(LEE DAVIES C. BELGIO) DIRITTO AD UN EQUO PROCESSO - CONDANNA FONDATA SU PROVE IRREGOLARMENTE RACCOLTE NEL CORSO DI INDAGINI DI POLIZIA - NON VIOLAZIONE
Il ricorrente, nel corso di una operazione di polizia, fu sorpreso in possesso di sostanze stupefacenti e, nonostante avesse contestato la regolarità della perquisizione, è stato condannato per possesso illecito di droga. La Corte europea, alla quale costui si è rivolto, lamentando la violazione delle garanzie dell’equo processo, ha respinto il ricorso. La Corte ha premesso che per stabilire l’equità del processo è determinante verificare il rispetto dei diritti di difesa. Nel caso di specie, il ricorrente aveva avuto la possibilità di contestare davanti a tre gradi di giudizio gli elementi di prova raccolti e opporsi alla loro utilizzazione probatoria.

Testo Completo: Sentenza della Corte Europea dei Diritti dell'Uomo di Strasburgo del 28 luglio 2009

DEUXIÈME SECTION AFFAIRE LEE DAVIES c. BELGIQUE (Requête no 18704/05)

ARRÊT STRASBOURG 28 juillet 2009

Cet arrêt deviendra définitif dans les conditions définies à l'article 44 § 2 de la Convention. Il peut subir des retouches de forme.

En l'affaire Lee Davies c. Belgique,

La Cour européenne des droits de l'homme (deuxième section), siégeant en une chambre composée de :

Ireneu Cabral Barreto, président,

Françoise Tulkens,

Vladimiro Zagrebelsky,

Danutė Jočienė,

Dragoljub Popović,

András Sajó,

Işıl Karakaş, juges,

Françoise Elens-Passos, greffière adjointe de section,

Après en avoir délibéré en chambre du conseil le 7 juillet 2009,

Rend l'arrêt que voici, adopté à cette date :

PROCÉDURE

1. A l'origine de l'affaire se trouve une requête (no 18704/05) dirigée contre le Royaume de Belgique et dont un ressortissant britannique, M. Lee Martin Davies (« le requérant »), a saisi la Cour le 16 mai 2005 en vertu de l'article 34 de la Convention de sauvegarde des droits de l'homme et des Libertés fondamentales (« la Convention »).

2. Le requérant est représenté par Me H. Rieder, avocat à Gand. Le gouvernement belge (« le Gouvernement ») était représenté par son agent, M. C. Debrulle, Directeur du Service public fédéral de la Justice. Informé de son droit de prendre part à la procédure (articles 36 § 1 de la Convention et 44 § 1 du règlement), le gouvernement britannique a déclaré ne pas souhaiter intervenir dans la procédure.

3. Le requérant alléguait en particulier une violation de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention, en raison du fait que les éléments de preuve ayant servi de base aux poursuites engagées contre lui avaient été recueillies de manière irrégulière.

4. Le 29 août 2006, la Cour a décidé de communiquer le grief tiré de l'article 6 § 1 au Gouvernement. Se prévalant des dispositions de l'article 29 § 3, elle a décidé que seraient examinés en même temps la recevabilité et le bien-fondé de l'affaire.

EN FAIT

I. LES CIRCONSTANCES DE L'ESPÈCE

5. Le requérant est né en 1959 et réside à Bobbing Hill Sittingbourne, dans le Kent, en Grande-Bretagne. Il exerce la profession de marchand d'antiquités.

6. Le 26 novembre 1998, la police de Furnes effectua un contrôle sur un terrain industriel. Ce terrain, qui s'avéra par la suite être loué par K. par l'intermédiaire de sa société, était clôturé et uniquement accessible par une porte individuelle, qui était ouverte. Il se composait de plusieurs baraques et d'un bâtiment principal comportant des sanitaires et un bureau. En faisant le tour du terrain, les policiers aperçurent deux personnes en train de charger des caisses dans un camion immatriculé en Grande-Bretagne. Ils tentèrent sans succès de joindre le responsable du centre industriel afin de savoir si le terrain faisait l'objet d'une location et décidèrent alors d'aller voir de plus près ce qui s'y passait. Lorsque les policiers se furent rapprochés, une seule personne, B. (qui s'avéra par la suite être le chauffeur du camion), se trouvait encore à côté du véhicule et prétendit ne pas connaître la seconde personne, ni savoir ce que les cartons contenaient. A la recherche de cette dernière, les policiers pénétrèrent dans une des baraques attenantes au bâtiment principal et y trouvèrent de nombreuses caisses ainsi qu'une voiture immatriculée en France, dont le moteur était encore chaud. Ils ouvrirent une des boîtes et constatèrent qu'elle comportait des paquets de tabac. La porte séparant la baraque du bâtiment principal était fermée mais les policiers trouvèrent une clé dans une veste et y pénétrèrent. Ils y trouvèrent K., ainsi que le requérant, dans les toilettes. Devant le refus des deux intéressés de révéler le contenu des cartons se trouvant à l'arrière de la voiture, les policiers demandèrent au requérant d'en ouvrir un. Ils constatèrent qu'il contenait du cannabis. Ils découvrirent en tout 25 paquets de marijuana et 25 paquets de 225 grammes de haschich.

7. Par la suite, un chien policier réagit en reniflant la voiture immatriculée en France. L'enquête permit de déterminer que cette voiture avait été achetée par G. à la demande du requérant et grâce à l'argent de ce dernier, qui en possédait une clé. Selon G., l'intention du requérant était de ne pas attirer l'attention en circulant avec une voiture immatriculée en Grande-Bretagne. G. avait par ailleurs acheté de grandes quantités de tabac au Luxembourg.

8. L'enquête établit que K. avait fait appel à un ami, R., pour le transport de la marchandise et que ce dernier avait engagé B. comme chauffeur. Une information policière émanant de Grande-Bretagne laissa apparaître que R. y était soupçonné de trafic de drogues et de recel de biens volés.

9. Le requérant et K. furent poursuivis, en qualité de co-auteurs, pour des faits de trafic de stupéfiants avec association de malfaiteurs.

10. Par un arrêt du 29 mai 2001, le tribunal correctionnel de Furnes acquitta les prévenus au motif que les preuves avaient été obtenues de manière illicite.

11. Le ministère public interjeta appel et fit valoir que les policiers avaient agi dans le cadre de la loi du 5 août 1992 sur la fonction de police selon laquelle les fonctionnaires de police peuvent toujours pénétrer dans les « lieux accessibles au public » ainsi que dans les « biens immeubles abandonnés », afin de veiller au maintien de l'ordre public et au respect des lois et des règlements de police (article 26 de la loi de la loi du 5 août 1992). Le ministère public se prévalut également de la loi du 6 juillet 1976 sur la répression du travail frauduleux à caractère commercial ou artisanal qui attribue aux policiers des compétences en cas de flagrant délit.

12. Dans ses conclusions, le requérant fit valoir que les poursuites étaient nulles au motif qu'elles reposaient sur des éléments de preuves irréguliers car trouvant leur source dans une perquisition illégale. Selon le requérant, les lieux en cause devaient être considérés comme son « domicile » au sens de l'article 8 de la Convention et non comme un « bien immeuble abandonné » ou un « lieu accessible au public ». Il contesta également l'existence d'un flagrant délit.

13. Par un arrêt du 16 juin 2004, la cour d'appel de Gand condamna le requérant à une peine d'emprisonnement de deux ans, dont un avec sursis, et à une amende de 9 916 euros.

14. La cour d'appel effectua une distinction entre les différents lieux visités par les policiers, soit, d'une part, le terrain clôturé qui entoure les bâtiments du complexe industriel et, d'autre part, le hangar no 2 de ce complexe et le bâtiment principal. En ce qui concerne le premier, la cour d'appel jugea qu'il constituait un lieu accessible au public. Par conséquent, les policiers avaient régulièrement agi lorsqu'ils étaient intervenus autour des bâtiments, lorsqu'ils avaient aperçu les deux personnes occupées à charger le camion, et enfin lorsqu'ils avaient interpellé le chauffeur et avaient constaté que la deuxième personne avait disparu et que la lumière du hangar no 2 était éteinte. Elle examina ensuite si les policiers avaient régulièrement agi en pénétrant dans le hangar et le bâtiment commun. Or ces bâtiments ne constituaient pas un domicile au sens de l'article 15 de la Constitution. La cour d'appel estima, par contre, que ces bâtiments ne pouvaient pas être considérés comme « accessibles au public », au sens de l'article 26 de la loi du 5 août 1992 sur la fonction de police dès lors que le hangar no 2 n'était accessible que par une porte individuelle. Il importait peu que la porte ait été ouverte ou non au moment de l'arrivée des policiers. Il en allait d'autant plus ainsi en ce qui concernait le bâtiment principal fermé à clef. La cour d'appel jugea également que ces lieux ne pouvaient être considérés comme des « biens immeubles abandonnés » au sens de la même loi.

15. La cour d'appel rejeta l'argument du ministère public selon lequel la perquisition aurait été légalement fondée sur l'article 3 de la loi du 6 juillet 1976 sur la répression du travail frauduleux à caractère commercial ou artisanal. Elle conclut que la perquisition du hangar no 2 et du bâtiment principal était irrégulière.

16. Constatant que la loi n'attachait aucune sanction spécifique à ces irrégularités, la cour d'appel jugea, qu'en l'espèce, les irrégularités ayant conduit à la découverte des faits n'avaient pas eu de conséquence quant à la valeur des éléments de preuve recueillis. Les prévenus avaient pu exercer leurs droits de la défense dans le respect du principe du contradictoire. Partant, les éléments recueillis, les constatations faites et l'enquête qui s'ensuivit n'avaient pas eu d'incidence sur leur droit à un procès équitable.
17. Enfin, la cour d'appel précisa que les faits commis en l'espèce constituaient des infractions qui entachaient gravement l'ordre juridique – d'une gravité telle qu'ils dépassaient de loin les irrégularités alléguées, vu que ces méfaits, commis dans un pur but de lucre, avaient conduit à un trafic important de produits stupéfiants, qui portait gravement atteinte à la santé des consommateurs, à l'ordre social et à la sécurité, alors que – malgré les irrégularités commises dans l'obtention de la preuve – les droits visés à l'article 8 de la Convention avaient, d'une manière ou d'une autre, été respectés.

18. Le requérant se pourvut en cassation contre cet arrêt.

19. Il invoqua notamment la violation des articles 6 et 8 de la Convention et fit valoir la même argumentation que celle développée dans le cadre de la présente requête.

20. Par un arrêt du 16 novembre 2004, la Cour de cassation rejeta le pourvoi notamment dans les termes suivants :

« Attendu qu'il ne résulte ni de l'article 6 de la Convention de sauvegarde des droits de l'homme et des libertés fondamentales, qui garantit un procès équitable, ni de l'article 8 de cette Convention, qui consacre le droit au respect de la vie privée et familiale, du domicile et de la correspondance, ni d'aucune disposition constitutionnelle ou légale que la preuve qui a été obtenue en méconnaissance d'un droit fondamental garanti par la Convention précitée ou par la Constitution, n'est jamais admissible ;

Attendu que, sauf dans le cas où une disposition conventionnelle ou légale prévoit elle-même les conséquences juridiques de la méconnaissance d'une formalité prescrite par la loi relative à l'obtention de la preuve, le juge décide quelles sont les conséquences de cette irrégularité ; que la circonstance que la formalité dont la méconnaissance est constatée, concerne un des droits fondamentaux garantis par les articles 6 et 8.1 de la Convention de sauvegarde des droits de l'homme et des libertés fondamentales et par les articles 12, alinéa 2, et 15 de la Constitution, n'y déroge pas. »

II. LE DROIT ET LA PRATIQUE INTERNES PERTINENTS

A. La législation pertinente

21. L'article 15 de la Constitution belge garantit l'inviolabilité du domicile. Cette disposition précise également qu'aucune visite domiciliaire ne peut avoir lieu que dans les cas prévus par la loi et dans les formes qu'elle prescrit. La Cour de cassation de Belgique a défini la notion de domicile, au sens de celte disposition constitutionnelle, dans les termes suivants :

« { ..) le lieu, en ce compris les enclaves propres y encloses, occupé par une personne en vue d'y établir sa demeure ou sa résidence réelle et où elle a droit, à ce titre, au respect de son intimité, de sa tranquillité et plus généralement de sa vie privée. »

22. Le législateur belge a prévu la possibilité pour les fonctionnaires de police de pénétrer dans tous les lieux accessibles au public. Ce principe est consacré à l'article 26 de la loi du 5 août 1992 relative à la fonction de police, rédigé comme suit :
« Les fonctionnaires de police peuvent toujours pénétrer dans les lieux accessibles au public ainsi que les biens immeubles abandonnés, afin de veiller au maintien de l'ordre public et au respect des lois et des règlements de police.

Ils peuvent toujours pénétrer en ces mêmes lieux afin d'exécuter des missions de police judiciaire.

Dans le respect de l'inviolabilité du domicile, ils peuvent visiter les établissements hôteliers et autres établissements de logement. Ils peuvent se faire présenter par les propriétaires, tenanciers ou préposés de ces établissements, les documents d'inscription des voyageurs ».

B. La jurisprudence relative aux conséquences du constat d'une irrégularité commise dans l'obtention d'une preuve

23. Le principe de l'exclusion de la preuve irrégulière ou illégale a longtemps prévalu en droit belge. Déjà dans un arrêt du 12 mars 1923, la Cour de cassation a décidé qu'on ne saurait tenir compte de constatations faites en dehors des règles protectrices de l'inviolabilité du domicile . Cette jurisprudence a été confirmée par un arrêt du 4 mars 1929 et, par la suite, à plusieurs reprises . La Cour de cassation a, en outre, décidé que le juge du fond ne pouvait pas se borner à écarter des débats la preuve illégalement obtenue mais devait également exclure toutes les preuves qui en sont la conséquence directe ou indirecte . Dans le même sens, selon l'ancienne jurisprudence de la Cour de cassation, lorsque le juge constate que l'action publique est fondée sur une illégalité, il devait constater l'irrecevabilité des poursuites.

24. Dans un arrêt du 13 mai 1986, la Cour de cassation a, par ailleurs, considéré que la règle de l'exclusion s'imposait pour les preuves obtenues par un acte inconciliable avec les règles substantielles de la procédure pénale ou avec les principes généraux du droit, et plus particulièrement avec le respect des droits de la défense, et cela même si cet acte n'est pas expressément interdit par la loi . La doctrine et la jurisprudence ont donc plus généralement utilisé la notion de preuve irrégulière et non plus de preuve illégale.

25. Lorsque le législateur n'a pas expressément prévu que la formalité est prescrite à peine de nullité, la doctrine et la jurisprudence considéraient, jusqu'il y a peu, que seule la violation d'une formalité dite « substantielle » entraîne l'irrégularité de la preuve et, partant, son exclusion. Il revenait donc au pouvoir judiciaire de déterminer les formalités entraînant l'irrégularité de la preuve. Or, il n'existait pas de critères précis permettant de distinguer les formalités substantielles des autres. Selon la doctrine, les formalités doivent être qualifiées de substantielles lorsque leur respect apparaît « impérieux pour garantir une bonne administration de la justice » ou, encore, lorsqu'elles sont « indispensables pour que l'acte puisse remplir sa fonction ».

26. Par un arrêt du 14 octobre 2003, la Cour de cassation a fondamentalement modifié sa jurisprudence antérieure. Dorénavant, la circonstance qu'un élément de preuve ait été recueilli de manière irrégulière a pour seule conséquence que le juge ne peut prendre cet élément en considération, ni directement, ni indirectement, lorsqu'il forme son intime conviction :

- soit lorsque le respect des conditions de forme déterminées est prescrit à peine de nullité ;

- soit lorsque l'irrégularité commise a entaché la fiabilité de la preuve ;

- soit lorsque l'utilisation de la preuve est incompatible avec le droit à un procès équitable.

27. Dans toutes les autres hypothèses, le juge n'est nullement tenu d'exclure la preuve obtenue irrégulièrement. Il lui appartiendra, souverainement, d'apprécier la conséquence de cette irrégularité.

28. Le 23 mars 2004, la Cour de cassation a précisé sa jurisprudence à l'occasion d'un pourvoi en cassation formé contre un arrêt de la chambre des mises en accusation de la cour d'appel d'Anvers, dans les termes suivants :

« Attendu que, hormis l'article 3 de la Convention de sauvegarde des droits de l'homme et des libertés fondamentales et les articles 2 et 16 de la Convention du 10 décembre 1984 contre la torture et autres peines ou traitements cruels, inhumains ou dégradants, qui interdisent l'usage d'informations ou d'aveux obtenus de telle manière, les articles 6 de la Convention de sauvegarde des droits de l'homme et des libertés fondamentales et 14 du Pacte international relatif aux droits civils et politiques qui garantissent le droit à un procès équitable, laissent au droit national le pouvoir de régir l'administration de la preuve et les moyens de preuve en matière répressive.

Attendu qu'en droit belge, l'usage d'une preuve que l'autorité chargée de l'information, de l'instruction et de la poursuite des infractions ou le dénonciateur ont obtenue en vue de l'administration de cette preuve, ensuite d'une infraction, en violation d'une règle du droit de la procédure pénale, ensuite d'une violation du droit à la vie privée, en violation des droits de la défense ou en violation du droit à la dignité humaine, n'est en principe pas autorisé.

Que, cependant, le juge ne peut écarter une preuve obtenue illicitement que dans les seuls cas suivants :

- soit lorsque le respect de certaines conditions de forme est prescrit à peine de nullité ;

- soit lorsque l'irrégularité commise a entaché la crédibilité de la preuve ;

- soit lorsque l'usage de la preuve est contraire au droit à un procès équitable.

Attendu qu'il appartient au juge d'apprécier l'admissibilité d'une preuve obtenue illicitement à la lumière des articles 6 de la Convention de sauvegarde des droits de l'homme et des libertés fondamentales ou 14 du Pacte international relatif aux droits civils et politiques compte tenu des éléments de la cause prise dans son ensemble, y compris le mode d'obtention de la preuve et les circonstances dans lesquelles l'illicéité a été commise.

Attendu que, lors de cette appréciation, le juge peut prendre en considération notamment la circonstance ou l'ensemble des circonstances suivantes :

- soit que l'autorité chargée de l'information, de l'instruction et de la poursuite des infractions a ou non commis intentionnellement l'acte illicite ;

- soit que la gravite de l'infraction dépasse de manière importante l'illicéité commise ;

- soit que la preuve obtenue illicitement ne concerne qu'un élément matériel de l'existence de l'infraction. »

29. Par un arrêt du 16 novembre 2004, rendu dans une affaire autre que celle du requérant, la Cour de cassation a affirmé qu'il ne ressortait ni de l'article 6, ni de l'article 8 de la Convention européenne des droits de l'homme et des libertés fondamentales, ni d'aucune disposition légale ou constitutionnelle, qu'une preuve recueillie en violation de ces normes serait toujours inadmissible. La cour a confirmé ensuite sa jurisprudence dans les termes suivants :

« Attendu que, hormis quand une disposition légale ou un traité international prévoit lui-même les conséquences de la méconnaissance d'une formalité légale concernant l'obtention d'une preuve, le juge décide des conséquences qu'implique cette irrégularité que la circonstance que la formalité dont la méconnaissance est constatée se rapporte à un droit fondamental garanti par les articles 6 et 8, alinéa 2, de la CEDH et les articles 12, alinéa 2 et 15 de la Constitution n'enlève rien à ce principe » .

EN DROIT

I. SUR LA VIOLATION ALLÉGUÉE DE L'ARTICLE 6 § 1 DE LA CONVENTION

30. Le requérant allègue qu'il n'a pas bénéficié d'un procès équitable car les éléments de preuve qui ont servi de base aux poursuites contre lui ont été recueillies de manière irrégulière. Il invoque l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention, qui dans sa partie pertinente dispose :

« Toute personne a droit à ce que sa cause soit entendue équitablement (...) par un tribunal (...) qui décidera (...) du bien-fondé de toute accusation en matière pénale dirigée contre elle. »

A. Sur la recevabilité

31. La Cour constate que ce grief n'est pas manifestement mal fondé au sens de l'article 35 § 3 de la Convention. La Cour relève par ailleurs qu'il ne se heurte à aucun autre motif d'irrecevabilité. Il convient donc de le déclarer recevable.

B. Sur le fond

32. Le Gouvernement relève que le grief soulevé par le requérant pose en soi la question de la compatibilité de la jurisprudence récente de la Cour de cassation de Belgique avec la garantie du droit à un procès équitable.

33. Le Gouvernement se prévaut de l'arrêt de la Cour dans l'affaire Khan c. Royaume-Uni (no 35394/97, § 38, CEDH 2000-V), dans laquelle, en dépit du constat de violation de l'article 8 de la Convention, la Cour a conclu que le requérant avait bénéficié d'un procès équitable dès lors qu'il avait, au cours du procès, pu librement contredire tous les éléments de preuve, même obtenus en violation de son droit à la vie privée. Il tire comme conclusion qu'il n'y a pas de nécessaire corrélation entre la violation du droit à la vie privée lors de la recherche de la preuve et la garantie du droit à un procès équitable.

34. Le Gouvernement rappelle que la Cour a par la suite confirmé cette jurisprudence dans l'arrêt P.G. et J.H. c. Royaume-Uni (no 44787/98, CEDH 2001-IX) et aussi dans l'arrêt Allan c. Royaume-Uni (no 48539/99, CEDH 2002-IX), quoique dans cette dernière affaire elle a considéré que le droit à un procès équitable du requérant avait été violé, mais pour d'autres motifs que ceux évoqués dans la présente requête.

35. Le Gouvernement souligne que la question fondamentale qu'il convient de se poser pour vérifier si le requérant a bénéficié ou non d'un procès équitable consiste à examiner s'il a eu la possibilité de remettre en question l'authenticité de l'élément de preuve et de contredire cet élément. Or, cela n'est pas contesté en l'espèce. Par ailleurs, les irrégularités constatées n'ont pas été de nature à remettre en cause la fiabilité ou l'exactitude des constatations faites par les policiers. La cour d'appel de Gand a également procédé à un examen de proportionnalité des intérêts en cause avant de juger que ces intérêts mis en cause en raison de l'ampleur du trafic découvert étaient supérieurs à l'illégalité alléguée.

36. Enfin, le Gouvernement affirme qu'il n'y a aucun automatisme en ce qui concerne l'admissibilité des éléments de preuve irrégulièrement obtenus. Le principe demeure l'exclusion de la preuve entachée d'irrégularité surtout lorsqu'une disposition conventionnelle ou légale prévoit elle-même que la méconnaissance d'une formalité relative à l'obtention d'une preuve est prescrite à peine de nullité, lorsque l'irrégularité commise a entaché la fiabilité de la preuve, soit lorsque l'utilisation de la preuve est incompatible avec le droit à un procès équitable.

