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Publication:1998-VII, no.91
Title:Steel and others v. The United Kingdom
Application No:24838/94
Respondent:The United Kingdom
Referred by:Commission
Date of reference by Commission:09-07-1997
Date of reference by State:
Date of Judgment:23-09-1998
Articles:5-1
5-5
6-3
10
50
Conclusion:No violation of article 5-1(first and second applicant)
Violation of article 5-1 (third fourth and fifth applicant)
No violation of article 5-5
No violation of article 6-3
No violation of article 10 (first and second applicant)
Violation of article 10 (third fourth and fifth applicant)
Compensation awarded (third fourth and fifth applicant)
Keywords:LAWFUL ARREST OR DETENTION / FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION / COMPENSATION / LIBERTY OF PERSON

Summary:
Ms Steel was charged, inter alia, with causing a breach of the peace and was detained by the police for a total of 44 hours before being brought before a court. She appealed but the court upheld the finding and ordered her to agree to be bound over to keep the peace for 12 months, with a penalty for any breach of this order. However, Ms Steel refused to be bound over, and was therefore committed to prison for 28 days. Ms Lush was arrested and charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace and detained by the police for approximately 18 hours before being taken to court. At her trial she was found to have committed a breach of the peace and was ordered to agree to be bound over for 12 months in the sum of 100. She refused and was committed to prison for 7 days. Ms Needham, Mr. Polden and Mr. Cole were all arrested as they handed out leaflets and held up banners protesting against the sale of arms. They were detained by the police for approximately 7 hours. The applicants' principal complaints were that their arrests and detention had not been 'prescribed by law' as required by Article 5(1) and had amounted to disproportion-ate interferences with their right to freedom of expression in breach of Article 10. It was not disputed that although 'breach of the peace' was not classed as a criminal offence under English law, it amounted to an 'offence' within the meaning of Article 5(1)(c).

The Court recalled that the expression 'lawful' required, inter alia, full compliance with domestic law and also that the applicable domestic law be formulated with sufficient precision to allow the citizen - if need be with legal advice - to foresee to a reasonable degree the legal consequences of any given action. In this case, it was satisfied that the concept of breach of the peace had been clarified by the English courts to the extent that it was sufficiently established that a breach of the peace was committed only when a person caused harm, or appeared likely to cause harm, to persons or property or acted in a manner the natural consequence of which was to provoke others to violence. Having examined the evidence before it, it found no cause to doubt that the police had been justified in fearing that the first and second applicants' behaviour, if persisted in, might provoke others to violence. However, it found that the protest of the third, fourth and fifth applicants had been entirely peaceful and did not involve any behaviour which could have justified the police in fearing that a breach of the peace was likely to be caused. For this reason, in the absence of any national decision on the question, it found that the arrest of these three applicants and their detention for seven hours had not been lawful, either in terms of English law or Article 5(1). There had therefore been no violation of Article 5(1) in respect of the arrest and initial detention of the first and second applicants, but there had been a violation in respect of the arrest and detention of the third, fourth and fifth applicants.

The Court recalled that the first and second applicants were ordered to agree to be bound over to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. When they refused, they were committed to prison. This detention fell within the scope of Article 5(1)(b). It also had to consider whether the detention was lawful, including whether the national law was formulated with sufficient precision. In this respect, it was satisfied that the applicants could reasonably have foreseen that, if they acted in a manner the natural consequence of which was to provoke others to violence, they might be ordered to be bound over to keep the peace, and that if they refused to be bound over, they might be committed to prison.

The Court also assessed whether the binding over orders applied to the applicants were specific enough for the purposes of Article 5(1)(b). It noted that the orders were expressed in rather vague and general terms. However, it considered that, given the context, it must have been sufficiently clear to the applicants that they were being asked to agree to refrain from causing further, similar, breaches of the peace in the ensuing twelve months. Having found no evidence of any failure to comply with English law, the Court held that there had been no violation of Article 5(1) in respect of the detention of the first and second applicants for refusing to be bound over. The Court had no doubt that the measures taken against Ms Steel, particularly the long periods of detention, amounted to serious interferences with the exercise of her right to freedom of expression. However, having regard to the dangers inherent in her chosen form of protest, the risk of disorder arising from the persistent obstruction of the shoot, and the likelihood of Ms Steel resuming her protest, it did not find that the actions of the police in arresting and detaining her for 44 hours before bringing her before the magistrates, or the court's decision to fine her 70 and order her to bound over to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for one year, were disproportionate.

The Court found that it was legitimate for the national court to interpret Ms Steel's refusal to be bound over as a statement of her intention to continue with her protest activities despite its order requesting her to refrain from such behaviour. In these circumstances, bearing in mind not only the aim of deterrence but also the importance in a democratic society of maintaining the rule of law and the authority of the judiciary, the Court did not find it disproportionate that the applicant was committed to prison, even for as long as 28 days. It therefore found no violation of Article 10 in respect of the first applicant. Applying the same reasoning, the Court found that the measures taken in respect of Ms Lush had not been disproportionate. Given that the requirement under Article 10(2) that any interference with the exercise of freedom of expression be 'prescribed by law' is similar to that under Article 5(1) that a deprivation of liberty be 'lawful', it followed from the Court's finding in relation to Article 5(1) that there had also been a breach of Article 10.

In any case, the arrests and detention of the third, fourth and fifth applicants had been disproportionate to the aim of preventing disorder or of protection of the rights of others. The Court awarded to each of the third, fourth and fifth applicants a certain amount in respect of compensation for non-pecuniary damage, together with legal costs and expenses.

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Last Modified: 13-01-2014 16:18:19 (Documentation SIM)