(European Court of Human Rights, 17 March 2016)
Enforcement – Contempt – Financial remedy proceedings – European Convention, Art 6
The European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that there had been a violation of Art 6 of the European Convention.
Following the divorce of the mother and father the mother applied for and was granted an injunction which, inter alia, prevented the father from using or threatening violence towards her. The mother subsequently issued committal proceedings for breach of the order and at the hearing which also dealt with the father's application for contact, he was unrepresented. The judge failed to enquire why he was unrepresented and whether he would like representation. The father was found in contempt and was sentenced to 3 months' imprisonment. An order was made for indirect contact.
From prison, the father instructed solicitors to appeal on his behalf, but when they failed to assist him he received money in compensation. He was received from prison after serving 6 1/2 weeks of his sentence.
The father launched an appeal out of time and was granted legal aid. The Court of Appeal quashed the finding of contempt and the sentence imposed and found that the county court errors in procedure had been grave. He brought a common law claim for damages for the tort of wrongful imprisonment and under the Human Rights Act 1998 relying on Arts 5 and 6. The application and a subsequent appeal was dismissed.
The father applied to the European Court of Human and Rights alleging that his committal to prison for contempt and the subsequent civil proceedings constituted a violation of Arts 5 and 6 of the European Convention.
The ECHR held that there had been no violation of Art 5 but that there had been a violation of Art 6. The findings of both the High Court and the Court of Appeal amounted to an acknowledgement that there had been such a violation. Where proceedings fell within the criminal limb of art 6(1) and within Art 6(3) and a deprivation of liberty was at stake the interests of justice in principle called for legal representation. In relation to Art 13 the domestic remedies available to the father in relation to his complaint under Art 6 were not fully effective for the purposes of Art 13, since they were not capable of affording adequate redress for the prejudice suffered by him in the form of the lengthened deprivation of liberty caused by the absence of legal representation in his case. There had accordingly been a violation of Art 13.
CASE OF HAMMERTON v. THE UNITED KINGDOM
Application no. 6287/10)
17 March 2016
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision
In the case of
Hammerton v. the United Kingdom
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska, President
Aleš Pejchal,Robert Spano
Pauliine Koskelo, judges
André Wampach, Deputy Section Registrar
Having deliberated in private on 23 February 2016
Delivers the following