37. Le requérant rétorque que, d'une part, la cour d'appel de Gand a indûment décidé que l'entrepôt et les parties communes de l'immeuble ne constituaient pas un domicile au sens de la Convention, que les droits des citoyens visés par les articles 8 de la Convention et 17 du Pacte international des droits civils et politiques avaient été garantis et que, d'autre part, la Cour de cassation a indûment décidé que, compte tenu du fait que la Convention ne prévoit aucune sanction en cas de constatation d'une violation des règles énoncées par ses articles 6 et 8, le juge décide arbitrairement quelles seront les suites de la violation.

38. Le requérant prétend que la nature de l'illégalité commise par la police lors de la saisie des seuls éléments de preuve à son encontre consistait dans le fait que, sans qu'une loi particulière l'autorise, la police avait pénétré dans un lieu protégé par l'article 8 de la Convention et sans mandat délivré conformément au droit national. C'était à l'occasion de cet acte illégal qu'ont été trouvées les seules preuves contre le requérant.

39. Le requérant se prévaut de l'opinion de la minorité de la Cour dans les arrêts Schenk c. Suisse, 12 juillet 1988, et Khan précité, pour affirmer que la Cour ne saurait considérer une procédure comme équitable alors que l'Etat a constaté une violation d'un autre article de la Convention, en l'occurrence l'article 8. Selon lui, seules les constatations illégales de la police ont conduit au verdict de la culpabilité dans l'arrêt de la cour d'appel.

40. La Cour rappelle qu'elle a pour seule tâche, aux termes de l'article 19 de la Convention, d'assurer le respect des engagements résultant pour les Etats contractants de la Convention. Il ne lui appartient pas, en particulier, de connaître des erreurs de fait ou de droit prétendument commises par une juridiction interne, sauf si et dans la mesure où elles pourraient avoir porté atteinte aux droits et libertés sauvegardés par la Convention. Si l'article 6 garantit le droit à un procès équitable, il ne réglemente pas pour autant l'admissibilité des preuves en tant que telles, matière qui relève au premier chef du droit interne (Schenk, précité, § 45 ; Teixeira de Castro c. Portugal, 9 juin 1998, § 34, Recueil 1998-IV ; Jalloh c. Allemagne ([GC], no 54810/01, 11 juillet 2006, §§ 94-96).

41. La Cour n'a donc pas à se prononcer, par principe, sur l'admissibilité de certaines catégories d'éléments de preuve, par exemple des éléments obtenus de manière illégale au regard du droit interne, ou encore sur la culpabilité du requérant. Elle doit examiner si la procédure, y compris la manière dont les éléments de preuve ont été recueillis, a été équitable dans son ensemble, ce qui implique l'examen de l'« illégalité » en question et, dans le cas où se trouve en cause la violation d'un autre droit protégé par la Convention, de la nature de cette violation (voir, notamment, Khan précité, § 34 ; P.G. et J.H., précité, § 76 ; Heglas c. République tchèque, no 5935/02, §§ 89-92, 1er mars 2007 ; Allan, précité, § 42).

42. Pour déterminer si la procédure dans son ensemble a été équitable, il faut aussi se demander si les droits de la défense ont été respectés. Il faut rechercher notamment si le requérant s'est vu offrir la possibilité de remettre en question l'authenticité de l'élément de preuve et de s'opposer à son utilisation. Il faut prendre également en compte la qualité de l'élément de preuve, y compris le point de savoir si les circonstances dans lesquelles il a été recueilli font douter de sa fiabilité ou de son exactitude. Si un problème d'équité ne se pose pas nécessairement lorsque la preuve obtenue n'est pas corroborée par d'autres éléments, il faut noter que lorsqu'elle est très solide et ne prête à aucun doute, le besoin d'autres éléments à l'appui devient moindre (voir, notamment, les arrêts Khan et Allan précités, respectivement §§ 35 et 37, et § 43).

43. Dans l'arrêt Bykov c. Russie ([GC], no 4378/02, §§ 95–96 et 104, CEDH 2009–...), la Cour a jugé que la procédure conduite dans l'affaire du requérant, considérée dans son ensemble, n'a pas méconnu les exigences d'un procès équitable, car le requérant avait eu la possibilité de dénoncer l'opération secrète, de même que tous les éléments qu'elle avait permis de recueillir, au cours de débats contradictoires devant la juridiction de première instance et dans ses moyens d'appel. Elle a relevé que les tribunaux avaient abordé chacun des arguments du requérant et les avaient rejetés par des décisions motivées et le requérant ne s'était pas plaint de la procédure par laquelle les tribunaux s'étaient prononcés sur l'admissibilité des preuves. Elle a en outre observé que pour condamner le requérant, la juridiction interne ne s'était pas seulement appuyée sur l'enregistrement litigieux, mais aussi sur les éléments matériels obtenus grâce à l'opération secrète montée par la police.

44. La Cour souligne que, dans toutes les affaires susmentionnées, les preuves recueillies en méconnaissance du droit interne l'étaient aussi en méconnaissance de l'article 8 de la Convention lui-même.

45. En revanche, la Cour a jugé que l'exclusion d'une preuve obtenue illégalement s'imposait, afin de préserver l'équité du procès, lorsque l'irrégularité commise touchait certains droits considérés comme parmi les plus fondamentaux de la Convention, notamment l'article 3 de celle-ci. Dans les affaires Jalloh précité et Göcmen c. Turquie (no 72000/01, 17 octobre 2006), la Cour a jugé que l'utilisation de preuves recueillies au moyen d'actes qualifiés de torture ou de traitement inhumain et dégradant compromettait le caractère équitable du procès.

46. La Cour considère que la présente espèce diffère des autres, et en particulier de celles où était en cause de surcroît une méconnaissance de l'article 8 de la Convention.

47. La Cour note que la jurisprudence belge en la matière, qui semble bien établie et sur laquelle se fondaient les arrêts de la cour d'appel de Gand et de la Cour de cassation en l'espèce, laisse au juge un large pouvoir d'appréciation pour atténuer voire, le cas échéant, effacer les conséquences des irrégularités affectant l'obtention d'une preuve.

48. La Cour relève que, dans le cadre de cette appréciation, le tribunal correctionnel de Furnes acquitta le requérant au motif que les preuves avaient été obtenues de manière illicite.

49. La cour d'appel, quant à elle, s'est livrée à un examen minutieux de la configuration des lieux pour se prononcer sur la question de savoir s'il y avait ou non violation de domicile. Elle a effectué une distinction entre les différents lieux visités par les policiers, soit, d'une part, le terrain clôturé qui entourait les bâtiments du complexe industriel et, d'autre part, le hangar no 2 de ce complexe et le bâtiment principal. En ce qui concerne le premier, la cour d'appel a jugé qu'il constituait un lieu accessible au public. Par conséquent, les policiers avaient régulièrement agi lorsqu'ils étaient intervenus autour des bâtiments, lorsqu'ils avaient aperçu les deux personnes occupées à charger le camion, et enfin lorsqu'ils avaient interpellé le chauffeur. Elle a examiné ensuite si les policiers avaient régulièrement agi en pénétrant dans le hangar et le bâtiment commun. Or ces bâtiments ne constituaient pas un domicile au sens de l'article 15 de la Constitution. La cour d'appel a estimé, par contre, que ces bâtiments ne pouvaient pas être considérés comme « accessibles au public », au sens de l'article 26 de la loi du 5 août 1992 sur la fonction de police dès lors que le hangar no 2 n'était accessible que par une porte individuelle. La cour d'appel a également jugé que ces lieux ne pouvaient être considérés comme des « biens immeubles abandonnés », au sens de la même loi.

50. Sur base de ces constatations, la cour d'appel a conclu que la perquisition du hangar no 2 et du bâtiment principal était irrégulière mais que cette irrégularité n'avait pas eu de conséquences sur la valeur des éléments recueillis car la loi n'attachait aucune sanction spécifique à cette irrégularité. Elle a, en outre, souligné que les infractions commises étaient d'une telle gravité qu'elles dépassaient de loin les irrégularités commises dans l'obtention de la preuve et que les droits visés à l'article 8 de la Convention avaient, d'une manière ou d'une autre, été respectés (paragraphes 16–17 ci-dessus).

51. Toutefois, la Cour ne perd pas de vue le fait qu'en pénétrant dans le hangar, lieu dans lequel le requérant ne résidait pas ni n'exerçait du reste son activité professionnelle, les policiers ont constaté un flagrant délit. Cette opération de la police, dont la régularité peut certes prêter à critique, et les éléments de preuve recueillis à cette occasion ont fondé la condamnation du requérant.

52. A cet égard, la Cour rappelle que, selon sa jurisprudence, ce qui compte en pareil cas pour déterminer l'équité de la procédure, c'est la question de savoir si les droits de la défense ont été respectés. La Cour examine notamment si le requérant s'est vu offrir la possibilité de remettre en question l'authenticité de l'élément de preuve obtenu illégalement et de s'opposer à son utilisation. Lorsque la qualité de cet élément de preuve est très solide et ne prête à aucun doute, le besoin d'autres éléments à l'appui devient moindre (Bykov précité, § 90).

53. Or, en l'espèce, les circonstances dans lesquelles les éléments de preuve litigieux ont été recueillis ne font aucunement douter de leur fiabilité ou de leur exactitude. De plus, le requérant s'est vu offrir la possibilité de contester devant trois degrés de juridiction les éléments recueillis et les constatations faites et de s'opposer à leur utilisation, au sens de la jurisprudence précitée de la Cour.

54. Ainsi, la Cour considère que le bien-fondé de l'accusation pénale contre le requérant a été examiné équitablement, comme l'exige l'article 6 § 1, et qu'il n'y a donc pas eu violation de cet article.

II. SUR LA VIOLATION ALLÉGUÉE DES ARTICLES 8 ET 14 DE LA CONVENTION

55. Invoquant les articles 8 (droit au respect du domicile) et 14 (interdiction de discrimination) de la Convention, ainsi que l'article 26 du Pacte international relatif aux droits civils et politiques, le requérant fait valoir que la cour d'appel ne pouvait pas considérer que les lieux où la « perquisition » fut menée ne constituaient pas un « domicile » au sens de la Convention car il y exerçait son activité professionnelle et commerciale.

56. Le seul élément que le requérant soulève à l'appui de sa thèse est l'exercice de son activité professionnelle et commerciale. La Cour relève que son activité de marchand d'antiquités apparaît comme tout à fait étrangère aux lieux de la perquisition, qui ont servi de base pour un trafic de stupéfiants. Or, cette dernière activité délictueuse ne peut être considérée comme une activité professionnelle et/ou commerciale protégée par la notion de domicile au sens de l'article 8. Le requérant n'était, par ailleurs, nullement locataire des lieux concernés.

57. Il s'ensuit que ce grief doit être déclaré incompatible ratione materiae avec les dispositions de la Convention et rejeté en application de l'article 35 §§ 3 et 4 de celle-ci.

PAR CES MOTIFS, LA COUR, À L'UNANIMITÉ,

1. Déclare la requête recevable quant au grief tiré de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention et irrecevable pour le surplus ;

2. Dit qu'il n'y a pas eu violation de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention ;

Fait en français, puis communiqué par écrit le 28 juillet 2009 en application de l'article 77 §§ 2 et 3 du règlement.

Françoise Elens-Passos Ireneu Cabral Barreto

Greffière adjointe Président

(IORDAN IORDANOVIC C. BULGARIA) DIRITTO AD UN EQUO PROCESSO - CERTEZZA DEL DIRITTO - CONTRASTI PERSISTENTI DI GIURISPRUDENZA INTERNI AD UNA CORTE SUPREMA - VIOLAZIONE I ricorrenti, dipendenti del Ministero dell’Interno bulgaro, erano stati destituiti a seguito di un’inchiesta disciplinare. Si erano rivolti alla magistratura, ottenendo l’annullamento del provvedimento, La Corte Suprema aveva confermato tale giudizio. Qualche mese più tardi un altro collegio della stessa Corte aveva rovesciato le precedenti conclusioni, applicando un diverso principio di diritto.
Portato il caso davanti alla Corte europea, quest’ultima ha ravvisato la violazione dell’art. 6, par. 1 della Convenzione. Ha ricordato che il ruolo delle Corti Supreme è quello di risolvere i contrasti di giurisprudenza, contribuendo alla certezza del diritto. Nel caso di specie, la Corte Suprema aveva fornito difformi interpretazioni del diritto, persistenti anche in seguito alla trattazione dell’affare, creando incertezza giurisprudenziale. Tale situazione – ad avviso della Corte - priva le parti di una garanzia “essenziale” del processo equo.

Testo Completo: Sentenza della Corte Europea dei Diritti dell'Uomo di Strasburgo del 2 luglio 2009

CINQUIÈME SECTION

AFFAIRE IORDAN IORDANOV ET AUTRES c. BULGARIE

(Requête n. 23530/02)

ARRÊT STRASBOURG 2 juillet 2009

Cet arrêt deviendra définitif dans les conditions définies à l'article 44 § 2 de la Convention. Il peut subir des retouches de forme.

En l'affaire Iordan Iordanov et autres c. Bulgarie,

La Cour européenne des droits de l'homme (cinquième section), siégeant en une chambre composée de :

Peer Lorenzen, président,

Rait Maruste,

Karel Jungwiert,

Renate Jaeger,

Isabelle Berro-Lefèvre,

Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska, juges,

Pavlina Panova, juge ad hoc,

et de Claudia Westerdiek, greffière de section,

Après en avoir délibéré en chambre du conseil le 9 juin 2009,

Rend l'arrêt que voici, adopté à cette date :

PROCÉDURE

1. A l'origine de l'affaire se trouve une requête (no 23530/02) dirigée contre la République de Bulgarie et dont trois ressortissants de cet Etat, MM. Iordan Iordanov, Kamen Ivanov et Milcho Kirilov (« les requérants »), ont saisi la Cour le 14 juin 2002 en vertu de l'article 34 de la Convention de sauvegarde des droits de l'homme et des libertés fondamentales (« la Convention »).

2. Les requérants sont représentés par Me D. Kanchev, avocat à Sofia. Le gouvernement bulgare (« le Gouvernement ») est représenté par son agent, Mme M. Dimova, du ministère de la Justice.

3. Les requérants faisaient grief aux tribunaux d'avoir adopté, dans le cadre des procédures judiciaires de contestation de leurs licenciements, des décisions contradictoires et non motivées. Ils alléguaient aussi que l'accès au public pendant ces procédures judiciaires avait été injustement restreint et qu'ils n'avaient pas été mis sur un pied d'égalité avec la partie adverse. Les intéressés dénonçaient également la durée selon eux excessive des poursuites pénales dirigées contre eux et l'absence de recours internes efficaces pour remédier à cette situation. Enfin, ils se plaignaient de la durée de l'interdiction de quitter le territoire qui leur avait été imposée par le parquet.

4. Le 3 juillet 2007, la Cour a déclaré la requête partiellement recevable et a décidé de communiquer au Gouvernement les griefs susmentionnés, tirés des articles 6 § 1 et 13 de la Convention et de l'article 2 du Protocole no 4. Comme le permet l'article 29 § 3 de la Convention, il a en outre été décidé que la chambre se prononcerait en même temps sur la recevabilité et sur le fond de l'affaire.

5. La juge Kalaydjieva, juge élue au titre de la Bulgarie, s'étant déportée, le 30 janvier 2009 le Gouvernement a désigné Mme Pavlina Panova pour siéger à sa place en qualité de juge ad hoc (articles 27 § 2 de la Convention et 29 § 1 du règlement de la Cour).

EN FAIT

I. LES CIRCONSTANCES DE L'ESPÈCE

6. Le premier et le deuxième requérants, MM. Iordan Iordanov et Kamen Ivanov, sont nés respectivement en 1950 et en 1955 et résident à Sofia. Le troisième requérant, M. Milcho Kirilov, était né en 1949 et résidait à Sofia. Il est décédé le 23 août 2003. Ses héritières, Mmes Vera Kirilova, Radoslava Rizova et Elena Dimitrova, nées respectivement en 1949, 1971 et 1976, ont informé la Cour qu'elles souhaitaient poursuivre la procédure d'examen de la requête.

A. Le contexte général de l'affaire

7. A l'époque des faits, les trois requérants étaient agents du ministère de l'Intérieur et travaillaient pour le service d'information opérationnelle et technique du ministère (le SIOT), dont la tâche principale était de recueillir des informations grâce à des moyens et procédés techniques spéciaux (enregistrement d'images et de voix, filature, surveillance des réseaux de télécommunication et des personnes, etc.). M. Iordanov occupait la fonction d'expert en chef et avait le grade de lieutenant-colonel (подполковник). M. Kirilov était chef de groupe et avait le grade de major. M. Ivanov occupait la fonction de chef de secteur du SIOT et avait le grade de major. Il était le supérieur hiérarchique des deux autres requérants.

8. Le 28 juillet 2000, du matériel d'écoute fut retrouvé dans l'appartement de fonction occupé par le procureur général. L'affaire fut largement médiatisée et devint vite l'objet de vifs débats politiques. Le ministre de l'Intérieur forma une commission spéciale et la chargea de mener une enquête interne sur ce sujet. La commission recueillit des documents et interrogea plusieurs agents du SIOT, y compris les trois requérants. Le 8 août 2000, elle rendit au ministre de l'Intérieur son rapport final, qui précisait le nombre, l'emplacement et le type des appareils trouvés, ainsi que leur mode d'emploi. Le rapport indiquait également que ces appareils avaient été installés avant que le logement ne soit occupé par le procureur général et précisait l'identité des agents du SIOT qui avaient omis, au cours d'une inspection technique réalisée en 1999, de détecter et de retirer le matériel d'écoute. La commission désigna comme responsables les trois requérants, ainsi que deux autres officiers du SIOT, B.B. et S.S., et elle proposa au ministre de les licencier.

B. Les procédures judiciaires de contestation des licenciements des requérants

9. Par trois ordonnances du 8 août 2000, le ministre de l'Intérieur licencia M. Iordanov, M. Ivanov et leur collègue B.B. Le 30 octobre 2000, il licencia également M. Kirilov. Les motivations des quatre ordonnances étaient identiques et renvoyaient aux résultats de l'enquête interne. Les trois requérants et B.B. contestèrent la légalité de leurs licenciements devant la Cour administrative suprême.

10. Celle-ci classa les quatre affaires secrètes et les examina à huis clos. Conformément à la législation interne applicable, les défenseurs des requérants sollicitèrent auprès du ministère de l'Intérieur l'autorisation d'accéder aux dossiers. L'avocat mandaté par MM. Iordanov et Kirilov se vit délivrer cette autorisation. L'un des deux avocats de M. Ivanov essuya un refus du ministère et le requérant renonça à son assistance. Au cours des différentes procédures, ni les requérants ni leurs avocats ne furent autorisés à faire des copies des documents figurant dans leurs dossiers.

11. Par quatre arrêts rendus respectivement le 6 février 2001, le 13 juillet 2001 et les 5 et 8 octobre 2001, la Cour administrative suprême, statuant en formation de trois juges, annula les licenciements de B.B. et des trois requérants. Dans les motifs des quatre arrêts, la haute juridiction administrative constata qu'aucun des intéressés n'avait eu la possibilité de prendre connaissance des résultats de l'enquête interne. Elle observa qu'il y avait une certaine différence entre une « enquête officielle » et une « enquête interne », en ce que l'enquête officielle relevait de la procédure disciplinaire applicable aux fonctionnaires du ministère de l'Intérieur, qui permettait à l'intéressé d'être informé de l'issue de l'enquête et de formuler des objections, tandis que la législation bulgare n'entourait pas expressément des mêmes garanties l'enquête interne. Néanmoins, la Cour administrative suprême estima que ces garanties devaient s'appliquer également à l'enquête interne, et que par conséquent, les autorités auraient dû communiquer aux intéressés les conclusions de la commission formée par le ministre de l'Intérieur et leur donner la possibilité de formuler des objections. Elle conclut que l'inobservation de cette règle représentait un vice de procédure majeur qui emportait annulation des ordonnances du ministre.

12. Le ministre de l'Intérieur se pourvut en cassation. Le 25 juillet 2001, une formation de cinq juges de la Cour administrative suprême confirma l'arrêt du 6 février 2001 concernant le licenciement de B.B. La haute juridiction reprit les motifs de la juridiction inférieure pour conclure à l'applicabilité des garanties de l'enquête officielle en cas d'enquête interne.

13. L'examen des pourvois en cassation relatifs aux licenciements des trois requérants eut lieu quelques mois plus tard. Par trois arrêts du 7 décembre 2001, du 18 décembre 2001 et du 7 février 2002, la Cour administrative suprême, statuant en formation de cinq juges, infirma les arrêts de l'instance inférieure et confirma les licenciements des requérants. Dans les motifs de ces trois arrêts, elle souligna que les dispositions de l'article 240 alinéa 4 de la loi sur le ministère de l'Intérieur prévoyaient qu'en cas de constatation d'une infraction disciplinaire dans le cadre d'une « enquête interne », l'organe compétent n'était pas tenu de mener une « enquête officielle ». Elle conclut donc que les garanties procédurales entourant l'enquête officielle n'étaient pas applicables dans le cadre de l'enquête interne ; qu'ainsi, la législation en vigueur n'exigeait pas en l'espèce que les requérants aient pris connaissance des résultats de l'enquête ; et que, dès lors, les règles de procédure avaient été respectées. Elle observa par ailleurs que les ordonnances du ministre respectaient les autres conditions de légalité.

14. Dans les motifs des arrêts du 7 décembre 2001 et du 7 février 2002, la formation de jugement exprima son désaccord avec le raisonnement exposé dans l'arrêt du 25 juillet 2001 concernant le licenciement de B.B. Quatre des cinq juges qui avaient adopté l'arrêt du 25 juillet 2001 faisaient partie de la formation de jugement qui a adopté les arrêts du 7 décembre 2001 et du 7 février 2002.

C. Les poursuites pénales contre les requérants

15. Le 28 juillet 2000, consécutivement à la découverte du matériel d'écoute dans le logement du procureur général, le parquet militaire de Sofia ouvrit des poursuites pénales contre neuf personnes, dont huit officiers du ministère de l'Intérieur, parmi lesquels les trois requérants. Ceux-ci étaient soupçonnés de manquement à leurs devoirs de fonctionnaires et d'abus de pouvoir, délit prévu par l'article 387 du code pénal.

16. Le 31 juillet 2000, à 14 heures, MM. Iordanov et Kirilov furent conduits au service militaire de l'instruction où ils furent interrogés pendant plusieurs heures. On les informa des poursuites pénales ouvertes contre eux. Le même jour, l'enquêteur militaire les plaça en garde à vue pour vingt-quatre heures. Leur garde à vue fut prolongée le lendemain par le procureur militaire.

17. Le 1er août 2000, l'enquêteur militaire interrogea le troisième requérant, M. Ivanov. Celui-ci fut informé des charges retenues contre lui et placé en garde à vue pour vingt-quatre heures. Le 2 août 2000, le procureur militaire de Sofia prolongea sa garde à vue jusqu'au 4 août 2000.

