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Excluding first claimant from court while second gave evidence did not breach human rights

Da Costa and another v Sargaco [2016] EWCA Civ 764

In a matter concerning a road traffic claim, the Court of Appeal ruled that in deciding whether Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been breached, it is necessary to scrutinise very carefully the proceedings as a whole.

The appellants claimed they had each owned a motorcycle which had been damaged when the first defendant drove his car into both parked vehicles.  The insurer (second defendant) alleged that the claim was fraudulent.  The first defendant was untraceable.  The judge found that the claimants had not proved their case, their accounts were inconsistent and that the claim was indeed fraudulent.

The claimants appealed on a number of grounds, one of which was that the judge had ordered that each claimant be excluded from court while the other gave evidence.  In making the order, the judge considered whether this would prevent them from having a fair trial in accordance with Art 6 of the ECHR.  She decided it would not.  The Court of Appeal thought that the judge had erred by failing to start from the premise that the claimants were entitled to be there throughout.  Had she done so, it was difficult to see how she could have justified making an order of this kind.  However, Lady Justice Black said that,

I do not see the exclusion of the claimant as automatically fatal to the entire trial…the fairness of the hearing depends upon the proceedings as a whole.’

The Court found that the trial was not rendered unfair.  The appeal was allowed in relation to the findings of fraud against the claimants.  However, the appellants had not proved their case and the matter was dismissed in this respect.

Read UK Human Rights Blog article here.

ECHR Art. 6, Right to Fair Trial