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Use of unchallengable witness evidence not a violation of Article 6

Case of Seton v The United Kingdom (Application no. 55287/10)

The European Court of Human Rights held that the use of telephone recordings as evidence in a criminal trial did not violate the applicant’s rights under Article 6 of the Convention, despite the fact that he had no opportunity to challenge the evidence.

The applicant was on trial for murder and in his defence made a statement that he believed the murder had been carried out by Mr Pearman, who was at the time serving a sentence for drug dealing.  The applicant alleged that they had both been involved in a drug deal with the victim.  Mr Pearman was uncooperative and answered ‘no comment’ when questioned.  He then telephoned his family and stated that he did not know the applicant and had no knowledge of the murder.  The calls were recorded and the defence alleged that Mr Pearman was likely to know this.  The prosecution sought to rely on the recordings to disprove the applicant’s case.

The applicant argued that his right to a fair trial had been violated and specifically the right ‘to examine or have examined witnesses against him’ as set out under Art. 6(3)(d).  The Court, in deciding the matter, considered it necessary to take into account three factors:

1. Whether there were good reasons for the absence of the witness (not in this case);

2. Whether the evidence was sole or decisive (it was not as there was overwhelming evidence against the applicant) and

3. Whether counterbalancing factors existed to allow the evidence to be tested (and this was considered sufficient).

The Court found that the criminal proceedings as a whole had been fair and upheld the verdict.

You can access the article from Human Rights Europe here.

Criminal Law, ECHR Art. 6, Right to Fair Trial