Case of European Court of Human Rights, December 01, 2015 (case BLESA RODRÍGUEZ v. SPAIN)

Defense:SPAIN
Resolution Date:December 01, 2015
SUMMARY

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

 
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THIRD SECTION

CASE OF BLESA RODRÍGUEZ v. SPAIN

(Application no. 61131/12)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

1 December 2015

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 Blesa Rodríguez v. Spain,

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

George Nicolaou, President,Luis López Guerra,Helen Keller,Helena Jäderblom,Johannes Silvis,Dmitry Dedov,Branko Lubarda, judges,and Marialena Tsirli, Deputy Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 3 November 2015,

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

PROCEDURE

  1. The case originated in an application (no. 61131/12) against the Kingdom of Spain lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Spanish national, Mr Antonio Carlos Blesa Rodríguez (“the applicant”), on 7 September 2012.

  2. The applicant was represented by Mr J. Gómez de Liaño Botella, a lawyer practising in Madrid. The Spanish Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr F.A. Sanz Gandasegui, State Attorney.

  3. The applicant alleged that his case had not been heard by an impartial tribunal in breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

  4. On 18 December 2012 the application was communicated to the Government.

    THE FACTS

    1. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

  5. The applicant was born in 1931 in Huercal-Overa, Almería and lives in La Laguna, Tenerife.

  6. On 27 May 2003 La Laguna University lodged a criminal complaint against the applicant, a professor at the university’s Faculty of Pharmacy, accusing him of committing forgery. The university claimed that the applicant had presented a falsified curriculum vitae in the framework of a public tender for the allocation of pharmaceutical establishment licences.

  7. On 6 February 2004, La Laguna investigating judge no. 1 ordered the suspension of the criminal investigation, considering that there were no objective reasons to believe that the crime had been committed.

  8. The university submitted an appeal to the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Audiencia Provincial. In a decision (auto) of 19 May 2006, the Audiencia Provincial allowed the appeal and quashed the investigating judge’s decision declaring the suspension of the criminal investigation, holding that additional investigation proceedings were necessary. The Audiencia Provincial’s chamber was composed of judges A. (president), S. and C.

  9. On 19 January 2008, La Laguna investigating judge no. 1 issued a decision (auto de transformación en procedimiento abreviado) confirming the conclusion of the investigatory stage and the continuation of the proceedings, and ordering the parties to submit their provisional pleadings. The applicant lodged an appeal against the decision. On 21 June 2008 an Audiencia Provincial chamber composed of judges S. (president), Sa., and C. declared the appeal inadmissible.

  10. On 8 June 2010 the Audiencia Provincial issued an order (providencia) that the applicant’s case be sent for trial. It was also indicated in the order that the bench of the Audiencia Provincial that would try the applicant would be composed of judges A. (president), S. and G.

  11. On 1 July 2010 the Audiencia Provincial held a preliminary hearing for the examination of evidence prior to trial. Contrary to what had been indicated in the Audiencia Provincial’s order of 8 June 2010, the trial bench was composed of A. (president), G. and Sa., the latter acting as substitute judge. The defence lawyer was informed at the beginning of the preliminary hearing that the composition of the Audiencia Provincial bench had been modified. The applicant claimed that he had not, however, been personally given the names of the judges sitting on the modified bench.

  12. On 15 and 20 July the trial hearing was held before the Audiencia Provincial’s bench. The judges sitting on it remained the same as in the preliminary hearing.

  13. On 27 July 2010 the same Audiencia Provincial bench found the applicant guilty of the offence as charged and sentenced him to three years and six months’ imprisonment, a suspension from office for the same period of time, and a fine of 25 euros (EUR) per day for eight months.

  14. The applicant appealed on points of law to the Supreme Court complaining, inter alia, of lack of impartiality on the part of two of the judges sitting on the Audiencial Provincial bench. The applicant claimed that Judge A., president of the chamber, had previously sat on the bench that had heard the appeal introduced by the private prosecutor against the suspension of the criminal investigation (see paragraph 8 above). The applicant further claimed that Judge Sa. had participated as a substitute judge in the proceedings brought by La Laguna University, while being at the same time an associate professor and an employee with administrative duties at that university. According to the applicant, his post at the university was incompatible with his role as a judge in the proceedings.

  15. On 20 May 2011 the Supreme Court ruled in the following terms. As regards Judge A., the Supreme Court found in particular that the applicant had failed to challenge the judge, even though he had had an opportunity to do so, having been informed of the composition of the bench when it was constituted on 8 June 2010. The Supreme Court pointed out that section 223(1) of the Organic Law on the Judiciary laid down the condition that the disqualification of a judge must be applied for as soon as the grounds for removal were known, failing which the application would be inadmissible.

    The Supreme Court stated a fortiori that the decision of 19 May 2006 requesting additional investigation proceedings could not be perceived as a measure likely to undermine the objective impartiality of the trial court inasmuch as the Audiencia Provincial had confined itself to holding that the investigation had not been complete and that the proceedings had been closed by means of a unreasoned and hasty decision.

    As regards Judge Sa., the Supreme Court noted that the defence lawyer had been informed for the first time about the new composition of the Audiencia Provincial bench at the beginning of the preliminary hearing of 1 July 2010, without any reasonable justification for such a belated communication. As to the substance of the complaint, the Supreme Court held that the circumstances alleged by the applicant did not fall within any of the grounds for challenging the composition of the trial bench prescribed by section 219 (9) (10) (16) of the Organic Law on the Judiciary, nor did they fall within the incompatibility grounds prescribed by section 389 of the Organic Law on the Judiciary. In particular, the Supreme Court found that the applicant had failed to demonstrate that Judge Sa. had any interest in the outcome of the proceedings. The fact that the judge was an associate professor at the university was not...

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