Judge’s impartiality

In the case of Koulias v. Cyprus (application no. 48781/12, 26.05.2020) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The case concerned the applicant’s complaint that one of the Supreme Court judges in proceedings against him was not impartial as the judge’s son worked for the law firm whose founding partner represented the appellant in the case. 

The Court found in particular that while judges did not automatically have to disqualify themselves in such circumstances, blood ties of that sort had to be disclosed at the outset of proceedings. Whether such misgivings were objectively justified depended on the circumstances of the specific case. The factors to be taken into account included whether the judge’s relative had been involved in the case in question, the position of the relative in the firm, the size of the firm, its internal organisational structure, the financial importance of the case for the law firm, and any possible financial interest or potential benefit on the part of the relative. 

However, the applicant had only found about the link between the judge’s son and the law firm representing the claimant in the defamation proceedings after he had lost his appeal. An appearance of partiality had been created and doubts by the applicant regarding the judge’s lack of bias had been objectively justified.

The applicant did not know whether the son had actually been involved in the case and whether he had a financial interest connected to its outcome. An appearance of partiality had thus been created. The Court therefore found that the applicant’s doubts about the impartiality of the Judge had been objectively justified and that domestic law and practice had not provided sufficient procedural safeguards. The Court concluded that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

References from the official website of the European Court of Human Rights