Case of European Court of Human Rights, November 26, 2019 (case BELUGIN v. RUSSIA)

Defense:RUSSIA
Resolution Date:November 26, 2019
SUMMARY

Violation of Article 6 - Right to a fair trial (Article 6 - Criminal proceedings;Article 6-1 - Fair hearing)

 
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THIRD SECTION

CASE OF BELUGIN v. RUSSIA

(Application no. 2991/06)

JUDGMENT

Art 6 § 1 (criminal) • Fair hearing • Use in trial of self incriminating statements obtained under duress in absence of lawyer

STRASBOURG

26 November 2019

This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Belugin v. Russia,

The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Paul Lemmens, President,Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque,Dmitry Dedov,Alena Poláčková,María Elósegui,Gilberto Felici,Lorraine Schembri Orland, judges,and Stephen Phillips, Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 22 October 2019,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

PROCEDURE

  1. The case originated in an application (no. 2991/06) against the Russian Federation lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Russian national, Mr Dmitriy Yuryevich Belugin (“the applicant”), on 31 October 2005.

  2. The applicant was represented by Mr A.V. Karev, a lawyer practising in Tomsk. The Russian Government (“the Government”) were initially represented by Mr G. Matyushkin, Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Court of Human Rights, and then by his successor in that office, Mr M. Galperin.

  3. The applicant alleged that he had been ill-treated by police officers while in police custody and that an adequate investigation had not been carried out in this respect. He also claimed that the criminal proceedings against him had been unfair because his conviction had been based on a forced confession made in the absence of a lawyer.

  4. On 13 April 2012 notice of the application was given to the Government.

    THE FACTS

    1. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

  5. The applicant was born in 1976 and is serving his sentence in Tomsk.

    1. The applicant’s arrests and alleged ill-treatment

  6. Events of 25 and 26 December 2002

  7. At around 12 noon on 25 December 2002 the applicant was arrested on suspicion of having assaulted Mr Kon. and taken to the offices of the Organised Crime Unit of Tomsk (Управление по борьбе с организованной преступностью по Томской области – “the UBOP”). According to the applicant, he was beaten up for nine hours by police officers with a view to making him confess to a crime which he had not committed.

  8. At 9 p.m., in the absence of a lawyer, the applicant signed a record of his statement of surrender (протокол явки с повинной) describing the robbery of Mr Kon. His confession was recorded by an investigator, Mr M. An arrest record was drawn up at 9.20 p.m.

  9. At 9.55 p.m. the applicant was interviewed as a suspect, in the presence of a State-appointed lawyer, Mr F. The applicant reiterated his earlier confession. The interview was recorded on video. According to the applicant, he did not have a confidential meeting with the lawyer prior to his questioning, and the lawyer also ignored the blood stains on his shirt.

  10. In the meantime, according to the applicant, his relatives hired for him another lawyer, Mr T.

  11. At 11.37 p.m. the applicant was taken to the scene of the crime. This investigative measure was recorded on video. The State-appointed lawyer Mr F. was present.

  12. At an unspecified time the applicant was placed in a temporary detention facility (IVS). According to an entry in his medical record, he had no injuries at that time.

  13. At 10.30 p.m. on 26 December 2002 in the absence of a lawyer, the applicant signed two documents: a handwritten statement of surrender and confession (явка с повинной); and a record of his statement of surrender regarding the robbery and murder of Mr Kol. According to the applicant, he made those statements as a result of the ill-treatment inflicted by police officers.

  14. Events of 27 December 2002

  15. On 27 December 2002 the applicant was taken to the Leninskiy District Court of Tomsk to take part in a hearing. According to him, he then met with his lawyer, Mr T., for the first time. The court decided to release the applicant under an undertaking not to leave his place of residence.

  16. After the hearing, the applicant went to the investigator’s office together with his lawyer and relatives in order to sign the aforementioned undertaking. According to the applicant, the investigator invited the lawyer to stay outside the room while three police officers accompanied the applicant therein and arrested him. He contended that he did not resist the arrest but only claimed access to his lawyer. According to the Government, the police used physical force against the applicant because he had actively resisted the arrest.

  17. According to the applicant, on the night of 27 to 28 December 2002 the UBOP officers threatened him with further ill-treatment if he complained and identified them.

