ECHR judgment of 25 June 2020 in the case of Tempel v. Czech Republic (aplication No. 44151/12).
in 2012, the applicant was assisted in the preparation of the aplication. The aplication was subsequently communicated to the Czech Republic.
The case successfully considered an aplication against the applicant's conviction for murder after the cancellation of four acquittals. The case violated the requirements of article 6, paragraph 1 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 by the Prague City court after the High court overturned four acquittals of the plzeń Regional court in his case.
Regarding compliance with article 6, paragraph 1, of the Convention. The applicant's case was examined five times by the first and second instance courts, and the constitutional court also participated in its consideration on several occasions. Initially, the High court returned the case to the same panel of the trial court that had handed down the first sentence. Then, referring to article 262 of the Criminal procedure code of the Czech Republic (hereinafter CPC), the High court transferred the case to another chamber of the same court, which considered the matter twice, and then finally the case was remitted to another court of first instance within the jurisdiction of the High court.
Article 262 of the code of criminal procedure provides that when the court of appeal refers a case for a new trial to the court of first instance, it may order that the case be assigned to another panel, or refer the case to another court of first instance, if there are important reasons for this. According to the case-law of the constitutional court, article 262 of the CPC should be interpreted as granting the court of appeal the right to refer a case to another panel or another court of first instance only if there are "clear, obvious and indisputably important reasons for such a procedure, and the existence of these reasons has been clearly proved". The court of appeal has the right to order the court of first instance to eliminate contradictions in its conclusions about the circumstances of the case or to re-examine and obtain some evidence, and its instructions should have been appropriately specific. If these requirements are met, the court of appeal cannot overturn the verdict of the court of first instance only in order to give the case its own assessment and draw its own conclusions. Consequently, with regard to the assessment of evidence, the court of appeal can only indicate to the court of first instance what circumstances should be taken into account, but it cannot oblige the court of first instance to draw certain conclusions as to what the actual circumstances of the case were.
Despite the fact that the decision taken under article 262 of the CPC should have been "absolutely exceptional", the High court applied this article repeatedly until the Prague City court, to which the case was eventually referred by the High court, found the applicant guilty of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment, unlike the Plzen Regional court, which acquitted the applicant four times.
In overturning the trial court's verdicts, the High court criticized the trial court mainly for the way it assessed the evidence and, in particular, the reliability of the testimony of key witnesses. However, this approach did not appear to be consistent with article 263, paragraph 7, of the CPC as interpreted by the Constitutional court, according to which the conclusions of the court of first instance regarding the assessment of evidence were binding on the court of appeal. In the reasoning part of the High court's decision, which referred the case to another panel of the Plzen Regional court for the second time, an alternative conclusion was also drawn on the basis of evidence previously examined by the court of first instance, while the relevant witnesses were not heard by the High court.
One of the High court's decisions contained language that could be interpreted in such a way that the trial court should have reached a different conclusion as to the reliability of the witness's testimony and that the court of appeal would only accept the applicant's conviction. These conclusions are not consistent with the established case law of the constitutional court according to which the appellate court could not assess the reliability of a witness if not interrogated him myself, as envisaged by paragraph 7 of article 263 of the criminal procedure code, and could not cancel the sentence of acquittal, if the doubts of the court of first instance on the guilt of the accused was not completely unfounded. Furthermore, the court of appeal could not, in any circumstances, give instructions to the court of first instance as to whether the defendant should have been found guilty or not. The high court did not explain the reasons why it decided not to question the witness itself and not to assess the reliability of his testimony. Since the controversy between the two courts was mainly about the reliability of the witness's testimony, a question whose answer depended entirely on whether the court had questioned the witness, it was at least necessary to indicate the reasons why the witness's questioning was not necessary.
It appears That the high court's doubts were related to the independence and impartiality of the judges of the court of first instance, and its decision that the court of first instance did not follow its (the High court's) mandatory instructions was based solely on the fact that the court of first instance reached conclusions about the circumstances of the case and the applicant's guilt that were different from those that should have been made, in the opinion of the High court. The court of appeal had the right to reassign the case to another panel of the same court or to another court in cases where it had doubts about the impartiality and independence of the court of first instance or when the court of first instance did not follow its mandatory instructions. However, in accordance with the case-law of the constitutional court, the court of appeal was not authorized to criticize the way in which the trial court evaluated the evidence or established facts of the case and acquittal. Consequently, neither doubts about the independence and impartiality nor criticism of the first-instance court's failure to comply with the mandatory instructions could be based solely on the fact that the first-instance court made conclusions about the circumstances of the case and the applicant's guilt, with which the court of appeal simply disagreed.
In view of the above, the procedural approach of the High court could have led the Prague City court to conclude that the only decision that could have been taken by the High court and could have concluded the proceedings was a guilty verdict. The specific sequence of events clearly pointed to the dysfunction of the judiciary, which undermined the overall fairness of the trial.
The case involved a violation of the requirements of article 6 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
The court also unanimously held that there had been a violation of article 6, paragraph 1, of the Convention on account of the length of the trial.
In the application of article 41 of the Convention. The court awarded the applicant EUR 12,500 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.