Witness Protection: Can non-parties appeal critical findings made in a judgment which infringe their human rights?

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Re: W (A child) [2016] EWCA Civ 1140 – read judgment

Summary

A Family Court judgment was severely critical of two witnesses and the applicant local authority. In an oral “bullet point” judgment at the end of the hearing, the Judge found that the witnesses, a social worker (‘SW’) and a police officer (‘PO’), had improperly conspired to prove certain allegations regardless of the truth, or professional guidelines.

Those matters were not in issue before the court or put to those concerned. Limited amendments were subsequently made to the judgment following submissions by those criticised. Unsatisfied, they went to the Court of Appeal.

The Court considered (1) whether they were entitled to appeal at all (2) whether their appeal based on Articles 8 and 6 of the Convention succeeded and (3) the appropriate remedy.

The Court held that the appellants’ Convention rights had been breached by the manifestly unfair process in the court below, so they had a right to appeal under the Human Rights Act 1998. The defective judgment was not cured by the amendments, and the findings were struck out.

The judgment addresses some interesting procedural questions regarding appeals. This post focuses mainly on the human rights issues, but the judgment of McFarlane LJ, described as “magisterial” by Sir James Munby, merits reading in full.

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Strasbourg again favouring safety of conviction over cross-examination of witnesses?

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297Simon Price v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 15602/07, 15 September 2016 – read judgment.

In a unanimous decision, the European Court of Human Rights has held that the proceedings that lead to the conviction of an individual for drug trafficking charges were entirely compliant with Article 6, ECHR. Despite the inability to cross-examine a key prosecution witness, the Court considered that in light of the existence of supporting incriminating evidence (amongst other factors) the proceedings as a whole were fair.

Background

In June 2004 a ship, entering the port of Rotterdam, was searched by customs officials and found to contain a quantity of cocaine worth £35 million. The applicant, Simon Price, was arrested after he made enquiries into the container shortly after. He was subsequently charged with an offence under s.20, Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and with the attempted importation of drugs from Guyana to the United Kingdom via the Netherlands and Belgium. Continue reading

Hard cases need better reasons

13454123443_80fef9d87e_bR (o.t.a. CPRE Kent) v. Dover District Council [2016] EWCA Civ 936, 14 September 2016, read judgment

The Court of Appeal has just given us a robust vindication of the importance of giving proper reasons when granting planning permission, by way of a healthy antidote to any suggestion that this is not really needed as part of fairness.

It is, as we shall see, very context-specific, and Laws LJ, giving the main judgment, was careful not to give the green light to floods of reasons challenges – common enough as they are in planning judicial reviews. Nonetheless it is a decision of significance.

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CA orders release of court judgment on Ellie Butler’s death

benbutler2106aC (a child) [2016] EWCA Civ 798  read judgment

This is the most recent in the long series of legal steps touching on the violent career of Ben Butler, recently convicted of the murder of his daughter, Ellie. 

Butler was convicted for Grievous Bodily Harm, and then cleared on appeal. Care proceedings were commenced at the end of which Ellie was ordered to be returned to her parents by Hogg J in October 2012. A year later, on 28 October 2013, Ellie was found dead.

C, the subject of this appeal, is Ellie’s younger sister. In June 2014, Eleanor King J, in the family courts, found that Butler had caused Ellie’s death, Ellie’s mother (Jennie Gray) had failed to protect her from Butler, and C had been the victim of physical and emotional abuse. This judgment had been the subject of reporting restrictions.

Immediately after Butler’s conviction in June 2016, media organisations applied for the release of Eleanor King J’s judgment to Pauffley J in the family court. Pauffley J dismissed this application. Her decision was roundly reversed in this decision of the Court of Appeal.

The human rights clash is the familiar one of freedom of expression under Article 10 versus the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR.