18. Les 2 et 3 août 2000, l'enquêteur militaire inculpa formellement les requérants de l'infraction pénale de manquement à leurs devoirs. Peu après, sur décision de l'enquêteur, les requérants furent libérés sous caution.

19. Au cours de l'instruction préliminaire, l'enquêteur interrogea vingt-quatre témoins, ordonna des expertises techniques et recueillit plusieurs preuves matérielles. Les documents du dossier furent classés en six volumes.

20. Le 23 juin 2003, le procureur militaire mit fin aux poursuites pénales contre M. Ivanov pour insuffisance de preuves. Le 29 septembre 2003, il mit fin aux poursuites pénales contre M. Kirilov, celui-ci étant décédé le 23 août 2003. Les poursuites pénales dirigées contre M. Iordanov et deux autres personnes continuèrent.

21. Le 30 mars 2004, le parquet militaire de Sofia renvoya M. Iordanov et deux autres personnes en jugement devant le tribunal militaire de Sofia. Il était reproché au requérant d'avoir omis, au cours d'une inspection technique effectuée en 1999, de détecter et de retirer le matériel d'écoute placé dans l'appartement du procureur général, et d'avoir aidé un des autres coaccusés à utiliser illégalement ce matériel.

22. Le 21 septembre 2006, le tribunal militaire de Sofia acquitta les trois accusés. Ce jugement fut confirmé le 30 juillet 2007 par la cour d'appel militaire, et le 13 décembre 2007 par la Cour suprême de cassation.

D. L'interdiction de quitter le territoire

23. Après l'ouverture des poursuites pénales contre les trois requérants, le procureur militaire prononça à leur encontre, à une date non communiquée, une interdiction de quitter le territoire.

24. Le 18 décembre 2000, le directeur de la Direction « Pièces d'identité et étrangers » de la police nationale ordonna le retrait des passeports des requérants. Ceux-ci en furent informés le 20 décembre 2000 et rendirent leurs passeports quelques jours plus tard.

25. L'interdiction fut levée par le procureur militaire le 23 juin 2003 à l'égard de M. Ivanov, mais resta en vigueur pour M. Kirilov jusqu'à son décès, le 23 août 2003. Quant à M. Iordanov, malgré son acquittement, il était toujours sous le coup de cette interdiction le 25 février 2008.

II. LE DROIT ET LA PRATIQUE INTERNES PERTINENTS

A. Le code pénal

26. L'article 387 alinéa 1 du code pénal, dans sa version en vigueur à l'époque des faits, prévoyait une peine d'emprisonnement allant jusqu'à trois ans en cas d'abus de pouvoir ou de manquement d'un fonctionnaire à ses devoirs si ces infractions avaient entraîné un préjudice. En cas de préjudice important, la peine était comprise entre un et huit ans (alinéa 2).

B. La procédure disciplinaire au sein du ministère de l'Intérieur

1. La législation en vigueur à l'époque des faits

27. La responsabilité disciplinaire des agents du ministère de l'Intérieur était régie par la loi de 1997 sur le ministère de l'Intérieur (ci-après la LMI) et son règlement d'application (ci-après le règlement d'application). En vertu de l'article 234 de la LMI, il y avait infraction disciplinaire en cas de non-observation fautive des dispositions législatives ou des actes et ordonnances adoptés par la hiérarchie du ministère de l'Intérieur et en cas d'agissements constituant des violations de l'ordre social établi.

28. L'article 238 de la LMI prévoyait l'imposition des sanctions suivantes en cas d'infraction disciplinaire commise par un agent du ministère de l'Intérieur : rappel à l'ordre (мъмрене), avertissement écrit, blâme (порицание), rétrogradation et renvoi.

29. En vertu de l'article 240 alinéa 3 de la LMI, le supérieur hiérarchique était tenu de mener une enquête officielle (служебна проверка) en cas de poursuites disciplinaires contre un agent quand la sanction envisagée était le renvoi. Le supérieur hiérarchique ouvrait l'enquête officielle par une ordonnance qui était présentée à l'agent (article 205 alinéa 2 du règlement d'application). A l'issue de l'enquête, l'officier responsable dressait un rapport et le présentait à l'agent, qui pouvait formuler des objections (article 212 alinéa 2 du règlement d'application). Si l'enquête officielle aboutissait au constat d'une infraction disciplinaire justifiant le renvoi de l'agent, le supérieur hiérarchique dressait un avis de licenciement pour motif disciplinaire (предложение за уволнение) et le présentait à l'intéressé, qui pouvait formuler des objections par écrit (article 212 alinéa 3 du règlement d'application). Le licenciement était ordonné par le supérieur hiérarchique compétent, qui devait préciser dans l'ordonnance correspondante les circonstances, l'infraction disciplinaire commise, les preuves sur la base desquelles elle avait été constatée, les dispositions législatives pertinentes et les modalités de contestation de l'ordonnance (article 213 du règlement d'application).

30. L'article 240 alinéa 4 de la LMI prévoyait qu'une enquête officielle n'était pas nécessaire lorsque l'infraction disciplinaire de l'agent avait été constatée à l'issue d'une enquête interne (вътрешноведомствена проверка). La loi et son règlement d'application ne prévoyaient aucune règle de procédure applicable à l'enquête interne.

2. La jurisprudence des juridictions administratives

31. Les juridictions administratives bulgares ont été confrontées à la question de savoir si les garanties procédurales offertes dans le cadre de l'enquête officielle à l'agent menacé de licenciement pour motif disciplinaire étaient également applicables en cas d'enquête interne.

32. Dans sa jurisprudence, la Cour administrative suprême, qui statue en dernier ressort sur les litiges concernant le licenciement des agents du ministère de l'Intérieur, a adopté deux solutions à ce problème. Dans certains arrêts, la haute juridiction administrative a accepté l'application aux cas d'enquête interne, par analogie, des garanties procédurales prévues pour l'enquête officielle, y compris l'obligation de présenter le rapport d'enquête final à l'intéressé (voir les arrêts des 6 février, 13 juillet, 5 et 8 octobre 2001, paragraphe 11 ci-dessus, ainsi que Решение № 89 от 08.01.2004 г. на ВАС по адм. д. № 5771/2003 г., V о.; Решение № 5342 от 09.06.2005 г. на ВАС по адм. д. № 9978/2004 г., V о., rendus par une formation de trois juges, et l'arrêt du 25 juillet 2001, paragraphe 12 ci dessus, et Решение № 4768 от 26.05.2004 г. на ВАС по адм. д. № 1080/2004 г., 5-членен с-в, rendus par une formation de cinq juges). Dans d'autres arrêts, elle a considéré que le législateur n'avait pas voulu entourer l'enquête interne des mêmes garanties que l'enquête officielle, et elle a refusé d'appliquer par analogie les dispositions concernant les règles de procédures en question (voir les arrêts des 7 et 18 décembre 2001 et du 7 février 2002, paragraphe 13 ci-dessus, ainsi que Решение № 4692 от 25.05.2004 г. на ВАС по адм. д. № 1256/2004 г., 5-членен с-в, rendus par une formation de cinq juges).

33. Selon l'article 91 alinéa 1 de la loi sur le pouvoir judiciaire de 1994 (abrogée), la Cour administrative suprême était tenue, entre autres, de veiller à l'application uniforme de la législation en matière administrative. Dans le cadre de cette fonction et à la demande du ministre de la Justice, du parquet général ou de son président, elle pouvait adopter des décisions interprétatives en cas de lacunes dans la jurisprudence des juridictions administratives (article 44 de la loi sur la Cour administrative suprême). L'interprétation de la législation adoptée par la haute juridiction administrative dans le cadre de cette procédure était contraignante pour les organes administratifs et judiciaires (article 45 de la loi sur la Cour administrative suprême).

34. La haute juridiction administrative n'a jamais été saisie d'une demande d'interprétation des dispositions pertinentes du droit interne et elle n'a pas rendu de décision interprétative sur la question relative à l'application des garanties procédurales entourant l'enquête officielle dans les cas d'enquête interne.

C. L'interdiction de quitter le territoire

35. En vertu de l'article 153a, alinéa 1, du code de procédure pénale de 1974 (ci-après le CPP), le procureur pouvait interdire à une personne inculpée d'une infraction pénale passible d'une peine d'emprisonnement de quitter le territoire sans l'autorisation préalable du parquet ou des tribunaux. Le refus d'autoriser un voyage à l'étranger était susceptible de recours devant les juridictions pénales compétentes (alinéa 2 du même article).

36. En 2005, l'Assemblée nationale adopta le nouveau code de procédure pénale (ci-après le NCPP). Entré en vigueur le 29 avril 2006, il reprend, en son article 68, les dispositions concernant l'interdiction de quitter le territoire. A la différence du CPP de 1974, le NCPP, en son article 68 alinéa 5, permet à la personne frappée d'une interdiction de quitter le territoire de demander au tribunal de première instance de lever cette interdiction en cas d'absence de danger de soustraction à la justice.

D. L'article 239a du CPP

37. Entré en vigueur en juin 2003 (et repris en substance à l'article 368 du NCPP), l'article 239a du CPP permettait à la personne inculpée de demander au tribunal de première instance d'ordonner son renvoi en jugement si l'enquête pénale menée à son encontre avait duré plus de deux ans, pour les infractions pénales graves, ou plus d'un an, pour toutes les autres infractions. Le tribunal se prononçait dans un délai de sept jours et pouvait soit ordonner au procureur de renvoyer l'intéressé en jugement dans un délai de deux mois, soit prononcer le renvoi de l'intéressé en jugement, soit mettre un terme aux poursuites. Si le procureur n'exerçait pas ses prérogatives dans le délai de deux mois, le tribunal clôturait la procédure pénale.

E. La réouverture de la procédure devant les juridictions administratives consécutivement à un arrêt de la Cour européenne des droits de l'homme

38. Selon l'article 239 point 6 du code de procédure administrative de 2006, la partie intéressée peut demander l'annulation d'un arrêt des juridictions administratives et la réouverture de la procédure devant celles-ci lorsque la Cour européenne des droits de l'homme a constaté une violation de l'un des articles de la Convention.

EN DROIT

I. OBSERVATIONS PRÉLIMINAIRES

39. La Cour note que le troisième requérant, M. Milcho Kirilov, est décédé le 23 août 2003, et que sa veuve et ses deux filles ont exprimé le souhait de poursuivre l'instance (paragraphe 6 ci-dessus).

40. La Cour rappelle que dans de nombreuses affaires où le requérant est décédé pendant l'examen de sa requête, elle a pris en compte le désir exprimé par ses héritiers ou proches parents de poursuivre la procédure (voir, parmi beaucoup d'autres arrêts, Dalban c. Roumanie [GC], no 28114/95, § 39, CEDH 1999 VI ; Ječius c. Lituanie, no 34578/97, § 41, CEDH 2000 IX ; Mutlu c. Turquie, no 8006/02, §§ 13 et 14, 10 octobre 2006 ; Hanbayat c. Turquie, no 18378/02, §§ 20 et 21, 17 juillet 2007). A la lumière de la jurisprudence précitée, la Cour estime que la veuve et les filles de M. Milcho Kirilov ont un intérêt légitime à maintenir la requête au nom de leur défunt époux et père. Pour des raisons d'ordre pratique, la Cour continuera à citer M. Milcho Kirilov comme « le requérant ».

II. SUR LES VIOLATIONS ALLÉGUÉES DE L'ARTICLE 6 § 1 DE LA CONVENTION CONCERNANT LES PROCÉDURES DE CONTESTATION DES LICENCIEMENTS DES REQUÉRANTS

41. Les requérants estiment que la Cour administrative suprême, par les arrêts contradictoires qu'elle a rendus dans leurs affaires et dans l'affaire identique de leur collègue B.B., a violé le principe de la sécurité juridique. En outre, la haute juridiction administrative n'aurait pas répondu à tous leurs arguments ; et ils auraient été placés en situation de net désavantage par rapport à la partie adverse : leurs avocats auraient été contraints de demander une autorisation au ministère de l'Intérieur pour pouvoir accéder aux documents du dossier, et ils n'auraient pas pu faire de copies de ces documents. Les requérants se plaignent aussi de la décision de la Cour administrative suprême de tenir des audiences à huis clos. Ils invoquent l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention, ainsi libellé dans sa partie pertinente :

« Toute personne a droit à ce que sa cause soit entendue équitablement, publiquement (...), par un tribunal (...), qui décidera (...) des contestations sur ses droits et obligations de caractère civil (...) »

42. Le Gouvernement n'a pas formulé d'observations.

A. Sur la recevabilité

43. La Cour observe que les requérants étaient à l'époque des faits des agents du ministère de l'Intérieur, et que les litiges en cause concernaient leurs licenciements, ordonnés par le ministre à l'issue de procédures disciplinaires ouvertes à leur encontre. Elle doit donc déterminer si l'article 6 de la Convention trouve à s'appliquer dans le cas d'espèce.

44. La Cour estime d'emblée qu'au vu de la qualification juridique des faits en droit interne, de la nature des infractions commises, à savoir des manquements disciplinaires, et des sanctions encourues (paragraphe 28 ci dessus), les poursuites disciplinaires engagées contre les requérants et les procédures judiciaires subséquentes n'entrent pas dans le champ d'application du volet pénal de l'article 6 de la Convention. Elle rappelle ensuite que dans son arrêt Vilho Eskelinen et autres c. Finlande [GC], no 63235/00, §§ 62 et 63, CEDH 2007 ..., elle a mis en place une présomption d'applicabilité des garanties du volet civil de l'article 6 aux procédures judiciaires opposant des fonctionnaires à l'Etat lorsque la législation interne accorde aux intéressés un droit de recours devant les tribunaux pour faire valoir leurs droits vis-à-vis de la puissance publique. La législation bulgare offrait aux requérants la possibilité de contester leurs licenciements pour motifs disciplinaires devant les juridictions administratives, et ils ont en effet exercé ce recours (paragraphes 9 à 13 ci dessus). Il s'ensuit que l'article 6, dans son volet civil, trouve à s'appliquer en l'espèce.

45. La Cour constate par ailleurs que les griefs des requérants ne sont pas manifestement mal fondés au sens de l'article 35 § 3 de la Convention et qu'ils ne se heurtent à aucun autre motif d'irrecevabilité. Il convient donc de les déclarer recevables.

B. Sur le fond

46. La Cour observe que les allégations des requérants portent sur plusieurs aspects du procès équitable : méconnaissance de la règle de la sécurité juridique ; absence de réponse à leurs arguments pertinents ; non-respect de l'égalité des armes ; exclusion du public des audiences tenues devant la haute juridiction administrative. La Cour estime qu'il y a lieu d'examiner d'abord l'allégation de non-observation du principe de la sécurité juridique.

1. Sur la méconnaissance alléguée du principe de la sécurité juridique

47. La Cour rappelle d'emblée que le principe de la sécurité juridique est implicite dans l'ensemble des articles de la Convention et qu'il constitue l'un des éléments fondamentaux de l'Etat de droit (Beian c. Roumanie (no 1), no 30658/05, § 39, CEDH 2007 ... (extraits)). Certes, les divergences de jurisprudence sont inhérentes à tout système judiciaire qui repose sur un ensemble de juridictions du fond ayant autorité sur leur ressort territorial. Cependant, le rôle d'une juridiction suprême est précisément de régler ces contradictions (Zielinski et Pradal et Gonzalez et autres c. France [GC], no24846/94 et 34165/96 à 34173/96, § 59, CEDH 1999-VII).

48. La Cour a eu l'occasion, dans un certain nombre d'affaires, de se prononcer sur le point de savoir dans quelles conditions des contradictions dans la jurisprudence d'une juridiction nationale suprême portaient atteinte au principe de la sécurité juridique et constituaient une violation de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention. Dans son arrêt Beian (no 1) précité, elle a constaté que les « divergences profondes et persistantes » créées dans l'interprétation d'une disposition législative par la Haute Cour de cassation du pays défendeur avaient eu pour effet de priver le requérant d'un procès équitable (§§ 34 à 40 de l'arrêt). Dans cette affaire, la Cour a relevé l'absence de mécanisme approprié permettant à la haute juridiction nationale de supprimer les incohérences dans sa jurisprudence (§ 36 de l'arrêt). Dans l'affaire Schwarzkopf et Taussik c. République Tchèque (déc., no 42162/02, 2 décembre 2008), la Cour a rejeté le grief formulé sous l'angle de l'article 6 § 1, en attribuant une importance particulière au fait qu'un tel mécanisme existait en droit tchèque et qu'il avait finalement contribué à l'uniformisation de la jurisprudence des tribunaux peu après la décision interne définitive dont se plaignait les requérants. Le même argument a pesé en faveur du constat de non-violation de l'article 6 § 1 dans l'affaire Pérez Arias c. Espagne (no 32978/03, § 25, 28 juin 2007), où le Tribunal suprême espagnol avait définitivement fixé l'interprétation d'une disposition législative, supprimant ainsi l'incertitude juridique qui avait existé en la matière.

49. Se tournant vers la présente affaire, la Cour, au vu de la jurisprudence précitée, estime qu'il y a lieu de rechercher s'il existait « des divergences profondes et persistantes » dans la jurisprudence de la Cour suprême administrative bulgare ; si la législation interne prévoyait des mécanismes permettant de supprimer ces incohérences ; si ces mécanismes ont été appliqués et quels ont été, le cas échéant, les effets de leur application.

50. La Cour observe que des formations de trois et cinq juges de la Cour administrative suprême ont examiné les affaires des trois requérants peu après celle d'un autre agent du ministère de l'Intérieur, B.B., qui avait été licencié pour les mêmes raisons et les mêmes événements, à savoir la découverte du matériel d'écoute dans l'appartement du procureur général (paragraphes 9 à 13 ci-dessus). Or, dans le cas des requérants, la formation de cinq juges a interprété la législation de manière à exclure l'applicabilité d'un certain nombre de garanties procédurales dans le cadre de l'enquête interne ouverte à leur encontre par le ministre de l'Intérieur, alors que quelques mois auparavant, une autre formation de cinq juges, avec une composition quasiment identique (quatre sur les cinq magistrats), avait adopté une position exactement inverse à l'issue de l'examen du recours de B.B. (paragraphes 12 à 14 ci-dessus).

51. Il ressort de l'aperçu de la jurisprudence pertinente de la Cour administrative suprême entre 2001 et 2005 qu'il existait bel et bien deux interprétations divergentes des dispositions de l'article 240 de la LMI régissant les modalités de l'enquête officielle et de l'enquête interne (paragraphe 32 ci-dessus). Qui plus est, l'existence parallèle de ces deux interprétations contradictoires a persisté après l'adoption des arrêts en la présente affaire (ibidem). Par conséquent, la Cour estime qu'il existait des « divergences profondes et persistantes » dans l'interprétation de la disposition de l'article 240 de la LMI par la juridiction administrative suprême bulgare.

52. La Cour observe ensuite qu'il existait en droit interne un mécanisme susceptible de remédier à cette situation, à savoir la procédure prévue par les articles 44 et 45 de la loi sur la Cour administrative suprême (paragraphe 33 ci-dessus) : la juridiction en cause pouvait être saisie tant par le parquet et le ministre de la Justice que par son propre président d'une demande d'interprétation des disposition pertinentes du droit interne et, en rendant une décision interprétative, elle aurait pu uniformiser sa propre jurisprudence en la matière, ce qui aurait été particulièrement important étant donné qu'il s'agit de la plus haute juridiction administrative du pays. Or cela n'a pas été fait (paragraphe 34 ci-dessus), et l'incertitude jurisprudentielle quant à l'interprétation de l'article 240 de la LMI a persisté après l'adoption des arrêts définitifs de la Cour administrative suprême dans les affaires des trois requérants.

53. La Cour considère que cette incertitude jurisprudentielle persistante a eu pour effet de priver les requérants d'une des garanties essentielles du procès équitable au sens de l'article 6 § 1. Il y a donc eu violation de cette disposition de la Convention.

2. Sur les autres aspects du procès équitable

54. Au vu de cette conclusion, la Cour estime qu'il n'y a pas lieu d'examiner séparément les autres aspects du même grief, à savoir les allégations portant sur l'absence de réponse à tous les arguments pertinents des requérants, la non-observation du principe d'égalité des armes et l'exclusion du public des débats judiciaires (voir, mutatis mutandis, Dima c. Roumanie, no 58472/00, § 42, 16 novembre 2006).

III. SUR LA DURÉE DE LA PROCÉDURE PÉNALE

55. Les requérants se plaignent également de la durée des poursuites pénales engagées à leur encontre. Ils estiment que les autorités chargées des poursuites pénales ont adopté une attitude passive entre août 2000 et juin 2002 et qu'elles n'ont pas mené l'instruction préliminaire avec la célérité nécessaire. Ils invoquent l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention, ainsi libellé dans sa partie pertinente :
« Toute personne a droit à ce que sa cause soit entendue (...) dans un délai raisonnable, par un tribunal (...), qui décidera (...) du bien-fondé de toute accusation en matière pénale dirigée contre elle. » ;

56. Le Gouvernement n'a pas présenté d'observations sur ce point.

A. Sur la recevabilité

57. La Cour rappelle d'emblée que le caractère raisonnable de la durée d'une procédure s'apprécie suivant les circonstances de la cause et eu égard aux critères consacrés par sa jurisprudence, en particulier la complexité de l'affaire, le comportement du requérant et celui des autorités compétentes (voir, parmi beaucoup d'autres arrêts, Pélissier et Sassi c. France [GC], no 25444/94, § 67, CEDH 1999-II).

58. Se tournant vers les circonstances de l'espèce, elle observe que les poursuites pénales ont duré deux ans et onze mois pour M. Ivanov (paragraphes 17 et 20 ci-dessus) et trois ans et un mois pour M. Kirilov (paragraphes 16 et 20 ci-dessus). Au vu des circonstances de l'espèce et compte tenu des critères consacrés par sa jurisprudence, la Cour considère que ces périodes ne dépassent pas les limites du délai raisonnable au sens de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention et que les griefs de MM. Ivanov et Kirilov sont irrecevables pour défaut manifeste de fondement.

59. La Cour constate en revanche que le grief soulevé par M. Iordanov sous l'angle de l'article susmentionné n'est pas manifestement mal fondé au sens de l'article 35 § 3 de la Convention. Elle relève en outre qu'il ne se heurte à aucun autre motif d'irrecevabilité. Il convient donc de le déclarer recevable.

B. Sur le fond

60. La Cour observe que la procédure pénale menée contre M. Iordanov a duré presque sept ans et cinq mois pour l'instruction préliminaire et trois degrés de juridiction (paragraphes 16 et 22 ci-dessus), ce qui représente en soi un délai considérable. Elle admet que l'enquête pénale en cause se caractérisait par un certain degré de complexité, dans la mesure où elle visait plusieurs personnes soupçonnées de deux infractions pénales distinctes : manquement aux devoirs d'un fonctionnaire et utilisation illicite du matériel d'écoute. Cependant, de l'avis de la Cour, cet élément n'est pas en mesure d'expliquer, à lui seul, la durée considérable de la procédure pénale.

