(Application no. 20310/02)
31 March 2009
This judgment may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Płonka v. Poland,
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Nicolas Bratza, President,
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Lawrence Early, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 10 March 2009,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
“An accused must have an officially appointed lawyer when a Regional Court is competent to deal with his case as a court of first instance, a crime is involved within the meaning of the Criminal Code, or the individual is remanded in custody. The counsel must take part in the main hearing; he must also take part in any appellate hearing if the president of the court or the court itself has found this necessary.”
This provision does not apply to the investigative stage of the proceedings but only after the case is sent for trial, as was expressly confirmed by the Supreme Court in its resolution of 20 January 2004 (III KK 226/03).
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 §§ 1 AND 3 (c) OF THE CONVENTION
“1. In the determination (...) of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing...
3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require
1. The parties’ submissions
2. The Court’s assessment.
(a) The general principles
33. The Court further reiterates that although not absolute, the right of everyone charged with a criminal offence to be effectively defended by a lawyer, assigned officially if need be, is one of the fundamental features of fair trial (Poitrimol v. France, 23 November 1993, § 34, Series A no. 277 A, and Demebukov v. Bulgaria, no. 68020/01, § 50, 28 February 2008). Nevertheless, Article 6 § 3 (c) does not specify the manner of exercising this right. It thus leaves to the Contracting States the choice of the means of ensuring that it is secured in their judicial systems, the Court’s task being only to ascertain whether the method they have chosen is consistent with the requirements of a fair trial. In this respect, it must be remembered that the Convention is designed to “guarantee not rights that are theoretical or illusory but rights that are practical and effective” and that assigning counsel does not in itself ensure the effectiveness of the assistance he may afford an accused (Imbrioscia, cited above, § 38).
(b) Application of the principles to the above case
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
B. Costs and expenses
C. Default interest
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 2,000 (two thousand euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage, to be converted into Polish zlotys at the rate applicable at the date of the settlement, plus any tax that may be chargeable;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
Done in English, and notified in writing on 31 March 2009, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Lawrence Early Nicolas Bratza