Scots six hour detention without access to lawyer breached human rights convention

26 October 2010 by

Cadder (Appellant) v Her Majesty’s Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland) [2010] UKSC 43 – Read judgment / press summary

The UK Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that Scottish criminal law, which allows a person to be detained and questioned by the police for up to six hours without access to a solicitor, breached the European Convention on Human Rights. The decision will not allow closed cases to be reopened but will affect cases which have not yet gone to trial.

The court ruled that whilst the Scottish High Court’s decision was entirely in line with previous domestic authority, that authority cannot survive in the light of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in Salduz v Turkey (2008) 49 EHRR 421 and in subsequent cases. Properly interpreted, Salduz requires a detainee to have had access to a lawyer from the time of the first interview unless there are compelling reasons, in light of the particular circumstances of the case, to restrict that right.

The exception applies only if there are particular circumstances in the individual case and does not allow a systematic departure from the rule such as that set up by the 1995 Act. The rule in Salduz is based on the right not to incriminate oneself.

The court also ruled on the effect of its decision going forward. It said that the decision does not permit closed cases to be re-opened. Although a judicial decision has retrospective effect, it does not affect cases which have been finally determined (namely, where an accused was convicted and did not appeal within the relevant time limits, or did appeal and the appeal has been finally disposed of). The decision will, however, affect cases which have not yet gone to trial, where the trial is still in progress or where an appeal has been brought in time and is not yet concluded. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, if it is asked to do so, will have to determine whether it is in the public interest for cases which have already been finally determined to be referred to the High Court, which will in turn have to decide how to deal with such cases, if a reference is made

The above is based on the Supreme Court press summary, which can be found here. Our full case comment will appear later.

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