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NEWS

In Northern Italy, local protesters are being tried in closed hearings

admin - July 5, 2018 - open justice

 

This post was shared with us by Nicola Canestrini, practising lawyer at Canestrini Lex and LEAP Advisory Board Member for Italy.

In Northern Italy's Bolzano, some 86 people are currently being tried in closed hearings with no public oversight, simply because they had protested against the Austrian and Italian governments' announcement of harsher controls on migrants attempting to cross the border.

Secret trials are in contrast with the principle of open justice and the right to a public hearing. They should only be used in exceptional circumstances, as they pose a great risk to fair trial rights, since there is no public oversight on their enforcement.

However, it is hard to see how this case requires closed hearings, as the protesters are being charged with small offences, such as throwing objects and blocking road traffic. The 86 defendants, whose trial started on 23rd May, had taken part in local protests against the announced decision of the Austrian government to crack down on migrants attempting to cross the border at Northern Italy’s Brenner Pass.

Only the court's personnel, the defendants and their lawyers are being allowed access to the courtroom. Outside the building, parking lots have been closed and car traffic has been deviated. The unprecedented security measures have been imposed by the local Public Prosecutor and undersigned by the President of the Court, with no further explanation as to the reason why.

Commenting on the case, local defence lawyer and head of Fair Trials' defenders network in Italy Nicola Canestrini said : "[S]ecret hearings are incompatible with our democratic regime and with the rule of law”.

Public trials are enshrined in international human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights. In addition, the importance of public hearings for fair trials has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights in several judgments, including in 2000 in case Riepan v. Austria, where the Court held that “[...] the public character of a criminal trial serves to maintain confidence in the courts and contributes to the achievement of [...] a fair trial”.

The Italian Constitutional Court itself repeatedly sanctioned the publicity of trials as a constitutional principle (most recently in the 109/2015 decision).

Such an opaque enforcement of closed hearings is worrying and at Fair Trials we will closely follow the case in connection with our network of fair trial defenders in Italy.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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