In 2012, Mr Shabir Ahmed stood trial for being a member of a paedophile gang operating in Bolton. He was convicted in relation to a variety of criminal offences (including conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children), and sentenced to 19 years in prison.
Mr Ahmed complained that his trial was unfair. The right to a fair trial is protected under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which takes effect in UK law through the Human Rights Act. The European Court of Human Rights dismissed his complaint.
The criminal trial and Mr Ahmed’s complaint
Mr Ahmed’s criminal trial attracted a lot of media attention. Far-right groups emphasised the difference in racial origin of the accused (Asian) and the victims (white British). Far-right groups – the British National Party (‘BNP’) and English Defence League (‘EDL’) – also protested at some of the early court hearings.
Furthermore, before the jury had made their decision, British politician and leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, tweeted rumours that the jury had delivered a guilty verdict. Similar rumours also appeared on the websites of far-right groups.
Juries are not allowed to include their own views or outside information in their decisions. They are also not allowed to research the case they are deciding outside of court. To add an extra safeguard – because of the particular difficulties in this case – jurors that had indicated an affiliation with far-right groups were excluded and the case was moved from Bolton to Liverpool.
Mr Ahmed argued that the jury had shared information about their verdict to the far right groups. He said this showed the jury was biased against him and that this was a breach of his right to a fair trial. He also complained that the case against him had been tailored by police to fit anti-Muslim prejudice, and that media coverage of the trial had made it unfair and infringed his right to a private and family life. He also claimed that he had been discriminated against on grounds of race and religion.
The decision of the European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) dismissed his complaint, saying there was no evidence that the trial had been unfair. The Court gave two reasons.
First, the original judge and the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the UK had investigated whether the jury had been biased or passed the information to the far right groups. There was no evidence to suggest this was the case.
Second, the ECtHR attached a lot of weight to the English Court of Appeal’s assessment, as the Court of Appeal judges have greater experience of English jury trials than the European Court and were better placed to determine whether a trial involved unfairness. The Court of Appeal had looked carefully at the process of the trial. The European Court agreed with the Court of Appeal’s finding that there were particular safeguards present at the trial, which were enough to ensure that the jury had been impartial. It therefore found that there was no evidence to suggest the jury had been biased or the trial unfair.
In respect of the wide range of other complaints, made by Mr Ahmed (those relating to the right to private and family life, and racial and religious discrimination), the Court noted that none of these had been raised before the Court of Appeal. Moreover, the Court found that none of the evidence demonstrated the merit of these claims. The Court therefore dismissed Mr Ahmed’s complaint entirely.
For more information:
- Take a look at our infographic poster on the right to a fair trial.
- Read our human rights and justice resources.
- Look at our explainer on ‘secret trials’.