Thus, the applicant’s conviction was not based on a new assessment of the reliability of the oral evidence as such - in the sense of forming an impression of the truthfulness of the allegations, in particular, on the basis of the conduct of the interrogated person. The Icelandic Supreme Court rather concluded that the evidentiary value of these statements was “significantly reduced” on technical or procedural grounds, namely in connection with the procedure for obtaining evidence, in particular, since the defendants were present at the time when the other defendants testified.
Although the Supreme Court of Iceland did not fully acknowledge the oral evidence as inadmissible, it nevertheless took a clear position regarding the reliability of the evidence and, therefore, its evidentiary value in the overall assessment of the applicant's guilt or innocence. In this context, any significant difference between the reliability and reliability of the oral testimony could not be determined.
In fact, the Icelandic Supreme Court, at least, ignored a significant part of the evidence relied on by the trial court in acquitting the applicant and substantiated the conviction with the main, if not exclusive, assessment of the contents of the telephone conversation between the applicant and one of the co-accused.
Although, under Icelandic law, the Supreme Court had the right to reassess material evidence, its reference to this evidence, with the complete or overwhelming exclusion of explanations given verbally, inevitably meant that he had to give his own assessment to some extent for purposes determining whether the proven facts were sufficient to convict the applicant.
In the Court's opinion, this could not be regarded as an application of purely legal considerations to established facts: it implied a new assessment of the evidence as a whole, which led to the conviction of the applicant on the basis of evidence different from that relied on by the trial court in order to acquit the applicant.
Thus, from the point of view of a fair trial and given the significance of the outcome of the proceedings for the applicant, the Icelandic Supreme Court was unable to properly address the issues to be resolved in the appellate court without directly assessing the oral evidence of the applicant, the other co-accused and one of the witnesses who were used by the trial court for a general evidence-based assessment of the context in which the controversial telephone conversation took place.
As an alternative, the Icelandic Supreme Court had the opportunity to reverse the acquittal and return the case for a new trial. Instead, he sentenced the applicant to imprisonment, albeit conditionally, without being able to directly assess the applicant's behavior.
In the case there was a violation of the requirements of paragraph 1 of Article 6 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
In application of Article 41 of the Convention. The Court held that finding a violation of the Convention would in itself constitute sufficient just satisfaction.