The ECHR judgment of 12 May 2017 in the case of Simeonovi v. Bulgaria (application No. 21980/04).
In 2004, the applicants were assisted in preparing the application. Subsequently, the application was communicated in Bulgaria.
The complaint on the failure to provide the applicant access to a lawyer during his detention was successfully considered in the case. The case did not violate the requirements of Article 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. There has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
There were three applicants in the present case, but the Chamber of the European Court found the second applicant's and the applicant's complaints inadmissible for examination on the merits. The applicant in the case was detained on 3 October 1999 on suspicion of involvement in a serious crime. During the first three days of police custody he did not use the services of a lawyer. On 6 October 1999, when he was accused of having an officially appointed lawyer, the applicant refused to answer any questions from the investigator. On October 12, 1999, when he was interrogated in the presence of two lawyers of his choice, he remained silent. On October 21, 1999, using the services of his two lawyers, he confessed to the crime he was accused of. A few months later, the applicant declined his confession and presented a different version of the events. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
By a decision of the Chamber of 20 October 2015, the Court unanimously found that the requirements of Article 6 § 3 (c) of the Convention were not violated in connection with Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, as regards the lack of access to a lawyer during the first three days of his detention in police custody.
On 14 March 2016, at the applicant's request, the Chamber of the Court decided to surrender jurisdiction in favor of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice.
ISSUES OF LAW
Concerning compliance with article 6, paragraph 1, of the Convention (the question of observance of the right to a fair trial) and subparagraph (c) of paragraph 3 of Article 6 of the Convention. The Court recalls that, as a general rule, access to a lawyer should be granted from the first police interrogation of a suspect if it can not be established that in the special circumstances of the case there are urgent reasons for limiting this right. Even if substantial reasons can justify, as an exception, denial of access to a lawyer, such a restriction for any reason should not unreasonably impair the rights of the accused to defense in accordance with Article 6 of the Convention. Protection rights are in principle irrevocably violated if incriminating testimony given during police interrogation in the absence of any possibility of legal assistance is used as the basis for conviction.
(a) The starting point for the application of Article 6 of the Convention. In the present case, the starting point for the right to legal assistance is the date of detention of the applicant. Indeed, this detention was based on the crimes in which he was suspected, and it had a major impact on his situation, enabling the authorities to conduct investigative actions with his participation.
(b) No failure. Even if one assumes that the applicant did not submit a direct request for legal assistance while in police custody, he could not be considered to have waived the right to this assistance by default. The police actually avoided notifying him of this right after he was detained.
(c) Lack of "pressing reasons" to restrict access to a lawyer. No "pressing reasons" were mentioned, justifying the restriction of the applicant's access to a lawyer during his detention (an immediate threat to life, physical integrity and / or safety of others). In addition, domestic legislation on access to a lawyer during police detention does not explicitly provide for exclusion from the application of this right.
(d) The general fairness of the proceedings. The absence of "urgent reasons" in the present case compelled the Court to conduct a very strict assessment of the fairness of the proceedings. The Government of the respondent State had to establish convincingly that the applicant, however, had used a fair criminal trial.
The European Court took into account the following factors: (i) the applicant was actively involved in all stages of the criminal proceedings; he refused his original testimony by submitting a different version of the events and his lawyers secured the collection of evidence of evidence and challenged evidence against him, (ii) the applicant's conviction was based not only on his confession but also on the whole body of consistent evidence, (iii) the courts duly took into account the evidence collected, ascertained that the applicant's procedural rights were respected, and provided adequate reasons for his decisions in terms of facts and law. There was nothing to indicate that the applicant had been formally or informally interrogated while in detention. Against him, evidence was not obtained with the involvement of the case file during detention. It does not follow from the materials of the case that during approximately three days of detention the applicant participated in any other investigative actions (such as the identification or receipt of DNA samples). In addition, it would be impossible in accordance with the law of the country to use evidence against him obtained in the absence of a lawyer. The applicant changed his version of the events, even his explanations to the European Court were very vague in this respect, and he did not specify any specific details before submitting his memorandum to the Grand Chamber of the European Court.
The voluntary nature of the applicant's confession may be inferred from the following facts: (i) he remained silent during the two previous interrogations, (ii) during the interrogation and his confession, he used legal assistance and was informed of his procedural rights, in particular, about his the right not to testify against oneself, (iii) his refusal to testify will not have an impact on subsequent stages of criminal proceedings.
The courts of the country or the European Court did not mention the causal link between the lack of legal assistance during the applicant's detention and his confession in two weeks in the presence of a lawyer of his choice. Consequently, the absence of a lawyer while in detention did not in any way affect the applicant's privilege not to testify against himself. Accordingly, this irrevocably did not violate the fairness of the criminal proceedings as a whole.
In the case, the requirements of Article 6 of the Convention were not violated (it was adopted by 12 votes "for" at five - "against").
The Court also unanimously found that there had been a violation of the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the conditions of the applicant's detention in conjunction with the length of his detention and the strict prison regime that had been applied to him and awarded the applicant EUR 8,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.