Dvorski v. Croatia (Application no. 25703/11)

Key paragraph(s) can be found below the document.

111. In determining whether, taking the criminal proceedings as a whole, the applicant received the benefit of a “fair hearing” for the purposes of Article 6 § 1, the Court must have regard to the actions of the police in effectively preventing the applicant, at the very outset of the investigation, from having access to the lawyer chosen by his family and from freely choosing his own lawyer, and to the consequences of the conduct of the police for the subsequent proceedings. In the abstract, if a suspect receives the assistance of a qualified lawyer, who is bound by professional ethics, rather than another lawyer whom he or she might have preferred to appoint, this is not in itself sufficient to show that the whole trial was unfair – subject to the proviso that there is no evidence of manifest incompetence or bias (see Artico v. Italy, 13 May 1980, § 33, Series A no. 37). In the instant case, it can be presumed that the consequence of the police’s conduct was that in his very first statement to the police, instead of remaining silent, as he could have done, the applicant made a confession, which was subsequently admitted in evidence against him. It is also significant that during the investigation and ensuing trial the applicant did not subsequently rely on his confession, save by way of mitigation in relation to the sentence, but took the first opportunity, before the investigating judge, to contest the manner in which the confession had been obtained from him by the police (see paragraphs 23-24, 31, 48, 52 and 54 above). Although there was other evidence against him, the significant likely impact of his initial confession on the further development of the criminal proceedings against him cannot be ignored by the Court. In sum, in the Court’s view, the objective consequence of the police’s conduct in preventing the lawyer chosen by the applicant’s family from having access to him was such as to undermine the fairness of the subsequent criminal proceedings in so far as the applicant’s incriminating initial statement was admitted in evidence.

112. The Court has found that the police did not inform the applicant either of the availability of G.M. [lawyer contacted by applicants family, see para 15] to advise him or of G.M.’s presence at Rijeka Police Station; that the applicant, during police questioning, confessed to the crimes with which he was charged and that this confession was admitted in evidence at his trial; and that the national courts did not properly address this issue and, in particular, failed to take adequate remedial measures to ensure fairness. These factors, taken cumulatively, irretrievably prejudiced the applicant’s defence rights and undermined the fairness of the proceedings as a whole.

113. The Court therefore finds that in the circumstances of the present case there has been a violation of Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (c) of the Convention.


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