Correia de Matos v Portugal,   UN Human Rights Committee (2002) (excerpts)

Correia de Matos v Portugal,   UN Human Rights Committee Communication 1123/2002 (excerpts)


7.4       The right to defend oneself without a lawyer is not absolute, however. Notwithstanding the importance of the relationship of trust between accused and lawyer, the interests of justice may require the assignment of a lawyer against the wishes of the accused, particularly in cases of a person substantially and persistently obstructing the proper conduct of trial, or facing a grave charge but being unable to act in his own interests, or where it is necessary to protect vulnerable witnesses from further distress if the accused were to question them himself. However, any restriction of the accused's wish to defend himself must have an objective and sufficiently serious purpose and not go beyond what is necessary to uphold the interests of justice.
7.5       The Committee considers that it is the task of the competent courts to assess whether in a specific case the assignment of a lawyer is necessary in the interests of justice, inasmuch as a person facing criminal prosecution may not be in a position to make a proper assessment of the interests at stake, and thus defend himself as effectively as possible. However, in the present case, the legislation of the State party and the case law of its Supreme Court provide that the accused can never be freed from the duty to be represented by counsel in criminal proceedings, even if he is a lawyer himself, and that the law takes no account of the seriousness of the charges or the behaviour of the accused. Moreover, the State party has not provided any objective and sufficiently serious reasons to explain why, in this instance of a relatively simple case, the absence of a court-appointed lawyer would have jeopardized the interests of justice or why the author's right to self-representation had to be restricted. The Committee concludes that the right to defend oneself in person, guaranteed under article 14, paragraph 3 (d), of the Covenant has not been respected.