Vardan Martirosyan v. Armenia (European Court of Human Rights)

Information Note on the Court’s case-law 252
June 2021

Vardan Martirosyan v. Armenia13610/12

Judgment 15.6.2021 [Section IV]

Article 5
Article 5-1
Lawful arrest or detention

Absence of grounds for authorising continuation of detention during trial and for an uncertain duration: violation

Article 5-5

No enforceable right to compensation for non-pecuniary damage either prior to or after delivery of Court judgment: violation

Article 6
Article 6-2
Presumption of innocence

Wording used by court in decisions concerning applicant’s continued detention and committing him to trial: no violation, violation

Facts – The applicant was taken into custody and charged with attempted drug smuggling. His pre-trial detention was extended on several occasions, including by decisions taken by the District Court in October and December 2011. The applicant appealed unsuccessfully against those decisions. He further alleged that statements regarding his guilt in those decisions had breached the presumption of innocence; a matter addressed and rectified by the Court of Appeal. In March 2012 Judge F. of the District Court took a decision setting the criminal case down for trial. The applicant remained in detention during trial and his application for release was dismissed in February 2013. In August 2013, the District Court, sitting in a single judge formation composed of Judge F., found the applicant guilty and sentenced him to a term of imprisonment.

Law – Article 5 § 1 :

As far as the applicant’s detention during trial was concerned, the decision of March 2012 in that regard had been limited to a single phrase, finding that the preventive measure applied in respect of the applicant be left unchanged.

The absence of any grounds by the judicial authorities in their decisions authorising detention for a prolonged period of time might be incompatible with the principle of the protection from arbitrariness enshrined in Article 5 § 1. The Court had already found a violation on that ground in circumstances similar to those in the present case (see, for example, Nakhmanovich v. Russia, 55669/00, 2 March 2006; Yeloyev v. Ukraine, 17283/02, 6 November 2008; Solovey and Zozulya v. Ukraine, 40774/02 and 4048/03, 27 November 2008; and Kharchenko v. Ukraine, 40107/02, 10 February 2011). Similarly to those cases, the District Court in its decision of March 2012 had simply upheld the detention imposed on the applicant at the pre-trial stage without providing any reasons whatsoever for its decision or setting any time-limits for his continued detention. That had left the applicant in a state of uncertainty as to the grounds and duration of his detention after that date. The later decision of February 2013, taken upon the applicant’s application for release, had not contained any specific reasons justifying the applicant’s detention and, moreover, had been taken almost one year after the decision of March 2012. It therefore could not be regarded as rectifying the flaws of that decision.

That appeared to have been the general practice at the material time, since the relevant provisions of domestic law had explicitly required the courts to provide reasons and to set time-limits for continued detention only during the pre-trial stage of the proceedings and it was not clear whether such requirements had applied to decisions taken at the preparatory stage of the trial, like in the present case. In those circumstances, the decision of March 2012 had not afforded the applicant an adequate protection from arbitrariness which was an essential element of the “lawfulness” of detention within the meaning of Article 5 § 1, and the applicant’s detention from March 2012 to August 2013 had therefore failed to comply with the requirements of Article 5 § 1.

Conclusion: violation (unanimously).

Article 5 § 5 :

None of the domestic authorities had at any stage found – explicitly or implicitly – a breach of the applicant’s rights guaranteed by Article 5. He had therefore had no grounds to claim compensation under domestic law. Moreover, even assuming that he had had such grounds, the Court had already found that the Armenian law, prior to the amendments of 2014 and at the time of the present case, had failed to comply with the requirements of Article 5 § 5 in view of the impossibility to claim compensation for damage of a non-pecuniary nature (see Norik Poghosyan v. Armenia).

The Armenian law had since been amended, introducing non-pecuniary damage as a type of compensation that could be claimed for a breach of Convention rights, including the right to liberty and security of the person. However, it had not been shown that the applicant would be able to avail himself of a right to compensation for the violation of his Article 5 rights after the delivery of the Court’s judgment.

Conclusion: violation (unanimously).

Article 6 § 2 :

The applicant had complained that the wording of the decisions taken by the District Court in October and December 2011, examining whether the applicant’s continued detention had been justified, had violated his right to be presumed innocent. The District Court had been called upon to determine whether there had been a reasonable suspicion and relevant grounds justifying the extension of the applicant’s pre-trial detention. In so doing, it had referred to the nature and the dangerousness of the act “committed” by the applicant. Having regard to the impugned decisions and the context in which they had been taken, although the wording might be considered unfortunate, it could not be said to amount to an explicit and unqualified declaration of the applicant’s guilt before he had been proved guilty according to the law. The court had not referred to the applicant as the perpetrator of the offence and, in fact, all extension decisions had contained concomitant statements clearly stating that the applicant had been charged with that offence. Furthermore, there had been a rectification made by the Court of Appeal.

The situation was different in so far as the District Court’s decision of March 2012 committing the applicant to trial was concerned. That decision had been taken at the start of the applicant’s trial by the Domestic Court which had been called upon to determine the merits of the charge against the applicant and which should have exercised particular caution in its choice of words. However, the domestic court had stated that it was committing the applicant for trial “in order to hold [the applicant]…criminally liable”. Such an explicit and unqualified statement, moreover made by the same judge who had eventually ruled on the applicant’s guilt, had been well capable of being understood as meaning that the District Court had considered the applicant’s guilt as an established fact and that the purpose of the trial had simply been to confirm that pre-determined outcome. While the District Court might have merely committed a technical error in poorly wording its decision, it had never acknowledged that any such error had been committed or attempted to correct it at any stage of the proceedings (see, mutatis mutandis, Grubnyk v. Ukraine). Nor had such a rectification been made by any other domestic authority. The fact that the applicant had ultimately been found guilty and sentenced to a term of imprisonment could not negate his initial right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law.

Conclusion: no violation, violation (unanimously).

The Court also held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 3 as regards the failure of the domestic courts to provide relevant and sufficient reasons for the applicant’s continued detention on remand; and a violation of Article 5 § 4 in that the hearing of March 2012 had been conducted in violation of the principle of equality of arms.

Article 41: EUR 5,200 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

(See also Norik Poghosyan v. Armenia, 63106/12, 22 October 2020; Grubnyk v. Ukraine, 58444/15, 17 September 2020, Legal Summary)

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