The Convention 8: The right to a fair hearing

Years ago a national newspaper ran a series of TV advertisements with the slogan…

“Ever wished you were better informed?”

One that sticks in my mind involved the image of a scary looking skinhead running down a busy street, his face set in grim determination and jumping on an innocent looking man in a pin striped suit. The force of the ‘assault’ sent both men hurtling to the ground in what looked ‘at first sight’ like a thuggish attack on a defenceless victim.

Then the camera angle widens and it becomes clear that far from assaulting a passer by the skinhead had just saved his life. Risking his own safety he had prevented the ‘victim’ from being crushed by falling bricks from a scaffold above his head.

Courts of Justice
Courts of Justice

The term ‘at first sight’ is also used in law. It’s not the end of the story though – it’s the beginning. Just because a person looks guilty doesn’t mean that they are as the advertisement described above showed so well. Most people have found themselves in situations where they have done nothing wrong but where ‘at first sight’ evidence makes it look as though they have. That’s what article 6 is all about – the right to a fair hearing.

“1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law……..

2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights –
(a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he or she understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;

(b) to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;

(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;

(d) 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;

(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.”
ECHR – Article 6

Article 6 is the friend of the accused, not because it protects guilty people from punishment but because it protects the innocent from unsafe and ill-considered conviction.

But article 6 applies to more than just criminal proceedings. It also covers civil proceedings such as claims for damages or tribunal hearings. The interface between civil proceedings and the ECHR can be complex and I don’t pretend to be qualified to explain it here but if you think you have not been heard fairly this may be an avenue to explore with your solicitor.

Article 6 also covers mental health and mental capacity legislation and their associated tribunals which is why both the Mental Health Act 83/07 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (including the 2007 ‘DoLS’ amendments) include provision for advocacy and review/appeals processes.

In short, like all the articles of ‘The convention’ article 6 ensures fairness and equitable treatment. Everyone has the right to have their case heard and to be treated fairly under the law. It also makes provision for legal aid, for advocacy and fair access to information (with an interpreter if necessary) and for reasonable consideration in all court proceedings.

So far then we have seen that the ECHR ensures:

Right to life;
Freedom from torture;
Freedom from Slavery;
Right to liberty;
Right to a fair trial.

What’s so bad about that?

In the next post we’ll consider article 7 – No punishment without law.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here:

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