European Court of Human Rights - case of Remli v. France (1996) (excerpts)

European Court of Human Rights - case of Remli v. France (1996) (excerpts)

(...)

46. The Court refers to the principles laid down in its case-law

concerning the independence and impartiality of tribunals, which apply

to jurors as they do to professional and lay judges (see the Holm

v. Sweden judgment of 25 November 1993, Series A no. 279-A, p. 14,

para. 30).


When it is being decided whether in a given case there is a

legitimate reason to fear that a particular judge lacks impartiality,

the standpoint of the accused is important but not decisive. What is

decisive is whether this fear can be held to be objectively justified

(see, among other authorities, the Saraiva de Carvalho v. Portugal

judgment of 22 April 1994, Series A no. 286-B, p. 38, para. 35, and the

Padovani v. Italy judgment of 26 February 1993, Series A no. 257-B,

p. 20, para. 27).


47. The Court notes that in the instant case the Rhône Assize Court

had to try Mr Remli and his co-defendant, both of them of North African

origin, and that a third person, Mrs M., certified in writing that she

had heard one of the jurors say: "What's more, I'm a racist."


It is not for the Court to rule on the evidential value of

Mrs M.'s written statement or on whether the racist remark attributed

to the juror in question was actually made. It notes merely that

Mrs M.'s statement - which contained a serious allegation in the

context of the case - was filed with the Assize Court by the

applicant's lawyers, who asked the court to take formal note of it.

The court dismissed their application without even examining the

evidence submitted to it, on the purely formal ground that it was "not

able to take formal note of events alleged to have occurred out of its

presence". Nor did it order that evidence should be taken to verify

what had been reported - and, if it was established, take formal note

of it as requested by the defence - although it could have done so.

Consequently, the applicant was unable either to have the juror in

question replaced by one of the additional jurors or to rely on the

fact in issue in support of his appeal on points of law (see

paragraph 21 above). Nor could he challenge the juror, since the jury

had been finally empanelled (see paragraph 17 above) and no appeal lay

against the Assize Court's judgment other than on points of law (see

paragraph 16 above).


48. Like the Commission, the Court considers that Article 6 para. 1

(art. 6-1) of the Convention imposes an obligation on every national

court to check whether, as constituted, it is "an impartial tribunal"

within the meaning of that provision (art. 6-1) where, as in the

instant case, this is disputed on a ground that does not immediately

appear to be manifestly devoid of merit.


In the instant case, however, the Rhône Assize Court did not

make any such check, thereby depriving Mr Remli of the possibility of

remedying, if it proved necessary, a situation contrary to the

requirements of the Convention. This finding, regard being had to the

confidence which the courts must inspire in those subject to their

jurisdiction, suffices for the Court to hold that there has been a

breach of Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1).