Case of European Court of Human Rights, June 22, 2000 (case CASE OF COEME AND OTHERS v. BELGIUM)

Appeal Nbr:32492/96;32547/96;32548/96;33209/96;33210/96
Resolution Date:June 22, 2000
 
FREE EXCERPT

SECOND SECTION

CASE OF COëME AND OTHERS v. BELGIUM

(Applications nos. 32492/96, 32547/96, 32548/96,

33209/96 and 33210/96)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

22 June 2000

FINAL

18/10/2000

In the case of Coëme and Others v. Belgium,

The European Court of Human Rights (Second SectionError! Bookmark not defined. = 1 "First Section" Error! Bookmark not defined. = 2 "Second Section" Error! Bookmark not defined. = 3 "Third Section" Error! Bookmark not defined. = 4 "Fourth Section" ), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Mr C.L. Rozakis, President,

Mr A.B. Baka,

Mr B. Conforti,

Mrs F. Tulkens,

Mr P. Lorenzen,

Mrs M. Tsatsa-Nikolovska,

Mr E. Levits, judges,

and Mr E. Fribergh Error! Bookmark not defined. = "1" "Mr M. O'Boyle" Error! Bookmark not defined. = "2" "Mr E. Fribergh" Error! Bookmark not defined. = "3" "Mrs S. Dollé" Error! Bookmark not defined. = "4" "Mr V. Berger" , Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 30 March, 6 April and 30 May 2000,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last-mentioned date:

PROCEDURE

1. The case originated in five applications (nos. 32492/96, 32547/96, 32548/96, 33209/96 and 33210/96) against the Kingdom of Belgium lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights ("the Commission") under former Article 25 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") by five Belgian nationals.

The first of these applications was lodged by Mr Guy Coëme on 23 July 1996 and registered on 2 August 1996 under file no. 32492/96. Before the Court the applicant was represented by Mr P. Lambert, of the Brussels Bar.

The second application was lodged by Mr Jean-Louis Mazy on 1 August 1996 and registered on 7 August 1996 under file no. 32547/96. Before the Court the applicant was represented by Mr O. Klees, of the Brussels Bar.

The third application was originally lodged by Mr Jean-Louis Stalport on 5 August 1996 and registered on 7 August 1996 under file no. 32548/96. Mr Stalport died on 7 May 1997. By a letter of 4 July 1997 his wife, born in 1951, and his daughters, born in 1976 and 1979, who are all three Belgian nationals and are his sole heirs, announced their intention of pursuing the application and designated as the lawyers who would represent them the counsel chosen by their late husband and father - Mr J. Cruyplants, Mr R. De Baerdemaeker and Mr O. Louppe, of the Brussels Bar.

The fourth application was lodged by Mr Auguste Merry Hermanus on 8 August 1996 and registered on 27 September 1996 under file no. 33209/96. Before the Court the applicant was represented by Ms N. Cahen, Ms F. Maussion and Mr R. de Béco, of the Brussels Bar.

The fifth application was lodged by Mr Camille Javeau on 31 July 1996 and registered on 27 September 1996 under file no. 33210/96. Before the Court the applicant was represented by Mr T. Delahaye, Mr P. Mayence, Ms M.-F. Dubuffet and Mr P. Erkes, of the Brussels Bar.

The Belgian Government ("the Government") were represented by their Agent, Mr C. Debrulle, Director of Administration at the Ministry of Justice.

Relying on Articles 6, 7 13 and 14 of the Convention, the applicants complained of criminal proceedings brought against them in Belgium. Mr Coëme, who was a government minister at the time when the offences with which he was charged were committed, was committed for trial in the Court of Cassation pursuant to Article 103 of the Constitution, as worded before the constitutional revision of 12 June 1998, which provided that only the Court of Cassation, sitting as a full court, was empowered to try ministers. The other applicants were committed for trial in the same court on account of the connection between the offences they had been charged with and those of which Mr Coëme stood accused. On 5 April 1996 the Court of Cassation convicted all five applicants.

2. On 7 April 1997 the Commission decided to give notice of the applications to the Government.

With regard to the first application, the Commission invited the Government to submit their observations on the complaint concerning the lack of implementing legislation governing trial procedure in the Court of Cassation and those based on the fact that the Court of Cassation, applying Article 21 of the Law of 17 April 1978, as amended by Article 25 of the Law of 24 December 1993, had retrospectively applied Article 103 of the Constitution, as amended on 5 May 1993, and had extended the scope of the trial to include offences and charges not covered by the committal decision of the House of Representatives. The Government submitted their observations on 25 September 1997 and the applicant replied on 12 November 1997.

