What is the right to a fair trial?
The right to a fair trial guarantees fair court proceedings. A fair trial means that the court follows all procedures correctly and treats all parties equally, so that the trial itself is fair and effective, regardless of the decision and outcome.
The right to a fair trial encompasses requirements for the court and its constitution as well as procedural guarantees during proceedings.
This right applies to different kinds of proceedings: criminal, civil and administrative.
Requirements for the court
The right to a fair trial demands that the court be established by law and its judges be independent and impartial. “Established by law” means that there is a law explaining how the court functions and which rules and procedures it follows when hearing a case. “Independence of judges” means that the judges only follow the law and are not influenced by anyone else. Moreover, “impartiality” requests that the judges cannot be personally interested in the outcome of the case, or be prejudiced or biased.
The right to a fair trial encompasses a number of important procedural guarantees which help to ensure the fairness of the court proceedings. The following guarantees apply to all kinds of proceedings:
- A public hearing
- Consideration in reasonable time
- Equality of arms
- Access to a lawyer or an opportunity to represent oneself
- A reasoned decision
In the context of criminal proceedings, this right implies that the accused person shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
In addition to the above, the accused in criminal trial have the following guarantees:
- To receive information about the nature and the cause of the charge
- To be present at the trial
- Adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence
- Protection against self-incrimination
- To examine witnesses
- Free assistance of an interpreter if necessary
Who protects this right?
The State is the main guarantor of human rights and thus needs to ensure that everyone has access to independent and impartial courts which consider cases and follow the appropriate procedural guarantees. Where a person’s rights are violated, the State can be held responsible and must grant compensation. But, a trial can only be fair and efficient if participants also fulfil their duties within it. For example, appear for the hearing and respect procedural deadlines.
International recognition of this right
The norms protecting the right to a fair trial were formulated after the end of the Second World War when the international community decided to set a common standard for protecting fundamental rights.
In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, which reads in Article 10:
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
This right was later incorporated in international and regional human rights conventions.