Wednesday, 25 November 2015

European Court of Human Rights ~ Article 6 ~ Ibrahim, Mohammed, Omar, Abdurahman v United Kingdom

The European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber is hearing the cases of Ibrahim, Mohammed, Omar, Abdurahman v United Kingdom.  The four were convicted of offences in connection with bombs (which failed to explode) on the London Underground on 21st July 2005.   In the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) in 2008 the President of the Queen's Bench Division described the offences as "merciless and extreme" and added that the sentences  were rightly severe and extreme. Beyond doubt, they were utterly justified.

The following is taken from the court's explanation of the cases.

The applicants in the first three applications, Muktar Said Ibrahim, Ramzi Mohammed and Yassin Omar, are Somali nationals who were born in 1978, 1981, and 1981 respectively. The applicant in the fourth application, Ismail Abdurahman, is a British national who was born in Somalia in 1982.

On 7 July 2005 suicide bombers detonated their bombs on the London transport system, killing 52 people and injuring many more. Two weeks later, on 21 July 2005 four bombs were detonated on the London transport system but failed to explode. The perpetrators fled the scene but were later arrested.

Following the arrest of the first three applicants – Mr Ibrahim, Mr Mohammed and Mr Omar – they were temporarily refused legal assistance in order for police “safety interviews” (interviews conducted urgently for the purpose of protecting life and preventing serious damage to property) to be conducted.  Under the Terrorism Act 2000, such interviews can take place in the absence of a solicitor and before the detainee has had the opportunity to seek legal advice. During the interviews the applicants denied any knowledge of the events of 21 July. At trial, they acknowledged their involvement in the events but claimed that the bombs had been a hoax and were never intended to explode. The statements made at their safety interviews were admitted at trial. They were convicted in July 2007 of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to a minimum term of 40 years’ imprisonment. The Court of Appeal subsequently refused them leave to appeal against their conviction - [2008] EWCA Crim 880.

Mr Abdurahman, the fourth applicant, was not suspected of having detonated a bomb and was initially interviewed by the police as a witness. He started to incriminate himself by explaining his encounter with one of the suspected bombers shortly after the attacks and the assistance he had provided to that suspect. The police did not, at that stage, arrest him and advise him of his right to silence and to legal assistance. Instead, they continued to question him as a witness and took a written statement from him. He was subsequently arrested and offered legal advice. In his ensuing interviews, he adopted and referred to his written statement. This statement was admitted as evidence at his trial. He was convicted in February 2008 of assisting one of the bombers and of failing to disclose information about the bombings. He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, reduced to eight years on appeal on account of the early assistance that he had given to the police.

Relying on Article 6(1) and 6(3)(c) - (right to a fair trial and right to legal assistance) - of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants complain about their lack of access to lawyers during their initial police questioning, alleging that their subsequent convictions were unfair because of the admission at trial of the statements they had made during those police interviews.

Criminal Law and Justice 27th February 2009 - Paul Mendelle QC and Ali Naseem Bajwa - How safe are safety interviews?


Terrorism Act 2000 section 41 and Schedule 8

1 comment:

  1. From Application no. 40351/09 by Ismail Abdurahman against the UK, lodged in the ECHR on 29 July 2009:

    Paragraph 8:
    At the voir dire at the applicant's trial [October 2007], DC Stewart and DC Vernon accepted that, when they first approached the applicant, it was with a view to his assisting the police as a potential witness. They began interviewing him at 6.15 p.m. By 7 p.m. the police officers considered that, as a result of the answers he was giving, the applicant was in danger of incriminating himself and should be cautioned. They accordingly sought instructions from one of the senior officers in charge of the investigation. They were told that they should continue to interview the applicant as if he were a witness.

    & at Paragraph 14:
    14. At the voir dire, DC Vernon and DC Stewart gave evidence that, when they first approached the applicant on the afternoon of 27 July, it was with a view to his assisting the police as a potential witness. It was also accepted by the applicant that, at that stage, the police officers had no sufficient information to justify arresting him, or treating him as a suspect. In his evidence DC Vernon expressed surprise that, when the witness statement had been completed at 5 a.m. on 28 July, he and DC Stewart were instructed to arrest the applicant.

    It is evident that, under instructions from one of the senior officers in charge of the investigation, the interview strategy to 'continue to interview [Abdurahman] as if he were a witness rather than a 'suspect' was a deliberate policy & indeed secured the 'evidence' used somewhat in his later conviction.

    The misuse of the 'safety interview' (eliciting information without administering caution), seemed to feature very heavily in a number of trials associated with the whole July 21 saga. Indeed the human rights case lodged by Muktar Ibrahim, Ramzi Mohammed and Yassin Omar centred on evidence taken from so-called “safety interviews”.

    In addition, the 'voire dire' legal mechanism featured heavily.

    Still awaiting an article by your goodself ObiterJ on the derivation/history/use of the 'voire dire'.........Great blog, thanks.