The European Court of Human Rights has handed down its judgment in the case involving Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician shot dead by British police officers in Stockwell tube station in July 2005. You can read the Court’s press release on this decision here and the full judgment here (Grand Chamber Judgment: Armani da Silva v UK).
The shooting in the underground station took place two weeks after the 7 July London bombings, which killed 52 people, and one day after the attempted further bombings of 21 July 2005. De Menezes was killed close range by two special firearms officers after he was mistaken for a suicide bomber.
A report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2006 concluded that the police had made avoidable mistakes and were capable of being found guilty of crimes such as murder or gross negligence.
In 2006, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the body responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in England and Wales, decided not to bring charges against any of the police officers involved in the De Menezes shooting. This is because the CPS concluded that there was not sufficient evidence for a “realistic prospect of conviction”.
Although the Metropolitan Police were successfully prosecuted under Health and Safety laws, an inquest jury returned an open verdict in December 2008 after being advised that De Menezes’s killing had not been unlawful. A judicial review challenge of the CPS’s decision not to prosecute was rejected by the English High Court in December 2006.
In January 2008 Jean Charles De Menezes’s cousin, Patricia Armani Da Silva, brought a case against the United Kingdom in the European Court of Human Rights. She argued that her cousin’s right to life had been violated by the CPS’s decision not to prosecute any individuals in relation to his death. Specifically, she argued that the evidential test of “realistic prospect of success” applied by the CPS to prosecute individuals was arbitrary, subjective and necessarily based on partial information. She also complained that the decision not to prosecute should be taken by a court rather than a public official such as a prosecutor.
13 votes to 4
The European Court of Human Rights decided, by 13 votes to 4, that there had been no violation of the right to life, which derives from Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. One aspect of this right is that deaths which occur at the hands of the State must be properly investigated.
The Court found that the decision not to prosecute any individual police officer was not due to any failings in the investigation or the State’s tolerance of, or involvement in, any unlawful acts. Rather, it was due to the fact that, following a thorough investigation, a prosecutor had considered all the facts of the case and decided that there was insufficient evidence against any individual officer to prosecute.
The Court concluded that the authorities had not failed in their obligations to conduct an effective investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and had therefore not violated the right to life.