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What lies do to claims – the Supreme Court

Marine-ClydeCo-0658_800_450_90_s_c1_c_cHayward v. Zurich [2016] UKSC 48   27 July 2016 read judgment

and Versloot Dredging BV  v HDI Gerling Industrie Versicherung AG [2016] UKSC, 20 July 2016 read judgment

Twin doses of dishonesty in the Supreme Court, last month. Both raised dilemmas for the SC trying to steer a principled way (in different circumstances) towards determining the cost of lying.

In the first, Mr Hayward claimed over £400,000 from his employers for a back injury at work. The Zurich smelt a rat and alleged exaggeration in its defence but felt ultimately they could not sufficiently prove it in court. So in 2003 they settled the claim by paying Mr Hayward just under £135,000. In 2005, his neighbours told insurers that they thought he had been dishonest. So the Zurich started proceedings to set the compromise aside and to get its money back. Mr Hayward sought to strike it out, saying “a deal was a deal”, without success. So he then faced a trial of Zurich’s claim, at the end of which Zurich was successful. But the saga was not over. He now faced a retrial of his original claim, in which he repeated the lies he had come out previously.  The judge was thoroughly unconvinced, and gave him £14,700. It was that result which was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court.

The second claim concerned marine insurers of a ship who sought to repudiate a claim on the policy because the insured owners had told a lie in presenting the claim, even though the lie proved to be irrelevant to the insurer’s liability. Owners claimed over €3,200,000 for the loss of a vessel. They said  that the crew had informed them that the bilge alarm had sounded at noon that day, but could not be investigated because of heavy weather. This was a lie told by the owners to strengthen the claim. But it turned out to be irrelevant to the result, because of the judge’s  finding that the vessel’s loss had been caused by a peril of the seas.

Both lower courts found that this lie was a “fraudulent device”, which meant the insurers did not have to pay out under the policy.

So what did the Supreme Court do with these two claims about lying?

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Whose fair trial prevails?

shutterstock_152336216-505x337Da Costa and another v. Sargaco [2016] EWCA Civ 764   14 July 2016 read judgment

Two people say they owned motorbikes which they kept outside their house – until, it is said, the bikes were mown down by the defendant’s car, a collision which their witness claimed to have seen. The car’s insurers said that the claim was fraudulent and it was all a conspiracy. The judge agreed it was a fraud, whereas the Court of Appeal disagreed – but still disallowed the claim because, the CA said, the owners had not proved their case.

But the point of general interest arose because the judge decided that each claimant should give evidence in the absence of the other. And the CA said this was wrong. As I shall explain, I disagree. But let’s see where the Article 6 ECHR battle lines lie so you can come to your own view.

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Strasbourg Court rules on “excessive” length of Scottish criminal proceedings

Photo credit: The Guardian

O’Neill and Lauchlan v. United Kingdom, nos. 41516/10 and 75702/13, 28 June 2016 – read judgment.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that criminal proceedings concerning two Scottish individuals ran beyond the “reasonable” period of time permitted under Article 6, ECHR. Despite considering that the individual stages of the proceedings were all reasonable in length, the cumulative time was excessive and in violation of Article 6(1).

Background

In August 1998, the applicants were sentenced to periods of imprisonment of eight and six years following convictions for various sex offences. During their incarceration, the police wished to question the applicants about the disappearance, and suspected murder, of their ex-housemate (AM) after she had been reported missing six months earlier. On 17 September 1998 the applicants were detained by police and interviewed separately for over five hours. During these interviews they were directly accused of the murder of AM but, subsequently, neither applicant was arrested or formally charged.

Following release from prison, and subsequent re-arrest and recall to prison due to the apparent abduction of a fourteen year old boy, the applicants were again convicted of various sex offences and sentenced to a further three years in prison. During this period of incarceration the applicants were also placed on petition in relation to the murder of AM in early April 2005. Formal charges were brought on 5 April 2005 whilst the police continued with their investigations. However, in late 2005, Crown Counsel raised concerns about the sufficiency of evidence. Accordingly, a decision to take “no proceedings meantime” was made in December 2005 and subjected to continuous review as investigations continued. Continue reading