Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohus
23.11.2006

Facts

The applicant, Mr. Jussila appealed a decision of Tax Office imposing surcharges of approximately 300 euro in court, requesting the court to hold oral hearing. The tax inspector submitted his position about which Mr. Jussila submitted his commentaries. The court ruled that it is not necessary to hold oral hearing, as both sides had submitted all the necessary information in writing. He was denied leave to appeal.

Complaint

Mr. Jussila claimed that his right to fair trial has been violated as the court did not hold an oral hearing in his case.

Court's ruling

The Court noted that an oral, and public, hearing constitutes a fundamental principle enshrined in Article 6 § 1. This principle is particularly important in the criminal context, where generally there must be at first instance a tribunal which fully meets the requirements of Article 6 and where an applicant has an entitlement to have his case “heard”, with the opportunity to give evidence in his own defence, hear the evidence against him, and examine and cross-examine the witnesses. However right to an oral hearing is not absolute. An oral hearing might be unnecessary if there are no issues of credibility or contested facts which necessitate a hearing and the courts may fairly and reasonably decide the case on the basis of the parties’ submissions and other written materials. In the present case the appellate court had invited written observations from the tax inspector and after that a statement from an expert chosen by the applicant.  

In the circumstances appellate court found that an oral hearing was manifestly unnecessary as the information provided by the applicant himself formed a sufficient factual basis for the consideration of the case. The Court did not doubt that checking and ensuring that the taxpayer has given an accurate account of his affairs and that supporting documents have been properly produced may often be more efficiently dealt with in writing than in oral argument. Since the applicant had also had an opportunity to request an oral hearing and the surcharge in question was relatively small, a finding that an oral hearing was not necessary did not violate Mr. Jussila’s right to a fair trial.