FOUCHER v. FRANCE (10/1996/629/812) 18 March 1997: denial of access to criminal file.
France - denial of access to a criminal file and refusal to release copies of the documents contained in it, in respect of a defendant who had been sent for trial in a police court under a direct summons procedure and who was conducting his own defence
I. Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 of the Convention
Not in dispute that present case concerned determination of a criminal charge - Article 6 applicable.
Guarantees in paragraph 3 of Article 6 are specific aspects of right to a fair trial set forth in general in paragraph 1 - complaint examined under the two provisions taken together.
Applicant could complain of refusal to grant him access to his criminal file and to release to him copies of the documents in it, notwithstanding the fact that he had not made such a request before the Court of Appeal and had not attended the hearing held by the Court of Appeal - had been denied access at first instance by public prosecutor - Court of Appeal and Court of Cassation had taken it as settled that applicant had not been able to have access to his case file or to obtain a copy of the documents in it.
Principle of equality of arms: each party must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present his case in conditions that do not place him at a disadvantage vis-à-vis his opponent.
Three considerations of crucial importance in instant case: applicant had chosen to conduct his own case without the assistance of a lawyer - he had been committed directly for trial in police court and question of ensuring confidentiality of investigation had not therefore arisen - applicant's conviction by court of appeal had been based solely on game wardens' official report.
As applicant had not had access to his file and had been prevented from obtaining a copy of the documents in it, he had been unable to prepare an adequate defence and had not been afforded equality of arms.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
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