Friday 20 March 2009

Article 6 Grand Chamber Judgment

Ms Anthi Gorou must no doubt be one of the most active and successful complainants in Strasbourg. Today, the Grand Chamber of Court issued its judgment in Gorou v. Greece (No. 2), reaching the same outcome as a Chamber of the Court had earlier done in 2007. Apart from this case (No. 2), Ms Gorou filed and won three other cases (Nos. 1, 3, and 4) against the Greek Republic, all dealing with the rigth to a fair trial in the context of defamation cases she started against various persons on the national level.

Case No. 2 concerned Ms Gorou's accusation of defamation against her employer (in the public sector). He had stated, in the course of an administrative investigation against her, that she failed to observe working hours at her job and did not get on particularly well with her colleagues. At the end of the criminal proceedings, to which Ms Gorou was joined as a civil party, the Criminal Court of Athens decided to acquit her meployer: the remarks had been truthful and had not been meant to defame. The core of her complaint in Strasbourg relates to what happened next: she formally asked the public prosecutor to appeal the case on points of law. This request was dismissed by him with a short handwritten note, stating that “there are no legal or well-founded grounds of appeal to the Court of Cassation”.

In Strasbourg, Ms Gorou complained that this very note had not been sufficiently reasoned. Departing from its earlier case law on exactly the same issue (but following the Chamber's ruling in the same case), the Court held by thirteen votes to four that there had been no violation of Article 6 ECHR on this account. This is what the Grand Chamber concludes in para. 42:

To sum up, the handwritten note placed on the applicant's request simply gives information about the discretionary decision taken by the public prosecutor. Seen from that perspective, and having regard to the existing judicial practice, the public prosecutor does not have a duty to justify his response but only to give a response to the civil party. To demand more detailed reasoning would place on the public prosecutor at the Court of Cassation an additional burden that is not imposed by the nature of the civil party's request for him to appeal on points of law against an acquittal. The Court therefore considers that, by indicating that “[t]here [were] no legal or well-founded grounds of appeal to the Court of Cassation”, the public prosecutor gave sufficient reasons for his decision to reject the request.
For strongly disagreeing views, see the various dissenting opinions. For those interested in the scope of Article 6, the judgment also contains noteworthy elements.

The Grand Chamber also found, unanimously, that Article 6 para. 1 had been violated in another way: the proceedings had taken too long. The press release of the case can be found here. Considering Ms Gorou's active past, who knows whether this is to be continued...