Thursday, October 05, 2006

Challenging detention pending bail

 A prompt and automatic opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of detention is a key provision to prevent arbitrary detention and to protect the person against the risk of ill-treatment and abuse of power by officials: McKay v United Kingdom [GC] [2006] ECHR 820 (3 October 2006). This is distinct from the opportunity to apply for bail, which must also be afforded within a reasonable time. If the person is arbitrarily detained, he must be released immediately and no question of his being encumbered with bail obligations arises.

Sometimes people who are arrested are brought before judicial officers who lack the power to inquire into the lawfulness of detention. In McKay the Grand Chamber observed that this had occurred in some cases from Malta (para 37).

A question arises, for people in New Zealand, whether the Habeas Corpus Act 2001, which requires that these applications be made to judges of the High Court, complies with the equivalent right to that considered in McKay. This right, in Article 9 para 4 of the ICCPR, and in s 23(c) of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, the former being unspecific as to promptness, while the latter requires absence of delay. The risk of non-compliance with this right arises because High Court judges are not the judges before whom a person appears initially. Of course, once the High Court is aware of an application under the Habeas Corpus Act 2001, it gives the matter top priority (s 9), but a lapse of time may nevertheless occur.

For example, a person arrested on a Friday may not be brought before a court until Saturday when a community magistrate, District Court Registrar, or Justice of the Peace may be sitting. There may be no opportunity to provide legal advice other than through a duty solicitor. The person will, if held in custody, be remanded to the following Monday, when the judicial official will be a District Court Judge. Legal aid counsel may be assigned on that occasion, but in some cases a bail application will not be able to be heard. For example, a person who has a previous conviction for a drug dealing offence can only apply to the High Court for bail on a fresh drug dealing charge: Bail Act 2000, s 16. Some High Court Registries restrict bail applications to 2 afternoons a week, and not all High Courts in the country have judges available throughout the year.

There is thus the risk of breach of s 23(c) of the Bill of Rights:

23 Rights of persons arrested or detained

(1) Everyone who is arrested or who is detained under any enactment—
(a) Shall be informed at the time of the arrest or detention of the reason for it; and
(b) Shall have the right to consult and instruct a lawyer without delay and to be informed of that right; and
(c) Shall have the right to have the validity of the arrest or detention determined without delay by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the arrest or detention is not lawful.”

There is a difference here between the expression “without delay” (admittedly, more strict than is required by ICCPR), and the phrase in s 23(3) “as soon as possible”:

“(3) Everyone who is arrested for an offence and is not released shall be brought as soon as possible before a court or competent tribunal.”

In McKay, the ECtHR held, para 33:

“The judicial control on the first appearance of an arrested individual must above all be prompt, to allow detection of any ill-treatment and to keep to a minimum any unjustified interference with individual liberty. The strict time constraint imposed by this requirement leaves little flexibility in interpretation, otherwise there would be a serious weakening of a procedural guarantee to the detriment of the individual and the risk of impairing the very essence of the right protected by this provision (Brogan and Others v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 29 November 1988, Series A no. 145 B, § 62, where periods of more than four days in detention without appearance before a judge were in violation of Article 5 § 3, even in the special context of terrorist investigations).”

And at, para 34, the Grand Chamber emphasised the significant procedural point that review of the legality of detention must be automatic:

“The review must be automatic and cannot depend on the application of the detained person; in this respect it must be distinguished from Article 5 § 4 which gives a detained person the right to apply for release [for example, on bail]. The automatic nature of the review is necessary to fulfil the purpose of the paragraph, as a person subjected to ill-treatment might be incapable of lodging an application asking for a judge to review their detention; the same might also be true of other vulnerable categories of arrested person, such as the mentally frail or those ignorant of the language of the judicial officer (e.g. Aquilina v. Malta [GC], no. 25642/94, § 49, ECHR 1999 III).”

Periods of delay of more than four days between commencement of detention and review of the legality of the detention will be unlikely to meet international standards. There may be a need to extend powers of review, akin to habeas corpus applications, to the court of first instance, with corresponding enhancement, if necessary, of judicial training.

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