61. Pour ce qui est du comportement du requérant au cours de la procédure, la Cour constate qu'il n'a pas été à l'origine de retards dans le cours des poursuites pénales dirigées contre lui. Elle observe qu'il se plaint que l'enquête ait pris près de deux ans de retard en raison de l'inactivité, entre août 2000 et juin 2002, des organes chargés de mener l'instruction préliminaire. Le gouvernement n'a pas contesté cette affirmation ni apporté d'éléments permettant d'expliquer un tel retard au stade de l'instruction préliminaire. Compte tenu de ces circonstances et des critères élaborés dans sa jurisprudence (paragraphe 57 ci-dessus), la Cour estime que la durée des poursuites pénales contre M. Iordanov a dépassé les limites du délai raisonnable au sens de l'article 6 § 1. Il y a donc eu violation de cette disposition de la Convention.

IV. SUR LA VIOLATION ALLÉGUÉE DE L'ARTICLE 13 DE LA CONVENTION

62. Les requérants se plaignent de l'absence, en droit interne, de voie de recours permettant d'accélérer les poursuites pénales menées à leur encontre. Ils invoquent l'article 13 de la Convention, qui est ainsi libellé :

« Toute personne dont les droits et libertés reconnus dans la (...) Convention ont été violés, a droit à l'octroi d'un recours effectif devant une instance nationale, alors même que la violation aurait été commise par des personnes agissant dans l'exercice de leurs fonctions officielles. »

63. Le Gouvernement n'a pas présenté d'observations sur ce point.

Sur la recevabilité

64. La Cour rappelle que la recevabilité du grief formulé sous l'angle de l'article 13 dépend en premier lieu de l'existence d'un « grief défendable » fondé sur l'un des articles substantiels de la Convention (voir, parmi beaucoup d'autres arrêts, Kudła c. Pologne [GC], no 30210/96, § 157, CEDH 2000 XI). Les requérants ont invoqué l'article 6 § 1 en combinaison avec l'article 13 pour se plaindre de la durée des poursuites pénales ouvertes à leur encontre. Or la Cour a conclu à l'irrecevabilité pour défaut manifeste de fondement du grief formulé par MM. Ivanov et Kirilov sur le terrain de l'article 6 § 1 (paragraphe 58 ci-dessus). Il s'ensuit que, de même, le grief formulé par ces deux requérants sous l'angle de l'article 13 est manifestement mal fondé et doit être rejeté en application de l'article 35 §§ 3 et 4 de la Convention.

65. Pour ce qui est du grief formulé par M. Iordanov, la Cour observe que par une modification du CPP entrée en vigueur en juin 2003, le législateur a introduit un recours visant à remédier aux retards accumulés au stade de l'instruction préliminaire des affaires pénales. Ce recours pouvait être exercé par les personnes faisant l'objet d'une enquête pénale depuis au moins deux ans. Il permettait d'obtenir le renvoi en jugement de l'inculpé, voire sa relaxe, dans un délai de deux mois (paragraphe 37 ci-dessus).

66. La Cour rappelle que, selon sa jurisprudence constante, pour qu'un recours visant à garantir la célérité de la procédure pénale soit effectif, il doit permettre soit de faire intervenir plus tôt la décision des juridictions saisies, soit de fournir aux justiciables une réparation adéquate pour les retards déjà accusés (voir, parmi d'autres arrêts, Granata c. France (no 2), no 51434/99, § 36, 15 juillet 2003). Dans une série d'arrêts rendus dans des affaires contre la Bulgarie, la Cour est parvenue à la conclusion que le recours prévu par l'article 239a du CPP ne pouvait être considéré comme une voie de recours effective au sens de l'article 13 combiné avec l'article 6 § 1 en raison notamment des retards importants accumulés dans le traitement des affaires pénales avant l'entrée en vigueur de cette disposition législative (voir Sidjimov c. Bulgarie, no 55057/00, § 40, 27 janvier 2005 ; Karov c. Bulgarie, no 45964/99, § 74, 16 novembre 2006 ; Atanassov et Ovtcharov c. Bulgarie, no 61596/00, § 58, 17 janvier 2008 ; Yankov c. Bulgarie (no 2), no 70728/01, § 57 in fine, 7 février 2008). Elle constate toutefois que le cas de M. Iordanov est différent de ceux des requérants dans les affaires précitées.

67. En juin 2003, lorsque l'article 239a du CPP est entré en vigueur, l'enquête pénale contre M. Iordanov était pendante depuis deux ans et onze mois, ce qui lui permettait d'intenter le recours prévu par cet article. Si le requérant avait exercé ce recours, il aurait pu être traduit devant le tribunal de première instance ou relaxé au plus tard en septembre ou en octobre 2003 (voir mutatis mutandis Gantchev c. Bulgarie, no 57855/00, § 33, 12 avril 2007). Force est de constater qu'il n'a pas présenté d'arguments susceptibles d'amener la Cour à la conclusion que cette voie de recours aurait été inefficace dans son cas. Dans ces conditions, la Cour estime que le grief formulé par M. Iordanov sous l'angle de l'article 13 combiné avec l'article 6 § 1 est manifestement mal fondé et doit être rejeté en application de l'article 35 §§ 3 et 4 de la Convention.

V. SUR LA VIOLATION ALLÉGUÉE DE L'ARTICLE 2 DU PROTOCOLE No 4

68. Les requérants se plaignent de l'interdiction de quitter le territoire bulgare dont ils font l'objet, interdiction qui s'analyserait en une ingérence injustifiée dans l'exercice de leur liberté de circulation. Ils admettent que la mesure litigieuse était prévue par la législation interne, mais contestent sa nécessité. Ils invoquent l'article 2 du Protocole no 4, qui est ainsi libellé :

« 1. Quiconque se trouve régulièrement sur le territoire d'un Etat a le droit d'y circuler librement et d'y choisir librement sa résidence.

2. Toute personne est libre de quitter n'importe quel pays, y compris le sien.

3. L'exercice de ces droits ne peut faire l'objet d'autres restrictions que celles qui, prévues par la loi, constituent des mesures nécessaires, dans une société démocratique, à la sécurité nationale, à la sûreté publique, au maintien de l'ordre public, à la prévention des infractions pénales, à la protection de la santé ou de la morale, ou à la protection des droits et libertés d'autrui.

4. Les droits reconnus au paragraphe 1 peuvent également, dans certaines zones déterminées, faire l'objet de restrictions qui, prévues par la loi, sont justifiées par l'intérêt public dans une société démocratique. ».

69. Le gouvernement n'a pas formulé de commentaire sur ce point.

Sur la recevabilité

70. La Cour rappelle que l'article 2 du Protocole no 4 à la Convention garantit le droit à la liberté de circulation ; ce qui implique le droit de quitter un pays pour se rendre dans un autre pays dans lequel on pourrait être autorisé à entrer. Toute mesure restreignant ce droit doit être prévue par la loi, poursuivre l'un des buts légitimes visés au troisième paragraphe de l'article susmentionné et ménager un juste équilibre entre l'intérêt général et les droits de l'individu (voir Baumann c. France, no 33592/96, § 61, CEDH 2001 V (extraits) et Földes et Földesné Hajlik c. Hongrie, no 41463/02, § 32, CEDH 2006 ... ).

71. La Cour observe que l'interdiction de quitter le territoire était prévue par le droit interne et que les requérants n'ont contesté ni la prévisibilité ni l'accessibilité de la législation bulgare pertinente (paragraphes 35, 36 et 68 ci-dessus). Elle ne voit pas de raison d'arriver à une conclusion différente.

72. En ce qui concerne la légitimité du but visé par la mesure imposée, la Cour note que celle-ci a été prise dans le cadre de poursuites pénales ouvertes contre les requérants. Dans ces circonstances et au vu du fait que les intéressés ont été libérés sous caution peu de temps après le début de l'enquête pénale (paragraphe 18 ci-dessus), elle admet que l'interdiction de quitter le territoire visait à assurer leur comparution devant les juridictions pénales compétentes, et relevait donc du maintien de l'ordre public.

73. La Cour observe ensuite que cette interdiction n'était pas absolue : les requérants avaient la possibilité de demander à tout moment l'autorisation de quitter le territoire, et de contester l'éventuel refus des organes compétents devant un tribunal (paragraphe 35 ci-dessus). Or ils n'ont pas démontré qu'ils avaient sollicité une telle autorisation et qu'ils avaient essuyé un refus des autorités compétentes.

74. De surcroît, depuis le 29 avril 2006, date d'entrée en vigueur du NCPP, M. Iordanov pouvait demander au tribunal compétent de lever l'interdiction au motif qu'il n'y avait pas de risque qu'il se soustraie à la justice (paragraphe 36 ci-dessus). Or il n'a pas précisé s'il s'est prévalu de cette possibilité.

75. Au vu de ce qui précède, la Cour estime que les éléments dont elle dispose ne lui permettent pas de constater qu'il n'a pas été ménagé en l'occurrence un juste équilibre entre l'intérêt général et la liberté de circulation des requérants. Dès lors, elle conclut que leur grief tiré de l'article 2 du Protocole no 4 est manifestement mal fondé et doit être rejeté en application de l'article 35 §§ 3 et 4 de la Convention.

VI. SUR L'APPLICATION DE L'ARTICLE 41 DE LA CONVENTION

76. Aux termes de l'article 41 de la Convention,

« Si la Cour déclare qu'il y a eu violation de la Convention ou de ses Protocoles, et si le droit interne de la Haute Partie contractante ne permet d'effacer qu'imparfaitement les conséquences de cette violation, la Cour accorde à la partie lésée, s'il y a lieu, une satisfaction équitable. »

A. Dommage

77. MM. Iordanov et Ivanov réclament, pour préjudice matériel, 79 450 et 87 850 levs bulgares (BGN) respectivement, soit l'équivalent des salaires qu'ils auraient perçus comme agents du ministère de l'Intérieur s'ils n'avaient pas été licenciés. Ils demandent également 16 000 BGN chacun pour préjudice moral.

78. Les trois héritières de M. Kirilov sollicitent chacune la somme de 20 000 BGN pour le préjudice moral qu'aurait subi leur père et époux.

79. Les requérants estiment que le redressement le plus approprié de la violation de leur droit à un procès équitable serait la réouverture des procédures judiciaires de contestation de leurs licenciements.

80. Le Gouvernement n'a pas présenté d'observations sur l'application de l'article 41 de la Convention.

81. La Cour n'aperçoit pas de lien de causalité entre la violation constatée et le dommage matériel allégué par MM. Iordanov et Ivanov, et rejette leur demande à ce titre.

82. Elle considère en revanche que les trois requérants ont subi un certain dommage moral du fait de la violation de leur droit à un procès équitable, et que M. Iordanov a subi de surcroît un dommage moral du fait de la durée excessive des poursuites pénales menées contre lui. Statuant en équité en vertu de l'article 41 de la Convention, elle accorde 4 500 EUR à M. Iordanov, 4 000 EUR à M. Ivanov et 4 000 EUR, conjointement, aux héritières de M. Kirilov.

83. La Cour rappelle également que, selon sa jurisprudence bien établie, il faut, en cas de violation de l'article 6 de la Convention, placer le requérant, le plus possible, dans une situation équivalant à celle dans laquelle il se trouverait s'il n'y avait pas eu manquement aux exigences de cette disposition (Piersack c. Belgique (article 50), 26 octobre 1984, § 12, série A no 85). Un arrêt constatant une violation entraîne pour l'Etat défendeur l'obligation juridique, non seulement de verser à l'intéressé les sommes allouées à titre de satisfaction équitable, mais aussi de choisir, sous le contrôle du Comité des Ministres du Conseil de l'Europe, les mesures générales et/ou, le cas échéant, individuelles à adopter dans son ordre juridique interne afin de mettre un terme à la violation constatée par la Cour et d'en effacer dans la mesure du possible les conséquences de manière à rétablir autant que faire se peut la situation antérieure à celle-ci (Ilaşcu et autres c. Moldova et Russie [GC], no 48787/99, § 487, CEDH 2004 VII). En particulier, dans les cas de non-observation d'une des garanties de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention, le redressement le plus approprié consiste, en principe, à rejuger l'affaire ou à rouvrir la procédure en temps utile et dans le respect des exigences de l'article 6 (voir Lungoci c. Roumanie, no 62710/00, § 56, 26 janvier 2006, et Yanakiev c.Bulgarie, no 40476/98, § 90, 10 août 2006, pour le droit d'accès à un tribunal ; Somogyi c. Italie, no 67972/01, § 86, CEDH 2004 IV, pour le droit de participer au procès ; et Gençel c. Turquie, no 53431/99, § 27, 23 octobre 2003, et Tahir Duran c. Turquie, no 40997/98, § 23, 29 janvier 2004, pour le manque d'indépendance et d'impartialité de la juridiction de jugement).

84. En l'espèce, la Cour observe que lorsqu'elle a constaté une violation de l'une des dispositions de la Convention, l'article 239 point 6 du code de procédure administrative permet la réouverture de la procédure devant les juridictions administratives à la demande de la partie intéressée. Cette disposition semble donc permettre à MM. Iordanov et Ivanov de voir leurs affaires rejugées. Un doute subsiste cependant sur le point de savoir si la même possibilité est ouverte, pour la procédure judiciaire concernant le licenciement de M. Kirilov, à ses héritières. Quoi qu'il en soit, au vu de la nature de la violation constatée de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention (paragraphe 53 ci-dessus) et compte tenu des circonstances particulières de l'espèce, la Cour estime que le redressement le plus approprié serait de rouvrir les procédures judiciaires concernant les licenciements des trois requérants.

B. Frais et dépens

85. Les requérants demandent également 4 760 EUR pour les frais et dépens engagés devant la Cour, soit l'équivalent de 68 heures de travail d'avocat au tarif horaire de 70 EUR. Ils ont présenté le contrat passé avec leur avocat, qui prévoit le versement sur le compte bancaire de celui-ci de la somme octroyée par la Cour à titre de frais et dépens.

86. Le Gouvernement n'a pas formulé de commentaires sur ce point.

87. Selon la jurisprudence de la Cour, un requérant ne peut obtenir le remboursement de ses frais et dépens que dans la mesure où se trouvent établis leur réalité, leur nécessité et le caractère raisonnable de leur taux. En l'espèce et compte tenu des documents en sa possession, des critères susmentionnés et du fait que certains des griefs formulés ont été déclarés irrecevables, la Cour estime raisonnable d'octroyer pour la procédure devant elle la somme de 3 000 EUR, à verser sur le compte bancaire du représentant des requérants.

C. Intérêts moratoires

88. La Cour juge approprié de calquer le taux des intérêts moratoires sur le taux d'intérêt de la facilité de prêt marginal de la Banque centrale européenne majoré de trois points de pourcentage.

PAR CES MOTIFS, LA COUR, À L'UNANIMITÉ,

1. Déclare la requête recevable quant aux griefs tirés de l'article 6 § 1, relatifs à l'équité des procédures judiciaires concernant les licenciements des requérants et à la durée de la procédure pénale menée contre M. Iordanov, et irrecevable pour le surplus ;

2. Dit qu'il y a eu violation de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention en raison de la non-observation du principe de la sécurité juridique dans le cadre des procédures judiciaires de contestation des licenciements des trois requérants ;

3. Dit qu'il n'y a pas lieu d'examiner les autres aspects de l'équité des procédures concernant les licenciements des requérants ;

4. Dit qu'il y a eu violation de l'article 6 § 1 de la Convention en raison de la durée de la procédure pénale menée contre M. Iordanov ;

5. Dit

a) que l'Etat défendeur doit verser aux requérants, dans les trois mois à compter du jour où l'arrêt sera devenu définitif conformément à l'article 44 § 2 de la Convention, les sommes suivantes, à convertir en levs bulgares au taux applicable à la date du règlement :

i. 4 500 EUR (quatre mille cinq cents euros), plus tout montant pouvant être dû à titre d'impôt, pour dommage moral, à verser à M. Iordanov ;

ii. 4 000 EUR (quatre mille euros), plus tout montant pouvant être dû à titre d'impôt, pour dommage moral, à verser à M. Ivanov ;

iii. 4 000 EUR (quatre mille euros), plus tout montant pouvant être dû à titre d'impôt, pour dommage moral, à verser aux héritières de M. Kirilov ;

iv. 3 000 EUR (trois mille euros), plus tout montant pouvant être dû à titre d'impôt par les requérants, pour frais et dépens, à verser sur le compte bancaire de leur représentant ;

b) qu'à compter de l'expiration dudit délai et jusqu'au versement, ces montants seront à majorer d'un intérêt simple à un taux égal à celui de la facilité de prêt marginal de la Banque centrale européenne applicable pendant cette période, augmenté de trois points de pourcentage ;

6. Rejette la demande de satisfaction équitable pour le surplus.

Fait en français, puis communiqué par écrit le 2 juillet 2009, en application de l'article 77 §§ 2 et 3 du règlement.

Claudia Westerdiek Peer Lorenzen

Greffière Président





(SCOPPOLA C. ITALIA) PRINCIPIO DI LEGALITA' - RITO ABBREVIATO - PENA DELL'ERGASTOLO - PREVISIONE CONTENUTA NELL'ART. 7 D.L. N. 341 DEL 2000 - PRINCIPIO DI LEGALITA'
Il ricorrente, imputato di omicidio aggravato ed altro, commessi nel settembre 1999, era stato giudicato con rito abbreviato e condannato il 24 novembre 2000 alla pena di 30 anni di reclusione, in applicazione dell’art. 442 c.p.p. nel testo allora vigente. Lo stesso giorno entrava però in vigore il decreto-legge n. 341 del 2000, il cui art. 7 conteneva una disposizione definita di interpretazione autentica riguardante l’applicazione della pena dell’ergastolo nel rito abbreviato. Su appello del PM, che aveva dedotto l’operatività nel caso in esame della modifica normativa, la Corte di assise riformava la sentenza e condannava l’imputato alla pena dell’ergastolo. In particolare, la Corte riteneva che la novella legislativa, contenente una norma processuale, fosse applicabile ai procedimenti in corso e che, comunque, l’imputato aveva avuto la possibilità di ritirare la richiesta di essere giudicato con rito abbreviato. In seguito, l’imputato ricorreva per cassazione, senza esito positivo. Davanti alla Corte europea, costui ha denunciato la violazione dell’art. 7 della Cedu che stabilisce il principio di legalità in materia penale.(“ Nessuna pena senza legge”), in quanto la nuova normativa sopra indicata – da ritenersi a suo avviso di diritto sostanziale - sarebbe stata a lui applicata retroattivamente. Il Governo aveva invece sostenuto che l’art. 7 cit. era stato rispettato, posto che la pena applicata era in realtà già prevista all’epoca della commissione dei fatti contestati. La Corte europea ha preliminarmente preso in considerazione la portata del principio enunciato nell’art. 7 Cedu, alla luce degli importanti sviluppi registrati in campo internazionale. In particolare, la Corte ha evocato la Carta dei diritti fondamentali dell’UE, che ha consacrato, quale corollario del principio di legalità, il diritto dell’imputato sia a non essere condannato ad una pena più grave di quella imposta alla momento della commissione del fatto sia a poter usufruire di un trattamento sanzionatorio più lieve, se previsto da norme successive (richiamando sul punto la sentenza Berlusconi della Corte di giustizia, che ha stabilito che “il principio dell’applicazione retroattiva della pena più mite fa parte delle tradizioni costituzionali comuni degli Stati membri”). In base a tale premessa, la Corte ha ritenuto che l’art. 442 del c.p.p., nella parte in cui concorre a determinare la pena irrogabile, sia da considerare norma di diritto sostanziale e non processuale e che la riforma intervenuta nel 1999, che aveva emendato il testo dell’art. 442 c.p.p., prescrivendo un trattamento sanzionatorio più favorevole, doveva essere applicata al ricorrente. Ma quel che più rileva è che la Corte ha escluso che la novella del 2000 potesse essere qualificata come mera norma interpretativa, non avendo il Governo prodotto alcuna sentenza a dimostrazione dell’esistenza di un conflitto interpretativo in ordine al testo dell’art. 442 cit., come riformato nel 1999. Pertanto, la Corte ha concluso che il ricorrente aveva diritto all’applicazione retroattiva della norma sanzionatoria a lui più favorevole. Il ricorrente ha inoltre dedotto la violazione dell’art. 6 Cedu, in quanto l’applicazione retroattiva della modifica normativa del 2000 aveva leso anche il suo diritto ad un equo processo. La Corte in merito ha rilevato che il ricorso al rito abbreviato, con la rinuncia da parte dell’imputato ad una serie di diritti e garanzie, comportava per il ricorrente la legittima aspettativa alla non applicazione della pena dell’ergastolo, come “chiaramente” – a suo dire - prescriveva il testo dell’art. 442 c.p.p. allora vigente. Pertanto, la unilaterale modifica dei vantaggi connessi a tale rito, sul quale un accordo tra le parti era già intervenuto, ha determinato la violazione anche dell’art. 6 cit. In conclusione, la Corte, pur ribadendo che spetta allo Stato membro assicurare l’esecuzione delle sentenze della Corte, ha sottolineato che sarà compito dell’Italia assicurare che la pena dell’ergastolo inflitta al ricorrente sia sostituita con una pena che non ecceda i 30 anni.Da registrare infine l’opinione dissenziente di alcuni giudici sull’interpretazione dell’art. 7 Cedu. Si è invero sostenuto che il principio della lex mitior non fa parte di tale norma, né può essere considerato un suo diretto corollario. Si è ricordato che la stessa Corte aveva stabilito i limiti di un’interpretazione evolutiva: la Corte non può invero far derivare dalla Convenzione e dai suoi protocolli un diritto che questi strumenti non prevedono.

