AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 9965/08
by Vladimír MATOUŠEK
against the Czech Republic
The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting on 29 March 2011 as a Chamber composed of:
Boštjan M. Zupančič,
Angelika Nußberger, judges,
and Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 14 February 2008,
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 Vladimír Matoušek, is a Czech national who was born in 1957 and lives in Znojmo. He is represented before the Court by Mr Z. Odehnal, a lawyer practising in Brno. The respondent Government were represented by their Agent, Mr V.A. Schorm, from the Ministry of Justice.
A. The circumstances of the case
On 28 November 2005 the Znojmo District Court (okresní soud) found the applicant guilty of attempted fraud and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment suspended for four years. The court found it established that the applicant falsified signatures on two contracts in order to receive a pre-emption right from the State for a certain plot of land.
The applicant appealed arguing, inter alia, that the court had not heard any expert opinion concerning the authenticity of the signatures.
On 24 May 2006 the Brno Regional Court (krajský soud) upheld the applicant’s conviction but changed the sentence to five months’ imprisonment suspended for fifteen months finding the possible damage to the State to be considerably lower than that found by the District Court. The court further held that the signatures on the contract were so significantly different compared to real signatures of the persons concerned that an expert opinion was not necessary.
On 21 February 2007 the Supreme Court (Nejvyšší soud) rejected the applicant’s appeal on points of law as manifestly ill-founded. The court noted that the applicant had been aware that the signatures were not authentic and thus if the contracts had been considered valid the State would have suffered a damage. The applicant thus acted with dolus eventualis.
The applicant lodged a constitutional appeal (ústavní stížnost) claiming a violation of his right to a fair trial and the principle of no punishment without law. He complained, inter alia, that no mens rea to commit an offence had been proved and that the courts did not admit in evidence an expert opinion regarding the authenticity of the signatures. The Constitutional Court (Ústavní soud) requested observations from the ordinary courts. The Supreme Court, the Regional Court and the District Court only shortly referred to their decisions and maintained that they had already dealt with the complaints raised by the applicant. None of these observations were communicated to the applicant.
On 6 November 2007 the Constitutional Court rejected the applicant’s constitutional appeal as manifestly ill-founded. As to the fact that it had not communicated the other parties’ observations to the applicant, it noted that it did not take them into account as they did not bring anything new.
B. Relevant domestic law
The relevant domestic law and practice concerning the procedure before the Constitutional Court are set out in the Court’s judgment in the case of Milatová and Others v. the Czech Republic (no. 61811/00, ECHR 2005-V).
1. The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that he was not given an opportunity to reply to the observations of the other parties before the Constitutional Court.
2. He further complained under Article 6 § 2 of the Convention that the courts rejected to admit in evidence an expert opinion regarding the authenticity of signatures and thus decided the matter without any relevant evidence.
3. Lastly, the applicant complained under Article 7 of the Convention that the courts did not prove he had a mens rea to commit the crime.
1. The applicant complained that the proceedings before the Constitutional Court had not been adversarial, because the court had failed to communicate him the submissions of the other parties. He relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention which, so far as relevant, provides as follows:
“In the determination of ... any criminal charge against him ... everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a] ... tribunal.”
The Government maintained that the complaint should be declared inadmissible under Article 35 § 3 (b) of the Convention. They stressed that the courts’ observations had not brought anything new and the Constitutional Court had not relied on or referred to them in its reasoning. They referred to the Court’s decision in Holub v. the Czech Republic (dec.), no. 24880/05, 14 December 2010, and held that there were no substantial differences between that case and the present complaint.
The applicant disagreed holding that it should be up to him to decide whether observations of other parties called for his comments.
The Court observes that in Holub v. the Czech Republic, cited above, it declared a similar complaint inadmissible because the applicant had not suffered a significant disadvantage within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (b) of the Convention. It based its decision on the fact that the non-communicated observations had not contained anything new or relevant to the case and the decision of the Constitutional Court had not been based on them.
Turning to the present case, the Court observes that none of the observations of the other parties before the Constitutional Court contained any new information or arguments leading to dismiss the constitutional appeal. The ordinary courts merely referred to their decisions and reasoning. The Constitutional Court expressly stated that it did not take these observations into account and there is nothing in its reasoning to suggest that it would base its decision on them. In any case, given that there were no new facts or arguments in the submissions, the Court does not see how they could have influenced the decision of the Constitutional Court or be anyhow important for it at all (a contrario BENet Praha, spol. s r.o. v. the Czech Republic, no. 33908/04, § 142, 24 February 2011, not final, subject to Article 44 § 2 of the Convention). The Court thus concludes that in this aspect the present case is similar to Holub v. the Czech Republic, cited above, and the applicant has not suffered a significant disadvantage when the Constitutional Court failed to communicate him the submissions of the other parties to the proceedings.
The Court adds that the present case has been duly considered by domestic tribunals and that respect for human rights does not require an examination of the application on the merits (see Holub v. the Czech Republic, cited above). It follows that this complaint must be declared inadmissible in accordance with Article 35 § 3 (b) of the Convention, as amended by Protocol No. 14.
2. The applicant also complained under Article 6 § 2 of the Convention that the domestic courts had rejected to admit in evidence an expert opinion that could have proved that he had not committed the crime.
Examining this complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, the Court reiterates that the admissibility of evidence is governed primarily by the rules of domestic law. The Court’s task under the Convention is only to ascertain whether the proceedings as a whole, including the way in which evidence was taken, were fair (see Accardi and others v. Italy (dec.), no. 30598/02, 20 January 2005).
The Court notes that the Brno Regional Court reasoned why the expert opinion was unnecessary. The Court does not consider that decision arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable.
It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 (a) and 4 of the Convention.
3. Lastly, the applicant complained under Article 7 of the Convention that the domestic courts had not proved he had had a mens rea to commit the crime.
The Court reiterates that it is primarily for the national authorities, notably the courts, to interpret and apply domestic law and 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 (see Streletz, Kessler and Krenz v. Germany [GC], nos. 34044/96, 35532/97 and 44801/98, § 49, ECHR 2001-II).
In the present case the Court notes that the applicant invites it to decide that the domestic courts failed to prove all necessary elements of the crime. It reiterates however, that it is not its task to review the assessment of evidence by a national court, unless it would be arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable (see Camilleri v. Malta (dec.), no. 51760/99, 16 March 2000).
The Court notes that the judgment of the District Court finding the applicant guilty was extensively reasoned. The applicant enjoined a right of appeal, appeal on points of law and constitutional appeal and all were dismissed. The Court does not consider these decisions arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable. Accordingly, this complaint must be declared manifestly ill-founded and rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 (a) and 4 of the Convention.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Declares the application inadmissible.
Claudia Westerdiek Dean
MATOUŠEK v. THE CZECH REPUBLIC DECISION
MATOUŠEK v. THE CZECH REPUBLIC DECISION