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Case law

ECtHR, Frolovs v. Latvia

June 2017 - Latvia

right of access to a lawyer

The applicant complained that criminal proceedings brought against him had been unfair. In July 2003 he was convicted of organising, inciting and aiding various crimes against persons and property, and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. The conviction was made in the applicant’s absence and he was not detained to serve his sentence until November 2009. In the meantime, a lawyer claiming to act on his behalf had lodged appeals against the conviction. However, the senior courts had refused to consider the appeals, on the grounds that the applicant had not been present to attend the hearings and could not confirm that he wished to pursue an appeal. Relying in particular on Article 6 § 1 and 3 (c), the applicant complained that the refusal of the appellate courts to examine his appeal inhis absence had violated his right to have his case considered by a court.
In reply to the Government’s argument that the applicant had evaded the trial and therefore he had lost his entitlement to rely on Article 6 of the Convention, the Court found that the legislature cannot penalise an accused by creating exceptions to the right to legal assistance, and the legitimate requirement that accused must attend court hearings can be satisfied by means other than deprivation of the right to be defended. The Court noted that an arrest warrant had been issued against the applicant which contained an explicit duty for the accused to be present at the appellate hearing. However, the warrant did not provide for an explicit restriction on the defence lawyer to represent a client who had failed to appear before the appellate court.
The Court stressed that the fact remained that a lawyer’s assistance was indispensable for resolving conflicts and his role was necessary in order for the rights of the defence to be exercised. Accordingly, the guarantees of Article 6 required that the applicant’s lawyer should have an opportunity to put forward the arguments in the applicant’s defence and to have them addressed by the domestic courts, irrespective of the question whether the domestic courts could examine certain issues of their own motion.
Therefore, the Court found that the domestic court’s refusal to examine the appeal lodged by the applicant’s lawyer against the first-instance judgment was not compatible with the applicant’s right to a fair hearing under Article 6 of the Convention.

You can read the full judgment here.

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