Case of European Court of Human Rights, January 21, 1999 (case Van Geyseghem v. Belgium [GC])

Resolution Date:January 21, 1999

Violation of Art. 6-1+6-3-c Non-pecuniary damage - finding of violation sufficient Costs and expenses award - domestic proceedings Costs and expenses award - Convention proceedings


Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 2

January 1999

Van Geyseghem v. Belgium [GC] - 26103/95

Judgment 21.1.1999

Article 6

Article 6-3-c

Defence through legal assistance

Refusal to allow representation of an absent appellant: violation

Facts: The applicant, a Belgian national, was born in 1942 and lived at Hoeilaart (Belgium) at the material time. In 1987 the applicant was prosecuted in the Belgian criminal courts for her involvement on three occasions in an international cocaine-trafficking ring in which her role was to import drugs from Brazil into Belgium. After being convicted at first instance by the Brussels Criminal Court, she appealed. She did not attend the first hearing of her appeal, and subsequently applied, as she was entitled to do under Belgian law, to set aside the Court of Appeal’s judgment delivered in absentia, in which her conviction and sentence to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 60,000 Belgian francs had been upheld. That application brought the case back before the Court of Appeal for a further hearing. The applicant did not attend that hearing either. Her counsel appeared and stated that he was representing his client and would be making submissions to the effect that the prosecution had become time-barred. The Court of Appeal refused him leave to represent his client and in a judgment of 4 October 1993 declared her application void. The applicant’s appeal to the Court of Cassation was dismissed on 4 May 1994.

The applicant complained that the Brussels Court of Appeal had refused to grant her counsel leave to defend her in her absence at the hearing of her appeal against a lower court’s refusal of her application to set aside a judgment. She alleged a breach of paragraphs 1 and 3 (c) of Article 6 of the Convention.

Law: The Court reiterated the principles laid down in the cases of Poitrimol v. France (23 November 1993, Series A no. 277) and Lala and Pelladoah v. the Netherlands (22 September 1994, Series A no. 297-A and B) which concerned situations comparable to the one considered in the instant case. In the first of those three cases it had held that it was of capital importance that a defendant should appear, both because of his right to a hearing and because of the need to verify the accuracy of his statements and compare them with those of the victim – whose interests needed to be protected – and of the witnesses. The legislature accordingly had to be able to discourage unjustified absences. In...

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