The Court reminded that States have greater latitude when dealing with civil cases concerning civil rights and obligations than they have when dealing with criminal cases. Nevertheless, certain principles concerning the notion of a "fair hearing" in cases concerning civil rights and obligations are also applicable. The requirement of "equality of arms", in the sense of a "fair balance" between the parties, applies to civil proceedings. In litigation involving opposing private interests, "equality of arms" implies that 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 vis-à-vis his opponent. In the case at hand only two persons were present at the meeting at which disputed agreement had allegedly been reached. The Court didn’t find any reason why they were both not allowed to give evidence. Therefore the Court ruled that the applicant company was placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to the bank and there accordingly was violation of Article 6(1) of the Convention.
The applicant company, Dombo Beheer B.V., summoned a bank which held its accounts before the Regional Court, claiming financial compensation for the damage caused by the bank’s alleged failure to honor the commitments it had undertaken. The oral agreement had been reached at a meeting between the applicant company’s then managing director and the bank’s manager. The Regional Court refused to hear a witness called by the applicant company, because he was the former managing director of the company. The judge however decided to hear the witness called by the bank – the formal representative of bank in the credit relationship between the bank and applicant company. The final judgment was in favor of the bank.
The applicant company complained about the refusal to allow its former managing director as a witness violated the principle of equality of arms.