Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 164
Lavrechov v. the Czech Republic - 57404/08
Judgment 20.6.2013 See:  ECHR 564 [Section V]
Article 1 of Protocol No. 1
Article 1 para. 1 of Protocol No. 1
Peaceful enjoyment of possessions
Forfeiture of applicant’s bail notwithstanding his acquittal: no violation
Facts - In 2001 the applicant, a Russian national, was charged in the Czech Republic with insider trading and fraud and taken into pre-trial custody. The following year he was released on bail subject to the payment of the equivalent of EUR 400,000 as security. The trial was subsequently conducted in his absence as he had been out of the country for a lengthy period and had failed to maintain contact with the trial court regarding the conduct of the trial or to forward an address for service. Although the applicant was ultimately acquitted of the offences charged, the security was forfeited as he had failed to respect the conditions of his bail.
Law - Article 1 of Protocol No. 1: The forfeiture of the bail constituted interference with the applicant’s property rights. The measure had complied with the requirement of lawfulness and pursued the legitimate aims of ensuring the proper conduct of criminal proceedings and of fighting crime and crime prevention, which undoubtedly fell within the general interest. While bail of approximately EUR 400,000 was substantial, the time for discussing the proportionality of the amount was when the bail was set, rather than when it was forfeited. In the instant case, the applicant had not contended that the amount was unreasonable and had been able to provide the security swiftly and without undue hardship. The main issue in the case was whether his acquittal should have been taken into account when deciding whether to forfeit the bail.
The purpose of bail is to ensure the proper conduct of criminal proceedings, and in particular to ensure the accused appears at the hearing. In the instant case, the conduct of the proceedings was significantly hampered by the applicant’s failure to comply with the bail conditions. He failed to appear at any of the scheduled hearings or to assist the court in any way, even though he must have been aware that he was in breach of his bail conditions. This had resulted in the length of the proceedings being considerably extended and serious difficulties in attempts to serve the applicant with documents. The fact that the applicant was later acquitted did not in itself mean that his prosecution had been illegal or was otherwise tainted. Different standards of proof were required for a conviction (usually proof beyond reasonable doubt) and a prosecution (usually reasonable suspicion of the commission of a crime). There could therefore well be cases of reasonable suspicion which at trial did not result in a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, in such situations the State still had a legitimate interest in ensuring that individuals in respect of whom there existed a reasonable suspicion did not try to evade justice or undermine the smooth conduct of the proceedings. Accordingly, the outcome of the proceedings had no direct relevance to the question whether the security for bail should be forfeited. The question was rather whether forfeiture was proportionate given the breach of the bail conditions during the proceedings. Even though the applicant might have had objective reasons owing to the theft of his passport for not attending the initial hearings, the decision to hold the trial in absentia was not taken until two years and eight months after he acquired a new passport. In these circumstances, the domestic courts’ finding that the applicant had been avoiding criminal prosecution by staying out of the country for several years did not seem unreasonable. As the applicant must have been aware that he had been in breach of his bail conditions for a substantial period, he should have informed the court clearly and unequivocally of his address in Russia and remained in regular contact, but this he had failed to do. Lastly, forfeiture had been ordered after full adversarial proceedings, and the domestic courts had carefully scrutinised the pertinent issues and given comprehensive reasons for their decisions. The procedural requirements of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 had thus been complied with. In the circumstances, therefore, the decision to forfeit the applicant’s bail had struck a “fair balance” between the demands of the general interest of the community and the requirements of the applicant’s rights.
Conclusion: no violation (six votes to one).
© Council of Europe/European Court of Human Rights
This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.
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