An man convicted under terrorism laws had his fair trial rights violated because he was wrongly treated by police as a witness rather than a suspect, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
Ismail Abdourahman was an accomplice of three men who attempted to carry out a terrorist bombing of London on 21 July 2005. The three would-be-bombers failed in their own claims. relating to delays in accessing their lawyers.
On 21 July 2005, four devices were detonated on London public transport, but did not explode. The attempted bombings took place two weeks after the attacks on 7 July 2005 in London, where 52 people were killed and more than 700 were injured in bomb blasts on the public transport network.
In the wake of the attempted attack, police arrested the first three men in this case Mukhtar Said Ibrahim, Ramzi Mohammed and Yasmin Omar, as suspects and conducted “safety interviews” under the Terrorism Act 2000. This allows police to delay a suspect’s access to legal advice for up to 48 hours in certain circumstances, such as where allowing access could lead to others being alerted, making it harder to prevent an act of terrorism.
They were interviewed for periods of between 4 and 8 hours before being given access to a lawyer. At trial, the judge allowed the statements taken to be used in evidence against them. They were later convicted of conspiracy to murder.
The fourth man, Ismail Abdourahman, was interviewed as a witness, but admitted to sheltering one of the bombers who was on the run. He was not immediately arrested and advised of his right to legal advice, and gave a statement in which he incriminated himself. He was later convicted of assisting one of the bombers and failing to disclose information.
The applied to the European Court claiming that their right to a fair trial and their right to legal assistance under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had been violated.
What does the right to a fair trial require?
The right to a fair trial includes a right for those charged with crimes to be assisted by a lawyer, and free advice should be provided where this is necessary for justice. However, the European Court has previously ruled that this right can be restricted where there are convincing reasons for this, provided that the evidence which is obtained does not cause unjustified harm to the rights of the defence.
What did the European Court say?
In December 2014, a Chamber of the European Court denied the claims of all four men on the basis that the urgent need to prevent further terrorist attacks was a convincing reason for delaying their access to legal advice. It also found that the trials of the men had been fair overall.
In the judgment, the Grand Chamber of the Court (the court of last resort) upheld the Chamber’s decision in relation to the three bombers.
However, it found that there had been a violation of Article 6 in relation to the accomplice, because:
- There was no basis in law for the police’s actions in his case;
- The police decision and the reasons behind it had not been recorded; and
- The man’s witness statement had been central to the prosecution’s case against him.
These facts meant that the use of this evidence against him at trial was unfair.
You can read the full judgment here.