In the Chamber’s judgment in the case of UŽUKAUSKAS v. LITHUANIA, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
- a violation of Article 6 of the Convention (right to a fair hearing).
- Principal facts:
The applicant, Mr Robertas Užukauskas, is a Lithuanian citizen. The case originates from the claim of the applicant, according to which the proceeding for removing his names from an “operational records file” has been unfair in that the principles of fairness and equality had not been respected. He invoked Article 6 § 1 of the Convention (right to a fair hearing).
In 1999, the applicant was granted a license to keep a firearm. On 17 July 2002, the validity of his license was extended. In November 2002, the applicant submitted a request for a license to keep another type of firearm. On 19 December 2002, police officials refused to grant a new license to the applicant considering that he had been listed in an “operational records file” (database where police authorities register the names of persons that are suspected of being involved with or preparing criminal activity) six days earlier, on 13 December 2002. On April 16 2003, the police notified the applicant that his license to keep a pistol and hunting rifle had been revoked and that under Article 38 of the Law on the Control of Guns and Ammunition the applicant was obliged to hand in his firearms to the authorities. He was notified that he would receive money for his guns. The applicant challenged the entry of his names into the operational records file. On 25 September 2003, the Kaunas Regional Administrative Court dismissed his action based on classified material which had been submitted by the police and observed by the judges without it being disclosed to the applicant. The court found that listing the name of the applicant in the operational record was lawful in view of the information about him held by the police. The applicant appealed, complaining that the court had not examined the classified material during the hearing and he had no access to it. On 29 October, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the decision noting that the evidence was classified as a “state secret”. In July 2004, the applicant was granted a new license and his guns were returned to him.
Decision of the Court:
Decision regarding the applicability of 6 § 1 of the Convention: taking into account the principle of equality of arms which requires each party to be given a reasonable opportunity to present his or her case under conditions that do not place the litigant at a substantial disadvantage in front of the opponent, the Court found that the Lithuanian decision–making procedure did not comply with the requirements of adversarial proceedings or equality of arms and did not incorporate adequate safeguards to protect the interests of the applicant. Consequently, there had been a violation of 6 § 1 of the Convention.
The Court agreed with the Lithuanian Government on that document which constitute “State secret” may only be disclosed to persons who possess appropriate authorization. However, such information may not be used as evidence in court against a person unless it has been declassified and it may not be the only evidence on which courts base their decisions. In the present case, the operational file was the only evidence of the applicant’s alleged danger to society. Therefore, it was of decisive importance. Despite several attempts on the part of the applicant to get access to the classified material, Lithuanian authorities have repeatedly refused his claim. As the evidence was classified as a “State secret”, Lithuanian courts made their decisions behind closed doors and they merely presented their conclusions to the applicant. Therfore, it was not possible for the applicant to have been apprised of the evidence against him and he did not have the opportunity to answer it. Consequently, the Court decided that there has been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention (right to a fair hearing).
Just satisfaction: The Court awarded the claimed sum in full to the applicant and Lithuania was ordered to pay 4,455 Lt (approximately 1,290 EUR) to the applicant.