Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohus
18.03.1997

Facts

The applicant, Mr. Foucher, was charged with a minor offence - having used insulting and threatening words and behaviour towards public-service employees. The offence was punishable by imprisonment from 10 days up to a month or a fine. He chose to represent himself and went to the court to consult the case file and procure copies of the documents it contained. The access to case file was denied explaining that copies could not be issued to individuals except through a lawyer or an insurance company.

Complaint

Mr. Foucher complained that denial of access to the case file violated rights of defence in criminal proceedings. 

Court's ruling

The Court reiterated that according to the principle of equality of arms, as one of the features of the wider concept of a fair trial, each party must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present his case in conditions that do not place him at a disadvantage vis-à-vis his opponent. In the instant case, the Court found three considerations that were of crucial importance in determining whether such equality was ensured. 

Firstly, Mr. Foucher conducted his own case without the assistance of a lawyer. Secondly, there was no need to ensure the confidentiality of the investigation as the applicant was committed directly to the trial and no investigation was carried out and, thirdly, Mr. Foucher was convicted solely on the public officers’ order which he had no access to. 

For these reasons the Court concluded that to be able to challenge the order Mr. Foucher had to be given access to his case file. Therefore the Court ruled that the applicant had been unable to prepare an adequate defence and he had not been afforded equality of arms in violation of his right to a fair trial.