ECHR judgment of 12 November 2019 in the case of Adamco v. Slovakia (application No. 45084/14).
In 2014, the applicant was assisted in preparing the application. Subsequently, the application was communicated to Slovakia.
In the case, an application was successfully examined regarding the conviction of a person, largely based on the testimony of an accomplice obtained as a result of the latter’s transaction with the investigation, without proper verification. The case has violated the requirements of Article 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Circumstances of the case
The applicant was convicted of murder in the context of organized crime. In the courts of Slovakia, he unsuccessfully complained that (i) the comments of the prosecution regarding his appeal and the appeal of the prosecution were not presented to him and (ii) that his conviction was based on the testimony of witness M., whom the prosecution persuaded to give false evidence against the applicant in exchange for avoiding prosecution.
The events concerning the last complaint developed as follows:
- pending conviction of the applicant: (i) M. was charged with the murder of O .; M. was detained in connection with this charge, but was released, and the charge on this fact was dropped when he changed his version of events in order to convict the applicant; (ii) the charges against M. of complicity in the murder of K. were temporarily suspended;
- after convicting the applicant (but before considering the complaint on legal issues): (i) a criminal case was opened against M. on charges of perjury, but the decision to institute criminal proceedings was canceled; (ii) M. was formally charged with the murder of K., but the criminal prosecution of M. was finally dropped.
The applicant's arguments in order to challenge M.'s reliability as a witness in the courts of Slovakia were examined only by a court of second instance (the cassation court and the Constitutional Court of Slovakia did not answer them). The second-instance court found that, (i) changing his testimony in the applicant’s criminal case, M. only convicted both himself and the applicant and did not achieve any advantages, since the criminal proceedings on his murder of K. were only suspended, and that (ii) M.'s testimony was supported by other indictment.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
Regarding compliance with article 6 of the Convention. For the following reasons, the Court concluded that, in view of the importance of M.'s testimony for the court to examine the applicant’s criminal case, their use in court was not accompanied by appropriate guarantees to ensure the general fairness of the proceedings.
(a) The value of the contentious evidence. Other evidence against the applicant was indirect and was part of the whole, only if they were examined in conjunction with direct evidence - the testimony of M. Therefore, the last change in his testimony could be seen as a decisive moment in the trial.
(b) The benefits M. received in various industries. Firstly, the domestic courts did not verify the applicant's argument in full with reference to his factual grounds. From the development of the events, it followed that, during the conviction of the applicant and the consideration of his appeal, the advantages that M. allegedly received in exchange for the incriminating evidence of the applicant consisted of the following: (i) the charge of O's murder was dropped from M. , the criminal case was dismissed, and M. was released from custody pending trial in the case, and (ii) the charge of K.'s murder was suspended. However, the court of second instance limited itself to checking the advantages that M. received in the course of the same process (upon the murder of K.). Any advantages that he could have gained in the context of the prosecution for the murder of O. were not taken into account. However, the fact remains that after M. changed his version of the events, the charge was dropped from him, the investigation was terminated, and he was released during the trial. None of the courts expressed their attitude to these circumstances.
Secondly, the conclusion of the Slovak courts that M. did not receive any advantages contradicted the further development of events: (i) the cancellation of the decision to institute criminal proceedings on suspicion of perjury and (ii) the termination of the criminal prosecution for the murder of K., a decision which was made explicitly and specifically in exchange for his testimony. Of course, all this happened after the completion of the trial in the applicant’s case. However, during the latter, the prosecution of M. for the murder of K. was already suspended. This was a preliminary step in ending the criminal prosecution of M.
Thirdly, decisions on granting M. the advantages were taken by the prosecution authorities, which in Slovakia are organized as a single hierarchical structure. This implied a certain degree of coordination, which in the present case also involved the participation of the same prosecutor in various proceedings. The preliminary advantage that M. obtained during the applicant’s trial could not be considered separately from the general advantage that he received in connection with the prosecution in his own criminal case of the murder of K. in exchange for evidence against the applicant.
Fourthly, no particular attention was paid to the fact that M.’s testimony came from a witness who, according to him, himself participated in the commission of the crime, while the advantage granted to him went beyond simply reducing the sentence or financial benefits and in fact led to the avoidance of responsibility for such a crime as murder.
Fifthly, M.’s transaction with the investigation in the applicant’s case was not subject to proper judicial review. The control by the second-instance court was not appropriate, and the higher courts did not consider the applicant's argument. In addition, all decisions regarding the criminal prosecution of M. were taken solely by the prosecution authorities without any element of judicial control.
The Court also concluded that the failure to submit to the applicant the objections of the prosecution authorities on his appeal and legal appeal had violated the applicant’s right to a fair trial.
In the case there was a violation of the requirements of Article 6 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
In application of Article 41 of the Convention. The Court awarded the applicant EUR 5,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage; the claim for pecuniary damage was rejected.