Judge impartiality in two connected proceedings

In the case of Alexandru Marian Iancu v. Romania (application no. 60858/15, 04.02.2020) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial/hearing) of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The case concerned the applicant’s allegation that a judge who had been involved in convicting him in two sets of connected proceedings could not be impartial. The applicant, Alexandru-Marian Iancu, is a Romanian national who is currently detained in Rahova Prison (Romania) following his conviction of various financial crimes in 2014 and 2015. Mr Iancu had two sets of criminal proceedings brought against him concerning financial crimes he had allegedly committed between 2000 and 2003 in his capacity as manager or director of several private commercial companies. He was convicted in both sets of proceedings by a panel of two judges. One of the judges, M.A.M., appeared on both panels. During the appeal proceedings in the second case against Mr Iancu, Judge M.A.M. sought to withdraw in order to eliminate any suspicion concerning his possible lack of impartiality. His request was rejected by a panel of two judges who found that the mere fact that he had taken part in the previous case could not raise a reasonable suspicion as to his impartiality and that there was no proof to show that, in the first case, he had expressed an opinion on the guilt of the accused who were currently on trial. Further challenges for bias were made against Judge M.A.M., but they were also rejected.

The Court reiterated that Article 6 § 1 required a court to be impartial and that it had established an objective and subjective test to assess whether that was the case. As for the subjective test, the Court was not persuaded that Judge M.A.M. had shown any personal bias against Mr Iancu in the second set of proceedings. Nor did it consider that there had been any objective reasons for Mr Iancu’s concerns about the judge’s impartiality. The judge had sought to withdraw from the case, mostly as a precautionary measure and not because of any actual doubt over bias. Moreover, his request had been rejected in a reasoned decision. Even though another judge who had taken part in the first set of proceedings alongside Judge M.A.M. had been disqualified from sitting in the second set of proceedings, that decision had been based on several reasons, including her behaviour as she had expressed an opinion on the second case during the appeal. On the other hand, aside from the alleged similarity between the two sets of proceedings, Judge M.A.M.’s behaviour had not been such as to objectively justify Mr Iancu’s misgivings as to his impartiality. There had therefore been no violation of Article 6 § 1.

References from the European Court of Human Rights