Belashev v. Russia

European Court of Human Rights
4 December 2008


The applicant, Mr. Belashev, was tried in connection to the bombings of two statues. The applicant asked for the hearing in the court of first instance to be opened to public, however the prosecutor objected noting that the mass media had already misrepresented the facts in the case, that separate criminal proceedings were pending against another defendant and that the case file contained classified information. The court decided to hold the trial in camera stating that it did not violate the national law, the examination of the case in camera will guarantee security to the victims, witnesses and other parties to the proceedings, taking into account the character of the charges. The applicant’s complaint regarding the absence of public hearing was dismissed in the Supreme Court because such procedure did not violate the Code of Criminal Procedure.


Mr. Belashev complained that his case had not been heard in public contrary to his right to fair trial.

Court’s ruling

The Court reiterated that the holding of court hearings in public is a fundamental principle of the right to fair trial, especially in criminal trials. It protects litigants against the administration of justice in secret and helps to maintain the confidence in the courts. Administration of justice derives its legitimacy from being conducted in public. The Court noted that it may sometimes be necessary to limit the public nature of the proceedings to protect other interests, for example, national security and rights of other individuals. However, before excluding the public from criminal proceedings, courts must make specific findings that such exclusion is necessary to protect a compelling governmental interest and limit secrecy to the extent necessary to preserve such an interest. In the particular the national courts had not properly balanced openness with other concerns. Concerns of national security, although raised before the Court, were not mentioned in any of the decisions of national courts. A separate closed hearing to read out classified documents, if there were any in the case, was also not considered. National courts also gave no reasons why they considered there was risk to the victims’ and witnesses’ safety and why it outweighed the importance of public trial. The decision to hold the hearings in camera lacked reasoning, therefore the Court concluded that there was a violation of the applicant’s right to a fair trial.

Learn more

Last updated 17/01/2024