Drink-driving acquittal did not remove Greek applicant’s civil liabilities. In today’s Chamber judgment (1) in the case of Ilias Papageorgiou v. Greece (application no. 44101/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
no violation Article 6 § 2 (presumption of innocence) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned decisions not in the applicant’s favour in civil proceedings despite his having been acquitted in criminal proceedings for the same events. The Court found in particular that his acquittal had not exonerated the applicant from his civil responsibility, and the civil case had, rightly, been separate to the criminal case and applied different standards of proof. The courts had in no way implied the applicant’s guilt or criminal liability.
The applicant, Ilias Papageorgiou, is a Greek national who was born in 1974 and lives in Athens.
In 2005 the applicant had a car accident. His passenger was injured. The applicant took two breathalyser tests, with results of 0.67 and 0.57 mg/l. In 2007 he was acquitted in criminal proceedings of drink driving in a final judgment.
The passenger lodged an action against the applicant and his insurance company. The insurance company took an action against the applicant, claiming that he, rather than the company, was responsible as he had been over the alcohol limit at the time. The first-instance court ordered the applicant and the insurance company to pay compensation, but dismissed the insurance company’s claim vis-à-vis the applicant. On appeal, the Athens Court of Appeal held that it was not bound by the applicant’s acquittal in the criminal courts and that, under the terms of the insurance contract, the applicant’s conduct exempted the insurance company from liability.
The Court of Cassation rejected an appeal on points of law by the applicant, finding that the Athens Court of Appeal had taken into account the acquittal.
Decision of the Court
Article 6 § 2
The Court reiterated that the presumption of innocence encompassed the burden of proof, legal presumptions of fact and law, privilege against self-incrimination, pre-trial publicity and premature pronouncements of a defendant’s guilt. Public officials must not treat someone acquitted as guilty.
The court noted that the civil proceedings in the case had not been an extension of the criminal proceedings. It was acceptable that the evidentiary standards had differed.
The Court considered that an acquittal had not exonerated the applicant from civil responsibility. The insurance company had had a right to rely on the clauses of the insurance contract regardless of the acquittal. Moreover, the Court of Appeal had not attributed guilt or criminal liability to the applicant.
The proceedings had, in the light of this, not been contrary to the presumption of innocence and there had been no violation of the Convention.
The judgment is available only in English.
(1) Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day. Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution. Further information about the execution process can be found here: www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/execution.