ECH-1996-1-001
a)  Council of Europe / b)  European Court of Human Rights / c)  Grand Chamber / d)  08-02-1996 / e)  41/1994/488/570 / f)  John Murray v. the United Kingdom / g)  Reports of Judgments and Decisions, 1996 / h) CODICES (English, French).
 
Keywords of the systematic thesaurus:
 
 
Fundamental Rights - Civil and political rights - Procedural safeguards, rights of the defence and fair trial - Presumption of innocence.
Fundamental Rights - Civil and political rights - Procedural safeguards, rights of the defence and fair trial - Right to remain silent.
Fundamental Rights - Civil and political rights - Procedural safeguards, rights of the defence and fair trial - Right to counsel.
 
Keywords of the alphabetical index:
 
Police, interrogation.
 
Headnotes:
 
The drawing of adverse inferences from the applicant's silence during police interrogation and at trial was held not to infringe the principle of the presumption of innocence (Article 6.2 ECHR).
 
The applicant's lack of access to a lawyer during the first 48 hours of his police detention violated the right to a fair trial.
 
Summary:
 
Mr Murray was arrested on 7 January 1990 in a house in which a Provisional Irish Republican Army informer had been held captive. The Detective Superintendent, pursuant to the Northern Ireland Act 1987, decided to delay the applicant's access to a solicitor for 48 hours, considering that such access would interfere with police operations against terrorism.
 
Under the Criminal Evidence Order 1988, Mr Murray was cautioned by the police that adverse inferences might be drawn if he failed to answer questions at the pretrial stage.
 
On 8 and 9 January 1990, Mr Murray was interviewed twelve times. Before each interview he was either cautioned or reminded that he was under caution.
 
Mr Murray remained silent throughout these interviews.
 
On 8 May 1991 the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland sentenced Murray to eight years' imprisonment for aiding and abetting the false imprisonment of the informer.
 
The judge drew adverse inferences from the fact that the applicant failed to offer an explanation for his presence at the house and had remained silent during the trial.
 
The applicant's appeal was dismissed by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal in July 1992.
 
The first question to be resolved by the European Court of Human rights was whether the drawing of adverse inferences from the applicant's silence infringed the principle of the presumption of innocence.
 
The Court held that it was a matter to be determined in the light of all the circumstances of the case, having particular regard to the situations where inferences may be drawn and the weight attached to them by the national courts.
 
In this context, the Court recalled that the applicant was able to remain silent. His insistence in maintaining silence throughout the proceedings did not amount to a criminal offence or to contempt of court under Northern Irish legislation.
 
Furthermore, the drawing of inferences under Northern Irish legislation was subject to an important series of safeguards designed to respect the rights of the defence and to limit the extent to which reliance could be placed on inferences: it was only if the evidence adduced by the prosecution was sufficiently strong to require an answer that such conclusions could be drawn.
 
Accordingly there had been no violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence.
 
Under Article 6.3 ECHR (right to assistance by counsel), the Court observed that this article may be relevant before a case is sent for trial if and in so far as the fairness of the trial is likely to be seriously prejudiced by an initial failure to comply with its provisions.
 
The Court was of the opinion that the scheme contained in the Northern Irish legislation was such that it was of paramount importance for the rights of the defence that an accused had access to a lawyer at the initial stages of police interrogation. If the accused chose to remain silent, adverse inferences might be drawn against him. On the other hand, if he opted to break his silence during the course of interrogation, he ran the risk of prejudicing his defence.
 
There was therefore a breach of Article 6.1 ECHR taken in conjunction with Article 6.3.c ECHR as regards the applicant's right of access to a lawyer during the first 48 hours of his police detention.
 
Languages:
 
English, French.