Monitoring of the trial of Alena Blokhina and Vitaly Blokhin (court session 12/08/2021)

On December 8, 2021, a court hearing was held in the Veselinovskiy District Court of the Nikolaev Region in the case of Alena Blokhina and Vitaly Blokhin, which are charged with the use by a group of persons by prior agreement of funds obtained from illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, their analogues, precursors, poisonous or potent substances or poisonous or potent drugs in order to continue their illegal circulation (part 2 of Article 306 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine), as well as illegal production, manufacture, acquisition, storage, transportation or shipment for the purpose of sale, as well as illegal sale of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances or their analogues by an organized group (part 3 of Article 307 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

The International Society for Human Rights continues to monitor this proceeding.

Due to the inability of the observer to personally attend the session on December 8 in the Veselinovskiy District Court, the IAC ISHR requested the court to broadcast the session on the official website of the Judiciary of Ukraine.

As it became known from the audio recording of the hearing provided to the International Society for Human Rights by the defense, in response to the goals, tasks and description of the organization explained in the petition, the presiding judge stated that he did not know about such an organization (despite the fact that ISHR observers were previously present at the hearings), does not know “who it is in general and what this broadcast is for”, and called the content of the statement itself a “meaningless set of words”. Also, in response to the name of the project “Strengthening the rule of law in Armenia and Ukraine”, within which monitoring activities are carried out, the observer noted the incorrect comment of the judge that “there can be no rule of law in Armenia”. References to ISHR projects (submitted to get acquainted with the activities of the organization) were called “incomprehensible” by the panel of judges.

According to ISHR experts, the position of a judge who questions the authority of justice in another country and allows himself to make statements of a clearly tactless, disrespectful nature towards the parties or other persons violates the standards of professional conduct outlined in Articles 8 and 11 of the Code of Ethics for Judges.

Referring to the “convention that protects the rights of witnesses during the consideration of criminal proceedings”, the judges indicated that during the production stage of questioning witnesses, broadcasting is prohibited. In this regard, consideration of the application is “inappropriate”. However, in order to “not ignore the application”, it was put up for consideration.

The prosecutor agreed with the opinion of the judges, referring to the fact that the purpose of the broadcast and ensuring the public interest remains unclear, and therefore the application is not subject to satisfaction.

The defendants supported the request for a broadcast, indicating that they also planned to use the recording of the hearing. To which the presiding judge stated the following: “Defendants, you are not alone here, and the presiding judge has already said that in the case of interrogation of witnesses, there will be no broadcast unambiguously.”

On the official request of the International Society for Human Rights about the reason for the refusal to broadcast the hearing, a response was received from the head of the Veselinovsky District Court of the Nikolaev Region S.S. Kucheryavenko, in which it was stated that the petition was left without consideration “due to improper execution of the petition and the absence of title documents of the IAC ISHR”, despite the fact that the attachment of title documents is not provided for, and the requirements for a petition for broadcasting are the same for all courts of Ukraine.

ISHR experts note that the right to publicity of the trial follows from the wording of Article 6 of the European Convention, which includes, among other things, publicity, which is the protection of the parties from the secret administration of justice without public observation, in order to ensure greater openness of justice and maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

This right is, of course, limited, but the presumption, based on the practice of the ECtHR, must always be in favor of a public hearing, and the exception must be strictly required by the circumstances of the case. By making the administration of justice visible, publicity furthers the objective of Article 6 part 1 of the European Convention, namely a fair trial, the guarantee of which is one of the fundamental principles of any democratic society within the meaning of the Convention (“Aksen v. Germany”, para. 25).

The International Society for Human Rights will continue to monitor and clarify the details of this proceeding.