Jude v Her Majesty’s Advocate (Scotland)  UKSC 55 (23 November 2011)
In this case, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom held that admitting evidence of unsolicited statements made to the police by an accused who had waived his right to access legal advice did not deny him a fair trial contrary to article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The judgment concerned appeals by three accused against their convictions. However, the only appeal to raise issues of an accused’s right to a fair trial under the Convention was that of Birnie. Birnie was arrested in relation to an alleged sexual assault and detained for questioning by the police. After being interviewed for about two hours, Birnie told the police that he wanted to make a statement. He was emotionally distressed at the time. The police offered Birnie the right to access a lawyer before making his statement, which he declined. Birnie then admitted to sexually assaulting the complainant. The Crown relied on Birnie’s statement at his subsequent trial. He was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment.
The question in Birnie’s appeal to the Court was whether admitting evidence of his unsolicited statement denied him a fair trial contrary to article 6(1) of the Convention. By a majority of 4:1, the Supreme Court held that Birnie had not been denied a fair trial.
The leading judgment was delivered by Lord Hope, with whom Lords Brown, Dyson and Hamilton agreed. Lord Kerr dissented in relation to Birnie’s appeal. Lord Hope held that Birnie’s statement was admissible on two grounds.
Birnie had waived his right to legal advice
Lord Hope held that Birnie had effectively waived his right to access a lawyer, even though he had not been given legal advice on whether he should have waived the right. Birnie’s waiver was held effective for several reasons.
First, Birnie had been told prior to making his statement that he had the right to access a lawyer. This overruled a finding made in the High Court that Birnie did not know that he had a right to access legal advice.
Second, Lord Hope held that there was no absolute rule according to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights that an accused must be given legal advice on the question of whether to access further legal advice, in order for the accused’s waiver to be effective.
Third, His Lordship held that it was not necessary for Birnie’s reasons for declining legal advice to be understood in order for his waiver to be effective. The fact that he had not received legal advice was merely a circumstance which could be taken into account to determine whether he understood the right being waivedIn this case, it appeared that Birnie understood what he was doing.
Birnie’s statement was voluntary
Lord Hope also held that Birnie’s statement was voluntary and not elicited by police questioning.
His Lordship considered authorities on the common law test of voluntariness and international decisions which referred to the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg Court. The authorities indicated (perhaps unhelpfully) that rigid rules should not be adopted in order to determine whether an accused’s statement was voluntarily made. Rather, they indicated that each case should be examined on its own facts.
In this case, there were indications that Birnie may have been particularly vulnerable at the time he made his statement. These were his young age (18 years) and the fact that he was emotionally distressed after the police interview. However, those circumstances did not conclusively indicate that Birnie’s statement was not voluntarily made.
Ultimately, Lord Hope chose not to decide the point for jurisdictional reasons concerning Scottish criminal law and procedure. His Lordship ordered that the matter be remitted to the High Court for final determination.
Lord Kerr’s dissent
Lord Kerr dissented in relation to Birnie’s appeal. His Lordship held that it was necessary for some inquiry to be made as to why an accused declined to access legal advice, unless the reasons were obvious. In this case, there were several indications that Birnie was not fully informed and that his waiver was therefore ineffective. These were his young age, his emotional state after the police interview and the fact that when he was asked if he wanted a lawyer present, the procedure was carried out in a “routine” way and did not guarantee that his decision was fully informed.
His Lordship also held that although it was not an absolute rule that an accused be provided with legal advice in order to make a subsequent waiver effective, providing legal advice will typically be the most effective way of ensuring that it is effective.
Relevance to the Victorian Charter
The Victorian Charter guarantees the right to a fair hearing (s 24). It also guarantees persons accused of a criminal offence the right to communicate with a lawyer or adviser of their choice under s 25(2)(d). These rights are analogous to those guaranteed by articles 6(1) and 6(3)(c) of the Convention, both of which were relevant in this case. It is therefore possible that the rights under ss 24 and 25(2)(d) of the Charter could be interpreted as not preventing evidence of unsolicited statements being admitted where an accused has waived the right to legal advice.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court in Jude (in relation to Birnie’s appeal) relied predominantly on the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg Court for its authority. The Court did not decide whether an accused’s waiver of the right to legal advice would be effective in the same circumstances at common law. Therefore, the case may be confined to the context of decisions which relate to the Convention and have little to say about how the Victorian Charter should be interpreted. It does, however, provide an example of a factual situation where the accused’s acts overruled their rights guaranteed under human rights legislation.
This decision is available online at: http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2011/55.html
William Thomas is a Summer Clerk with the Mallesons Stephen Jaques Human Rights Law Group