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Temporary absence of legal advice for terror suspects does not violate Article 6

Ibrahim and others v United Kingdom [GC], App nos. 50541/08, 50571/08, 50573/08, and 40351/09

The European Court of Human Rights considered the issue of a temporary delay in providing access to a lawyer during the police questioning of terror suspects, concerning attempted bombings in London in July 2005.  Police interviews were conducted under the Terrorism Act 2000 which allows interviews to take place in the absence of a solicitor and prior to the suspect obtaining legal advice.  The applicants argued that their convictions were unfair because of the admission at trial of the statements they had made at police interview.

On 21st July 2005, four bombs were detonated on the London transport system but failed to explode.  The perpetrators fled the scene and police arrested the first three applicants on suspicion of having detonated the bombs.  The fourth applicant was initially interviewed as a witness but during interview, incriminated himself and he became suspected of assisting one of the bombers after the failed attack.  All four applicants were convicted.

At the time of interview, it was accepted that there had been an exceptionally serious and imminent threat to public safety which justified the temporary delay in permitting the applicants’ access to lawyers.  It found that no undue prejudice had been caused to the applicants’ right to a fair trial by admitting their statements at trial even though they had been made prior to having been given access to legal advice.  (The Court noted that the fourth applicant who had made incriminating statements, had not retracted his statements even after consulting a lawyer).

The Court found that there had been no violation of the rights of any of the applicants under Article 6.  The Terrorism Act struck an appropriate balance between the right to legal advice and the need in exceptional cases to enable the police to obtain information necessary to protect the public.  Further, there was other strong evidence against the men besides the interview statements.  The Court’s primary concern was to evaluate the overall fairness of the proceedings.

Read UK Human Rights blog article here.

ECHR Art. 6, Right to Fair Trial