• 2010/02/11

CASE OF NOVIKAS v. LITHUANIA – Application no._45756/05 (2010)

Facts: The applicant, Andrejus Novikas, is a Lithuanian national. Following a report to the police by two witnesses, on April 1998 a pre-trial investigation was initiated regarding several crimes and on 28 April 1998 the applicant’s place of residence was searched. On September 1999 the applicant was officially informed of the accusations, questioned as an accused and ordered not to leave his place of residence. On 13 August 2001 the public prosecutor again informed the applicant of the accusations against him and questioned him. On December 2001 the public prosecutor concluded the pre-trial investigation in the case by issuing the final bill of indictment and transferred the case to the courts.

In 2004 the Klaipėda Regional Court sentenced the applicant to five years’ imprisonment for organized burglary. On January 2005, after four hearings, the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of the applicant. The Court of Appeal concluded that the court of first instance had properly assessed all the evidence in the case and clarified the discrepancies. On June 2005 the Supreme Court, in oral proceedings, dismissed the cassation appeal lodged by the applicant.

Issue: The case was brought to the Court to decide whether there was a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial within a reasonable time) of the Convention;

Holdings: Yes, there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention;

Court’s Rationale: As regards the period to be taken into consideration, the Court concludes that the period started on 28 April 1998 with the search of the applicant’s home. The proceedings ended on 28 June 2005, when the Supreme Court made its final decision. The proceedings therefore lasted approximately 7 years and 2 months, at three levels of jurisdiction.

The Court will assess the reasonableness of the length of the proceedings in light of the particular circumstances of the case and having regard to the criteria laid down in its case-law, in particular the complexity of the case and the conduct of the applicant and the competent authorities.

The Court considers that the proceedings may be deemed complex given the number of accused and the charges against them, as well as the volume of evidence to be examined. Nonetheless, it cannot be said that this in itself justified the entire length of the proceedings. In their submissions, the Government referred to delays caused by the behaviour of certain members of the accused and witnesses. The Court notes, however, that it is the responsibility of the authorities to ensure the presence of all persons relevant to the proceedings, and to this end they have a number of measures at their disposal. The Court sees no reason why the case could not have been suspended in regard to the missing defendant at an earlier stage. In contrast, the Court notes that the periods from 1 to 15 September 2003 and from 9 to 17 December 2003 are attributable to the applicant, but only account for a total of 22 days.

However, the Court cannot agree with the Government that the applicant’s absconding caused substantial delays. Although the applicant had absconded before the judgment of the Regional Court was adopted, he had been present for most of the proceedings at first instance, which involved the examination of the evidence and the establishment of the facts. As the Regional Court had pointed out, the applicant had submitted his final statement before absconding. Subsequently the courts continued their examination of the case in the applicant’s absence, but in the presence of his lawyer who maintained the defence’s position. Thus the applicant’s failure to appear at the last hearings of the court of first instance and the hearings of the higher courts did not unduly hinder the examination of the case.

Giving due regard to all the material submitted and to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers that in the instant case the overall length of the criminal proceedings was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable time” requirement. Accordingly, there has been a breach of Article 6 § 1.

Just satisfaction: The Court held that Lithuania was to pay the applicant 1,800 Euros in respect of non-pecuniary damages and 1,500 Euros for costs and expenses;

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