In the Media

Murderer complains lawyer was on raised platform during trial

PUBLISHED May 31, 2012

Ümit Diriöz, serving 30 years for shooting dead an innocent bystander during a fight, also claimed it was unfair that his lawyer had to use a courtroom door used by members of the public.

The unusual claim has been considered by the European Court of Human Rights - eight years after it was made - but a panel of seven judges rejected it.

A judgment published by Strasbourg on Thursday concluded: "The Court observed that, as it had already held in previous decisions, the seating arrangements complained of by Mr Diriöz conferred a privileged physical position on the prosecutor in the courtroom, but did not place the accused in a disadvantageous position regarding the defence of his or her interests.

"It could not be argued that there had been a breach of the principle of equality of arms. Accordingly, the Court declared Mr Diriöz's complaint inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded."

Diriöz, now 35, was involved in an "altercation between several individuals" in September 2000 in which he "fired a pistol several times".

Four people were injured and a fifth, who was not involved in the argument, was hit by a stray bullet and died.

The gunman fled but was arrested with a forged identity card the following year and in January 2003 sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment and given a "heavy fine" for murder, attempted murder and causing injury with a firearm.

In July 2004 Diriöz, now in an Istanbul jail, lodged a claim with the ECHR that the principle of "equality of arms" had been breached by the layout of the courtroom, denying him the right to a fair trial enshrined in Article 6 of the Convention.

"The prosecutor had stood on a raised platform, whereas he and his lawyer had been placed, as was the rule, at a lower level in the courtroom.

"He also complained about the fact that the prosecutor and judges entered the courtroom by the same door, whereas the lawyer had to use the door for the public.

"Lastly, he alleged that he had not been assisted by a lawyer during police questioning, despite his request to that effect."

Eight years on, seven judges at the Strasbourg court dealt with his case and threw it out.

They said the seating arrangements were an "established practice" in Turkish law because judges and prosecutors followed the same training, took the same exams and sometimes swapped between professions. The prosecutor also gathered evidence in favour of the defendant, it was said.

The court also ruled that despite claiming he had asked for a lawyer while in custody, Diriöz had actually signed a statement refusing legal assistance.

In most Western courts, the judge sits highest of all with the dock, witness box and jury benches slightly lower and the lawyers lowest in the "well" of the court, as their placings are deemed psychologically important.