The recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Keaney v Ireland (Application no. 72060/17) highlights the conflict that can arise between a common law legal system and the speed of redress which the European Court demands.
Seton v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 55287/10, 31 March 2016 – read judgment.
The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) has held that the use of telephone recordings as evidence in a criminal trial, despite the inability of the accused to challenge the caller, did not violate his rights under Article 6, ECHR. This judgment follows a number of Grand Chamber judgments on similar issues that have altered the ECtHR’s stance on the subject of absent witness evidence.
by Fraser Simpson
The applicant, Mr Seton, was on trial for murder. Prior to the trial, he submitted a defence statement stating that he believed that the murder had been carried out by Mr Pearman. The applicant alleged that he had previously been involved in a drug deal with Mr Pearman and the victim.
Mr Pearman, who was at the time imprisoned for drug dealing, was interviewed by the police but he refused to cooperate and answered “no comment” to all questions. Following these interviews, Mr Pearman phoned his wife and son from the prison and stated that he had never heard of the applicant and had no knowledge of the murder. These calls were recorded – a standard practice that Mr Pearman would have been aware of.
During the applicant’s trial for murder, it was accepted that the primary issue to be determined by the jury was whether the applicant or Mr Pearman had committed the murder. Mr Pearman had refused to attend the trial or make a formal witness statement. Accordingly, the prosecution sought to rely upon these recordings to disprove the applicant’s version of events. The trial judge, in deciding whether the recordings could be admitted as evidence, referred to s.114, Criminal Justice Act 2003 (“CJA 2003″). After considering the relevant considerations – such as the probative value of the evidence, whether it was self-serving, the reliability of the recording, and the prejudice that the applicant would face if it were to be admitted – the judge decided that the recordings could be relied upon during the trial. In summing up, the trial judge outlined the limitations of the telephone recordings and stated that it was up to the jury, in light of these limitations, to decide the relevant weight to be attached to the recordings. The applicant was subsequently convicted by the jury and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The applicant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal (see, Seton v. R.,  EWCA Crim 450). The Court of Appeal considered that compelling Mr Pearman to attend the trial, which was an option, would have “been a fruitless exercise”. Mr Pearman could have invoked the protection against self-incrimination and had consistently refused to cooperate so the “prospect of any sensible evidence being given by him was, on a realistic view, nil” (paragraph 22 of Court of Appeal judgment). The Court of Appeal would only interfere with the trial judge’s decision if the decision was “marred by legal error, or by a failure to take relevant matters into account or it is such that the judge could not sensibly have made”. The Court of Appeal held that the relevant consideration under s.114(2), CJA 2003 had been covered by the trial judge and there were no other grounds to overturn the conviction.
Further, the Court of Appeal commented on the safety of the conviction. Due to the “overwhelming” evidence against the applicant, including eye-witness accounts, telephone call records between the applicant and the victim and cell site location evidence placing the applicant in the vicinity of the murder, the conviction was deemed to be safe.
The Strasbourg Court
The applicant applied to the European Court of Human Rights and alleged that his right to a fair trial within Article 6(1) and 6(3)(d) had been violated. Article 6(1) includes the right to a fair hearing when facing criminal charges whilst Article 6(3)(d) ensures that the individual has the right:
“to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him”
The default position is that witness evidence should be provided during the trial and the accused should have the opportunity to challenge this evidence during this trial. However, the use of witness evidence when the witness does not attend the trial does not automatically result in a violation of Article 6(1) and 6(3)(d). The Grand Chamber has previously set out specific guidance in assessing whether the use of such evidence complies with Article 6. In Al-Khawaja and Tahery v. the United Kingdom (GC), Application nos. 26766/05 and 22228/06, 15 December 2011 (see paragraphs 118-151), the Grand Chamber outlined a general three-part process:
Consider whether good reasons exist for the absence of the witness.
Consider whether the evidence was the “sole or decisive” decisive evidence against the accused.
Assess the existence of sufficient counterbalancing factors and procedural safeguards which allow the reliability of the evidence to be fairly and properly tested.
This process was clarified in Schatschaschwili v. Germany (GC), Application no. 9154/10, 15 December 2015. The Grand Chamber stated that the lack of good reasons for lack of attendance was not sufficient to result in a violation of Article 6, but it was a strong factor to be considered when assessing the overall fairness of the proceedings (paragraph 113). Additionally, the necessary extent of counterbalancing factors depends upon the weight of the evidence provided by the absent witness in the overall context of the proceedings (paragraph 116).
