Sutter v. Switzerland

European Court of Human Rights
22 February 1984


The applicant, Mr. Sutter, was found guilty of repeated insubordination regarding his military obligations because he refused to cut his hair. The lower court examined the case in a public hearing and delivered a judgement in public. He appealed the lower court’s judgment to the Military Court of Cassation. Contrary to the Mr. Sutter’s request the Military Court of Cassation decided his case in written procedure and did not read the judgment in an open hearing.


Mr. Sutter complained of the fact that the Military Court of Cassation had dismissed his appeal without previously holding a public hearing and had not pronounced its judgment publicly in violation of his right to fair trial.

Court's ruling

The Court noted that the public character of proceedings before the judicial bodies referred to in Article 6 (1) protects litigants against the administration of justice in secret with no public scrutiny; it is also one of the means whereby confidence in the courts, superior and inferior, can be maintained. By rendering the administration of justice visible, publicity contributes to the achievement of the aim of a fair trial.

The Court held that although an open hearing is one of the preconditions of fair trial, nevertheless the proceedings must be evaluated in the entirety. As in the present case there had been a hearing in the first instance of the court, the court of cassations decided only on the interpretation of relevant legislation and no one but Mr. Sutter had submitted anything to it, the Court consider that the lack of oral hearing in the court of cassation violated Mr. Sutter’s right to a fair trial.

The Court agreed that judgments must be made public, but it does not mean that a judgment must always be read out in a public hearing. In each case the form of publicity given to the "judgment" under the domestic law of the respondent State must be assessed in the light of the special features of the proceedings in question and by reference to the object and purpose of Article 6 (1).  Since the court only dealt with legal interpretation and anyone who established an interest could obtain a copy of the judgement, there was no violation of Mr. Shutter’s right to public pronouncement of the judgement.

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Last updated 17/01/2024