The full text of Article 6 is set out in OG 71 A2. It ensures that, in the determination of any civil right or obligation a person is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. This is a key feature of a democratic society and includes: - Access to a court or tribunal This allows people to challenge decisions taken by a public authority whose procedures fail to satisfy Article 6. However, the whole process needs to be considered. If the original decision is taken by a public authority whose procedures do not satisfy Article 6, the requirement may nevertheless be met if that decision can be reviewed (in the form of an appeal on both facts and law) by a court or tribunal that does satisfy Article 6. If the conditions of Article 6 are met by the original decision, it is not necessary to provide for an appeal. But if they are not met by the original decision then an appeal process that does meet those conditions may be necessary to ensure that the whole process (taking into account the appeals processes) is compliant. The right to a court or tribunal is not absolute, but restrictions on it must not impair the essence of the right. For example, the system should not be set up in such a way as to prevent access to a court or tribunal, by creating inadequate time limits or not providing for the giving of notice of decisions. However, the European Court of Human Rights has accepted that some people can be restricted from bringing cases, ie prisoners, litigants who keep bringing cases without merit, bankrupts, minors, people who are not within a time-limit or limitation period for bringing a case and other people where there is a legitimate interest in restricting their rights of access to a court, provided that the limitation is not more restrictive than necessary. Access to a court might include access to the financial means to bring a case to court. Article 6 does not give an absolute right to legal aid in all civil cases where the person concerned cannot afford to bring proceedings. Legal aid in civil cases is only required by Article 6 where either the person cannot present the case themselves due to the complexity of the court proceedings and the law or where legal representation is compulsory. - A fair hearing The requirement of 'fairness' is fundamental. There must be an equal and reasonable opportunity for all parties to present a case. There should be equality of arms ie one party should not be placed at a procedural disadvantage over the other. - A public hearing The right to a public hearing protects against the administration of justice in secret and without public scrutiny. That said, it is possible in certain cases to dispense with an oral hearing (where the subject matter is of a particularly technical nature for example). It is also possible to exclude the public from the hearing (though not the judgement) where this can be justified. Judgement shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interests of: - public morals; - public order or national security in a democratic society; - juveniles; - protection of the private life of the parties; and - where, in the opinion of the court publicity would prejudice the interests of justice. - A hearing within a reasonable time A breach may arise if a public authority fails to organise its system so as to avoid delays, for example, by providing inadequate staff and resources to hear cases in a reasonable time. - An independent and impartial tribunal Judges or tribunal members must be free from outside pressures, and should be independent of the executive and of the parties. Impartiality is another important element of 'fairness'. The decision-makers therefore need to show that they are free of any prejudice or bias. These are wide ranging and highly developed rights which cover all criminal and civil cases as well as cases heard by tribunals and some internal hearings or regulatory procedures. Anyone who has his civil rights determined or is facing a criminal charge is entitled to these rights. Anyone charged with a criminal offence has certain other rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the right to be given adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence. Article 6 is an absolute right. It guarantees your right to a fair hearing in civil and criminal proceedings. It sets standards for the way that proceedings are run. Although you may feel that you have not had a fair trial if you lose your case, there will only be a breach of Article 6 if these standards have not been met. Criminal proceedings are when someone is prosecuted for an offence. Under Article 6 criminal proceedings have a wider meaning than they usually have in English law. Under Article 6 cases against people for contempt of court or for not paying their council tax count as criminal proceedings.
- What is it a fair trial? A Basic Guide to Legal Standards and Practice March 2000/Lawyers Committee for Human Rights - The liberty guide of the human rights - charity-commission - http://ec.europa.eu - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights - http://www.un.org - the art. 6
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