Were there good reasons for the non-attendance of Mr Pearman? (paragraphs 61-62)
The ECtHR has previously adopted a robust approach to assessing whether “good reasons” existed for the absence of the witness at the trial. Previously, even in situations where the witness was located in another country (Gabrielyan v. Armenia, Application no. 8088/05, 10 April 2012), or could not be located at all (Lučić v. Croatia, Application no. 5699/11, 27 February 2014), the ECtHR have held that the authorities have failed to satisfy their duty to secure attendance of the witness. In light of this, the ECtHR unsurprisingly concluded that no good reasons existed for Mr Pearman being absent from the trial. The trial court could have compelled Mr Pearman to attend the trial and whilst they could not compel him to give evidence, due to his right to silence, the jury would have at least been able to assess his demeanour when facing cross-examination.
Was the evidence of Mr Pearman the “sole or decisive” evidence? (Paragraphs 63-64)
The ECtHR considered that the recorded telephone calls could not be considered the “sole or decisive” evidence in the criminal trial. The Court of Appeal, in commenting on the safeness of the conviction, had listed the other “overwhelming” evidence against the applicant. However, the evidence had been described as “important” by the trial judge. Accordingly, following the Grand Chamber decision in Schatschaschwili, it was necessary to consider whether sufficient counterbalancing factors existed during the trial.
Did sufficient counterbalancing factors exist? (Paragraphs 65-68)
In the present case, the ECtHR highlighted the detailed legislative scheme intended to ensure that evidence from the absent witness could only be relied upon in limited circumstances. The need to assess the significance of the evidence, its reliability, and the prejudice that the applicant would face as a result of being unable to challenge the witness was an important procedural safeguard intended to uphold respect for the applicant’s rights. Additionally, the instruction of the judge as to the limitations of the evidence was another important counterbalancing factor.
As clarified by the Grand Chamber in Schatschaschwili, the assessment of counterbalancing factors is a relative one – fewer factors will be required if the evidence provided by the absent witness is not especially important. In light of the existence of separate “overwhelming” evidence against the accused, the counterbalancing factors in the present case were considered sufficient.
In conclusion, the ECtHR decided that the criminal proceedings as a whole had been fair. Having following the procedure outlined in Al-Khawaja, the ECtHR concluded that there had been no violation of Article 6.
This decision of the ECtHR is the consequence of previous Grand Chamber decisions tending to dilute the procedural protections contained within Article 6(3). The right to examine witnesses has slowly been weakened in favour of a more holistic approach that focusses upon the overall fairness of the proceedings instead of potential individual deficiencies.
But the balancing process places an undue weight upon the existence of other incriminating evidence against the accused. The position appears to be that it is more acceptable to deny the accused the right to cross-examine a witness if the prosecution’s case against him/her is strong. This move towards focussing on the accuracy of the verdict, as opposed to upholding the rights of individuals, is a potentially worrying development. Indeed, the contemporary Strasbourg position appears, in effect, similar to the Court of Appeal’s consideration of the safety of the conviction.
It could be argued that the ECtHR may be surrendering its role as an upholder of fundamental human rights and moving towards that of an international criminal appeal court.
The current system ties overseas domestic workers to the foreign employer who brought them into the UK. Approximately 17,000 visas were issued under the scheme last year, with the large majority of applications coming from the Gulf States.
Workers have no legal right to change their employer, and are liable to deportation if they escape their situation. Campaigners argue that such restrictions expose women to the risk of serious ill treatment, with domestic workers being subjected to physical and sexual violence, deprivation of food and non-payment of wages.
The review of the scheme reinforces these concerns, finding “no evidence that a tie to a single employer does anything other than increase the risk of abuse and therefore increases actual abuse.” It recommends that workers be permitted to change employers and remain in the UK for up to two and a half years.
The Government has stated that it is “carefully considering the report’s recommendations” and would announce its response “in due course.”
In other news:
BBC: An independent investigation into concerns about Yarl’s Wood immigration centre has found no evidence of a “hidden or significant problem of serious misconduct” by staff at the facility. However, the report raised concerns that staffing levels had to some extent “undermined and compromised” the care of residents.
The Guardian: The Upper Tribunal has ordered the Secretary of State for the Home Department to admit to the UK four asylum seekers, currently residing in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. The Tribunal ruled that the three unaccompanied minors and the dependent adult brother of one of them should be allowed to live with their relatives already in Britain while their asylum claims are examined.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said that there is now “an industry trying to profit from spurious claims” against UK military personnel which he plans to “stamp out”. However, lawyers have noted that the government has agreed to pay compensation in over 300 cases of abuse, and have urged Mr Cameron not to challenge the principle that no-one is above the law. The BBC reports here.