  18. At 8 p.m. on 28 December 2002 the applicant was placed in an IVS. According to his medical record, he had no injuries.

  19. On 29 December 2002, during an interview in the presence of his lawyer, Mr T., the applicant submitted that he had confessed under duress to two counts of robbery and one count of murder.

  20. On 30 December 2002 the applicant was examined by a forensic medical expert. According to forensic report no. 1779, he had several bruises on the back of his head, the right temple and his left ear, and an abrasion on his right wrist. The injuries had been sustained between three and five days before the examination as a result of repeated blows by a hard blunt object with a limited surface area, for example by a fist. The expert considered that the abrasion on the applicant’s wrist could have been caused by handcuffs. The injuries were not considered as harmful to health.

  21. Investigation into the applicant’s alleged ill-treatment

  22. On 13 and 29 January 2003 the applicant’s mother and grandfather complained to a prosecutor about his arrests on 25 and 27 December 2002 and his alleged ill-treatment by the police.

  23. On 30 January 2003 an assistant prosecutor issued a refusal to institute criminal proceedings in respect of the applicant’s alleged ill‑treatment on the grounds that all of the applicant’s injuries, such as the bruises on the back of his head, his right temple and his wrists had been sustained on 25 December 2002 in the course of his arrest in response to his resistance. No appeal was lodged against that decision.

  24. Proceedings in respect of the failure of the regional prosecutor’s office to specify the dates of the applicant’s detention

  25. On 9 September 2005 the Sovetskiy District Court discontinued proceedings in respect of the alleged inaction of the regional prosecutor’s office, which had refused to specify the exact dates of the applicant’s detention on the grounds that the examination of the criminal case against him was pending before the Tomsk Regional Court. The District Court considered that the calculation of the term of the applicant’s pre-trial detention fell within the competence of the trial court.

  26. On 13 October 2005 the decision of the Sovetskiy District Court was upheld on appeal.

    1. The applicant’s trial and conviction

  27. On an unspecified date in July 2004 the applicant’s criminal case was referred to the Tomsk Regional Court for examination. The applicant was represented by his lawyer Mr T. On 1 September 2005 he asked the trial court to replace Mr T. by another lawyer. The applicant was henceforth represented by another lawyer, Mr K.

  28. The applicant was charged with three counts of robbery and one count of murder. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. One of his co‑defendants, Mr Ku., pleaded guilty and made statements incriminating other co-defendants, including the applicant. Another co-defendant, Mr Kash., retracted the statements he had made at the investigation stage incriminating the applicant, alleging that they had been obtained under duress.

  29. The applicant challenged the admissibility of his self‑incriminating statements, arguing that they had been obtained as a result of ill-treatment by UBOP officers. He referred to the refusal to open a criminal case of 30 January 2003 and requested that the refusal and forensic report no. 1779 be appended to his criminal case file.

  30. The trial court questioned officers U., G. and F. who had carried out the applicant’s arrest in the investigator’s office. They testified that they had brought the applicant to the floor and handcuffed his arms behind his back to overcome his resistance. The defence challenged their testimony that the injuries had been caused to the applicant during arrest, on the grounds that the police officers had been obliged, under the relevant legislation, to draw up a report about the circumstances of the arrest and the use of force, provide the applicant with medical assistance and immediately inform his relatives and the prosecutor about the arrest.

  31. The trial court further questioned Ms A., a court clerk who had been present at the hearing of 27 December 2002. She submitted that she had not noticed any visible injuries on the applicant, but could not be certain whether he had any injuries as she was not a doctor and had not examined him.

  32. When describing the circumstances in which he had given his self‑incriminating statements, the applicant also referred to his unrecorded detention on 25 December 2002 and the delay in drawing up his arrest record. He asked the trial court to acknowledge the fact of the falsification of the latter in a separate decision.

  33. After having examined the materials submitted by the parties in relation to the applicant’s allegations of ill-treatment, the trial court considered that the applicant’s self-incriminating statements were admissible for the following reasons.

  34. As regards the applicant’s self-incriminating statements about the robbery and murder of Mr Kol., the trial court first noted that on 26 December 2002 the applicant had made two...

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