Key facts of the case:
Reference for a preliminary ruling — Judicial cooperation in criminal matters — Directive (EU) 2016/343 — Presumption of innocence and right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings — Article 8(1) and (2) — Conditions laid down by national law in order to hold a trial in absentia — Non-appearance of accused persons at certain hearings for reasons either within or beyond their control — Right to fair legal process.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (Sixth Chamber) hereby rules:
Article 8(1) and (2) of Directive (EU) 2016/343 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2016 on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings must be interpreted as not precluding national legislation which provides, in a situation where the accused person has been informed, in due time, of his trial and of the consequences of not appearing at that trial, and where that person was represented by a mandated lawyer appointed by him, that his right to be present at his trial is not infringed where:
he decided unequivocally not to appear at one of the hearings held in connection with his trial; or
he did not appear at one of those hearings for a reason beyond his control if, following that hearing, he was informed of the steps taken in his absence and, with full knowledge of the situation, decided and stated either that he would not call the lawfulness of those steps into question in reliance on his non-appearance, or that he wished to participate in those steps, leading the national court hearing the case to repeat those steps, in particular by conducting a further examination of a witness, in which the accused person was given the opportunity to participate fully.
3) Recitals 9, 33 to 37, 44 and 47 of Directive 2016/343 state:
(47) This Directive upholds the fundamental rights and principles recognised by the Charter [of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the “Charter”] and by the [European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950, the “ECHR”], including the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security, respect for private and family life, the right to the integrity of the person, the rights of the child, the integration of persons with disabilities, the right to an effective remedy and the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence and the rights of the defence. Regard should be had, in particular, to Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), according to which the Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter, and according to which fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the ECHR and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, are to constitute general principles of Union law.’
34) Furthermore, recital 47 of Directive 2016/343 states that the directive upholds the fundamental rights and principles recognised by the Charter and by the ECHR, including the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence and the rights of the defence.
35) As is apparent from recital 33 of that directive, the right of suspects and accused persons to be present at the trial is based on the right to a fair trial, enshrined in Article 6 of the ECHR, which corresponds, as stated in the Explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights (OJ 2007 C 303, p. 17), to the second and third paragraphs of Article 47, and Article 48 of the Charter.