SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Arnhem-Leeuwarden appeal court was wrong to hold an appeal against a shoplifting conviction in absentia, the European Court of Human Rights said on Tuesday.
The Strasbourg-based court found that the Netherlands had violated the right to a free trial of a woman, identified as X, when it held her appeals hearing while she was out of the country on business.
Her lawyer had failed to inform the court of her travel schedule. ‘While the interests cited by the appeal court were undoubtedly relevant, the Court considers that in the circumstances of the present case they were not sufficient to outweigh the applicant’s right to attend the hearing of her appeal in person,’ the European court said in its ruling.
The Dutch government had argued that the error was the fault of the woman’s lawyer and it was concerned about the trial dragging on for too long. ‘This is important because the ECHR says domestic courts need a good reason to hold a trial in absentia,’ the lawyer told DutchNews.
In the Netherlands, trials can be held without the defendant present if the prosecutor meets certain criteria, such as informing the person when the trial will be held. The woman had been previously convicted of shoplifting, which she told the court was a compulsive habit related to mental health problems.
She was sentenced to four weeks in prison and to a €5,000 fine and was concerned that the prison sentence would cause her to lose her job. She was hoping that by appearing in person, she could explain that she was undergoing treatment and such a sentence would hinder her progress.
The decision would allow her to request a new trial in the Netherlands, but according to her lawyer, she had not yet decided what she would do.