European Court of Human Rights - case of Lagerblom v. Sweden (2003) (excerpts)

European Court of Human Rights - case of Lagerblom v. Sweden (2003) (excerpts)

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54.   It is true that Article 6 § 3 (c) entitles an accused to be defended by counsel “of his own choosing”. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the importance of a relationship of confidence between lawyer and client, this right cannot be considered to be absolute. It is necessarily subject to certain limitations where free legal aid is concerned. When appointing defence counsel the courts must certainly have regard to the accused’s wishes but these can be overridden when there are relevant and sufficient grounds for holding that this is necessary in the interests of justice (see the Croissant v. Germany judgment cited above, p. 33, § 29).

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56.  However, the appointment of defence counsel does not necessarily settle the issue of compliance with the requirements of Article 6 § 3 (c). Although the conduct of the defence is essentially a matter between the accused and his counsel, the competent national authorities are required to intervene if a failure by public defence counsel to provide effective representation is manifest or sufficiently brought to their attention in some other way. Nevertheless, a State cannot be held responsible for every shortcoming on the part of a lawyer appointed for legal aid purposes (see, among other authorities, the Kamasinski v. Austria judgment of 19 December 1989, Series A no. 168, p. 33, § 65, and the Daud v. Portugal judgment of 21 April 1998, Reports 1998-II, pp. 749-50, § 38).


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62.  The Court accepts that the applicant’s knowledge of Swedish might have been somewhat limited despite his lengthy stay in Sweden. However, noting that the applicant described his proficiency as “street Swedish” and that he thus had a certain command of the language, the Court cannot find that he was so handicapped that he could not at all communicate with H. or understand him. It further observes that interpretation between Finnish and Swedish was arranged both at the District Court’s and the Court of Appeal’s hearings and that the applicant made oral submissions in Finnish during those hearings. Furthermore, in accordance with the Nordic Language Convention, he was allowed to make written submissions in Finnish to both courts which were translated and entered into the case-file. In these circumstances, the Court considers that the interpretation assistance provided for the applicant was adequate.