Right to a fair trial in criminal matters under article 6 E.C.H.R.

AuthorPaul Mahoney
PositionRegistrar of the European Court of Human Rights
Not only is Article 6, which guarantees the right to a fair trial in
civil and criminal matters, one of the few provisions in the European
Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) which goes into some
detail as to the scope of the safeguard afforded (in particular, the
rights of the defence in criminal proceedings), but it is the subject of
an exceptionally rich case-law. One could almost draft a code of
criminal procedure on the basis of the E.C.H.R. case-law. The text
of Article 6 reads:
1. In the determination of his civil rights and
obligations or of any criminal charge against him,
everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a
reasonable time by an independent and impartial
tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be
pronounced publicly but the press and public may be
excluded from all or part of the trial in the interests of
morals, public order or national security in a democratic
society,wherethe interests of juveniles or the protection
of the private life of the parties so require, or to the
extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in
special circumstances wherepublicity would prejudice
the interests of justice.
2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be
presumed innocent until proved guilty according to
3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the
following minimum rights:
2004] 107Right To A Fair Trial In Criminal Matters Under
Article 6 E.C.H.R.
*Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights. Expanded text of a presentation made
at the National Judicial Conference organised by the Judicial Studies Institute in Dublin on 10-
11 November 2001. Any views expressed arepersonal.
(a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he
understands and in detail, of the nature and
cause of the accusation against him;
(b) to have adequate time and facilities for the
preparation of his defence;
(c) to defend himself in person or through legal
assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not
sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be
given it free when the interests of justice so
(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against
him and to obtain the attendance and
examination of witnesses on his behalf under the
same conditions as witnesses against him;
(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he
cannot understand or speak the language used in
For a national judge in a country where the ECHR is part of
domestic law,Article 6 under its criminal head is most likely to come
into the picture:
during the trial and its preparatory proceedings, whenever a
procedural motion is made (to hear witnesses, to exclude
evidence, for an adjournment, and so on) or,generally,
whenever a procedural issue arises;
on appeal when the appeal court is called on to rule on alleged
procedural deficiencies at first instance.
The following descriptive survey is intended to give a brief
indication of the main principles, together with a few illustrative
examples of the voluminous case-law under the “criminal” limb of
Article 6.
108 [4:2Judicial Studies Institute Journal

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