Testo Completo:
Sentenza della Corte Europea dei Diritti dell'Uomo di Strasburgo del 17 settembre 2009 GRAND CHAMBER CASE OF SCOPPOLA v. ITALY (No. 2) (Application no. 10249/03) JUDGMENT STRASBOURG 17 September 2009 This judgment is final but may be subject to editorial revision. In the case of Scoppola v. Italy (no. 2), The European Court of Human Rights, sitting as a Grand Chamber composed of: Jean-Paul Costa, President, Nicolas Bratza, Peer Lorenzen, Françoise Tulkens, Josep Casadevall, Ireneu Cabral Barreto, Rait Maruste, Alvina Gyulumyan, Danutė Jočienė, Ján Šikuta, Dragoljub Popović, Mark Villiger, Giorgio Malinverni, George Nicolaou, András Sajó, Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska, judges, Vitaliano Esposito, ad hoc judge, and Michael O'Boyle, Deputy Registrar, Having deliberated in private on 7 January and 8 July 2009, Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last-mentioned date: PROCEDURE 1. The case originated in an application (no. 10249/03) against the Italian Republic lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by an Italian national, Mr Franco Scoppola (“the applicant”), on 24 March 2003. 2. The applicant was represented by Mr N. Paoletti, Mrs A. Mari and Mrs G. Paoletti, lawyers practising in Rome. The Italian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mrs E. Spatafora and their co-deputy Agent, Mr N. Lettieri. 3. The applicant alleged in particular that his sentence to life imprisonment had breached Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention. 4. The application was allocated to the Second Section of the Court (Rule 52 § 1 of the Rules of Court). On 13 May 2008 it was declared partly admissible by a Chamber of that Section composed of the following judges: Françoise Tulkens, Antonella Mularoni, Ireneu Cabral Barreto, Danutė Jočienė, Dragoljub Popović, András Sajó and Vitaliano Esposito, and also of Sally Dollé, Section Registrar. On 2 September 2008 the Chamber relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. The applicant did not object to relinquishment; after having made such an objection, the Government withdrew it (Article 30 of the Convention and Rule 72). 5. The composition of the Grand Chamber was determined according to the provisions of Article 27 §§ 2 and 3 of the Convention and Rule 24 of the Rules of Court. Following the withdrawal of Vladimiro Zagrebelsky, the judge elected in respect of Italy, the Government appointed Vitaliano Esposito to sit as an ad hoc judge (Article 27 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 29 § 1). 6. The applicant and the Government each filed a memorial on the merits. 7. A hearing took place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 7 January 2009 (Rule 59 § 3). There appeared before the Court: (a) for the Government Mr N. Lettieri, of the State legal service, Agent; (b) for the applicant Mr N. Paoletti, lawyer, Mrs A. Mari, lawyer, Counsel, Mrs G. Paoletti, lawyer, Adviser. The Court heard addresses by Mr Paoletti, Mr Lettieri and Mrs Mari, and their replies to questions from the Court. THE FACTS I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE 8. The applicant was born in 1940 and is at present imprisoned in Parma. 9. On 2 September 1999, after a fight with his two sons, the applicant killed his wife and injured one of his sons. He was arrested on 3 September. 10. At the end of the preliminary investigation the Rome prosecution service asked for the applicant to be committed to stand trial for murder, attempted murder, ill-treatment of his family and unauthorised possession of a firearm 11. At a hearing on 18 February 2000 before the Rome preliminary hearings judge (giudice dell'udienza preliminare – “the GUP”) the applicant asked to be tried under the summary procedure, a simplified process which entailed a reduction of sentence in the event of conviction. In the version in force at that time Article 442 § 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“the CCP”) provided that, if the crime committed by the defendant was punishable by life imprisonment, the appropriate sentence should be thirty years. (see paragraph 29 below). 12. The GUP agreed to follow the summary procedure. Further hearings were held on 22 September and 24 November 2000. The last-mentioned hearing began at 10.19 a.m. 13. On 24 November 2000 the GUP found the applicant guilty and noted that he was liable to a sentence of life imprisonment; however, as the applicant had elected to stand trial under the summary procedure, the judge sentenced him to a term of 30 years. 14. On 12 January 2001 the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Rome Court of Appeal appealed on points of law against the Rome GUP's judgment of 24 November 2000. The prosecution argued that the GUP should have applied Article 7 of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 24 November 2000, which entered into force on the very day when the applicant was convicted. After being amended by parliament, Legislative Decree no. 341 was converted into Law no. 4 of 19 January 2001. 15. The prosecution contended in particular that Article 7 of Legislative Decree no. 341 had amended Article 442 of the CCP and now provided that, in the event of trial under the summary procedure, life imprisonment was to be substituted for life imprisonment with daytime isolation if there were “cumulative offences” (concorso di reati) or a “continuous offence” (reato continuato – see paragraph 31 below). The GUP's failure to apply Legislative Decree no. 341 amounted to “a manifest error of law” (evidente errore di diritto). 16. On 5 and 22 February 2001 the applicant appealed. His chief submission was that he should be acquitted on the ground that his conduct had not been intentional or that, at the time when the offences were committed, he was incapable of understanding the wrongful nature of his acts and of forming the intent to commit them (incapacità de intendere e volere). In the alternative, he requested a reduction of his sentence. 17. As there were now two appeals, at two different levels of jurisdiction, the Public Prosecutor's appeal on points of law was changed to an appeal on both facts and law and the Rome Assize Court of Appeal was declared to have jurisdiction to hear the case (Article 580 of the CCP). 18. The hearing in private before the Rome Assize Court of Appeal was held on 10 January 2002. The applicant was not present and was tried in absentia. He alleged that, as he had difficulty in walking, he had asked to be taken to the courtroom by ambulance or some other suitably adapted vehicle but that, as the prison management had refused his request, he had been deprived of the possibility of participating in the appeal proceedings. 19. In a judgment of 10 January 2002, deposited with the registry on 23 January 2002, the Assize Court of Appeal sentenced the applicant to life imprisonment. 20. It observed that before the entry into force of Legislative Decree no. 341 Article 442 § 2 of the CCP had been interpreted to mean that life imprisonment was to be replaced by a term of thirty years, whether or not it was to be accompanied by daytime isolation on account of an accumulation of offences with the most serious one. In following that approach, the GUP had fixed the sentence in relation to the most serious offence, without considering whether to order the applicant's daytime isolation on account of his conviction on the other charges against him. 21. However, Legislative Decree no. 341 of 24 November 2000 had entered into force on the very day of the GUP's decision. As its provisions were classed as procedural rules, it was applicable to pending proceedings, according to the tempus regit actum principle. The Assize Court of Appeal further observed that under the terms of Article 8 of Legislative Decree no. 341 the applicant could have withdrawn his request to be tried under the summary procedure and have stood trial under the ordinary procedure. As he had not done so, the first-instance decision ought to have taken account of the change in the rules on penalties which had taken place in the meantime. 22. On 18 February 2002 the applicant appealed on points of law. He argued in the first place that the appeal proceedings should be declared null and void because he had not been able to participate, as defendant, in the appeal hearing on 10 January 2002. In his second and third grounds of appeal the applicant asserted that the trial courts had not given sufficient reasons either for ruling that he had intended to commit murder or for their finding that he knew what he was doing and had acted intentionally when committing the offences. Lastly, he contested the finding of an aggravating circumstance (that he had acted for futile reasons) and complained of the refusal to grant him extenuating circumstances. 23. On 31 July 2002 the applicant submitted further grounds of appeal. He contended that a fresh expert opinion should have been produced on his mental state at the time when the offences were committed and presented new arguments on the question of aggravating and extenuating circumstances. Lastly, he submitted that the penalty deemed to be applicable in his case (life imprisonment with isolation) was excessive. 24. In a judgment deposited with its registry on 20 January 2003, the Court of Cassation dismissed the applicant's appeal. 25. On 18 July 2003 the applicant lodged an extraordinary appeal on the ground of a factual error (Article 625a of the CCP). He asserted in the first place that the domestic courts' finding that he could have been taken to the appeal hearing by an ordinary means of transport and did not need an ambulance had been the result of an erroneous reading of the documents in the file. In addition, his absence, as the defendant, from that hearing had breached Article 6 of the Convention. The applicant further alleged that the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on him following the changes made by Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000, and thus through a retrospective criminal-law provision, had breached Article 7 of the Convention and the principles of fair trial. He submitted that his waiver of procedural safeguards as a result of electing to stand trial under the summary procedure had not been compensated for by the reduction of his sentence promised by the State at the time when he made that choice. Lastly, he maintained that life imprisonment was an inhuman and degrading punishment and as such contrary to Article 3 of the Convention. 26. In a judgment of 14 May 2004, deposited with its registry on 28 October 2004, the Court of Cassation declared the applicant's extraordinary appeal inadmissible. It observed that he was not complaining of factual errors committed by the domestic courts but essentially attempting to challenge the Court of Cassation's assessment on points of law. II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW A. The summary procedure 27. The summary procedure is governed by Articles 438 and 441 to 443 of the CCP. It is based on the assumption that the case can be decided as the file stands (allo stato degli atti) at the preliminary hearing. A request to be tried under the summary procedure may be made orally or in writing at any time before the parties have made their submissions at the preliminary hearing. If the summary procedure is followed, the hearing takes place in private and is given over to the parties' oral submissions; in principle, they must base their arguments on the documents included in the prosecution's file, even though, exceptionally, oral evidence may be allowed. If the judge finds the defendant guilty, the sentence imposed is reduced by one-third (Article 442 § 2). The relevant domestic provisions are described in the Hermi v. Italy judgment ([GC], no. 18114/02, §§ 27-28, ECHR 2006-...). 28. The Court also gave an overview of the provisions governing the summary procedure in its Fera v. Italy judgment (no. 45057/98, 21 April 2005). At the time of the events which gave rise to the Fera case the summary procedure was not available to persons accused of crimes punishable by life imprisonment. In judgment no. 176 of 23 April 1991 the Constitutional Court had quashed the provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure making that possibility available because it went beyond the powers parliament had delegated to the government with a view to the adoption of the new Code of Criminal Procedure (“the CCP”). B. The amendment of Article 442 of the CPP by Law no. 479 of 16 December 1999 29. By Law no. 479 of 16 December 1999, which came into force on 2 January 2000, parliament reintroduced the possibility of allowing a defendant liable to a sentence of life imprisonment to opt for the summary procedure. Section 30 provides: Section 30 “The following changes shall be made to Article 442 of the Code of Criminal Procedure: ... (b) in paragraph 2, after the first sentence is added the following [second and last sentence]: 'life imprisonment shall be replaced by thirty years' imprisonment'”. C. Legislative Decree no. 341 of 24 November 2000 30. Legislative Decree no. 341 of 24 November 2000, which came into force on the same day and was converted into Law no. 4 of 19 January 2001, purported to give an authentic interpretation of the second sentence of paragraph 2 of Article 442 of the CCP and added a third sentence. 31. Legislative Decree no. 341 included, under the chapter entitled “Authentic interpretation of Article 442 paragraph 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and provisions regarding the summary procedure in trials for offences punishable by life imprisonment”, Articles 7 and 8, which provide: Article 7 “1. In Article 442, paragraph 2, [second and] last sentence, of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the words 'life imprisonment' should be taken to mean life imprisonment without daytime isolation. 2. In Article 442, paragraph 2, of the Code of Criminal Procedure is added, in fine, the following sentence: “Life imprisonment with daytime isolation, in the event of cumulative offences or a continuous offence, shall be replaced by life imprisonment.” Article 8 “1. In criminal proceedings pending on the date of the entry into force of the present legislative decree, where the defendant is liable to or has been sentenced to life imprisonment with daytime isolation, and has opted for the summary procedure ..., he or she may withdraw his or her request within thirty days of the date on which the legislation implementing the present legislative decree enters into force. In that case, the proceedings shall be resumed under the ordinary procedure at the stage they had reached when the request was made. Any investigative findings which may have been reached may be used within the limits laid down by Article 511 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. 2. Where, on account of an appeal by the prosecution, it is possible to apply the provisions of Article 7, the accused may withdraw the request referred to in paragraph 1 within thirty days of the time when he or she learns of the appeal by the prosecution or, if such an appeal was lodged before the entry into force of the legislation to implement the present legislative decree, within thirty days' of the latter date. The provisions of the second and third sentences of paragraph 1 shall apply...” D. Article 2 of the Criminal Code 32. Article 2 of the 1930 Criminal Code, entitled “Succession of criminal laws”, reads as follows: “1. No one may be punished for an act which, under the law in force at the time when it was committed, was not an offence. 2. No one may be punished for an act which, under a subsequent law, does not constitute an offence; if the defendant has been sentenced, execution of his sentence and its criminal effects shall cease. 3. If the law in force at the time when the offence was committed and later [laws] differ, the law to be applied is the one whose provisions are most favourable to the defendant, except where a final sentence has already been imposed. 4. The provisions of the [two] preceding paragraphs shall not apply when the later laws are exceptional and temporary. 5. The provisions of the present article shall also apply where a legislative decree's conversion into statute-law is time barred [decadenza] or does not take place, and where a legislative decree has been converted into statute-law with amendments.” E. Publication in the Official Gazette 33. Royal Decree no. 1252 of 7 June 1923 provides that the Official Gazette (Gazzetta ufficiale) is published by the Ministry of Justice. Article 2 of the decree reads as follows: “Publication shall take place every working day during the hours of the afternoon (nelle ore pomeridiane).” 34. By judgment no. 132 of 19 May 1976 the Constitutional Court ruled that publication of a law in the Official Gazette was the “essential and decisive moment” among the steps taken to promulgate a legislative text. Moreover, the expression “publication in the Official Gazette” presupposed that the latter was placed in circulation and therefore accessible to the public. The Constitutional Court observed in particular: “[the terms] publication of laws 'in the' Official Gazette [could] only mean ... also publication 'of the' Official Gazette ...: otherwise there would be a negation of the very procedure of publishing laws, which, historically speaking, was designed to create an objective situation effectively permitting every individual to be aware of the acts in question (situazione oggettiva di effettiva conoscibilità, da parte di tutti, degli atti medesimi).” III. INTERNATIONAL TEXTS AND DOCUMENTS A. The United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 35. Article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in Resolution 2200 A (XXI) of 16 December 1966, which entered into force on 23 March 1976, is worded as follows: “1. No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time when the criminal offence was committed. If, subsequent to the commission of the offence, provision is made by law for the imposition of the lighter penalty, the offender shall benefit thereby. 2. Nothing in this article shall prejudice the trial and punishment of any person for any act or omission which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations.” B. The American Convention on Human Rights 36. Article 9 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted on 22 November 1969 at the Inter-American Specialised Conference on Human Rights and came into force on 18 July 1978, reads as follows: “No one shall be convicted of any act or omission that did not constitute a criminal offense, under the applicable law, at the time it was committed. A heavier penalty shall not be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offense was committed. If subsequent to the commission of the offense the law provides for the imposition of a lighter punishment, the guilty person shall benefit therefrom.” C. The European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights and the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities 37. At the European Council meeting in Nice on 7 December 2000 the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union proclaimed the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Article 49 of the Charter, entitled “Principles of legality and proportionality of criminal offences and penalties” is worded as follows: “1. No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national law or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than that which was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed. If, subsequent to the commission of a criminal offence, the law provides for a lighter penalty, that penalty shall be applicable. 2. This Article shall not prejudice the trial and punishment of any person for any act or omission which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles recognised by the community of nations. 3. The severity of penalties must not be disproportionate to the criminal offence.” 38. In the case of Berlusconi and Others, the Court of Justice of the European Communities held that the principle of the retroactive application of the more lenient penalty formed part of the constitutional traditions common to the member States (see the judgment of 3 May 2005 in joined cases C-387/02, C-391/02 and C-403/02). The relevant passages of the judgment (§§ 66 to 69) read as follows: “66. Setting aside the applicability of Article 6 of the First Companies Directive to the failure to publish annual accounts, it should be noted that, under Article 2 of the Italian Criminal Code, which sets out the principle that the more lenient penalty should be applied retroactively, the new Articles 2621 and 2622 of the Italian Civil Code ought to be applied even if they entered into force only after the commission of the acts underlying the prosecutions brought in the cases in the main proceedings. 67. It must be pointed out in this regard that, according to settled case-law, fundamental rights form an integral part of the general principles of law, the observance of which the Court ensures. For that purpose, the Court draws inspiration from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States and from the guidelines supplied by international treaties for the protection of human rights on which the Member States have collaborated or to which they are signatories (see, inter alia, Case C 112/00 Schmidberger [2003] ECR I 5659, paragraph 71 and the case-law there cited, and Joined Cases C 20/00 and C 64/00 Booker Aquaculture and Hydro Seafood [2003] ECR I 7411, paragraph 65 and the case-law there cited). 68. The principle of the retroactive application of the more lenient penalty forms part of the constitutional traditions common to the Member States. 69. It follows that this principle must be regarded as forming part of the general principles of Community law which national courts must respect when applying the national legislation adopted for the purpose of implementing Community law and, more particularly in the present cases, the directives on company law.” 39. The principles affirmed by the Court of Justice were repeated in a judgment of the Criminal Division of the French Court of Cassation given on 19 September 2007 (dismissal of appeal no. 06-85899). The relevant passages of the judgment read as follows: “... in any event the general principles of Community law take precedence over national law. In a judgment of 3 May 2005 the Court of Justice of the European Communities observed that the principle of the retroactive application of the more lenient penalty forms part of the constitutional traditions common to the member States and it follows that the said principle must be considered one of the general principles of Community law which national courts must comply with when applying the national law adopted with a view to implementing Community law (paragraphs 68 and 69 of the judgment of 3 May 2005). In the present case, consequently, it was in breach of that principle taking precedence over national law that the Paris Court of Appeal sentenced [the accused] on the basis of a national law adopted with a view to implementing Community law, having unlawfully disregarded the principle of the retroactive application of the more lenient penalty. ... Article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides, without any exception, that where, subsequent to the commission of an offence, the law provides for the application of a more lenient penalty, the offender must be given the benefit thereof. That text takes precedence over French law by virtue of Article 55 of the Constitution of 4 October 1958. It follows that the Paris Court of Appeal could not disregard the new more lenient law on the sole ground that the later law had expressly excluded any retroactive effect in contravention of the principle laid down by the text referred to above. ...” D. The statute of the International Criminal Court 40. Under the terms of Article 24 § 2 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “In the event of a change in the law applicable to a given case prior to a final judgement, the law more favourable to the person being investigated, prosecuted or convicted shall apply.” E. The case-law of the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991 (“the ICTY”) 41. In a judgment of 4 February 2005, given in the Dragan Nikolic case (no. IT-94-2-A), the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY held that the principle of the applicability of the more lenient criminal law (lex mitior) applied to its statute. The relevant parts of the judgment (§§ 79 to 86) read as follows: “79. The Trial Chamber first considered whether the principle of lex mitior had been applicable in the former Yugoslavia and whether it was part of the law of the International Tribunal and then addressed the question of whether the lex mitior principle was applicable in the present case. 80. The contentious part of the Sentencing Judgement is the finding of the Trial Chamber that “the principle of lex mitior applies only to cases in which the commission of a criminal offence and the subsequent imposition of a penalty took place within one and the same jurisdiction” and that, because this Tribunal exercises a different jurisdiction from the national jurisdiction in which the crimes were committed, the principle does not apply. The Appeals Chamber notes that the question of the applicability of the principle is not one of jurisdiction, but rather one of whether differing criminal laws are relevant and applicable to the law governing the sentencing consideration of the International Tribunal. 81. The principle of lex mitior is understood to mean that, if the law relevant to the offence of the accused has been amended, the less severe law should be applied. It is an inherent element of this principle that the relevant law must be binding upon the court. Accused persons can only benefit from the more lenient sentence if the law is binding, since they only have a protected legal position when the sentencing range must be applied to them. The principle of lex mitior is thus only applicable if a law that binds the International Tribunal is subsequently changed to a more favourable law by which the International Tribunal is also obliged to abide. 82. The International Tribunal is clearly bound by its own Statute and Rules, and thus to the sentencing range of a term up to and including the remainder of the convicted person's life as provided for in Rule 101(A) of the Rules and Article 24(1) of the Statute. The Appeals Chamber notes that there has not been a change in the laws of the International Tribunal regarding sentencing ranges. 83. The sentencing range in the former Yugoslavia would be restricted to a fixed term of imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber notes that, since the establishment of the International Tribunal, an accused before it can receive a maximum sentence that is not limited to a fixed term of imprisonment. 84. The Appeals Chamber, however, reiterates its finding that the International Tribunal, having primacy, is not bound by the law or sentencing practice of the former Yugoslavia. It has merely to take it into consideration. Allowing the principle of lex mitior to be applied to sentences of the International Tribunal on the basis of changes in the laws of the former Yugoslavia would mean that the States of the former Yugoslavia have the power to undermine the sentencing discretion of the International Tribunal's judges. In passing a national law setting low maximum penalties for the crimes mentioned in Articles 2 to 5 of the International Tribunal's statute, States could then prevent their citizens from being properly sentenced by this Tribunal. This is not compatible with the International Tribunal's primacy enshrined in Article 9(2) of the Statute and its overall mandate. 85. In sum, properly understood, lex mitior applies to the Statute of the International Tribunal. Accordingly, if ever the sentencing powers conferred by the Statute were to be amended, the International Tribunal would have to apply the less severe penalty. So far as concerns the requirement of Article 24(1) that “the Trial Chambers shall have recourse to the general practice regarding prison sentences in the courts of the former Yugoslavia”, these words have to be construed in accordance with the principles of interpretation applicable to the Statute of which they form part. So construed, they refer to any pertinent laws of the former Yugoslavia which were in force at the time of commission of the crime in question; subsequent changes in those laws are not imported. 86. For the foregoing reasons, the fifth ground of appeal is dismissed.” THE LAW I. SCOPE OF THE CASE AND PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE GOVERNMENT A. Whether the Court may examine the case under Article 6 of the Convention 1. The question raised by the Government 42. On a preliminary point, the Government contested the decision of 13 May 2008 in which the Court's Second Section declared admissible the complaint under Article 6 of the Convention. They observed that, previously, in its partial decision of 8 September 2005, the Court's Third section had rejected a complaint similar to the one examined under that provision. The relevant parts of the Third Section's reasoning read as follows: “The applicant further alleged a two-fold violation of Article 6 of the Convention... He argued that the proceedings had been unfair because he had been sentenced under the summary procedure and in his absence. As regards the first limb of the complaint, he noted that in consequence of choosing the summary procedure he had waived certain rights guaranteed by Article 6. He added, however, that his waiver had not been voluntary but had been conditioned by an agreement entered into with the sole purpose of securing a reduction of his sentence. He contended that the respondent State – which had been repeatedly found by the European Court to be in breach of the reasonable-time requirement – had introduced a system aimed at rewarding defendants who waived fundamental safeguards instead of reorganising the administration of justice. The Court notes that it was the applicant himself who requested application of the summary procedure. Although opting for the summary procedure has the effect of weakening procedural safeguards, the applicant may waive the safeguards of the ordinary procedure provided that the waiver is unequivocal and that no. public-interest considerations militate against it (see Kwiatkowska v. Italy (dec.), no. 52868/99, 30 November 2000). There is no doubt that the applicant was aware of the consequences of his request for application of the summary procedure and that he unequivocally waived the rights guaranteed under the ordinary procedure. The Court does not consider that the possibility of securing a reduction of his sentence meant that the applicant was forced to request application of the summary procedure. Furthermore, Article 8 of the 2000 legislative decree gave him the possibility of withdrawing his request to forgo the ordinary procedure. Lastly, there was no public-interest consideration which militated against such a waiver. The Court therefore finds that this limb of the complaint is ill-founded. ...” 