European Court of Human Rights - Case of Vetter v. France (31 May 2005) (summary)

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

 
290
31.5.2005

 

Press release issued by the Registrar

Violation of Article 8

Vetter v. France (no. 59842/00)              Violation of Article 6 § 1

The applicant, Christophe Vetter, is a French national who was born in 1975. He is currently serving a prison sentence.

 

Following the discovery of a body with gunshot wounds, the police installed listening devices in a flat which the applicant, whom they suspected of the homicide, visited regularly. On the strength of the conversations that were recorded, the applicant was placed under formal investigation for intentional homicide and remanded in custody until 30 December 1997.

 

The applicant argued that there was no statutory basis for the use of listening devices and that the evidence that had thereby been obtained was inadmissible. The Indictment Division of the Montpellier Court of Appeal and subsequently the Criminal Division of the Court of Cassation rejected that argument, holding that the monitoring of his conversations had not contravened Articles 81 and 100 et seq. of the Code of Criminal Procedure on the confidentiality of telephone communications.

 

Partly on the basis of the evidence obtained from the recordings, the applicant was committed for trial in the Hérault Assize Court. On 23 October 2000 he was convicted and sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment.

 

The applicant complained under Article 8 of the Convention (right to respect for private life) that there was no statutory basis in French law for the installation of the listening devices in the flat or the recording of his conversations and that his right to respect for his private life had accordingly been violated. He also complained under Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing) that the procedure followed in the Court of Cassation was unfair in that neither the report of the reporting judgment nor the submissions of the advocate general had been communicated to him and that his complaint under Article 8 of the Convention had been dismissed on the ground that he had no standing.

 

The Court noted that the matters complained of by the applicant amounted to interference with his right to respect for his private life. However, it was not satisfied that Articles 100 et seq. of the Code of Criminal Procedure had afforded any statutory basis for the order to install the listening devices at the time it was made and implemented, as those provisions only regulated the interception of telephone communications and did not refer to listening devices. Even assuming that the provisions of the Code Criminal Procedure had constituted a basis for the measure, the Court considered that the “law” so identified did not have the requisite quality required by the Court’s case-law.

 

In conclusion, the Court noted that French law did not set out the extent of the authorities’ discretion with regard to listening devices or the procedure by which it was to be exercised with sufficiently clarity. In those circumstances, it held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

 

The Court held that no separate question arose under Article 6 of the Convention in respect of the decision by the Criminal Division of the Court of Cassation to dismiss the applicant’s appeal under Article 8 on the grounds that he had no standing.

 

Lastly, referring to its settled case-law, the Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 in the proceedings in the Court of Cassation as the reporting judge’s report had not been communicate to the applicant or his counsel before the hearing, whereas the advocate general had received a copy.

 

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) the Court awarded the applicant EUR 1,500 for non-pecuniary damage. (The judgment is available only in French.)