In a ruling 1B_230/2019 of October 8, 2019, the Federal Supreme Court harmonizes its case law on the admissibility of appeals against severance orders.

Disjunction means taking proceedings against several defendants and turning them into two or more separate proceedings, each targeting at least one defendant. Example: defendants X and Y are being prosecuted in criminal case no. 1. The procedure management decides to disjoin this procedure. From now on, there will still be procedure no. 1, but only against defendant X, as well as a new procedure no. 2, directed solely against defendant Y.

Consequence : each defendant loses his or her rights as a party in the other defendant’s proceedings. As a result, he or she no longer has the right to access the other defendant’s case file, to take part in the investigation of the case, to make submissions or to appeal against decisions taken in the proceedings. For this reason, severance is often perceived and experienced as an impediment to the parties’ fundamental procedural rights. In addition, it undermines and constitutes an exception to the principle of procedural unity enshrined in art. 29 CPP.

However, disjunction must be pronounced by a decision, which – like most decisions in criminal proceedings – is subject to appeal.

Practitioners know, however, that in order to appeal to the Federal Court against a severance order (preliminary ruling), it is necessary to pass the admissibility hurdle. However, in the case of preliminary rulings (which settle one or more substantive or procedural issues), an appeal to the Federal Tribunal is admissible only on condition that the contested decision causes irreparable legal harm to the appellant. As a result, disjunction can often only be challenged at the end of the procedure, in the context of an appeal against the final judgment.

On this basis, the Federal Court has often blown hot and cold over the irreparable harm caused by a severance decision.

In its ruling of October 8, 2019, the Federal Supreme Court unified its jurisprudence and unequivocally recognized that a decision to sever is likely to cause irreparable prejudice on the grounds that the severance of proceedings (or the refusal to join criminal proceedings against several defendants) threatens the person concerned with considerable legal procedural disadvantages. These arise from the fact that he loses his party rights in the proceedings against the co-defendants. In fact, the accused has no right to participate in the examination of the other accused or to obtain evidence as part of an investigation to which the accused is no longer a party. In addition, by severing the proceedings, the accused also loses his right to obtain a ban on the use of evidence obtained in the other proceedings (art. 147 para. 4 CCP), as he cannot assert any violation of his right to participate in the proceedings:

Bei der Verfahrenstrennung (bzw. der Verweigerung einer Vereinigung der Strafverfahren gegen mehrere beschuldigte Personen) drohen dem Betroffenen erhebliche prozessuale Rechtsnachteile. Diese ergeben sich daraus, dass er seine Parteirechte im Verfahren gegen die Mitbeschuldigten verliert. Denn es besteht kein gesetzlicher Anspruch auf Teilnahme an den Einvernahmen der anderen beschuldigten Person und an den weiteren Beweiserhebungen im eigenständigen Untersuchungs- oder Hauptverfahren (Art. 147 Abs. 1 StPO e contrario; BGE 140 IV 172 E. 1.2.3 S. 176). Durch eine Verfahrenstrennung geht so der beschuldigten Person bezogen auf Beweiserhebungen des anderen Verfahrens auch das Verwertungsverbot des Art. 147 Abs. 4 StPOverloren, weil sie insoweit keine Verletzung ihres Teilnahmerechts geltend machen kann (Urteil 1B_86/2015 vom 21. Juli 2015 E. 1.3.2 mit Hinweisen, in: Pra 2015 Nr. 89 S. 708).

Thus, in the Federal Court’s view, in view of these considerable legal procedural disadvantages resulting from severance, it is appropriate to allow the defendant to challenge severance or refusal of severance directly, and to recognize in principle the threat of irreparable harm in such cases.

This unification of hitherto inconsistent case law is welcome.



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