In a letter written to the Guardian, UK lawyers have sought to draw attention to the plight of human rights defenders in Honduras. Between 2010 and March 2015, the national commissioner of human rights recorded the targeted killings of 91 lawyers. The statement calls for greater protection by the Honduran state for those whose lives are at risk.
This case concerned lustration proceedings brought against the former president of the Constitutional Court of Macedonia, which resulted in his dismissal from office.
The Court found that the proceedings, taken as a whole, had not satisfied the requirements of a fair trial. The Court attached particular importance to the open letter, published by the Prime Minister while lustration proceedings were still pending, which denounced the applicant as a collaborator of the secret police of the former regime. In view of the content and manner in which it was made, the statement was held to be incompatible with the notion of an “independent and impartial tribunal”. The Court therefore found a violation of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial).
Macklin v Her Majesty’s Advocate  UKSC 77, 16th December 2015 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal against a decision of Scotland’s High Court of Justiciary (available here) in which it refused to overturn a criminal conviction on the basis that the non-disclosure of evidence breached the appellant’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The pre-April 2013 Conditional Fee Agreement system, under which claimants could recover uplifts on their costs and their insurance premiums from defendants, has survived – just. It received a sustained challenge from defendants to the effect that such a system was in breach of their Article 6 rights to a fair trial.
In a seven-justice court there was a strongly-worded dissent of two, and two other justices found the case “awkward.”
The decision arises out of the noisy speedway case about which I posted in March 2014 – here. The speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. On an initial hearing (my post here), the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they ordered a further hearing to decide whether this was compatible with Article 6 .
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch is vocal in his support for the HRA
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Hannah Lynes
In the news
Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed the introduction of a British Bill of Rights, the Queen’s Speech containing only proposals for consultation. Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti has welcomed the development:
“It is heartening that a Conservative Government committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act has at least paused for thought in its first Queen’s speech. There is a long struggle ahead but time is the friend of freedom.”
Debate surrounding the proposed Bill of Rights continues in full force. Proponents of the HRA draw attention to perceived misconceptions advanced by the opposing side. Lord Leveson points out that UK courts are not ‘bound’ by the decisions of Strasbourg (“the legislation only requires us to take them into account”), whilst Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog questions the accuracy of claims that the HRA prevents us from deporting serious foreign criminals. Dr Ed Bates argues in the Constitutional Law blog that the domestic judiciary is more supportive of the ECHR than certain politicians would have us believe. Useful coverage of the views expressed by senior judges is provided here.
Housing: Leading housing charities last month issued a report claiming that the present ‘crisis’ in housing has put the UK in breach of its UN obligations to provide adequate homes. Housing campaigners fear government proposals set to reduce housing benefit for 18-21 year olds will serve to exacerbate the problem. The measures could “spell disaster for thousands of young people who…could be facing homelessness and the terrifying prospect of roughing it on the streets”, warns Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes.
Surveillance: Prominent legal academics have signed a letter calling on the Government to ensure that any changes in surveillance law “are fully and transparently vetted by parliament, and open to consultation from the public and all relevant stakeholders”. The Guardian reports here.
Police: Hampshire Constabulary has admitted a failure to properly investigate the complaint of a victim of rape, who had been accused of lying by the force. An out-of-court settlement was reached with the young woman following commencement of proceedings under the Human Rights Act.
Discrimination: A woman turned down for a job because she observed Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, was successful in her claim for indirect discrimination. The Telegraph reports on the decision.
Gender: An interview with barrister Roy Brown in Halsbury’s Law Exchange examines the significance of recent High Court decisions in JK and Carpenter for transgender rights in the UK.
This case concerned the question of legal representation in complex family proceedings. The Court of Appeal held that whilst it may be inappropriate for an unrepresented litigant to conduct cross-examination of his alleged victim, a judge is not entitled to order the Courts Service (HMCTS) to pay for a legally trained advocate to do so on the litigant’s behalf. A court is not permitted to circumvent the detailed provisions for legal aid eligibility set out in LASPO. Further, the result does not amount to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial), since the court has available to it other alternatives. These include the possibility of the judge himself conducting the questioning.
Re K and H  EWCA Civ 543, Court of Appeal, 22 May 2015 – read judgment
Philippa Whipple QC and Matthew Donmall of 1 COR appeared for the Lord Chancellor in this case. They have played no part in the writing of this post.
