Judges will make known their ruling next week in a case concerning the 1980 death of former Portuguese prime minister Francisco Sá Carneiro and his defence minister
Lacerda Gouveia and Others v. Portugal (no. 11868/07)
The applicant, Margarida Lacerda Gouveia, Maria Arminda Bernardo de Albuquerque, Maria Manuela Simões Vaz da Silva Pires, Isabel Maria Ferreira Nunes de Matos Sá Carneiro and Manuel Rafael Lopes Amaro da Costa, are five Portuguese nationals who were born in 1949, 1952, 1946, 1937, and 1938 respectively, and live in Portugal (Lisbon, S. Domingos de Rana and Oporto).
The case concerns criminal proceedings following the death on 4 December 1980 of the Prime Minister, Mr Sá Carneiro, and the Defence Minister, Mr Amaro da Costa, who were killed when their light aircraft crashed in Camarate, in the suburbs of Lisbon.
Mr Sá Carneiro and Mr Amaro da Costa were travelling from Lisbon to Oporto on their way to an election rally. The applicants are the heirs of the victims – the two men, their partners, the Prime Minister’s head of staff, the pilot and the co-pilot, who were all killed in the crash.
The investigation by the Directorate General for Civil Aviation concluded that it was an accident, whilst mentioning the difficulties they had encountered when examining the crash site because of the crowds. The case was closed, then re-opened and eventually, after additional experts’ reports, an order was made to discontinue the criminal proceedings – upheld on appeal on 1 June 2000 – on the ground that the case file contained insufficient evidence that a criminal offence had been committed. The proceedings were subsequently re-opened again, but the Lisbon Court of Appeal decided, in a judgment of 17 November 2005, that the prosecution was time-barred (after 15 years).
That decision was upheld on 24 May 2006 by the Supreme Court. Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right of access to a court), the applicants complain about a lack of diligence on the part of the Portuguese authorities, which in their view was the reason why the prosecution was declared time-barred.