Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohus
24.04.2001

Facts

The applicants, Mr. B. and Mr. P., initiated court proceedings to gain custody of their sons and asked for public hearings. The national courts however decided to hold the hearings in camera.

Complaint

Both applicants complained that their cases were not heard in public in violation of their rights to public hearing and fair trial.

Court’s ruling

The Court reiterated that Article 6 (1) of the Convention provides that in the determination of civil rights and obligations, “everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing”. The public character of proceedings protects litigants against the administration of justice in secret with no public scrutiny; it is also one of the means whereby confidence in the courts can be maintained. However, the requirement to hold a public hearing is subject to exceptions. It is established in the Court’s case-law that, even in a criminal-law context where there is a high expectation of publicity, it may on occasion be necessary under Article 6 to limit the open and public nature of proceedings in order, for example, to protect the safety or privacy of witnesses or to promote the free exchange of information and opinion in the pursuit of justice.  In the case at hand the proceedings concerned the residence of each man’s son following the parents’ divorce or separation. The Court considered that such proceedings are prime examples of cases where the exclusion of the press and public may be justified in order to protect the privacy of the child and parties and to avoid prejudicing the interests of justice as it was essential that the parents and other witnesses feel able to express themselves candidly on very personal issues without fear of public curiosity or comment. Moreover the refusal to hold a public hearing was sufficiently reasoned. Therefore there was no violation of the applicants’ right to a fair trial.