The applicant, Mr. Daktaras, was charged with blackmail by prosecutor. After familiarising himself with the case file the applicant’s counsel requested the prosecution to discontinue the case. In a decision denying his request the prosecutor stated: “[These] allegations must be dismissed as ill-founded because it has been established [..] from the evidence collected in the course of the pre-trial investigation that the applicant is guilty of [these] crimes.” He went on to state which evidence prove that the applicant had committed the offence.
Mr. Daktaras complained that the tribunal which heard the petition could not be considered an impartial tribunal because it had been instructed to quash the court of appeal's decision and reinstate the first-instance judgment following the petition lodged by the President of the Supreme Court.
The Court recalled that the presumption of innocence enshrined in Article 6 (2) of the Convention is one of the elements of a fair criminal trial required by Article 6 (1). It will be violated if a statement of a public official concerning a person charged with a criminal offence reflects an opinion that he is guilty before he has been proved so according to law. It suffices, even in the absence of any formal finding, that there is some reasoning to suggest that the official regards the accused as guilty. Moreover, the principle of the presumption of innocence may be infringed not only by a judge or court but also by other public authorities, including prosecutors. This is particularly so where a prosecutor, as in the present case, performs a quasi-judicial function when ruling on the applicant's request to dismiss the charges at the stage of the pre-trial investigation, over which he has full procedural control. Nevertheless, whether a statement of a public official is in breach of the principle of the presumption of innocence must be determined in the context of the particular circumstances in which the impugned statement was made.
The Court noted that the statements were not made by the prosecutor not in the context of independent criminal proceedings themselves or in the press, but in a reasoned decision denying a request to discontinue the prosecution. The Court also concluded that in the context of the decision the word “prove” had to be perceived as indication that there was sufficient evidence in the case-file to continue prosecution not as a determination of guilt. Therefore the statements in the decision did not violate the presumption of evidence and there was no violation of the applicant’s right to a fair trial.