European Court of Human Rights - case of Sannino v. Italy (2006) (excerpts)

European Court of Human Rights - case of Sannino v. Italy (2006) (excerpts)

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49.  Nevertheless, a State cannot be held responsible for every shortcoming on the part of a lawyer appointed for legal-aid purposes or chosen by the accused. It follows from the independence of the legal profession from the State that the conduct of the defence is essentially a matter between the defendant and his counsel, whether counsel be appointed under a legal-aid scheme or be privately financed (see Cuscani v. the United Kingdom, no. 32771/96, § 39, 24 September 2002). The competent national authorities are required under Article 6 § 3 (c) to intervene only if a failure by legal-aid counsel to provide effective representation is manifest or sufficiently brought to their attention in some other way (see Kamasinski v. Austria, 19 December 1989, § 65, Series A no. 168, and Daud v. Portugal, 21 April 1998, § 38, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-II).

50.  In the instant case, on 18 January 1999 Mr G., the lawyer chosen by the applicant, withdrew from the case (see paragraph 7 above). Mr B., the lawyer appointed by the court to represent the applicant, was informed of the date of the next hearing, but not of his appointment (see paragraph 8 above). That omission on the part of the authorities partly explained Mr B.’s absence, which led to the situation complained of by the applicant, namely, the fact that at each hearing he was represented by a different replacement lawyer (see paragraphs 9-12 and 14 above). There was nothing to suggest that the replacement lawyers had any knowledge of the case. However, they did not request an adjournment in order to acquaint themselves with their client’s case. Nor did they ask to examine the defence witnesses whom the District Court had given the applicant’s first two lawyers leave to summon (see paragraphs 5-6 above).

51.  Admittedly, the applicant, who until 2 November 1999 had attended many of the hearings, never informed the authorities of the difficulties he had been having preparing his defence (contrast Artico, cited above, § 36), as the Government rightly pointed out (see paragraph 42 above). The applicant also failed to get in touch with his court-appointed lawyers to seek clarification from them about the conduct of the proceedings and the defence strategy. Nor did he contact the court registry to ask about the outcome of his trial. However, the Court considers that the applicant’s conduct could not of itself relieve the authorities of their obligation to take steps to guarantee the effectiveness of the accused’s defence. The above-mentioned shortcomings of the court-appointed lawyers were manifest, which put the onus on the domestic authorities to intervene. However, there is nothing to suggest that the latter took measures to guarantee the accused an effective defence and representation.