The applicant’s, Mr. Micallef’s, sister was involved in a civil dispute with her neighbor. A favorable judgment of the lower court was set aside on appeal. The applicant’s sister instituted constitutional proceedings, alleging that the president of the court of appeal had lacked objective impartiality by reason of his family ties with the other party’s lawyer. After his sister’s death the applicant took over the constitutional proceedings which were subsequently dismissed.
Mr. Micallef complained that the court of appeal had lacked objective impartiality, thus her trial had not been fair.
Impartiality normally denotes the absence of prejudice or bias and its existence can be tested in various ways. The existence of impartiality for the purposes of Article 6 (1) must be determined according to a subjective test evaluating the personal conviction and behaviour of a particular judge, that is, whether the judge held any personal prejudice or bias in a given case. There is also an objective test - whether the tribunal itself and, among other aspects, its composition, offered sufficient guarantees to exclude any legitimate doubt in respect of its impartiality. The personal impartiality of a judge must be presumed until there is proof to the contrary. As to the objective test, it can be found that a judge lacks impartiality if there are ascertainable facts that give raise to doubts about a judge’s impartiality to an external observer, for example, hierarchical or other links between the judge and other actors in the proceedings. This implies that, in deciding whether in a given case there is a legitimate reason to fear that a particular judge or a body sitting as a bench lacks impartiality, the standpoint of the person concerned is important but not decisive. The Court was of the view that in the particular case the close family ties between the opposing party’s lawyers and the chief justice sufficed to objectively justify fears that the presiding judge lacked impartiality. Noting that the law also provided no possibility to challenge the judge, the Court found a violation of the right to fair trial.