AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 10656/03
by Tamás DÁNYÁDI
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting on 6 July 2006 as a Chamber composed of:
Mr J.-P. Costa, President,
Mr A.B. Baka,
Mr I. Cabral Barreto,
Mr R. Türmen,
Mr M. Ugrekhelidze,
Mrs A. Mularoni,
Ms D. Jočienė, judges,
and Mrs S. Dollé, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 3 February 2003,
Having regard to the decision to apply Article 29 § 3 of the Convention and examine the admissibility and merits of the case together,
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicant,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr Tamás Dányádi, is a Hungarian national who was born in 1975 and lives in Székesfehérvár, Hungary. He is represented before the Court by Mr E. Petruska, a lawyer practising in Budapest. The Hungarian Government (“the Government”) are represented by Mr L. Höltzl, Agent, Ministry of Justice and Law Enforcement.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
After having searched his home – with no result – on 14 October 1993 and heard two witnesses on 15 October 1993, the Budapest Police Department interrogated the applicant on 18 October 1993. He was suspected of bodily assault, allegedly having stabbed Mr K. on 20 September 1993. On 31 October 1993 the applicant retained Mr Petruska as defence counsel. The latter’s request of 2 November for access to the investigation documents which had been created prior to his appointment was rejected by the police and, finally, by the public prosecutor’s office on 10 December 1993. The lawyer eventually had access to the entirety of the case file on termination of the investigation.
On 30 December 1993 the Budapest XX/XXI District Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted the applicant for severe bodily assault, noting that the victim had had a 2.5 cm wide, 6 cm deep knife wound.
The Budapest XX/XXI/XXIII District Court held a hearing on 12 April 1995. At that hearing the victim described the weapon used as a knife with a blade approximately 3-4 cm in width.
In another case, on 21 November 1995 the Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted the applicant for the offence of causing unlawful damage. This case was joined to the first proceedings on 18 July 1997.
Meanwhile, in the principal proceedings a forensic opinion was obtained on 17 June 1996. Hearings took place on 8 November 1996, 8 April and 25 June 1997.
In yet another case, on 12 August 1997 the Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted the applicant for the offence of riotous behaviour. This case was joined to the existing proceedings on 8 October 1997. On that date, a hearing took place in the joined proceedings. Further hearings were held on 11 December 1997 and 13 March 1998. On 12 June 1998 another forensic opinion was obtained. Additional hearings took place on 17 July and 15 September 1998.
At the hearing of 29 October 1998, the prosecution and the defence made their final submissions. Defence counsel argued inter alia that the weapon as described by the victim could not possibly have caused the injury suffered. On that date the court found the applicant guilty as charged and imposed a cumulative sentence of one year and four months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. The court observed that the forensic opinion corroborated the victim’s account of the incident and the weapon used, although the latter was nowhere to be found. Regarding the severe bodily assault committed by the applicant, which was punishable with imprisonment of up to five years, the court took into account as a mitigating factor the substantial lapse of time since the offence had been committed.
On appeal, on 17 March 2000 the Budapest Regional Court disjoined the case concerning the assault and, quashing the first-instance judgment in this respect, remitted the case. It acquitted the applicant of the charge of causing unlawful damage and reduced his sentence for riotous behaviour to a fine.
For reasons of competence, on 10 May 2000 another bench of the Regional Court was appointed to retry the applicant for assault. In the resumed proceedings, hearings took place on 27 March and 7 June 2001. On that date, the defence had its only opportunity ever to question the prosecution’s main witness in the case. Further hearings were held on 5 July and 20 September 2001. On that date the Regional Court convicted the applicant of aggravated bodily assault and sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment, suspended for two years. The court relied on the testimonies of the victim and several witnesses, the opinion of a forensic expert and the inspection of the crime scene. The court observed the substantial lapse of time since the offence had been committed and took it into account as a mitigating factor.
On appeal, on 25 June 2002 the Supreme Court held a hearing. According to the minutes of the hearing, the applicant’s lawyer argued inter alia that:
“the applicant’s [procedural] rights had been seriously prejudiced [in the proceedings before the Regional Court]”.
In his submissions to the Court, the applicant explains that this statement of his lawyer, as presented orally to the Supreme Court, concerned the alleged deficiency of the Regional Court’s reasoning.
In its 4-page decision served on 9 September 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the first-instance judgment. Completing the findings of fact on certain points, it held that the reasoning of the Regional Court’s judgment was, as such, sufficient and the establishment of the facts correct. It explained that, contrary to the defence’s arguments, no breach of the prohibition of reformatio in peius had taken place. Finally, it observed that the sentence imposed by the first-instance court was lawful.
B. Relevant domestic law
Section 44 § 4 of the (Old) Code of Criminal Procedure, as in force in the material period, provides that the defendant shall have access to the case file on termination of the investigation.
The applicant complains under Article 6 § 1 of the length of the proceedings.