43. At the same time, the Third Section decided to give notice to the Government of the complaint concerning the applicant's life sentence, asking them a question relating to compliance with the principles set forth in Article 7 of the Convention (“Was the applicant sentenced, in breach of Article 7 of the Convention, to a heavier penalty than the one applicable at the time when the offence was committed?”). The operative part of the partial decision of 8 September 2005 reads as follows: “For these reasons, the Court, unanimously, Adjourns its examination of the applicant's complaint under Article 7 of the Convention; Declares the remainder of the application inadmissible.” 44. However, in its final decision on admissibility of 13 May 2008 the Second Section said: “The Court notes first of all that the applicant's complaints do not exclusively concern the alleged infringement of the nulla poena sine lege principle, as enshrined in Article 7 of the Convention, but also the question whether the provisions introduced by Legislative Decree no. 341 of 24 November 2000 infringed the principles of fair trial as guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. ... The Court considers, in the light of all the arguments of the parties, that these complaints raise serious questions of fact and of law which cannot be settled at this stage of the examination of the application but require an examination of the merits; it follows that these complaints cannot be declared manifestly ill-founded, within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. No other ground of inadmissibility has been found.” 45. The Government argued that the two decisions cited above were in contradiction with each other in that the complaint under Article 6 about the fact that the applicant had been convicted under the summary procedure had been rejected by means of a decision against which no appeal lay, that being surely incompatible with the Court's intention to look into “the question whether the provisions introduced by Legislative Decree no. 341 of 24 November 2000 infringed the principles of fair trial”. Moreover, before the decision on admissibility no specific question relating to compliance with Article 6 of the Convention had been put to the Government by the Court's Registry, so that the Government had been prevented from submitting detailed observations on the admissibility and merits of the complaint in question. 46. In the light of the foregoing considerations, the Government submitted that the merits of the complaint relating to Article 6 of the Convention should not be examined. 2. The applicant's reply 47. The applicant rejected the Government's argument. He observed that the Court was master of the characterisation to be given in law to the facts and could decide to examine the complaints submitted to it under more than one of the Convention's provisions. 3. The Court's assessment 48. The Grand Chamber recalls first of all that the scope of its jurisdiction in cases submitted to it is limited only by the Chamber's decision on admissibility (see Perna v. Italy [GC], no. 48898/99, § 23, ECHR 2003-V, and Azinas v. Cyprus [GC], no. 56679/00, § 32, ECHR 2004-III). Within the compass thus delimited, the Grand Chamber may deal with any issue of fact or law that arises during the proceedings before it (see, among many other authorities, Philis v. Greece (no. 1), 27 August 1991, § 56, Series A no. 209, and Guerra and Others v. Italy, 19 February 1998, § 44 in fine, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-I). 49. In its partial decision of 8 September 2005 on the admissibility of the application the Court's Third Section declared inadmissible three complaints under Article 6 of the Convention. These related in particular to: (a) the fact that the applicant had been unable to meet his lawyer in the premises intended for that purpose; (b) the fact that the applicant had not been able to take part in the appeal hearing; and (c) the applicant's allegation that his choice of the summary procedure, entailing the waiver of certain procedural rights, had not been voluntary. 50. The Grand Chamber observes that none of the above complaints was ultimately declared admissible and that the Government's fears in that respect are unfounded. Those aspects of the applicant's right to a fair trial are therefore not part of the “case” submitted to it. 51. It should be noted, however, that the partial decision of 8 September 2005 also mentioned a fourth complaint under Article 6, concerning the fact that the applicant had been sentenced to life imprisonment. The Court's Third Section took the view that that complaint “relate[d] to the same matter as the complaint concerning Article 7 of the Convention and must therefore be examined under the latter provision”. 52. When notice of the application was given to the Government the parties were therefore asked to submit observations on whether the applicant's life sentence had breached Article 7 of the Convention. Subsequently, in the applicant's observations in reply to those of the Government, he put forward arguments relating to a violation of the principles of fair trial. In particular, he alleged that when he opted for the summary procedure he entered into an agreement with the State whereby he waived part of his procedural safeguards in exchange for the substitution of a thirty-year sentence for life imprisonment in the event of his conviction. He contended that the State's failure to honour that agreement had been incompatible with Article 6 of the Convention. 53. The Court observes that under the terms of Article 32 of the Convention its jurisdiction “[extends] to all matters concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention and the protocols thereto which are referred to it as provided in Articles 33, 34 and 47” and that “in the event of dispute as to whether the Court has jurisdiction”, the decision is a matter for the Court. 54. Since the Court is master of the characterisation to be given in law to the facts of the case, it does not consider itself bound by the characterisation given by the applicant or the Government. By virtue of the jura novit curia principle, it has, for example, considered of its own motion complaints under Articles or paragraphs not relied on by the parties and even under a provision in respect of which the Commission had declared the complaint to be inadmissible while declaring it admissible under a different one. A complaint is characterised by the facts alleged in it and not merely by the legal grounds or arguments relied on (see Powell and Rayner v. the United Kingdom, 21 February 1990, § 29, Series A no. 172, and Guerra and Others, cited above, § 44). 55. It follows that by taking the view that it was appropriate to examine whether the provisions introduced by Legislative Decree no. 341 of 24 November 2000 had also “infringed the principles of fair trial as guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention”, the Court's Second Section did no more than use its right to characterise the applicant's complaint and to examine it under more than one Convention provision. Such a reclassification, which took into account, among other considerations, the applicant's new arguments, cannot be considered arbitrary. Moreover, given that the complaint concerning the applicant's life sentence was never rejected, it is not caught by the principle that a decision to declare a complaint inadmissible is final and that no appeal lies against it. 56. Lastly, with regard to the Government's argument that there had been a breach of the adversarial nature of the procedure before the Court (see paragraph 45 above), it should be noted that the applicant's observations and the final decision on admissibility were communicated to the Government. They therefore had the opportunity before the Grand Chamber to submit any argument to the effect that the complaint relating to Article 6 was inadmissible or ill-founded. In that connection, the Grand Chamber reiterates that even after a Chamber decision to declare a complaint admissible it may, where appropriate, examine issues relating to its admissibility, for example by virtue of Article 35 § 4 in fine of the Convention, which empowers the Court to “reject any application which it considers inadmissible ... at any stage of the proceedings”, or where such issues have been joined to the merits or where they are otherwise relevant at the merits stage (see K. and T. v. Finland [GC], no. 25702/94, §§ 140-141, ECHR 2001-VII, and Perna, cited above, §§ 23-24). Thus, even at the merits stage, subject to Rule 55 of the Rules of Court, the Grand Chamber may reconsider a decision to declare an application admissible where it concludes that it should have been declared inadmissible for one of the reasons given in the first three paragraphs of Article 35 of the Convention (see Azinas, cited above, § 32). 57. It follows that there is no reason why the Grand Chamber should not examine the case submitted to it from the standpoint of Article 6 also. The Government's preliminary objection must therefore be rejected. B. Whether the Court's Second Section was entitled to relinquish jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber 58. The Government further submitted that the intention expressed by the Second Section on 13 May 2008 to relinquish jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber was hard to reconcile with the adoption of a final decision on admissibility. In addition, they argued, that decision contradicted the partial decision and was capable of “prejudicing whatever view of the case the Grand Chamber might take”. 59. The Court observes that, under the terms of Article 30 of the Convention, “where a case pending before a Chamber raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention ... the Chamber may, at any time before it has rendered its judgment, relinquish jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber”. At the time when the Court's Second Section expressed its intention to relinquish jurisdiction in the present case it had not yet rendered its judgment. Moreover, it is not for the Grand Chamber to return to the issue whether the case raises a “serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention”. In any event, it is hard to understand how the decision to declare the application admissible could “prejudice the assessment” of the Grand Chamber. In that connection, it should be pointed out that, as mentioned above, the Grand Chamber may examine issues relating to the admissibility of the complaints submitted to it (see paragraph 56 above). Lastly, if the Government were of the opinion that the proposal to relinquish jurisdiction was not correct, they could have objected by virtue of Article 30 in fine of the Convention. However, after lodging such an objection, they withdrew it of their own accord (see paragraph 4 in fine above). 60. In the light of the foregoing, the Court considers that the Second Section's decisions to declare the application admissible and to relinquish jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber were adopted in accordance with the Convention and its Rules and do not prejudice the further examination of the case. II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 7 OF THE CONVENTION 61. The applicant considered that his life sentence had breached Article 7 of the Convention, which provides: “1. No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed. 2. This article shall not prejudice the trial and punishment of any person for any act or omission which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles of law recognised by civilised nations.” A. The Government's plea of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies 62. The Government repeated the objection of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies which they had raised before the Chamber. They alleged that in the Court of Cassation the applicant did not rely on the principle of non-retrospectiveness of the criminal law but merely asserted that the penalty applicable to the offences with which he had been charged was not life imprisonment. 1. The Chamber's decision 63. In its final decision of 13 May 2008 on the admissibility of the application, the Court's Second Section dismissed the Government's preliminary objection, observing that in his appeal on points of law the applicant had contended that the penalty of life imprisonment should not have been imposed on him; in addition, in his extraordinary appeal on the ground of factual error he had alleged that his sentence breached Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention. That being so, the Chamber ruled that the applicant had raised before the Court of Cassation, at least in substance, the complaints he intended to make subsequently at international level, and that he had made normal use of the remedies which he considered effective. 2. Arguments of the parties (a) The Government 64. The Government observed in the first place that in its partial admissibility decision of 8 September 2005 the Third Section, when summarising the applicant's arguments regarding the alleged breach of Article 7 of the Convention, expressed itself as follows: “After asserting that in his case the prosecution was not even empowered to appeal, because Article 443 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provided for such a possibility only in the event of a conviction by the preliminary investigations judge following an amendment of the charge, the applicant – who did not include this point in his grounds of appeal on points of law against the judgment of the Assize Court of Appeal – noted that ultimately he had been sentenced to a penalty which was not provided for at the time when he agreed to be tried under the summary procedure.” 65. In the Government's opinion, it was difficult to see how the applicant could have raised his complaint under Article 7 “at least in substance” if he had not presented any argument to the Court of Cassation concerning the imposition of a heavier penalty than the one provided for at the time when he agreed to stand trial under the summary procedure. In dismissing their plea of non-exhaustion the Second Section had therefore contradicted the Third Section's finding in its partial decision. 66. Moreover, the arguments put forward by the applicant in the Court of Cassation concerned the nature of the offences he had been charged with, the way the offences had been committed, aggravating or extenuating circumstances and the state of his physical and mental health. Those matters had nothing whatever to do with the allegedly unfair application of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000. The same applied to the extraordinary appeal on the ground of a factual error, which essentially concerned the alleged illegality of the decision to try the applicant in absentia in the appeal proceedings. On the other hand, he had neglected to rely in his submissions to the Court of Cassation on Article 2 § 3 of the Criminal Code, which provides that where there is a difference between the law in force at the time of the commission of an offence and later laws the law applied is the one most favourable to the accused (see paragraph 32 above). (b) The applicant 67. The applicant agreed with the Chamber's decision. 3. The Court's assessment (a) General principles 68. The Court reiterates that the purpose of the rule on exhaustion of domestic remedies is to afford the Contracting States the opportunity of preventing or putting right the violations alleged against them before those allegations are submitted to the Court (see, among many other authorities, Remli v. France, 23 April 1996, § 33, Reports 1996-II, and Selmouni v. France [GC], no. 25803/94, § 74, ECHR 1999-V). The rule is based on the assumption, reflected in Article 13 of the Convention (with which it has a close affinity), that there is an effective domestic remedy available in respect of the alleged violation (see Kudła v. Poland [GC], no. 30210/96, § 152, ECHR 2000-XI). In this way, it is an important aspect of the principle that the machinery of protection established by the Convention is subsidiary to the national systems safeguarding human rights (see Akdivar and Others v. Turkey, 16 September 1996, § 65, Reports 1996-IV). 69. The rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies must be applied with some degree of flexibility and without excessive formalism. At the same time, it normally requires that the complaints intended to be made subsequently at the international level should have been aired before the appropriate national courts, at least in substance and in compliance with the formal requirements and time-limits laid down in domestic law (see, among many other authorities, Fressoz and Roire v. France [GC], no. 29183/95, § 37, ECHR 1999-I, and Azinas, cited above, § 38). 70. However, the obligation under Article 35 requires only that an applicant should have normal recourse to the remedies likely to be effective, adequate and accessible (see Sofri and Others v. Italy (dec.), no. 37235/97, ECHR 2003-VIII). In particular, the only remedies which the Convention requires to be exhausted are those that relate to the breaches alleged and are at the same time available and sufficient. The existence of such remedies must be sufficiently certain not only in theory but also in practice, failing which they will lack the requisite accessibility and effectiveness (see Dalia v. France, 19 February 1998, § 38, Reports 1998-I). In addition, according to the “generally recognised rules of international law”, there may be special circumstances which absolve applicants from the obligation to exhaust the domestic remedies at their disposal (see Aksoy v. Turkey, 18 December 1996, § 52, Reports 1996-VI). However, the existence of mere doubts as to the prospects of success of a particular remedy which is not obviously futile is not a valid reason for failing to exhaust domestic remedies (see Brusco v. Italy (dec.), no. 69789/01, ECHR 2001-IX, and Sardinas Albo v. Italy (dec.), no. 56271/00, ECHR 2004-I). 71. Lastly, Article 35 § 1 of the Convention provides for a distribution of the burden of proof. As far as the Government is concerned, where it claims non-exhaustion it must satisfy the Court that the remedy was an effective one available in theory and in practice at the relevant time, that is to say, that it was accessible, was capable of providing redress in respect of the applicant's complaints and offered reasonable prospects of success (see Akdivar and Others, cited above, § 68, and Sejdovic v. Italy [GC], no. 56581/00, § 46, ECHR 2006-II). (b) Application of the above principles in the present case 72. The Court observes first of all that, contrary to the Government's assertion (see paragraphs 64-65 above), the Third Section in its partial admissibility decision did not prejudge the question whether domestic remedies had been exhausted. It did no more than make a brief remark, when summarising the applicant's arguments under Article 7 of the Convention, concerning the fact that his grounds of appeal contained no argument on a specific point. It should also be noted that, in the event, it decided to give notice of this complaint to the Government. That decision does not support the Government's contention that this complaint should be rejected for failure to comply with the obligations arising from Article 35 § 1 of the Convention. 73. As regards the question whether remedies were exhausted, the Court observes that, in his appeal against his conviction at first instance the applicant's chief submission was that he should be acquitted on the ground that his conduct had not been intentional or that, at the time when the offences were committed, he was incapable of understanding the wrongful nature of his acts and of forming the intent to commit them. In the alternative, he requested a reduction of his sentence (see paragraph 16 above). In his appeal on points of law the applicant complained of being convicted in his absence, repeated his arguments concerning the absence of criminal intent and his mental state, contested an aggravating circumstance and asked the Court of Cassation to acknowledge the existence of extenuating circumstances (see paragraphs 22-23 above). 74. The Court takes the view that the applicant presented argument, in accordance with the formalities prescribed by Italian law, in support of his contention, among other complaints, that the sentence imposed on him was excessive. On the other hand, he did not contest, either in his first appeal or in his appeal on points of law, the allegedly retrospective application of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000. The Government rightly pointed to that fact (see paragraph 66 above). It is true that the applicant did present arguments in support of the contention that the application of Legislative Decree no. 341 to his detriment had breached Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention in the context of his extraordinary appeal on the ground of a factual error (see paragraph 25 above); nevertheless, an extraordinary appeal is a means of obtaining, as an exceptional measure, the reopening of proceedings that have been terminated by a final decision on account of a manifest factual error on the part of the Court of Cassation. It was, therefore, not capable of remedying the applicant's complaints concerning the incompatibility between the provisions of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 and his Convention rights (see, mutatis mutandis, Çinar v. Turkey (dec.), no. 28602/95, 13 November 2003). 75. It remains to be determined, however, whether grounds of appeal on questions of fact or law that the applicant might possibly have relied on with regard to the allegedly retrospective imposition of life imprisonment and its negative repercussions on the fairness of the proceedings had any prospects of success. In that connection, Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 had the force of law in the Italian legal system and that the judges of the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation were required to apply it in proceedings before them. It should also be pointed out that, in the Italian system, an individual is not entitled to apply directly to the Constitutional Court: only a court which is hearing the merits of a case has the possibility of making a reference to the Constitutional Court, at the request of a party or of its own motion. Accordingly, such an application cannot be a remedy whose exhaustion is required under the Convention (see Brozicek v. Italy, 19 December 1989, § 34, Series A no. 167, and C.I.G.L. and Cofferati v. Italy, no. 46967/07, § 48, 24 February 2009). 76. The Court observes that the Government submitted that the applicant could have relied on Article 2 § 3 of the Criminal Code, which set forth the principle of the retrospective application of the criminal law more favourable to the accused (see paragraphs 32 and 66 above). However, even supposing that such a principle could apply to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, it should be noted that Article 2 of the Criminal Code is only a provision of ordinary law, set out in a code adopted in 1930. Under Italian law, more recent laws may, as a general rule, derogate from previous laws. The Government did not argue that such a rule was not applicable in the present case, and have failed to explain why a subsequent law, such as Legislative Decree no. 341, might not have legitimately derogated from Article 2 of the Criminal Code. Moreover, they did not produce any example of cases in which that provision had been successfully relied on in a situation comparable with that of the applicant. Nor have the Government established that it was possible to avoid application of Legislative Decree no. 341 on the ground that it was incompatible with the Convention. 77. In the light of the foregoing, the Court considers that the Government have not established that the remedies the applicant could have used to contest the application of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 had any prospects of success. 78. It follows that the Government's preliminary objection on the ground of non-exhaustion cannot be accepted. B. Merits of the complaint 1. Arguments of the parties 79. The applicant alleged that Article 7 of the Convention had been breached in three different respects, summarised below. (a) Allegedly retrospective application of criminal law (i) The applicant's argument 80. The applicant noted in the first place that, according to the case-law of the Italian courts (Court of Cassation, combined divisions, judgment of 6 March 1992 in the Merletti case), Article 442 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which sets out the penalty to be imposed when the summary procedure has been adopted is – despite its inclusion in the CCP – a provision of substantive criminal law. He argued that, unlike the provisions examined by the Grand Chamber in the Kafkaris v. Cyprus case (no. 21906/04, 12 February 2008), that clause did not concern the procedure for execution of sentence but the fixing of the sentence. It should therefore be considered a “criminal law” for the purposes of Article 7 of the Convention. 81. The applicant emphasised that the last hearing before the Rome preliminary hearings judge began on 24 November 2000 at 10.19 a.m. (see paragraph 12 above). The preliminary hearings judge gave judgment immediately after the hearing. On the same day Legislative Decree no. 341 was published in the Official Gazette and came into force. The Official Gazette appeared during the afternoon (see paragraph 33 above). The applicant argued on that basis that when the preliminary hearings judge gave judgment Legislative Decree no. 341 was not yet in force and could not have been known of. 82. The applicant accordingly submitted that he had been the victim of a retrospective application of the criminal law since he had first been sentenced to thirty years' imprisonment and then, pursuant to Legislative Decree no. 341, to life imprisonment. (ii) The Government's arguments 83. The Government rejected that argument, observing that Article 7 of the Convention did no more than prohibit any retrospective application of criminal law in relation to “the time the criminal offence was committed”. They observed that the provisions of the Criminal Code which established penalties for the offences of which the applicant was convicted had not been amended after 2 September 1999, the date when they were committed. They noted in particular that the offences concerned were punishable by life imprisonment with daytime isolation and that the penalty imposed by the national courts had not exceeded that limit. 84. The provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure should not be taken into account when examining the term penalty contained in Article 7, as it would be inappropriate to enable an individual to weigh up the consequences of a crime he might commit by calculating what reduction of sentence he might be entitled to depending on his choice of procedure. Such an approach would make it impossible to amend the CCP. The nullum crimen sine lege principle concerned only the provisions of substantive criminal law, whereas procedural provisions were normally retrospective, being governed by the tempus regit actum principle. Any other finding would amount to granting a reduction of sentence every time the provisions of the CCP were repealed or amended. Moreover, unlike Article 6, which applied to criminal matters (“matière pénale” in the French version), Article 7 of the Convention referred to “the criminal offence”. That showed that Article 7 concerned only criminal law, not procedural rules. 85. In any event, the procedural rules had not been applied retrospectively to the applicant's detriment. The Government observed in that connection that at the time when the crimes were committed (on 2 September 1999), the law did not provide for the possibility of requesting the summary procedure when the offences charged were punishable with life imprisonment. That possibility had been introduced only by Law no. 479 of 16 December 1999. The purpose of the principle enshrined in Article 7 of the Convention was to ensure that offenders knew in advance what acts engaged their criminal responsibility and what penalties they might make themselves liable to, and it could not be accepted that an individual should also be able to take decisions about whether to commit an offence with an eye to what might happen subsequently. (b) Alleged infringement of the principle of the retrospective application of the more lenient criminal law (i) The applicant's argument 86. The applicant submitted that Article 7 of the Convention guaranteed not only the non-retrospectiveness of the criminal law but also the principle – set forth explicitly in Article 15 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, by Article 49 of the European Union's Charter of Fundamental rights and by Article 9 of the American Convention on Human Rights (see paragraphs 35-37 above) – that, in the event of a difference between the law in force at the time of the commission of an offence and later laws, the law to be applied was the law more favourable to the accused. That meant that Article 7 was breached whenever courts imposed a heavier penalty than the one prescribed by the law in force at any time between the commission of the offence and the delivery of judgment. The applicant referred on that point to the dissenting opinion of Judge Popović annexed to the Achour v. France judgment ([GC], no 67335/01, ECHR 2006-..). 87. He pointed out that in the present case the Code of Criminal Procedure, as amended by Law no. 479 of 1999, provided from 2 January 2000 that where the summary procedure was adopted for offences punishable by life imprisonment (with or without isolation), that penalty was to be replaced with thirty years' imprisonment. However, Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 had changed the applicable penalty to the defendant's detriment, requiring a sentence of life imprisonment without isolation. As a result, following an appeal on points of law by the Principal Public Prosecutor, the penalty imposed at first instance had been increased to life imprisonment, which was not the penalty prescribed by the law in force at the time when the applicant had agreed to be tried under the summary procedure. 