Lord Dyson for the Court of Appeal has recently reversed the decision of HHJ Bellamy (see my post here) who had ordered legal aid to help an unrepresented father in family proceedings. The conundrum was that the father wanted contact with his children aged 5 and 4, but a 17-year old step-daughter, Y, told her teacher that the father sexually abused her – which the father denied.
That issue had to be decided first – and understandably the father felt unable to cross-examine Y himself. Hence the judge’s order that the Courts Service (HMCTS) should pay for legal representation for the father limited to that cross-examination of Y.
‘The Conservative Party has won a majority and can implement its manifesto. The Human Rights Act will be scrapped,’ writes Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog. Such an outcome might not be a foregone conclusion, but Professor Mark Elliott is clear that ‘repeal of the HRA, the adoption of a British Bill of Rights and perhaps even withdrawal from the ECHR are now less unthinkable’.
Questions surrounding the content of the proposed Bill of Rights have therefore assumed increased urgency. A press release issued in October 2014 spoke of limiting the rights of illegal immigrants, travellers, victims of British military abuse and foreigners who commit crimes in the UK. Yet as UKHRB founder Adam Wagner notes, ‘only foreign criminals were mentioned in the manifesto, so it is all to play for.’
The HRA has failed to secure resilience in domestic politics. Benedict Douglas for the UK Constitutional Law blog attributes this failure to an absence in the Act of a ‘justification for rights possession in dignity or any other foundational human characteristic’. Mark Elliott points to the manner of its introduction: little effort was made ‘to engage the general public in what was perceived to be a political and legal elite’s pet project’.
Current discussions could thus present an opportunity, argues Adam Wagner for RightsInfo. A ‘Bill of Rights, done properly with real public involvement might help convince people that human rights are for all of us.’
For those looking to read more about human rights reform:
The Human Rights Act and a Question of Legitimacy – Barrister Austen Morgan considers the advantages of a British Bill of Rights for The Justice Gap.
What does a Conservative Government Mean for the Future of Human Rights in the UK? – Professor Mark Elliot puts together a useful list of recent posts he has written on Conservative plans for reform.
Michael Gove has been appointed Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor in the post-election Cabinet. The Telegraph reports here.
BBC: Two Syrian asylum seekers imprisoned for failing to provide passports have been successful in appealing their convictions.
The High Court has ruled that a child should be brought up by her genetic father and his male partner, despite objections from the surrogate mother. The Guardian reports.
The Justice Gap: The Uk Supreme Court has launched an on-demand video catch-up.
Legal Voice: More than 8,000 lawyers are set to join the London Legal Walk to raise funds for the legal not-for-profit sector
Mark Freedland and Jeremias Prassl express concerns over the impact and regulation of ‘zero-hours contracts’ for the Oxford Human Rights Hub.
The case concerned the imposition of administrative fines on individuals who had been acquitted by the criminal courts of the same offence. The ECtHR found a violation of the right to a presumption of innocence (contra. Article 6 ECHR) and also the right not to be tried or punished twice (Article 4 of Protocol No.7).
‘In Conversation with Sir Stephen Sedley’ – As part of LSE’s Legal Biography Project, Sir Ross Cranston will interview Sir Stephen Sedley on his life and career in the law. The event will be held on 19 May in the Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building. More information can be found here.
If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email Jim Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Northamptonshire County Council v AS, KS and DS  EWFC 7 – read judgment
A Family Division judge has awarded damages under the Human Rights Act against a local authority in what he described as an “unfortunate and woefulcase” involving a baby taken into foster care. Mr Justice Keehan cited a “catalogue of errors, omissions, delays and serial breaches of court orders” by Northamptonshire County Council. Unusually, the judge decided to give the judgment in this sensitive case in public in order to set out “the lamentable conduct of this litigation by the local authority.”
On 30 January 2013, the local authority placed the child (known as ‘DS’) with foster carers. He was just fifteen days old. In the weeks prior to DS’s birth, his mother’s GP had made a referral to the local authority due to her lack of antenatal care and because she claimed to be sleeping on the street. The mother then told a midwife that she had a new partner. He was a heroin addict.
After the birth DS’s mother avoided seeing her midwife. She frequently moved addresses and conditions at home were exceedingly poor. Three days before DS was taken into care, his mother told social workers that her new partner was being aggressive and threatening to her. She reported that he was leaving used needles around the house. Continue reading →
R (o.t.a Henderson) v. Secretary of State for Justice, Divisional Court, 27 January 2015 – judgment here
The Court (Burnett LJ giving the sole judgment) has ruled on whether the statutory changes made to the ability of acquitted defendants in the Crown Court to recover their costs from central funds are compatible with the ECHR.
