First HR case taken to Europe

| 11/03/2009

(CNS): A petition, filed by Appleby’s on behalf of Kurt Ebanks, alleging a breach of his right to a fair trial under the European Convention on Human Rights will be heard in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The law firm said they received notice this week that the UK government is being asked to submit written observations regarding the case before 20 May of this year. This is the first petition presented from the Cayman Islands to the ECHR and the first occasion in Cayman on which the right of individual petition to the Court has been exercised.

Appleby’s said the progress of the petition has provided objective confirmation that, in relation to human rights the Cayman Islands Courts system, was now subject to scrutiny and review at the highest international judicial level.

“Moreover, an institutional mechanism was clearly seen to exist which enabled an even higher judicial body to reverse decisions of the Privy Council in relation to Cayman Islands Law.  In other words, those decisions were no longer necessarily the final decisions,” added Robin McMillan, who brought the original submission in August 2006.

The petition alleges that there was a breach of Ebanks’s entitlement to a fair trial under article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights and also a breach of his entitlement to effective legal representation under Article 6(3)(c) of the same Convention.

As the case is ongoing Appleby’s was unable to give details of Ebanks’ claim. However, a ruling by the Privy Council, which is in the public domain on the same case, made in March 2006 reveals that Ebanks’ complaint that he had been denied a fair trial is based on the conduct of counsel who represented him. In the Privy Council ruling, Ebanks’ claims that his lawyers denied him the opportunity to give evidence and failed to cross examine police officers who presented a statement that Ebanks denies making.

Appleby’s did state that, following receipt of the submissions by the UK government concerning the case, they will have a time-limit of six weeks in which to reply on behalf of Ebanks.

The lawyers also explained that the case is titled Ebanks v the United Kingdom because Ebanks has brought an individual petition alleging a violation of a Convention right by a Contracting State of the Convention, which in this case is the United Kingdom. The European Convention on Human Rights applies in the Cayman Islands by virtue of Article 63 of the Convention. Article 63 is designed to cover the dependent territories of a Contracting State for whose international relations it is responsible, which includes the Cayman Islands in the case of the UK. The individual right of petition was extended to the Cayman Islands in 2006 by Minister Alden McLaughlin, which finally enabled individuals to access some form of legal redress when they believed their human rights had been breached here in Cayman.

Nicolas Joseph, litigation partner at Appleby, expressed his gratitude to both McMillan and Ebanks for their efforts, and said he was pleased that his firm had had an opportunity to undertake the carriage of such an important and innovative area of the law of the Cayman Islands, noting the firm has undertaken the petition on a pro bono basis. 

The European Court of Human Rights was established in 1959 by the signatories to the Convention, which was an initiative of the Council of Europe (not, as commonly believed, the European Union). It operates from premises in Strasbourg, France, and hears cases concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention. The European Court of Human Rights is composed of a number of judges equal to that of the Contracting States (currently forty-five). There is currently no restriction on the number of judges of the same nationality. Judges are elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for a term of six years.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This is not right.  An appeal to Brussels because the defence attorney cocked it up and failed to act properly. How is that the Crowns fault? The history of the legislation was to prevent the rise of Nazism in Europe, and thereby the State sponsored wholesale murder and imprisonment of people without trial – not pandering to people who picked a rubbish lawyer!

    I hope this is not the real reason and that there are genuine human rights issues why this is going to appeal.

  2. Anonymous says:

    PPM gave right to Petition EU Court without consultation.

    So much for consulting the people of the Cayman Islands before allowing a set of unelected judges in the EU (non of which are even Caribbean) to determine what the rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of the Cayman Islands should be, and furthermore, dragging the European Convention on Human Rights further into Cayman Law without asking the people if that is what they wanted.

  3. Anonymous says:

    "Moreover, an institutional mechanism was clearly seen to exist which enabled an even higher judicial body to reverse decisions of the Privy Council in relation to Cayman Islands Law".

    While I do not know the facts of the case in question, I would suggest that this not reflect a correct understanding of the mechanism. The European court does not reverse decisions of the Privy Council in relation to Cayman Islands law. The Privy Council’s function is to apply Cayman Islands law (which may be interpreted in light of  our international human rights obligations). On the other hand, the European court’s function is to determine whether our laws or practices have violated the petitioner’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The European court is not acting as a court of appeal from the decision of the Privy Council so that it may reverse its decisions, but instead will consider the substance of the original complaint afresh. However, the European court does require that you have first exhausted your domestic remedies in the national courts.