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ECtHR case summary Panovits v. Cyprus (11/12/2008)


Mr. Panovits did not have access to a lawyer before or during questioning, and he was not informed of this right. During the court proceedings Mr. Panovits was represented by a lawyer and he claimed that his confession was not voluntary and that it was the product of deception, psychological pressure, promises and other such tactics. Also during the first instance proceedings Mr. Panovits’ lawyer was accused of contempt of court when he complained about the way his cross-examination of witnesses was received by the bench. The lawyer was sentenced to five days imprisonment. The lawyer requested for leave to withdraw from the case, which was denied.

The ECHR first looked at the issue of legal assistance during the initial stages of police questioning. In this respect the ECHR highlighted that Mr. Panovits was a minor and due regard must have been given to this; efforts should have been made to ensure that he did not feel intimidated and that he could understand the complexity of the situation in which he was. The lack of provision of sufficient information on Mr. Panovits’ right to consult a lawyer before his questioning by the police, especially given the fact that he was a minor at the time and not  assisted by his guardian during the questioning, constituted a breach of his defense rights.

The Court found that this breach was not remedied by the subsequent adversarial proceedings in which Mr Panovits was represented by the lawyer of his choice; especially since the confession was relied on, to a decisive extent, in finding him guilty. This led the ECHR to find a violation of article 6 (3) (c) in conjunction with article 6 (1).

The ECHR found another breach of article 6 because of the use in trial of Mr. Panovits’ confession obtained in circumstances which breached his rights to due process and thus irreparably undermined his rights of defense.

Also, the ECHR found another breach of article 6 (1) because of the first instance court’s treatment of Mr. Panovits’ lawyer. The ECHR said that the way in which the contempt proceedings were carried out show that the first instance court had failed to detach itself from the facts of the case and this had a “chilling effect” on Mr. Panovits’ lawyer. The ECHR found that this rendered the trial unfair.

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