Its answer – an emphatic yes, the new rules are compatible. This conclusion was reached in respect of the two statutory regimes applicable since October 2012, as we shall see.
Re K and H (Children: unrepresented father: cross-examination of child)  EWFC 1, HHJ Bellamy – read judgment
Philippa Whipple QC of 1 COR appeared for the Lord Chancellor in this case. She has played no part in the writing of this post.
This case raises a very stark problem. A father wants to see his children aged 5 and 4. The mother has an elder daughter, Y, aged 17. Y told her teacher that the father sexually abused her. The truth or otherwise of this allegation is relevant to whether there should be contact between father and his children.
The father is a litigant in person, and unsurprisingly (whatever the status of her allegations) Y does not to be cross-examined by the father, nor, equally understandably, does the father wish to do so himself.
So who should? And does the court have the power to order Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to pay for legal representation for the father limited to that cross-examination of Y? So the Lord Chancellor was allowed to intervene – he had been invited to do so in a previous case (Q v. Q – here, and our post here, to which we will come), but had been unwilling to do so – not perhaps tactful to the judges but then he still seems to be learning the ropes in that respect – see here.
R (on the application of) Gudanaviciene and others v The Director of Legal Aid Casework and others  EWCA Civ 1622 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance on exceptional funding in civil legal aid is incompatible with the right of access to justice under Article 6 of the ECHR and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Court has further decided that this Guidance was not compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR in immigration cases; in other words, that legal aid should not be refused when applicants for entry to the UK seek to argue that refusal of entry would interfere with their right to respect for private and family life.
CF v The Ministry of Defence and others  EWHC 3171 (QB) – read judgment
Angus McCullough QC of 1 Crown Office Row acted as Special Advocate in this case. He has nothing to do with the writing of this post.
The High Court has ruled that in a case against the state which did not directly affect the liberty of the subject, there was no irreducible minimum of disclosure of the state’s case which the court would require. The consequences of such disclosure for national security prevailed.
Factual and legal background
The claimant, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, had made a number of claims against various government departments, alleging complicity in unlawful and arbitrary detention and inhuman and degrading treatment and torture on the part of British authorities in Somaliland. He also sought damages for trespass, breach of the Human Rights Act 1998, and misfeasance in public office. As Irwin J said,
The remedy sought is not confined to ordinary compensation, but extends to damages for breach of the Convention and to declaratory relief, which in the context of this case, and if the Claimant succeeded, would represent an important marking of unlawful behaviour: a matter in which there is a legitimate public interest.
R (ota) Sir David Barclay and Sir Frederick Barclay v Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, The Committee for the Affairs of Jersey and Guernsey and Her Majesty’s Privy Council  UKSC 54 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has just ruled on a case which appeared before the Administrative Court on the judicial workings of Sark, and the power of the ruling body to alter the pay of the local judge (known as”Seneschal”). The Administrative Court had thought this was potentially open to arbitrary use and therefore incompatible with Article 6 of the Human Rights Convention – read judgment and Rosalind English’s post here.
But things took a different turn in the Supreme Court. For reasons unexplained, the Barclay brothers (who own these island just off Sark) dropped out of the case, and none of the remaining parties sought to uphold the judgment of the Administrative Court. The Article 6(1) point was not adjudicated upon, and the case became a constitutional one. The Channel Islands are not part of the UK, and have their own legislatures, though they act internationally by the UK Government.
In those circumstances – how should a UK Court go about reviewing the London approach to reviewing a measure put forward by an independent legislature? Continue reading →
Two important cases in the last few days showing how difficult it is to find a fair way to litigate private nuisance cases. Most of these claims have a modest financial value, but may raise complex factual and expert issues, even before you get to the law. The first case I shall deal with, Coventry, shows the iniquities of the recently departed system. The second, Austin, the dangers of the new.
Coventry is the sequel to the speedway case about which I posted in March – here. The”relatively small” local speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. More than half of this was no-win-no-fee uplift and insurance premium combined. Indeed, the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they have ordered a further hearing to decide whether such a costs bill was in breach of Article 6 of the ECHR.
Austin is a claim concerning noise and dust affecting the claimant’s house close to an open-cast mine on the edge of Merthyr Tydfil: see pic. Before I go further, I should say that I represented Mrs Austin at an earlier stage of these proceedings.
In the present hearing, she unsuccessfully sought an order limiting the costs which she might have to pay if she lost the litigation (a protective costs order or PCO).
So each case is about a costs burden, which is capable of causing injustice to one or other party.
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