88. The applicant submitted that the retrospective application of a provision imposing a “heavier penalty” could not be justified by the fact that the Italian parliament had described Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 as a “law of authentic interpretation”. Any other conclusion would be incompatible with the principle of the rule of law. Moreover, Legislative Decree no. 341 had not provided an interpretation of the CCP, whose provisions were clear; they had previously been interpreted in the sense that the words “life imprisonment” designated any sentence of imprisonment for life, whether with or without daytime isolation. In reality parliament had used a subterfuge in order to change the rules on the severity of sentence in the context of trial under the summary procedure. That was evidenced by the numerous criticisms made of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 at the time when it was converted into statute law. (ii) The Government's arguments 89. The Government rejected that argument. They observed that, unlike Article 15 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7 of the Convention did not set forth the right to retrospective application of the more lenient criminal law. (c) Alleged lack of clarity of the law on the basis of which the sentence of life imprisonment was imposed (i) The applicant's argument 90. The applicant observed that, if the Court were to accept the Government's argument that Article 442 of the CCP, as amended by Law no. 479 of 1999, was an unclear provision requiring official interpretation, it would have to find a violation of the Convention on the ground that the relevant criminal law lacked clarity and foreseeability. That much was proved by the fact that, in his case, the preliminary hearings judge had interpreted it in the sense that the appropriate sentence was thirty years' imprisonment, whereas the Assize Court of Appeal, with the assistance of the “authentic interpretation” provided by the Government, had decided that life imprisonment was the correct sentence. (ii) The Government's arguments 91. The Government submitted that Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 was a genuine law of interpretation, meaning a law intended to settle a contested point in domestic law, on which the national courts had given different rulings. 2. The Court's assessment (a) Interpretation of Article 7 of the Convention in the Court's case-law (i) The nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege principle 92. The guarantee enshrined in Article 7, which is an essential element of the rule of law, occupies a prominent place in the Convention system of protection, as is underlined by the fact that no derogation from it is permissible under Article 15 of the Convention in time of war or other public emergency. It should be construed and applied, as follows from its object and purpose, in such a way as to provide effective safeguards against arbitrary prosecution, conviction and punishment (see S.W. v. the United Kingdom and C.R. v. the United Kingdom, 22 November 1995, § 34 and § 32 respectively, Series A nos. 335-B and 335-C, and Kafkaris, cited above, § 137). 93. Article 7 § 1 of the Convention goes beyond prohibition of the retrospective application of criminal law to the detriment of the accused. It also sets forth, more generally, the principle that only the law can define a crime and prescribe a penalty (nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege). While it prohibits in particular extending the scope of existing offences to acts which previously were not criminal offences, it also lays down the principle that the criminal law must not be extensively construed to an accused's detriment, for instance by analogy (see, among other authorities, Coëme and Others v. Belgium, nos. 32492/96, 32547/96, 32548/96, 33209/96 and 33210/96, § 145, ECHR 2000-VII). 94. It follows that offences and the relevant penalties must be clearly defined by law. This requirement is satisfied where the individual can know from the wording of the relevant provision and, if need be, with the assistance of the courts' interpretation of it, what acts and omissions will make him criminally liable (see Kokkinakis v. Greece, 25 May 1993, § 52, Series A no. 260-A; Achour, cited above, § 41; and Sud Fondi Srl and Others v. Italy, no. 75909/01, § 107, 20 January 2009). 95. The Court must therefore verify that at the time when an accused person performed the act which led to his being prosecuted and convicted there was in force a legal provision which made that act punishable, and that the punishment imposed did not exceed the limits fixed by that provision (see Coëme and Others, cited above, § 145, and Achour, cited above, § 43). (ii) The notion of “penalty” 96. The notion of “penalty” in Article 7 § 1 of the Convention, like those of “civil rights and obligations” and “criminal charge” in Article 6 § 1, has an autonomous meaning (see in particular, regarding “civil rights”, X v. France, 31 March 1992, § 28, Series A no. 234-C, and, on the subject of “criminal charges”, Demicoli v. Malta, 27 August 1991, § 31, Series A no. 210). To render the protection offered by Article 7 effective, the Court must remain free to go behind appearances and assess for itself whether a particular measure amounts in substance to a “penalty” within the meaning of this provision (see Welch v. the United Kingdom, 9 February 1995, § 27, Series A no. 307-A). 97. The wording of Article 7 § 1, second sentence, indicates that the starting-point in any assessment of the existence of a penalty is whether the measure in question is imposed following conviction for a “criminal offence”. Other factors that may be taken into account as relevant in this connection are the nature and purpose of the measure in question; its characterisation under national law; the procedures involved in the making and implementation of the measure; and its severity (see Welch, cited above, § 28). 98. Both the Commission and the Court in their case-law have drawn a distinction between a measure that constitutes in substance a “penalty” and a measure that concerns the “execution” or “enforcement” of the “penalty”. In consequence, where the nature and purpose of a measure relates to the remission of a sentence or a change in a regime for early release, this does not form part of the “penalty” within the meaning of Article 7 (see Kafkaris, cited above, § 142). (iii) Foreseeability of the criminal law 99. When speaking of “law” Article 7 alludes to the very same concept as that to which the Convention refers elsewhere when using that term, a concept which comprises statute law as well as case-law and implies qualitative requirements, including those of accessibility and foreseeability (see Kokkinakis, cited above, §§ 40-41, Cantoni v. France, 15 November 1996, § 29, Reports 1996-V, Coëme and Others, cited above, § 145, and E.K. v. Turkey, no. 28496/95, § 51, 7 February 2002). 100. In consequence of the principle that laws must be of general application, the wording of statutes is not always precise. One of the standard techniques of regulation by rules is to use general categorisations as opposed to exhaustive lists. That means that many laws are inevitably couched in terms which, to a greater or lesser extent are vague, and their interpretation and application depend on practice (see Cantoni, cited above, § 31, and Kokkinakis, cited above, § 40). Consequently, in any system of law, however clearly drafted a legal provision may be, including a criminal law provision, there is an inevitable element of judicial interpretation. There will always be a need for elucidation of doubtful points and for adaptation to changing circumstances. Again, whilst certainty is highly desirable, it may bring in its train excessive rigidity and the law must be able to keep pace with changing circumstances. 101. The role of adjudication vested in the courts is precisely to dissipate such interpretational doubts as remain (see Kafkaris, cited above, § 141). Moreover, it is a firmly established part of the legal tradition of the States party to the Convention that case-law, as one of the sources of the law, necessarily contributes to the gradual development of the criminal law (see Kruslin v. France, 24 April 1990, § 29, Series A no. 176-A). Article 7 of the Convention cannot be read as outlawing the gradual clarification of the rules of criminal liability through judicial interpretation from case to case, provided that the resultant development is consistent with the essence of the offence and could reasonably be foreseen (see Streletz, Kessler and Krenz v. Germany [GC], nos. 34044/96, 35532/97 and 44801/98, § 50, ECHR 2001-II). 102. Foreseeability depends to a considerable degree on the content of the law concerned, the field it is designed to cover and the number and status of those to whom it is addressed. A law may still satisfy the requirement of “foreseeability” where the person concerned has to take appropriate legal advice to assess, to a degree that is reasonable in the circumstances, the consequences which a given action may entail (see Achour, cited above, § 54). 103. In 1978 the European Commission of Human Rights expressed the opinion that, unlike Article 15 § 1 in fine of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7 of the Convention did not guarantee the right to a more lenient penalty provided for in a law subsequent to the offence (see X v. Germany, no. 7900/77, Commission decision of 6 March 1978, Decisions and Reports (DR) 13, pp. 70-72). It accordingly declared manifestly ill-founded the complaint of an applicant who alleged that, after their commission, some of the offences he had been charged with had been decriminalised. That ruling has been repeated by the Court, which has reiterated that Article 7 does not afford the right of an offender to application of a more favourable criminal law (see Le Petit v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 35574/97, 5 December 2000, and Zaprianov v. Bulgaria (dec.), no. 41171/98, 6 March 2003). 104. While the Court is not formally bound to follow any of its previous judgments, it is in the interests of legal certainty, foreseeability and equality before the law that it should not depart, without cogent reason, from precedents laid down in previous cases (see, for example, Chapman v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 27238/95, § 70, ECHR 2001-I). Since the Convention is first and foremost a system for the protection of human rights, the Court must however have regard to the changing conditions in the respondent State and in the Contracting States in general and respond, for example, to any emerging consensus as to the standards to be achieved (see, among other judgments, Cossey v. the United Kingdom, 27 September 1990, § 35, Series A no. 184, and Stafford v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 46295/99, §§ 67-68, ECHR-2002-IV). It is of crucial importance that the Convention is interpreted and applied in a manner which renders its rights practical and effective, not theoretical and illusory. A failure by the Court to maintain a dynamic and evolutive approach would risk rendering it a bar to reform or improvement (see Stafford, cited above, § 68, and Christine Goodwin v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 28957/95, § 74, ECHR 2002-VI). 105. The Court considers that a long time has elapsed since the Commission gave the above-mentioned X v. Germany decision and that during that time there have been important developments internationally. In particular, apart from the entry into force of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 9 of which guarantees the retrospective effect of a law providing for a more lenient penalty enacted after the commission of the relevant offence (see paragraph 36 above), mention should be made of the proclamation of the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights. The wording of Article 49 § 1 of the Charter differs – and this can only be deliberate (see, mutatis mutandis, Christine Goodwin, cited above, § 100 in fine) – from that of Article 7 of the Convention in that it states: “If, subsequent to the commission of a criminal offence, the law provides for a lighter penalty, that penalty shall be applicable” (see paragraph 37 above). In the case of Berlusconi and Others, the Court of Justice of the European Communities, whose ruling was endorsed by the French Court of Cassation (see paragraph 39 above), held that this principle formed part of the constitutional traditions common to the member States (see paragraph 38 above). Lastly, the applicability of the more lenient criminal law was set forth in the statute of the International Criminal Court and affirmed in the case-law of the ICTY (see paragraphs 40 and 41 above). 106. The Court therefore concludes that since the X v. Germany decision a consensus has gradually emerged in Europe and internationally around the view that application of a criminal law providing for a more lenient penalty, even one enacted after the commission of the offence, has become a fundamental principle of criminal law. It is also significant that the legislation of the respondent State had recognised that principle since 1930 (see Article 2 § 3 of the Criminal Code, cited in paragraph 32 above). 107. Admittedly, Article 7 of the Convention does not expressly mention an obligation for Contracting States to grant an accused the benefit of a change in the law subsequent to the commission of the offence. It was precisely on the basis of that argument relating to the wording of the Convention that the Commission rejected the applicant's complaint in the case of X v. Germany. However, taking into account the developments mentioned above, the Court cannot regard that argument as decisive. Moreover, it observes that in prohibiting the imposition of “a heavier penalty ... than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed”, paragraph 1 in fine of Article 7 does not exclude granting the accused the benefit of a more lenient sentence, prescribed by legislation subsequent to the offence. 108. In the Court's opinion, it is consistent with the principle of the rule of law, of which Article 7 forms an essential part, to expect a trial court to apply to each punishable act the penalty which the legislator considers proportionate. Inflicting a heavier penalty for the sole reason that it was prescribed at the time of the commission of the offence would mean applying to the defendant's detriment the rules governing the succession of criminal laws in time. In addition, it would amount to disregarding any legislative change favourable to the accused which might have come in before the conviction and continuing to impose penalties which the State – and the community it represents – now consider excessive. The Court notes that the obligation to apply, from among several criminal laws, the one whose provisions are the most favourable to the accused is a clarification of the rules on the succession of criminal laws, which is in accord with another essential element of Article 7, namely the foreseeability of penalties. 109. In the light of the foregoing considerations, the Court takes the view that it is necessary to depart from the case-law established by the Commission in the case of X v. Germany and affirm that Article 7 § 1 of the Convention guarantees not only the principle of non-retrospectiveness of more stringent criminal laws but also, and implicitly, the principle of retrospectiveness of the more lenient criminal law. That principle is embodied in the rule that where there are differences between the criminal law in force at the time of the commission of the offence and subsequent criminal laws enacted before a final judgment is rendered, the courts must apply the law whose provisions are most favourable to the defendant. (c) Whether Article 442 of the CCP contains provisions of substantive criminal law 110. The Court reiterates that the rules on retrospectiveness set out in Article 7 of the Convention apply only to provisions defining offences and the penalties for them; on the other hand, in other cases, the Court has held that it is reasonable for domestic courts to apply the tempus regit actum principle with regard to procedural laws (see, with reference to new regulations on time-limits for appeals, Mione v. Italy (dec.), no. 7856/02, 12 February 2004, and Rasnik v. Italy (dec.), no. 45989/06, 10 July 2007; see also Martelli v. Italy (dec.), no. 20402/03, 12 April 2007, concerning implementation of a law containing new rules on the assessment of evidence, and Coëme and Others, cited above, §§ 147-149, on the immediate application to pending proceedings of laws amending the rules on limitation). The Court must therefore determine whether the text which, in the present case, underwent the legislative changes complained of, namely Article 442 § 2 of the CCP, contained provisions of substantive criminal law, and in particular provisions influencing the length of the sentence to be imposed. 111. The Court notes that Article 442 is part of the Code of Criminal Procedure, whose provisions normally govern the procedure for the prosecution and trial of offenders. However, the classification in domestic law of the legislation concerned cannot be decisive. Although it is true that Articles 438 and 441 to 443 of the CCP describe the scope and procedural stages of the summary procedure, paragraph 2 of Article 442 is entirely concerned with the length of the sentence to be imposed when the trial is conducted in accordance with that simplified process. In particular, at the time when the applicant committed the offences, Article 442 § 2 provided that, in the event of conviction, the penalty fixed by the court was to be reduced by one-third. Law no. 479 of 1999, which came into force before the preliminary hearing in the applicant's case, then specified that life imprisonment was to be replaced by thirty years' imprisonment (see paragraph 29 above). 112. There is no doubt that the penalties mentioned in Article 442 § 2 of the CCP were those to be imposed following conviction for a criminal offence (see Welch, cited above, § 28), that they were qualified as “criminal” in domestic law and that their purpose was both deterrent and punitive. In addition, they constituted the “penalty” imposed for the acts with which the defendant was charged, and not measures concerning the “execution” or “enforcement” of a penalty (see Kafkaris, cited above, § 142). 113. In the light of the foregoing, the Court considers that Article 442 § 2 of the CCP is a provision of substantive criminal law concerning the length of the sentence to be imposed in the event of conviction following trial under the summary procedure. It therefore falls within the scope of the last sentence of Article 7 § 1 of the Convention. (d) Whether the applicant was granted the benefit of the more lenient criminal law 114. The applicant did not dispute that at the time when he committed the offences (on 2 September 1999) the acts he stood accused of were punishable by life imprisonment with daytime isolation and that, in view of the Constitutional Court's judgment no. 176 of 1991 (see paragraph 28 above), that was an impediment to adoption of the summary procedure. 115. However, the impediment was removed four months later, on 2 January 2000, while the criminal proceedings against the applicant were pending at the preliminary investigations stage, through the entry into force of Law no. 479 of 1999. As noted above, section 30 of Law no. 479 amended Article 442 of the CCP by providing that in the event of conviction following trial under the summary procedure, “life imprisonment [was to be] replaced by thirty years' imprisonment” (see paragraph 29 above). Having regard to the fact that, at the applicant's request, the preliminary hearings judge subsequently agreed to apply the summary procedure (see paragraphs 11 and 12 above), the Court considers that section 30 of Law no. 479 of 1999 is a subsequent criminal-law provision prescribing a more lenient penalty. Article 7 of the Convention, as interpreted in the present judgment (see paragraph 109 above), therefore required the applicant to be granted the benefit thereof. 116. That, moreover, is what happened in the first-instance proceedings. In a judgment of 24 November 2000 the Rome preliminary hearings judge sentenced the applicant to thirty years' imprisonment, granting him the reduction of sentence provided for in Article 442 § 2 of the CCP, as amended by Law no. 479 of 1999 (see paragraph 13 above). 117. However, that application in favour of the accused of a provision prescribing a more lenient penalty which had come into force after the commission of the offences was set aside by the Rome Court of Appeal and by the Court of Cassation. Those courts took the view that it was necessary to apply Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000, which specified that, where there were cumulative offences, if an offender was liable – like the applicant – to life imprisonment with daytime isolation, that penalty was to be replaced not by thirty years' imprisonment but by life imprisonment without isolation (see paragraphs 19-21, 24, 30 and 31 above). 118. The Court cannot accept the Government's argument that Legislative Decree no. 341 was not a provision introducing new rules on the penalty applicable in the context of the summary procedure but a law interpreting earlier legislation (see paragraph 91 above). In that connection, it observes that, as amended by Law no. 479 of 1999, Article 442 § 2 of the CCP did not contain any particular ambiguity; it clearly stated that life imprisonment was to be replaced by thirty years' imprisonment, and made no distinction between life imprisonment with and life imprisonment without daytime isolation. Moreover, the Government have not produced any examples of judicial decisions which could be alleged to have been based on conflicting interpretations of Article 442. 119. It follows that the applicant was given a heavier sentence than the one prescribed by the law which, of all the laws in force during the period between the commission of the offence and delivery of the final judgment, was most favourable to him. (e) Conclusion 120. In the light of the foregoing, the Court considers that the respondent State failed to discharge its obligation to grant the applicant the benefit of the provision prescribing a more lenient penalty which had come into force after the commission of the offence. 121. It follows that in this case there has been a violation of Article 7 § 1 of the Convention. III. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONVENTION 122. The Court reiterates its finding that it has jurisdiction to examine the facts that gave rise to the complaint declared admissible from the standpoint of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention also (see paragraph 57 above). 123. The relevant parts of that provision read as follows: “In the determination of ... any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a] ... tribunal ...” 124. The Government rejected this complaint. A. The Government's plea of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies 125. The Government observed that the applicant had not availed himself of the possibility of withdrawing his request for adoption of the summary procedure, provided for in Article 8 § 2 of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 (see paragraph 31 above). Under the terms of Article 8 § 2 the applicant had until 21 February 2001 to exercise his right to withdraw his request, and if he had done so he would have been entitled to an ordinary trial attended by all the safeguards enshrined in Article 6 of the Convention. 126. The Court considers that the Government's objection raises questions closely bound up with those raised by the applicant's complaint under Article 6 of the Convention. It therefore decides to join the plea of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies to the merits (see, mutatis mutandis and among many other authorities, Isaak v. Turkey, no. 44587/98, § 78, 24 June 2008). B. Merits of the complaint 1. Arguments of the parties (a) The applicant 127. The applicant submitted that the circumstances that had led to the violation of Article 7 of the Convention had also breached the principles of fair trial. In February 2000 he had opted for the summary procedure, and in doing so had waived a number of procedural safeguards, because he knew, on the basis of the Code of Criminal Procedure in force at the time, that in the event of his conviction he would be punished by thirty years' imprisonment and not a life sentence. However, the CCP had been amended unfavourably, and in exchange for his waiver he had not been granted a reduction of his sentence (the only advantage being that he had avoided daytime isolation). But adoption of the summary procedure implied a “public-law contract” between the defendant and the State; once entered into, that “contract” could not be rescinded or varied unilaterally. 128. The applicant observed that when Legislative Decree no. 341 came into force and when it was converted into statute law, he was in prison. He was therefore not aware of the possibility of withdrawing his request for adoption of the summary procedure, which related to the exercise of a personal right of the defendant. The possibility had not been mentioned in the prosecution's appeal on points of law. As he was not familiar with the finer points of judicial proceedings, he had not had the real possibility of reconsidering his procedural choices. The assertion in the Hermi v. Italy judgment ([GC], no. 18114/02, § 92, ECHR 2006-...), to the effect that the State could not be required to spell out in detail, at each step in the procedure, the defendant's rights and entitlements, were not relevant in the present case, which concerned the retrospective application of a heavier penalty. (b) The Government 129. The Government accepted that, at the time when the applicant requested adoption of the summary procedure (on 18 February 2000), Article 442 § 2 of the CCP provided that, if the penalty to be imposed was life imprisonment, the judge should reduce it to thirty years' imprisonment. Moreover, it was possible that when the applicant was found guilty in the first-instance judgment (24 November 2000) he was not aware of the existence of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000, which had come into force that very day. However, parliament had foreseen that eventuality and had given defendants the right to withdraw a request for adoption of the summary procedure and to elect to stand trial under the ordinary procedure instead (see Article 8 of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000, cited in paragraph 31 above). 130. The right in question had to be exercised within thirty days, beginning either with the entry into force of the Act of parliament converting Legislative Decree no. 341 into statute law (that is by 21 February 2001) or with notification of an appeal on points of law by the prosecution. The applicant had therefore had almost three months to reconsider his decision to stand trial under the summary procedure but had chosen not to avail himself of that possibility. If he had done so, the proceedings would have reverted to the preliminary hearing stage and the trial would have been conducted in accordance with the ordinary rules. 131. As Legislative Decree no. 341 had been published in the Official Gazette, it had to be considered to be known to everyone. As the Grand Chamber had held in the Hermi case (cited above), the applicant's lawyer had a statutory and professional obligation to inform his client on this subject. Moreover, the prosecution's appeal on points of law, copies of which had been sent to both the applicant and his lawyer, mentioned the new legislation. 2. The Court's assessment 132. The Court observes first of all that, in the context of civil disputes, it has repeatedly ruled that although, in principle, the legislature is not prevented from regulating, through new retrospective provisions, rights derived from the laws in force, the principle of the rule of law and the notion of fair trial enshrined in Article 6 preclude, except for compelling public-interest reasons, interference by the legislature with the administration of justice designed to influence the judicial determination of a dispute (see, among many other authorities, Stran Greek Refineries and Stratis Andreadis v. Greece, 9 December 1994, § 49, Series A no. 301-B, National & Provincial Building Society, Leeds Permanent Building Society and Yorkshire Building Society v. the United Kingdom, 23 October 1997, § 112, Reports 1997-VII, Zielinski and Pradal and Gonzalez and Others v. France [GC], nos. 24846/94 and 34165/96 to 34173/96, § 57, ECHR 1999-VII, and Scordino v. Italy (no. 1) [GC], no. 36813/97, § 126, ECHR 2006-...). The Court considers that those principles, which are essential elements of the concepts of legal certainty and protection of litigants' legitimate trust (see Unedic v. France, no. 20153/04, § 74, 18 December 2008), are applicable, mutatis mutandis, to criminal proceedings. 133. In the present case the applicant complained that, although he had opted for a simplified trial – the summary procedure – he had been deprived of the most important advantage stemming from that choice under the law in force at the time when he had made it, namely the replacement of life imprisonment with a thirty-year sentence. 134. The Court has already had occasion to examine the particular features of the summary procedure provided for in the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure. It has noted that the procedure entails undoubted advantages for the defendant: if convicted, he receives a substantially reduced sentence, and the prosecution cannot lodge an appeal against a decision to convict which does not alter the legal characterisation of the offence (see Hermi, cited above, § 78, and Hany v. Italy (dec.), no. 17543/05, 6 November 2007). However, the summary procedure also entails a diminution of the procedural safeguards afforded by domestic law, particularly public hearings and the possibility to adduce evidence and have witnesses summoned (see Kwiatkowska v. Italy (dec.), no. 52868/99, 30 November 2000). In a trial under the summary procedure the production of new evidence is in principle ruled out, as the court's decision has to be taken, subject to exceptions, on the basis of the documents contained in the file held by the Public Prosecutor's Office (see Hermi, cited above, § 87; see also paragraph 27 above). 