Moreover, he complains under Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 that the proceedings were unfair, and that the assessment of the evidence as well as the outcome of the case was wrong. He submits in particular that his defence rights were impaired because his lawyer had no access to the investigation documents created prior to his appointment and that he was only able to question the prosecution’s main witness at a late stage in the proceedings. He also complains that the courts did not deal with the entirety of his arguments; in particular, the Regional Court did not examine those supporting the view that the knife in question could not possibly have caused the victim’s injury, and the Supreme Court did not reply to his complaint about the deficient reasoning of the first-instance judgment.
1. The applicant complains that the proceedings lasted an unreasonably long time, in breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as relevant:
“In the determination of ... any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
The Government argue that the applicant cannot claim to be a victim of a violation of Convention rights, since the Regional Court expressly acknowledged that the proceedings had been unusually long and provided redress by imposing a sentence substantially lighter than the possible maximum and by suspending its execution. In any event, the authorities displayed the requisite diligence in handling the case.
The applicant contests these views.
The Court observes that both the District Court and then, in the repeated proceedings, the Regional Court held that the duration of the proceedings had been excessive and declared that the excessive lapse of time since the offence had been committed was a mitigating factor. The District Court imposed a prison sentence of one year and four months, suspended for two years, whereas the offence committed by the applicant was susceptible to a punishment of imprisonment of up to five years. Subsequently, the Regional Court only imposed a one-year sentence, likewise suspended for two years. Against this background, the Court finds that the applicant obtained adequate redress for the alleged violation of his right under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention to the determination within a reasonable time of the criminal charges against him. Accordingly, in this connection, he can no longer claim to be a victim, for the purposes of Article 34, of a violation of Article 6 § 1.
This complaint is therefore manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4 of the Convention (see Morby v. Luxembourg (dec.), no. 27156/02, ECHR 2003-XI; Lie and Bernsten (dec.), no. 25130/94; Tamás Kovács v. Hungary, no. 67660/01, § 26, 28 September 2004).
2. Moreover, the applicant complains, relying on Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 of the Convention, of the unfairness of the proceedings as well as the assessment of the evidence and the outcome of the case. He asserts that he could not properly exercise his defence rights since Mr Petruska did not have access to the investigation documents created before his nomination. He also submits that the defence was only able to interrogate the prosecution’s main witness at a late stage in the proceedings. Furthermore, he contends that the courts did not examine all the defence arguments, including that which showed that the knife in question could not possibly have caused the victim’s injury and the procedural argument about the deficient reasoning of the Regional Court’s judgment.
However, in so far as the applicant’s complaints concern the assessment of the evidence and the result of the proceedings before the domestic courts, the Court reiterates that, according to Article 19 of the Convention, its duty is to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the Contracting Parties to the Convention. It is not its function to deal with errors of fact or law allegedly committed by a national court unless and in so far as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention. Moreover, while Article 6 of the Convention guarantees the right to a fair hearing, it does not lay down any rules on the admissibility of evidence or the way it should be assessed, which are therefore primarily matters for regulation by national law and the national courts (García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 28, ECHR 1999-I).
Even assuming compliance with the six-month rule of Article 35 § 1 of the Convention in respect of certain contested elements, and viewing the fairness of the proceedings as a whole, the Court is satisfied that the defence counsel’s belated access to the investigation documents was remedied at the latest on termination of the investigation – i.e. prior to the indictment of 30 December 1993 – when he would have had statutory access to the entire file under section 44 § 4 of the (Old) Code of Criminal Procedure.
Moreover, as regards the questioning of the prosecution’s main witness, it is to be recalled that an accused should be given an adequate and proper opportunity to challenge and question a witness against him, either at the time the witness makes his statement or at some later stage of the proceedings (Kostovski v. the Netherlands, judgment of 20 November 1989, Series A no. 166, p. 20, § 41). For the Court, the mere fact that this witness could not be questioned before the hearing of 7 June 2001 does not indicate a breach of this principle.
Furthermore, regarding the weapon used, it is to be observed that the defence advanced its arguments on this matter at the hearing on 29 October 1998. The District Court subsequently took the view that the forensic opinion was reconcilable with the victim’s account about the weapon. In these circumstances, it cannot be argued that the domestic courts ignored this line of defence.
Lastly, the Court reiterates that Article 6 § 1 obliges courts to give reasons for their judgments, but cannot be understood as requiring a detailed answer to every argument (Hiro Balani v. Spain, judgment of 9 December 1994, Series A no. 303-B, pp. 29-30, § 27). In the present case, it observes that the Supreme Court carried out a full review of the first-instance judgment. Its upholding of that judgment was based on several reasons, including a finding that the reasoning of the Regional Court’s judgment was sufficient and the establishment of the facts correct. For the Court, this statement replied to defence counsel’s complaint that the lower court’s reasoning was deficient. It is therefore satisfied that the Supreme Court did not breach its obligation under the Convention to give reasons for its decision.
It follows that this part of the application is likewise manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4 of the Convention.
Consequently, it is appropriate to discontinue the application of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention to the present case.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Declares the application inadmissible.
S. Dollé J.-P. Costa
DÁNYÁDI v. HUNGARY DECISION
DÁNYÁDI v. HUNGARY DECISION