THIRD SECTION

FINAL DECISION

Application no. 28120/95

by Anthony GARLAND, Stephen McMULLAN, Hugh McLAUGHLIN,

Michael BECK, Brendan McCRORY, Daniel PETTIGREW, Ciaran McALLISTER

against the United Kingdom

The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section) sitting on 2 February 1999 as a Chamber composed of

Mr J-P. Costa, President

Sir Nicolas Bratza,

Mr L. Loucaides,

Mr P. Kūris,

Mr W. Fuhrmann,

Mrs H.S. Greve,

Mr K. Traja,

with Mrs S. Dollé, Section Registrar;

Having regard to Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;

Having regard to the application introduced on 7 July 1995 by Anthony GARLAND, Stephen McMULLAN, Hugh McLAUGHLIN, Michael BECK, Brendan McCRORY, Daniel PETTIGREW and Ciaran McALLISTER against the United Kingdom and registered on 3 August 1995 under file no. 28120/95;

Having regard to the reports provided for in Rule 49 of the Rules of Court;

Having regard to the Commission's partial decision of 27 November 1996;

Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government on 16 May 1997 and the failure of the applicants to submit observations in reply;

Having deliberated;

Decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The applicants are seven British citizens born in 1974, 1969, 1973, 1973, 1967, 1974 and 1975 respectively. They are all resident in Belfast and were represented before the Court by Mr Peter Madden, of Madden and Finucane, solicitors in Belfast.

On 2 August 1991 a bomb was thrown at a joint army and police patrol in Belfast. In connection with this incident, the first applicant was arrested on 2 August 1991; the second, third and fourth applicants were arrested on 6 August 1991; the fifth applicant was arrested on 4 November 1991; the sixth applicant was arrested on 28 April 1992; and the seventh applicant was arrested on 30 April 1992. They were initially detained for various periods for questioning at Castlereagh Holding Centre. On the basis of admissions made in the course of their interrogation, the applicants were charged with attempted murder and other offences. The applicants were remanded in custody.

The trial, before a judge sitting alone, commenced on 9 September 1993. The only evidence against the applicants was the admissions made by them in the course of their interviews at Castlereagh Holding Centre, which the applicants alleged were made as a result of police misconduct. Between 22 November 1993 and 1 September 1994 the judge considered the evidence relating to the admissibility of each applicant's statement.

On 16 February, 24 May and 12 September 1994, the judge acquitted respectively the fifth, seventh, and second and sixth applicants, having decided to exclude their statements, not on the grounds that there had been any impropriety on the part of the police officers who questioned them, but because, given inter alia the applicants' vulnerable personalities, it would be unfair to admit the statements in evidence.

On 12 September 1994, the judge considered and rejected applications from the first, third and fourth applicants that their statements should be excluded and the trial against these three applicants therefore continued. On 17 October 1994 the prosecution disclosed certain documents which were acknowledged to be relevant and potentially helpful to the defence. At the request of defence counsel, the judge did not examine the documents in question. On 27 October 1994, the first, third and fourth applicants were released on bail.

On 3 March 1995, judgment was given acquitting the first, third and fourth applicants. The judge commented that this was a case where the police interviews with the applicants should have been recorded because months had been spent at the trial dealing with factual issues which could have been resolved in a few weeks had there been recordings. He criticised the prosecution for withholding for an undue length of time material which was important to the applicants' defence. In acquitting the applicants the judge stated that the result could not be considered “a resounding indication of their innocence” and that “indeed on one view they are the less than deserving beneficiaries of an inadvertent lapse on the part of the prosecuting authorities.” Nevertheless, they were entitled to the “strict and precise application” of the criminal law, hence their acquittal.

 

COMPLAINTS

In their original application the applicants complained:

(1) under Article 3 of the Convention, that they had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment;

(2) under Article 5 § 3, that they did not receive a trial within a reasonable time and that they were not released pending trial;

(3) under Article 6 § 1, that they were denied the right to a fair trial, and in particular that they were forced to incriminate themselves contrary to Article 6 § 2 and that they were denied access to a lawyer and adequate facilities to prepare their defences contrary to Article 6 §§ 3 (b) and (c);

(4) under Article 6 § 1, that they did not have a trial within a reasonable time.

In addition, the first, third and fourth applicants complained that the comments of the judge at the end of his judgment of 3 March 1995 violated their right to be presumed innocent as guaranteed by Article 6 § 2 of the Convention.

PROCEDURE

The application was introduced before the European Commission of Human Rights on 2 February 1999 and registered on 2 February 1999.

On 27 November 1996, the Commission decided to adjourn the complaints under Article 6 of the Convention concerning the length of the proceedings and the right to be presumed innocent and to declare the remainder of the application inadmissible.

The Government's written observations were submitted on 16 May 1997, after an extension of the time-limit fixed for that purpose.

The Government's observations were sent to the applicants' representatives on 11 June 1997. They were invited to submit comments in reply before 30 July 1997, subsequently extended to 20 October 1997. On 18 December 1997 the applicants' representatives were requested to clarify their position as soon as possible in view of the fact that the extended time-limit had expired. On 11 February 1998, the Secretary to the First Chamber of the Commission wrote again to the applicants' representatives, noting that no reply had been received to the letter of 18 December and that the extended time-limit for their observations had expired and that, in consequence, it could be assumed that they had lost interest in pursuing the case which could then be struck out. On 26 February 1998, the applicants' representatives sent a fax apologising for the delay in responding and asking for a further four to six week extension. The representatives were informed in a letter dated 3 March 1998 that, since the time-limit had long since expired, and since they had offered no satisfactory explanation for their delay in responding, the requested extension had not been granted. They were also informed, in the same letter, that if any further material were in fact to be submitted on behalf of the applicants, it would be for the Commission to decide whether it should be taken into account in its next examination of the case. No response was received to this letter.

On 1 November 1998, by operation of Article 5 § 2 of Protocol No. 11 to the Convention, the case fell to be examined by the Court in accordance with the provisions of that Protocol.

THE LAW

Article 37 § 1 of the Convention provides as follows:

“The Court may at any stage of the proceedings decide to strike an application out of its list of cases where the circumstances lead to the conclusion that

(a) the applicant does not intend to pursue his application; ...

However, the Court shall continue the examination of the application if respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and the protocols thereto so requires.”

The Court notes that the time-limit for the submission of the applicants' observations in response to the Government's observations expired on 20 October 1997 and that, notwithstanding subsequent correspondence, no observations have been received.

It concludes that the applicants do not intend to pursue their petition, within the meaning of Article 37 § 1 (a) and it finds no reason of general interest concerning respect for human rights, within the meaning of the final sentence of Article 37 § 1, which would require it to continue with its examination of the case.

For these reasons, the Court, unanimously,

DECIDES TO STRIKE THE APPLICATION OUT OF ITS LIST OF CASES.

S Dollé J-P. COSTA

Registrar President

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