135. The safeguards mentioned above are fundamental aspects of the right to a fair trial enshrined in Article 6 of the Convention. Neither the letter nor the spirit of Article 6 prevents a person from waiving them of his own free will, either expressly or tacitly. However, such a waiver must, if it is to be effective for Convention purposes, be established in an unequivocal manner and be attended by minimum safeguards commensurate with its importance (see Poitrimol v. France, 23 November 1993, § 31, Series A no. 277-A, and Hermi, cited above, § 73). In addition, it must not run counter to any important public interest (see Håkansson and Sturesson v. Sweden, 21 February 1990, § 66, Series A no. 171-A, and Sejdovic, cited above, § 86). 136. The Court considers that by requesting the adoption of the summary procedure the applicant – who was assisted by a lawyer of his choice, and was therefore in a position to ascertain what the consequences of his request would be – unequivocally waived his rights to a public hearing, to have witnesses called, to produce new evidence and to examine prosecution witnesses. Nor does it appear that the case raised any public-interest issues militating against such a waiver (see, mutatis mutandis, Kwiatkowska, decision cited above). 137. However, as pointed out above, the waiver was made in exchange for certain advantages, which included non-imposition of life imprisonment, as it was clear from the text of Article 442 of the CCP, as amended by Law no. 479 of 1999, that in the event of conviction under the summary procedure the sentence to be imposed was to be reduced by one-third and life imprisonment replaced by a thirty-year sentence. On the basis of that legal framework, in force at the time when he requested adoption of the simplified procedure, the applicant could legitimately expect that, thanks to the procedural choice he had made, the maximum sentence to which he was liable was a term of imprisonment not exceeding thirty years. 138. But that legitimate expectation on the applicant's part was frustrated by Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000, which provided that, where a judge considered that the appropriate sentence should be life imprisonment with daytime isolation, the penalty to be imposed should be life imprisonment without isolation. From the date of the entry into force of Legislative Decree no. 341 (24 November 2000), it was clear that that penalty could be imposed even on defendants tried under the summary procedure. Yet, the change in the rules on fixing of sentence was applied not only to defendants making new requests for trial under the summary procedure but also to persons who, like the applicant, had made that request and stood trial at first instance before the publication of Legislative Decree no. 341 in the Official Gazette. 139. The Court considers that a person charged with an offence must be able to expect the state to act in good faith and take due account of the procedural choices made by the defence, using the possibilities made available by law. It is contrary to the principle of legal certainty and the protection of the legitimate trust of persons engaged in judicial proceedings for a State to be able to reduce unilaterally the advantages attached to the waiver of certain rights inherent in the concept of fair trial. As such a waiver is made in exchange for the advantages mentioned, it cannot be regarded as fair if, once the competent domestic authorities have agreed to adopt a simplified procedure, a crucial element of the agreement between the State and the defendant is altered to the latter's detriment without his consent. In that connection, the Court notes that, although the Contracting States are not required by the Convention to provide for simplified procedures (see Hany, decision cited above), where such procedures exist and have been adopted, the principles of fair trial require that defendants should not be deprived arbitrarily of the advantages attached to them. 140. In the present case application of the provisions of Legislative Decree no. 341 after the end of the first-instance proceedings deprived the applicant of an essential advantage which was guaranteed by law and which had prompted his decision to elect to stand trial under the summary procedure. That is incompatible with the principles embodied in Article 6 of the Convention. 141. It remains to be determined whether the applicant's right under Article 8 of Legislative Decree no. 341 to withdraw his request for adoption of the summary procedure was capable of remedying the prejudice he suffered. 142. The Court observes first of all that it cannot accept the applicant's argument that because the authorities did not inform him of this right he had no real possibility of availing himself of it. It reiterates that the State cannot be made responsible for spelling out in detail, at each step in the procedure, the defendant's rights and entitlements, and that it is for the legal counsel of the accused to inform his client as to the progress of the proceedings against him and the steps to be taken in order to assert his rights (see Hermi, cited above, § 92). Although deprived of his liberty, at the time of the publication of Legislative Decree no. 341 and the appeal on points of law lodged by the prosecution, the applicant was assisted by two lawyers of his choice who, moreover, on 5 February 2001, had appealed against the first-instance judgment (see paragraph 16 above). As the Government rightly pointed out, those lawyers had received a copy of the prosecution's appeal in which Legislative Decree no. 341 was expressly mentioned. They therefore had the opportunity to inform their client about it and discuss with him the most appropriate defence against the prosecution's submissions. In addition, they had enough time (thirty days from the entry into force of the Act of parliament converting the legislative decree into statute law or from notification of the prosecution's appeal on points of law) to study the question. 143. However, it should be pointed out that if the applicant had withdrawn his request for adoption of the summary procedure, the result would have been the reopening of the proceedings against him under the ordinary procedure and the resumption of his trial at the preliminary hearing stage. He would thus have had the benefit of the rights he had waived by opting for the summary procedure, but would not have been able to compel the State to honour the agreement previously entered into, whereby the waiver of procedural safeguards was to be offered in exchange for a reduced sentence. 144. In the Court's opinion it would be excessive to require a defendant to give up the possibility of a simplified procedure accepted by the authorities which had resulted at first instance in his obtaining the advantages he had hoped for. In that connection, the Court observes that for more than nine months (from 18 February to 24 November 2000), the applicant legitimately believed that, as he had opted to stand trial under the summary procedure, the maximum sentence to which he was liable was thirty years' imprisonment, and that that legitimate expectation was frustrated by factors beyond his control, such as the length of the domestic proceedings and the adoption of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000. 145. It follows that the Government's preliminary objection on the ground of non-exhaustion (see paragraphs 125-126 above) cannot be accepted and that there has been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention. IV. APPLICATION OF ARTICLES 46 AND 41 OF THE CONVENTION A. Article 46 of the Convention 146. Article 46 provides: “1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to abide by the final judgment of the Court in any case to which they are parties. 2. The final judgment of the Court shall be transmitted to the Committee of Ministers, which shall supervise its execution.” 147. By Article 46 of the Convention the High Contracting Parties undertake to abide by the final judgments of the Court in any case to which they are parties, execution being supervised by the Committee of Ministers. It follows, inter alia, that a judgment in which the Court finds a breach imposes on the respondent State a legal obligation not just to pay those concerned the sums awarded by way of just satisfaction under Article 41, but also to choose the general and/or, if appropriate, individual measures to be adopted. As the Court's judgments are essentially declaratory, the respondent State remains free, subject to the supervision of the Committee of Ministers, to choose the means by which it will discharge its legal obligation under Article 46 of the Convention, provided that such means are compatible with the conclusions set out in the Court's judgment (see Scozzari and Giunta v. Italy [GC], nos. 39221/98 and 41963/98, § 249, ECHR 2000-VIII; Sejdovic, cited above, § 119; and Aleksanyan v. Russia, no. 46468/06, § 238, 22 December 2008). 148. However, exceptionally, with a view to helping the respondent State to fulfil its obligations under Article 46, the Court will seek to indicate the type of measure that might be taken in order to put an end to a situation it has found to exist (see, for example, Broniowski v. Poland [GC], no. 31443/96, § 194, ECHR 2004-V). In other exceptional cases, where the very nature of the violation found is such as to leave no real choice between measures capable of remedying it, the Court may decide to indicate only one such measure (see Aleksanyan, cited above, § 239, and Abbasov v. Azerbaijan, no. 24271/05, § 37, 17 January 2008). 149. In the present case, the Court does not consider it necessary to indicate general measures required at national level for the execution of its judgment. 150. As regards individual measures, the Court observes that in many cases in which it found a violation of Article 6 of the Convention because an applicant had not been tried by an independent and impartial tribunal (see, among other judgments, Gençel v. Turkey, no. 53431/99, § 27, 23 October 2003, and Tahir Duran v. Turkey, no. 40997/98, § 23, 29 January 2004), or because of an interference with the right to participate in the trial (see Somogyi v. Italy, no. 67972/01, § 86, ECHR 2004-IV, and R.R. v. Italy, no. 42191/02, § 76, 9 June 2005) or with the right to examine prosecution witnesses (see Bracci v. Italy, no. 36822/02, § 75, 13 October 2005) the Court indicated in Chamber judgments that in principle the most appropriate remedy would be for the applicant to be given a retrial without delay if he or she so requested. The Grand Chamber has endorsed the general approach taken in the cases cited above (see Öcalan v. Turkey [GC], no. 46221/99, § 210, ECHR 2005-IV, and Sejdovic, cited above, §§ 126-127). 151. Nevertheless, the aim of individual measures should be to put the applicant, as far as possible, in the position he would have been in had the requirements of the Convention not been disregarded (see Piersack v. Belgium (Article 50), 26 October 1984, § 12, Series A no. 85). A judgment in which the Court finds a violation imposes on the respondent State a legal obligation under Article 46 of the Convention to put an end to the violation found and make reparation for its consequences in such a way as to restore as far as possible the situation existing before the breach (see Menteş and Others v. Turkey (just satisfaction), 24 July 1998, § 24, Reports 1998-IV; Scozzari and Giunta, cited above, § 249; Maestri v. Italy [GC], no. 39748/98, § 47, ECHR 2004-I; and Assanidze v. Georgia [GC], no. 71503/01, § 198, ECHR 2004-II). 152. The State preserves discretion as to the manner of execution of a judgment, provided that it discharges its primary obligation under the Convention, which is to secure the rights and freedoms guaranteed (see Assanidze, cited above, § 202). At the same time, in ratifying the Convention the Contracting States undertake to ensure that their domestic legislation is compatible with it, so that it is for the respondent State to remove any obstacles in its domestic legal system that might prevent the applicant's situation from being adequately redressed (see Maestri, cited above, § 47, and Assanidze, cited above, § 198). 153. The Court has found in the present case that the retrospective application to the applicant's detriment of the provisions of Legislative Decree no. 341 of 2000 infringed the rights guaranteed by Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention. In particular, after a trial that the Court has found to have been unfair (see paragraph 145 above), the applicant received a sentence (life imprisonment) heavier than the maximum sentence to which he was liable at the time when he requested and was granted the right to be tried under the summary procedure (thirty years' imprisonment). 154. Having regard to the particular circumstances of the case and the urgent need to put an end to the breach of Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention, the Court therefore considers that the respondent State is responsible for ensuring that the applicant's sentence of life imprisonment is replaced by a penalty consistent with the principles set out in the present judgment, which is a sentence not exceeding thirty years' imprisonment. B. Article 41 of the Convention 155. Article 41 provides: “If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.” 1. Damage 156. The applicant claimed 250,000 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage. He observed that in the present case his sentence of thirty years' imprisonment had been replaced with a life sentence, which amounted to “a moral death sentence”, and moreover one imposed on him although he was seriously ill. 157. The Government did not submit observations on this point. 158. The Court considers that the applicant undoubtedly sustained non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, as required by Article 41 of the Convention, it awards him EUR 10,000 under this head. 2. Costs and expenses 159. Relying on a bill of costs made out by his lawyer, the applicant requested EUR 15,623.50 for the costs and expenses he had incurred before the Court. 160. The Government did not submit observations on this point. 161. According to the Court's established case-law, an award can be made in respect of costs and expenses incurred by the applicant only in so far as they have been actually and necessarily incurred and are reasonable as to quantum (see Belziuk v. Poland, 25 March 1998, § 49, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-II). 162. The Court considers the amount requested in respect of costs and expenses for the proceedings before it excessive and decides to award EUR 10,000 under this head. 3. Default interest 163. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points. FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT 1. Holds unanimously that it has jurisdiction to examine the case submitted to it from the standpoint of Article 6 of the Convention also; 2. Dismisses unanimously the Government's plea of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies grounded on the fact that the applicant did not raise before the national courts his complaints under Article 7 of the Convention; 3. Holds by eleven votes to six that there has been a violation of Article 7 of the Convention; 4. Joins to the merits unanimously the Government's plea of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies grounded on the fact that the applicant did not avail himself of the possibility of withdrawing his request for adoption of the summary procedure and rejects it; 5. Holds unanimously that there has been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention; 6. Holds (a) unanimously that the respondent State is responsible for ensuring that the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on the applicant is replaced by a penalty consistent with the principles set out in the present judgment (see paragraph 154 above); (b) by sixteen votes to one that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months, EUR 10,000 (ten thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage; (c) unanimously that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months, EUR 10,000 (ten thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant, in respect of costs and expenses; (d) unanimously that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points; 7. Dismisses unanimously the remainder of the applicant's claim for just satisfaction. Done in English and in French, and delivered at a public hearing in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 17 September 2009. Michael O'Boyle Jean-Paul Costa Deputy Registrar President In accordance with Article 45 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 74 § 2 of the Rules of Court, the following separate opinions are annexed to this judgment: (a) concurring opinion of Judge Malinverni, joined by judges Cabral Barreto and Šikuta; (b) partly dissenting opinion of Judge Nicolaou, joined by judges, Bratza, Lorenzen, Jočiené, Villiger and Sajó. J.-P. C. M. O.B. CONCURRING OPINION OF JUDGE MALINVERNI, JOINED BY JUDGES CABRAL BARRETO AND ŠIKUTA (Translation) I agree with all the arguments that led the Grand Chamber to find a violation of Article 7 of the Convention. I regret, however, that the judgment does not look more deeply into what to my mind constitutes the particularity of this case, namely the circumstances surrounding the prosecution's appeal on points of law. Those circumstances are as follows. The first-instance judgment was delivered on 24 November 2000, that is, on the same day as the entry into force of Legislative Decree no. 341 (see paragraph 13 of the judgment). According to the applicant's assertions, which the Government did not contest, the trial before the Rome preliminary hearings judge began at 10.19 a.m. As judgment was delivered immediately after the trial hearing (see paragraph 81), it is very probable that the decision of the preliminary hearings judge was given during the morning of 24 November 2000. Legislative Decree no. 341 was published in the Official Gazette on the same day, but during the afternoon (see paragraph 33). It follows that at the time when the first-instance judgment was delivered the decree in question could not have been known of by anyone, and the fact is that a legislative instrument cannot take effect before its publication in the Official Gazette (see paragraph 34). In the appeal on points of law of 12 January 2001 the public prosecutor's office at the Rome Court of Appeal argued that the preliminary hearings judge should have applied Article 7 of Legislative Decree no. 341 and that that omission should be considered a “manifest error of law”. The prosecution service accordingly asked for the sentence imposed on the applicant – thirty years' imprisonment – to be replaced by life imprisonment (see paragraphs 14 and 15). That application, as we know, was allowed by the Rome Assize Court of Appeal. In my opinion, the principles of legal certainty, the rule of law and the non-retrospective application of a harsher law require the authorities not to apply, to a defendant's detriment, a law which could not have been known of at the time when judgment was delivered. When he requested adoption of the summary procedure, and right up to the end of the first-instance proceedings, the applicant could not have foreseen the consequences of the application of Legislative Decree no. 341. Accordingly, in the particular circumstances described above, the penalty imposed by the appellate court at the prosecution's request had no legal basis whatsoever and was therefore, on that account too, contrary to Article 7 of the Convention. PARTLY DISSENTING OPINION OF JUDGE NICOLAOU, JOINED BY JUDGES BRATZA, LORENZEN, JOČIENÉ, VILLIGER AND SAJÓ The Grand Chamber is unanimously in agreement that in the present case there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. The reasoning set out in the part of the judgment dealing specifically with Article 6 § 1, with which we are in full agreement, should in our view be read in the light also of the principles already recognised by the Court and discussed by the majority in connection with Article 7 § 1, for it is in the broader context that the fairness issue under Article 6 § 1 acquires its full significance. At the time when the offences were committed the penalty was life imprisonment with daytime isolation. For offences carrying this penalty the summary procedure, which entailed a reduced sentence, did not apply. It did, however, subsequently become available. On 19 February 2000 the applicant opted for it and, with the consent of the prosecution, the criminal court agreed that it should follow it. The case was twice adjourned and it was not dealt with until 24 November 2000, which was more than eight months later, even though for both trial and sentence less than a morning's sitting was required. The law-decree providing for a higher penalty, published later on the same day, meant to undo what had already been done. Having met with judicial approval, it resulted in an increase in the applicant's sentence. It is in these circumstances that we have concluded that there was a lack of fairness. However, although the needs of the present case are fully met by Article 6 § 1, the majority are not content with that. They take the view that the matter should primarily be treated under Article 7 § 1. They not only regard the terms of Article 7 § 1 as encompassing the more favourable law – the lex mitior - principle; they also consider that the case warrants the complete reversal of the Court's case-law by a new interpretation of Article 7 § 1 more consonant with the times. In our opinion Article 7 § 1 does not admit of such interpretation. Although there is, seemingly, a thematic link between the legality principle of Article 7 § 1 and the more favourable law principle, a link which is, perhaps, strengthened by the fact that subsequent human rights instruments treat the two together, there is a vital difference between them. The former principle works at a higher level than the latter. It represents an integral part of the rule of law. Nullum crimen nulla poena sine praevia lege poenali: no one is to be convicted or punished without a pre-existing criminal law in force. Nothing is more fundamental than that. It is peremptory and inevitable. It is an essential condition of freedom. That is why Article 15 does not allow derogation from Article 7 § 1. The lex mitior principle does not form part of nor can it be considered an extension or a corollary of this rule of law requirement. It is a different kind of norm. It expresses a choice that reflects the development of a social process in the context of criminal law. It circumscribes the scope of criminal law by preserving benefits accruing to defendants as a result of substantive laws subsequent to the commission of the offence and applicable while the case was pending. It remains, in the absence of some specific provision, a matter of policy or choice in the discretionary area enjoyed by the State in criminal matters. It is clear that when Article 7 § 1 was adopted the lex mitior principle was not included in it; and it has not been suggested that anyone had then thought that it was covered by the nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege principle, often stated in this shortened form. Article 7 § 1 of the Convention, adopted in 1950, was modelled on Article 11 § 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with which it is almost identical, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. The Travaux Preparatoires of Article 7 § 1 reveal (at page 7, item (5)) that the possibility had been canvassed of adding to it the lex mitior principle but that it was abandoned. It is significant that when the corresponding provision of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was being prepared, the draft at the initial phase contained only the nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege principle, the same as Article 7 § 1 of the Convention. The proposal to include the lex mitior principle came later, whereupon the following third sentence was added to give effect to it: “If, subsequent to the commission of the offence, provision is made by law for the imposition of the lighter penalty the offender shall benefit thereby”. Views differed on whether it was right to do that. The Guide to the Travaux Préparatoires of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, by Marc J. Bossuyt, contains an interesting account of the various considerations involved: “Commission on Human Rights, 5th Session (1949) 6th Session (1950), 8th Session (1952) A/2929, Chapt. VI, § 95: It was argued that the third sentence of paragraph 1 contradicted the assumption underlying the second sentence, namely that a penalty must be that which was authorized by the law in force at the time of its imposition [E/ CN.4/SR.159, §§ 46-48 (USA); E/CN.4/SR.324, p. 4 & p. 7 & p. 15 (GB), p. 5 (USA), p. 9 (IND)]. It was also said that, notwithstanding the praiseworthiness of the goal at which the third sentence aimed, it was not appropriate to make provision for it in the covenant, since it would seem to mean that convicted persons would be enabled as of right to demand that they should benefit from any change made in the law after their conviction [E/CN.4/SR.112, p. 3 (GB), p. 5 (GCA); E/CN.4/SR.324, p. 5 (USA)]. It was asserted that the executive authority of States parties to the covenant should retain an absolute discretion in applying the benefits of subsequently enacted legislation to such persons [E/CN.4/SR. 159, §§ 61-62 (USA), § 65 (GB), § 72 (RCH); E/CN.4/SR.324, p. 16 (GB)]. In opposition to these views it was observed that the tendency in modern criminal law was to allow a person to enjoy the benefit of such lighter penalties as might be imposed after the commission of the offence with which he was charged [E/CN.4/SR.112, p. 4 (USA), p. 6 (RCH) p. 7 (SU); E/CN.4SR.159, § 83 (ET), § 86 (U), § 88 (F); E/CN.4/SR.199, § 151 (GB), § 153 (F), § 156 (ET); E/CN.4/SR.324, pp. 4-5 & p. 8 (SU), p. 5(B), p. 9 (YU), p. 11 (RCH) & (F), p. 12 (PL), p. 14 (IL)]; the laws imposing new and lighter penalties were often the concrete expression of some change in the attitude of the community towards the offence in question [E/CN.4/SR.112, p. 8 (F); E/CN.4/SR.324, p. 7 (RCH)].” The argument that Article 7 § 1 of the Convention should be interpreted as including the most favourable law principle was examined and dismissed by the Commission in X. v. the Federal Republic of Germany, no. 7900/77, decision of 6 March 1978, Decisions and Reports no. 13, pp.70-72. The applicant was found guilty of the breach of a fiscal provision and a fine was imposed on him. He appealed. Before the appeal was heard the provision on which his conviction had been based was repealed. He submitted that he should be given the benefit of that change. He alleged a violation of Article 7 and he referred, in support, to Article 15 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It may be useful to note in this connection that the American Convention on Human Rights, already adopted in 1969 though it came into force on 18 July 1978, a few months after the decision in that case, also contained a sentence embodying the more favourable law principle. In a short decision the Commission pointed out what was obvious and expressed it in this way: “However, Article 7 of the Convention does not contain a provision similar to Article 15, paragraph 1 in fine of the United Nations Covenant which is, moreover, based on a different hypothesis because it guarantees the convicted person the right to benefit from the application of a lighter penalty imposed by a law enacted subsequent to the commission of the offence. In the present case, some of the charges against the applicant are to a certain extent no longer criminal offences. Nevertheless, at the time that the offence was committed the action of the applicant constituted a crime according to national law within the meaning of Article 7, paragraph 1, so that this complaint is (also) manifestly ill-founded...” The decision in X. v. the Federal Republic of Germany (above) was, relatively recently, followed by the Court in Ian Le Petit v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 35574/97, 5 December 2000, and in Zaprianov v. Bulgaria, (dec.), no. 41171/98, 6 March 2003, where it was categorically stated that: “Article 7 does not guarantee the right to have a subsequent and favourable change in the law applicable to an earlier offence”. The conflict of opinion in the present case should not be attributed to a difference in our interpretative approach to Article 7 § 1 of the Convention. We all profess adherence to the relevant international rules embodied in Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969 and the view that we, as minority, take of Article 7 § 1 does not call in question the Court's case-law, to which the majority briefly refer, either on reversing previous decisions, where necessary, or of adapting to changing conditions and responding to some emerging consensus on new standards since, as is often emphasised, the Convention is a living instrument requiring a dynamic and evolutive approach that renders rights practical and effective, not theoretical and illusory. But no judicial interpretation, however creative, can be entirely free of constraints. Most importantly it is necessary to keep within the limits set by Convention provisions. As the Court pointed out in Johnston and Others v. Ireland (18 December 1986, § 53, Series A no.112): “It is true that the Convention and its Protocols must be interpreted in the light of present- day conditions (see, amongst several authorities the above-mentioned Marckx judgment, Series A no. 31, p. 26, para. 58). However, the Court cannot, by means of an evolutive interpretation, derive from these instruments a right which was not included therein at the outset. This is particularly so here, where the omission was deliberate.” This is a matter on which the Court should be particularly sensitive. And yet, although the present case does not require it, the majority has gone on to examine the case under Article 7 § 1 and, in order to apply it, has had it re-written in order to accord with what they consider it ought to have been. This, with respect, oversteps the limits.


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