The case of Valentin Danilov at the European Court of Human Rights: justice ten years' on?

posted 17 May 2015, 10:53 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 May 2015, 12:13 ]
12 May 2015

By Vera Vasilieva

In May 2015 the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that an application by Valentin Danilov, former director of the Thermo-Physics Centre of Krasnoyarsk Technical University, is admissible. In 2004 Danilov was convicted on the basis of a false charge of ‘state treason’ (Article 275 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) of passing materials containing state secrets to China.

‘It is very good news for me, and very important,’ Professor Danilov has written in an e-mail to me.

The application alleges a violation of the right of the applicant to a fair trial, as set out in Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

At Danilov’s trial the jury, which by law should have been selected on the basis of a random selection, contained several people ‘with access to state secrets’. The lawyer Anna Stavitskaya has expressed doubts that this was simply a matter of happenstance.

It is certainly hard to overestimate the significance of this ruling by the European Court, especially if we consider that Valentin Danilov waited for it for ten (!) years.

And moreover the greater part of this time he spent behind bars. The scientist was arrested in February 2001, sentenced to 14 years in prison, and released on parole on 24 November 2012, without having achieved justice in the Russian courts.

At the same time European justice, while irreversible, is incredibly slow. In comparison with the time it takes the European Court to deliver a judgment, human life is too short. Valentin Danilov,whose case has only now entered on the stage of communication (which also demands a significant amount of time), waited ten years for this. How many more years will pass before the case is considered by the Court?

In the case of the first application of Aleksei Pichugin, the former Yukos employee, the whole process took five years.

Fortunately, Danilov is finally at liberty, something that cannot, alas, be said for Pichugin. The latter’s imprisonment has long since ceased to be of interest to the mass media and the majority of the public but remains a cause of suffering for himself and his family. And how many other such prisoners are there?

But – sometimes after a decade and more have gone by – the day arrives when the case has been won at the European Court of Human Rights. What happens next? Under Russian law, if the European Court establishes that there was a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention, then this provides a new circumstance that allows the President of the Supreme Court to quash the unjust conviction and send the case back to a criminal court of first instance for a new hearing.

Valentin Danilov, who no longer works at the Krasnoyarsk Technical University, said in an interview with Radio Svoboda that he does not know of a single example when a decision of the European Court has given any help - except moral consolation - to anyone in our country.

This skepticism is no surprise. There have been too many examples when a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights has been issued either when the individual imprisoned has already been released (as in Danilov’s case), or has not been implemented by the Russian authorities.

This is what has happened, for example, with the ruling by the Strasbourg court in the first Pichugin case, which stated that ‘a more appropriate form of compensation would, in principle, be the conducting of a new judicial review or a new trial’.

And even if a new trial were to be ordered, there are no guarantees that it would not be accompanied by similar violations, and end with the same unjust outcome.

In my opinion, it is obvious that violations of Article 6 of the European Convention have already become a systemic problem of our courts – the same as unlawful use of pre-trial detention or extension of pre-trial detention (Article 5 of the European Convention), and also the use of torture (Article 3).

In my opinion, it is no longer important which court in Russia tries you – the Zamoskvoretsky, Tagansky or Moscow City courts.

I admit that at times I have felt the temptation to dream about some kind of international court that would review criminal cases whose defendants did not find justice in any of the levels of the national judicial system, where violations of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights are not exceptions but the common practice.

But the European Court of Human Rights never considers cases on their merits, nor does it resolve the issue of guilt or innocence of the applicant. The Court does not interfere in the criminal justice legislation of countries that are members of the Council of Europe, including Russia, despite the statements of some of our officials. And there is no court that has powers of that kind.

Of course, this is not what Russian society needs. Russian society needs a great deal of work to be done on its own justice system.

Courts should issue their judgments in accordance with the law! Then there would be no need to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.