Protecting a victim’s private life in rape proceedings

In the case Mraović v. Croatia (application no. 30373/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, by six votes to one, that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court found that the domestic court’s justification for excluding the public from the proceedings, namely protecting the victim’s private life, had been reasonable.  

The case concerned a balancing of the applicant’s right to a public hearing in proceedings against him on charges of rape and the victim’s right to the protection of her private life. 

Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial), Mr Mraović complained that the domestic courts had justified excluding the public from the hearing of his case merely by the need to protect the victim’s private life, without balancing this against his right to a public hearing

First, the Court stressed the importance of protecting the rights of sexual abuse victims in criminal proceedings. In particular, the justice system should not increase the suffering of victims of crime or discourage them from reporting incidents.

The Court also accepted that the State had been under an obligation to provide an even higher degree of protection to the victim in the present case given that the police authorities had breached her privacy by unlawfully publishing her personal information at the very outset of the case. Furthermore, such information could be disclosed at any stage of a criminal trial, not only during a victim’s cross-examination. Therefore, closing only part of the proceedings would not have been sufficient to protect her from further embarrassment and stigmatisation. 

The Court was satisfied that the domestic court using its discretion to decide that the proceedings should not be held in public had not been incompatible with the applicant’s rights and it had been reasonable for it to consider that that approach had been required for the protection of the victim’s private life. Moreover, such an approach had been in line with current EU and international standards on the matter. There had therefore been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

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