ECHR: ‘Decision to restrict communication between lawyer and accused on the grounds of protecting States secrets was contrary to the Convention’

July 27th, 2017 § 0 comments

In 2014 a former member of the Netherlands security service (AIVD) was charged of having disclosed state secrets to unauthorised persons. Prior to his trial, he was informed by the secret service that it would be constitutive of a further criminal offence if he were to discuss the matters covered by his duty of secrecy with anyone including his counsel.

During the appeal proceedings he and his counsel complained over the security service restrictions affecting the defence.

The applicant complained before the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that his trial had been unfair and that (inter alia) Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial) had been violated. He stated that the security service had exercised decisive control over the evidence, restricting his and domestic courts’ access to it and controlling its use, thus preventing him from instructing his defence counsel effectively.

The Court held that without professional advice, an individual who was facing serious criminal charges could not be expected to weigh up the benefits of disclosing his case in full to a lawyer against the risk of further prosecution for doing so. Consequently, there had been a violation of Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (c) as the fairness of the proceedings had been irretrievably compromised by the interference with communication between the applicant and his lawyer.

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