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European Court finds that inability to cross-examine witness does not result in unfairness

Simon Price v United Kingdom, Application no. 15602/07

The European Court of Human Rights unanimously decided that proceedings which led to the conviction of the applicant for drug trafficking offences did not infringe Article 6.  This was despite the fact that the applicant was unable to cross-examine a key prosecution witness due to his refusal to attend court.

The facts were that in 2004, a ship entering Rotterdam was found to contain cocaine valued at £35 million.  The applicant, Simon Price, was arrested and charged.  The main issue was whether the applicant had intended to import the drugs to the UK and the key prosecution witness provided evidence that he had.  As the witness would not attend trial by video link, his statements were read out.  The judge gave repeated warnings concerning the evidence provided by the absent witness and the applicant was unanimously convicted by the jury.  The matter was appealed and the Court of Appeal rejected the arguments on fairness.

While a number of issues were brought, the only matter that the Court could adjudicate on was in relation to the inability of the defendant to cross-examine the prosecution witness.  The Court referred to its established principles:

1.     Were there good reasons for the witnesses absence from the trial?  The Court was undecided whether all reasonable efforts had been made to secure attendance.

2.     Was the absent witness’ evidence sole or decisive?  It was not.

3.     Did sufficient counterbalancing factors exist?  There was other substantial incriminating evidence.

Therefore, there was found to be no violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Read UK Human Rights Blog article here.

Tags
ECHR Art. 6, European Law, Right to Fair Trial