The applicant, Anne-France Hiernaux, is a Belgian national who was born in 1968 and lives in Nivelles (Belgium). The case concerns the length of the closing of the criminal investigation conducted into the leaders of the Belgian Church of Scientology, to which Ms Hiernaux belonged.
In 1997 and again in 2008 two criminal investigations were opened into the Church of Scientology (ESB) and its leadership, including Ms Hiernaux. The cases were joined in May 2013, and Ms Hiernaux and several other persons were charged and then committed for trial before the Brussels Court of First Instance in March 2014.
Before the Committals Division, Ms Hiernaux complained that there had been a breach of the reasonable-time requirement and asked the court to find the prosecution inadmissible, but her complaints were dismissed. The Committals Division considered that it was not appropriate to penalise the failure to comply with the reasonable-time requirement at that stage of the proceedings, and that the passage of time had not resulted in the loss or deterioration of evidence and had not prevented the defence from exercising its rights in the ongoing proceedings. That decision was upheld on appeal and following an appeal on points of law.
In its judgment of 11 March 2016, the Brussels Court of First Instance found that the proceedings had not been conducted within a reasonable time. However, it held that the entire proceedings had been unfair, since the investigation had been biased and no offences had been committed, and concluded that the prosecution was inadmissible.
Relying on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken together with Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Ms Hiernaux alleges that she did not have an effective remedy in order to raise her complaint about the excessive length of the criminal proceedings brought against her.
Press release ECHR 14 (2017) 20/1/2017