In connection with its examination of the second application, the Commission invited the Government to submit their observations on the complaints concerning the decision to commit the applicant for trial in the Court of Cassation even though he had never held office as a minister and the fact that there was no implementing legislation governing trial procedure in the Court of Cassation, the complaint that the applicant had not had adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and the complaint based on the refusal to submit a preliminary question to the Administrative Jurisdiction and Procedure Court. The Government submitted their observations on 25 September 1997 and the applicant replied on 5 November 1997.

With regard to the third application, the Commission invited the Government to submit their observations on the complaints concerning the decision to commit the applicant for trial in the Court of Cassation even though he had never held office as a minister and the fact that there was no implementing legislation governing trial procedure in the Court of Cassation, and the complaint that the applicant had not had adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence. The Government were also invited to submit observations on the complaints that the Court of Cassation had refused to submit a preliminary question to the Administrative Jurisdiction and Procedure Court and had taken certain statements made by the applicant when he was interviewed on 16 March 1994 to constitute a confession. The Government submitted their observations on 25 September 1997 and the applicant's heirs replied on 19 December 1997.

With regard to the fourth application, the Commission invited the Government to submit their observations on the complaints concerning the decision to commit the applicant for trial in the Court of Cassation even though he had never held office as a minister and the fact that there was no implementing legislation governing trial procedure in the Court of Cassation, and the complaints that the Court of Cassation had applied Article 21 of the Law of 17 April 1978, as amended by Article 25 of the Law of 24 December 1993, had refused to submit a preliminary question to the Administrative Jurisdiction and Procedure Court and had not heard the case within a reasonable time. The Government submitted their observations on 25 September 1997 and the applicant replied on 19 December 1997.

With regard to the fifth application, the Commission invited the Government to submit their observations on the complaints concerning the decision to commit the applicant for trial in the Court of Cassation even though he had never held office as a minister and the fact that there was no implementing legislation governing trial procedure in the Court of Cassation, the complaint that the applicant had not had adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and the complaint based on the refusal to submit a preliminary question to the Administrative Jurisdiction and Procedure Court. The Government submitted their observations on 25 September 1997 and the applicant replied on 19 December 1997.

3. Following the entry into force of Protocol No. 11 to the Convention on 1 November 1998, and in accordance with Article 5 § 2 thereof, the case was examined by the Court.

4. In accordance with Rule 52 § 1 of the Rules of Court, the President of the Court, Mr L. Wildhaber, assigned the case to the Second Section. The Chamber constituted within that Section included ex officio Mrs F. Tulkens, the judge elected in respect of Begium (Article 27 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 26 § 1 (a)), and Mr C.L. Rozakis, President of the Section (Rule 26 § 1 (a)). The other members designated by the latter to complete the Chamber were Mr B. Conforti, Mr P. Lorenzen, Mrs M. Tsatsa-Nikolovska, Mr A.B. Baka and Mr E. Levits (Rule 26 § 1 (b)).

5. On 8 December 1998 the Chamber decided to join the applications (Rule 43 § 1). It then decided to invite the parties to attend a hearing to make oral submissions on the admissibility and merits of certain complaints raised in the applications.

6. In accordance with the decision of the President of the Chamber, the hearing took place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 2 March 1999.

There appeared before the Court:

(a) for the Government

Mr J. Lathouwers, Deputy Legal Adviser,

Head of Department, Ministry of Justice, Agent,

Mr F. Herbert, of the Brussels Bar,

Mr F. de Visscher, of the Brussels Bar, Counsel;

(b) for the applicantsError! Bookmark not defined. = 2 "s"

(for Mr Coëme)

Mr P. Lambert, of the Brussels Bar, Counsel,

Mr M. Verdussen, Lecturer

at the Catholic University of Louvain, Adviser,

(for Mr Mazy)

Mr O. Klees, of the Brussels Bar, Counsel,

(for the heirs of Mr Stalport)

Mr J. Cruyplants, of the Brussels Bar,

Mr R. De Baerdemaeker, of the Brussels Bar,

Mr O. Louppe, of the Brussels Bar, Counsel,

(for Mr Hermanus)

Ms N. Cahen, of the Brussels Bar,

Mr R. de Beco, of the Brussels Bar, Counsel,

(for Mr Javeau)

Ms M.-F. Dubuffet, of the Brussels Bar,

Mr P. Erkes, of the Brussels Bar, Counsel.

The Court heard addresses by Mr de Visscher, Mr Klees, Mr Verdussen, Mr Lambert, Ms Cahen, Mr Erkes, Ms Dubuffet and Mr Cruyplants.

7. At the close of the deliberations held after the hearing...

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