European Court of Human Rights
18 June 2002

Facts

The applicant, Mr. Wierzbicki, published the names of certain people in the newspaper in which he was editor-in-chief. Among the names was that of S.N., which had allegedly been deleted from a list of alleged informants of the communist secret police. S.N. brought an action to the court against Mr. Wierzbicki claiming the information was false. Mr. Wierzbicki asked the court to call the former and current Ministers of Internal Affairs and a well-known politician as witnesses, and to request the ministry to submit various documents as evidence. The court requested the ministry to submit these documents but it refused claiming that the documents were classified. The court refused to call the witnesses proposed by the applicant, among other reasons, naming the lack of documentary evidence and that the serious allegations that S.N. had been a police informant and the veracity of the list could not be verified by witness evidence alone.

Complaint

Mr. Wierzbicki claimed that he had been deprived of all means of effectively arguing his case before that court, as it refused to call his witnesses and did not obtain the relevant documents.

Court's ruling

The Court pointed out that Article 6 of the Convention does not explicitly guarantee the right to have witnesses called or other evidence admitted by a court in civil proceedings. Nevertheless the principle of equality of arms must be observed - each party must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present his case - including his evidence - under conditions that do not place him at a substantial disadvantage comparing to his opponent. 

In the particular case, the Court found that the refusal to acquire documents did not violate the rights of Mr. Wierzbicki, as the court examined his request, made a request to the ministry. However, the law at that time clearly stated that such classified information could only be disclosed in criminal proceedings. 

In addition it could have been expected that Mr. Wierzbicki himself had some evidence to support the information published in his newspaper. 

The Court also found that the domestic courts had examined Mr. Wierzbicki's requests to have witnesses called and gave detailed reasons for their refusals. 

Therefore, the Court ruled that Mr. Wierzbicki's right to fair trial was not violated.

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