The applicant, Mr. Lavents, was tried for fraudulent activities in connection with in that time the biggest bank in Latvia “Banka Baltija”. During the trial the presiding judge gave several interviews to the press. Among other things she stated that she is not sure yet whether Mr. Lavents will be found fully or only partially guilty. Mr. Lavents asked the court for a recusal of that judge, but the court denied his request.
Mr. Lavents complained that the judge hearing his case was not objective, in violation of his right to fair trial.
The Court emphasized that the presumption of innocence requires that when carrying out their duties, the members of a court should not start with the preconceived idea that the accused has committed the offence charged; the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and any doubt should benefit the accused. It requires that public officials, especially judges deciding the case, refrain from public statements which reflect an opinion that the accused is guilty before he has been proved so according to law. It suffices, even in the absence of any formal finding, that there is some reasoning to suggest that the official regards the accused as guilty. The Court stated that judges are precluded from disclosing to press any doubts they have about the case or from showing negative attitude towards a party of the case in the press. In the particular case the Court found that the judge, while giving interviews to press, openly showed negative attitude towards Mr. Lavents, and excluded the possibility that he might be acquitted. Therefore the Court ruled that, because of these expressions of the judge, the tribunal examining Mr. Lavents’ case could not be considered objective in violation of his right to fair trial.