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United Kingdom: Grand Chamber hearing starts on terror human rights complaint

Today, four men jailed for their involvement in London terror attacks, hope to convince Strasbourg judges that United Kingdom authorities breached their human rights.

The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing now in the case of Ibrahim and Others v. the United Kingdom (applications nos. 50541/08, 50571/08, 50573/08 and 40351/09).

The hearing will be broadcast from 14h30 (CET) on the court’s Internet site (www.echr.coe.int).

The case concerns the temporary delay in providing access to a lawyer during the police questioning of Muktar Said Ibrahim, Ramzi Mohammed, Yassin Omar and Ismail Abdurahman, whom police feared were responsible for the 21 July 2005 London bombings and the alleged prejudice to their ensuing trials.

On 7 July 2005 suicide bombers detonated their bombs on the London transport system, killing 52 people and injuring countless more. Two weeks later, on 21 July 2005 four bombs were detonated on the London transport system but failed to explode. The perpetrators fled the scene but were later arrested.

Following the arrest of the first three applicants –Ibrahim, Mohammed and Omar – they were temporarily refused legal assistance in order for police “safety interviews” (interviews conducted urgently for the purpose of protecting life and preventing serious damage to property) to be conducted.

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, such interviews can take place in the absence of a solicitor and before the detainee has had the opportunity to seek legal advice.

During the interviews the applicants denied any knowledge of the events of 21 July.

At trial, they acknowledged their involvement in the events but claimed that the bombs had been a hoax and were never intended to explode. The statements made at their safety interviews were admitted at trial. They were convicted in July 2007 of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to a minimum term of 40 years’ imprisonment.

The Court of Appeal subsequently refused them leave to appeal against their conviction.

Abdurahman, the fourth applicant, was not suspected of having detonated a bomb and was initially interviewed by the police as a witness. He started to incriminate himself by explaining his encounter with one of the suspected bombers shortly after the attacks and the assistance he had provided to that suspect.

The police did not, at that stage, arrest him and advise him of his right to silence and to legal assistance. Instead, they continued to question him as a witness and took a written statement from him. He was subsequently arrested and offered legal advice.

In his ensuing interviews, he adopted and referred to his written statement. This statement was admitted as evidence at his trial. He was convicted in February 2008 of assisting one of the bombers and of failing to disclose information about the bombings.

He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, reduced to eight years on appeal on account of the early assistance that he had given to the police.

Relying on Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (c) (right to a fair trial and right to legal assistance) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants complain about their lack of access to lawyers during their initial police questioning, alleging that their subsequent convictions were unfair because of the admission at trial of the statements they had made during those police interviews.

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