Thursday, January 31, 2008

A lesser right

When does a breach of a detainee’s right to be informed of the reasons for detention or arrest make the detention or arrest unlawful?

In Saadi v UK [2008] ECHR 79 (29 January 2008) the appellants had been held in detention at a facility at Oakington for 76 hours before they were properly informed of the reasons, which were that this was the procedure for fast-tracking their applications for refugee status. The Grand Chamber held, 11 to 6, that the procedures for processing applicants for refugee status did not breach their right to liberty and security (Art 5 § 1), but it held unanimously that there had been a violation of the Art 5 §2 right to be informed promptly of the reasons for the detention.

This latter point, that there was a breach of the right to be informed promptly of the reasons for arrest or detention, had been accepted by the House of Lords: [2002] UKHL 41 at para 48, per Lord Slynn with whom the others concurred:

“48. It is agreed that the forms served on the claimants here were inappropriate. It was, to say the least, unfortunate but without going as far as Collins J [at first instance] in his criticism of the Immigration Service, I agree with him that even on his approach the failure to give the right reason for detention and the giving of no or wrong reasons did not in the end affect the legality of the detention.”

Why not? This point, apparently being agreed between the parties, was not explained. The Court of Appeal, [2001] EWCA Civ 1512, did not deal with it, and Collins J (whose judgment is appended to the CA’s judgment) held, at para 15:

“The use of inappropriate forms and the giving of reasons for detention on those forms which may not have been wholly accurate do not affect the lawfulness of the detention. The real reason [for the detention] was the new Oakington process [ie the fast-track processing of applications]. If that was lawful, the disgraceful failure to prepare proper forms cannot render it unlawful. In any event, it may be that in the cases of the illegal entrants the immigration officers could properly rely on at least the absence of identification and the clandestine entry as factors justifying detention even if, had Oakington not been used, temporary admission would have been granted. I do not need to go into the matter further since Mr Scannell has not sought to argue that the muddle about reasons renders the detentions unlawful.”

In the European Court, the Grand Chamber upheld the Chamber’s decision that there had been a breach of the right to be informed promptly of the reasons for detention, and also that the finding of the Court constituted just satisfaction for the breach. This had not been contested on the appeal to the Grand Chamber.

Accordingly, it seems that it must be taken as obvious that if a detention is lawful, it will not become unlawful merely because of a breach of the right to be informed of the reasons for it. This right must be seen as very much a lesser right, than the right to liberty. Pragmatically, of course, that is appropriate, as it may be difficult to communicate with uncooperative detainees. The breach might have some utility in supporting a claim of self defence, if the defendant, having offered physical resistance to being detained, was consequently charged with obstruction or assault.

This approach, separating questions of the lawfulness of the arrest or detention from questions of the consequences of the breach of the right to be informed promptly of the reasons for the arrest or detention, is common. For example, in Manuel v Superintendent of Hawkes Bay Regional Prison [2005] 1 NZLR 161 (CA), it was held that:

“[64] In the High Court Miller J was prepared to accept that there were breaches of s23(1)(a) and (b) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act [the right to be informed at the time of the arrest or detention of the reason for it, and the right to consult and instruct a lawyer without delay and to be informed of that right] which occurred when the appellant was taken into custody pursuant to the interim recall order. He concluded, however that the detention was not unlawful and, in this regard, he referred to R v Shaheed [2002] 2 NZLR 377. Miller J was unimpressed by the contention that there was also a breach of s23(3) [the right to be brought before a court as soon as possible]. He said that the suggestion that the appellant should have been taken before a Court was inconsistent with the procedure provided for under the Criminal Justice Act. In any event, when the appellant was taken into custody on the interim recall warrant, he was not "arrested for an offence".

“[65] We broadly agree with Miller J although we have reservations as to whether there was a breach of s23(1)(a) and, indeed, as to the relevance of Shaheed. The failure to comply with s23 did not render the detention under the interim recall warrant unlawful. Still less could such failure render unlawful the detention under the final recall warrant. The contention that the appellant was required to be taken before a Court by reason of s23(3) is untenable essentially for the reasons given by Miller J.”

Here the Court of Appeal had reservations about whether it was relevant to balance the right of the state to recall a parolee to detention against the right of the parolee to be informed of the reasons for his detention, which is the exercise behind the reference to Shaheed. It would indeed be an extension of the application of Shaheed if it were to be used in this context, because that is currently reserved for the determination of evidence admissibility (now enacted in s 30 of the Evidence Act 2006). What is noteworthy here is the way the courts assume that breach of the lesser right could not affect the lawfulness of the arrest or detention.

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