The applicant, Mr. Lavents, was tried for fraudulent activities in connection with at that time the biggest bank in Latvia “Banka Baltija”. During the trial he applied for removal of one of the presiding judge of his trial. One of the lay judges agreed that the presiding judge indeed should be removed. After prosecutor’s appeal the Supreme Court lifted this judgment because of procedural errors indicating that the request should be re-examined by judges other than the ones adopting the impugned decision. The case was sent back to the regional court, where the same judges decided that the judge previously removed from the case should not be precluded from trying the case.
Mr. Lavents among other things complained that the court hearing his case was not established by law in violation of his right to fair trial.
The Court emphasized that a court must always be established by law otherwise it lacks the legitimacy to decide on individual’s cases. The Court pointed that not only the law regulating the establishment and competence of the court, but also legal rules concerning the legality of participation of judges examining the case must be complied with. These include legal grounds for removal of judges.
The Latvian law provided that if a decision is lifted by court of higher instance, the judges who issued the particular decision cannot decide the case anymore. Since this rule was not followed by the judges of the regional court, the Court ruled that the composition of the court was not established by law and there has been a violation of right to fair trial.