The applicant, Mr. Telfner, was found guilty of causing a traffic accident. The evidence on which the national court based its decision was the statement of the victim who claimed that the car of the applicant was the one who hit him, although the victim did not see the driver. The judgment was also based on the observations of the local police that the applicant was the main user of the car and he hadn’t been home the night of the accident. Mr. Telfner claimed that he had not driven the car in the time of the accident and that several members of his family also used the car.
The applicant claimed that the national court had based the conviction on an allegation which had to be rebutted by defence shifting the burden of proof to the defence.
The Court started by stating that when carrying out their duties, the members of a court should not start with the preconceived idea that the accused has committed the offence charged; the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and any doubt should benefit the accused. Thus, the presumption of innocence would be infringed where the burden of proof is shifted from the prosecution to the defence. Legal presumptions and drawing of inferences from the accused’s silence were not in principle incompatible with the right to a fair trial.
In the present case the Court did not find that the evidence before the national courts constituted a case against the applicant which would have called for an explanation from his part. In requiring Mr. Telfner to provide an explanation although they had not been able to establish a convincing case against him, the courts shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defence. Thus the Court ruled that the right to a fair trial of Mr. Telfner had been violated.