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Publication:1996-VI, no. 24
Title:Saunders v. The United Kingdom
Application No:19187/91
Respondent:The United Kingdom
Referred by:Commission; Respondent state
Date of reference by Commission:09-09-1994
Date of reference by State:13-09-1994
Date of Judgment:17-12-1996
Conclusion:Violation of article 6-1
Compensation awarded for costs and expenses

The applicant complained of the fact that statements made by him under compulsion to the Inspectors appointed by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) during their investigation were admitted as evidence against him at his subsequent criminal trial. He maintained that implicit in the right to a fair trial guaranteed by Article 6(1) ECHR, as the Court had recognised in its judgments in Funke vs France (25 February 1993, A. 256-A, no. 44) and John Murray vs the United Kingdom (8 February 1996, no. 45), was the right of an individual not to be compelled to contribute incriminating evidence to be used in a prosecution against him. This principle was closely linked to the presumption of innocence which was expressly guaranteed by Article 6(2) ECHR and had been recognised by the European Court of Justice (ORKEM vs Commission, Case 374/87, 1989, European Court Reports 3283) and by the Constitutional Court of South Africa (Ferreira vs Levin and Others, judgment of 6 December 1995) amongst others. It should apply equally to all defendants regardless of the nature of the allegations against them or their level of education and intelligence. It followed that the use made by the prosecution of the transcripts of interviews with the Inspectors in subsequent criminal proceedings was contrary to Article 6.

Furthermore, the applicant argued that this use of the transcripts was particularly unfair in his case since, in the words of the Court of Appeal, they `formed a significant part of the prosecution case'. Three days were spent reading extracts from his interviews with the Inspectors to the jury before Mr Saunders decided that he ought to give evidence to explain and expand upon this material. As a result, he was subjected to intensive cross-examination concerning alleged inconsistencies between his oral testimony at trial and his responses to the Inspectors' questions, to which the trial judge drew attention in his summing up to the jury. The prosecution's task was thus facilitated when it was able to contrast its own evidence with Mr Saunders' more specific denials in his interviews. The Government submitted that only statements which are self-incriminating can fall within the privilege against self-incrimination. However, exculpatory answers or answers which, if true, are consistent with or would serve to confirm the defence of an accused cannot be properly characterised as self-incriminating. In their submission, neither the applicant nor the Commission had identified at any stage a single answer given by the applicant to the DTI Inspectors which was self- incriminating. There cannot be derived from the privilege against self-incrimination a further right not to be confronted with evidence that requires the accused, in order successfully to rebut it, to give evidence himself. That, in effect, is what the applicant is claiming when he alleges that the admission of the transcript `compelled' him to give evidence. The Court observed that the complaint was confined to the use of statements obtained by DTI Inspectors during criminal proceedings against the applicant. Article 6(1) was not applicable to proceedings before the Inspectors.

The right not to incriminate oneself lies at the heart of a fair procedure and applies to all types of criminal proceedings. It is primarily concerned with respecting the will of an accused person to remain silent. The applicant had been legally compelled to give statements to the Inspectors. Whether or not there was an unjustifiable infringement of his right not to incriminate himself depends on the use made of those statements by the prosecution at the trial, even if they were not self- incriminating. The prosecution made extensive use of the statements in a way which sought to incriminate the applicant. The transcripts of statements read out to the jury over a three-day period despite objections by the applicant. The prosecution sought to use the statements to establish the applicant's dishonesty and to challenge his credibility. Accordingly, there was an infringement of the applicant's right not to incriminate himself. It was not necessary to determine whether the right is absolute or whether infringements may be justified in particular circumstances. There had been a violation of Article 6(1) ECHR.

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