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Article 6: Right to a fair trial

Article 6 protects your right to a fair trial

You have the right to a fair and public trial or hearing if:

  • you are charged with a criminal offence and have to go to court, or
  • a public authority is making a decision that has a impact upon your civil rights or obligations.

In this context, your civil rights and obligations are those recognised in areas of UK law such as property law, planning law, family law, contract law and employment law.

It is a good idea to get further advice if you think the right to a fair and public hearing might apply to your case.

What is a fair and public hearing?

You have the right to a fair and public hearing that:

  • is held within a reasonable time
  • is heard by an independent and impartial decision-maker
  • gives you all the relevant information
  • is open to the public (although the press and public can be excluded for highly sensitive cases)
  • allows you representation and an interpreter where appropriate, and
  • is followed by a public decision.

You also have the right to an explanation of how the court or decision-making authority reached its decision.

What rights do you have at a criminal trial?

You have the right to:

  • be presumed innocent until you are proven guilty
  • be told as early as possible what you are accused of
  • remain silent
  • have enough time to prepare your case
  • legal aid (funding) for a lawyer if you cannot afford one and this is needed for justice to be served
  • attend your trial
  • access all the relevant information
  • put forward your side of the case at trial
  • question the main witness against you and call other witnesses, and
  • have an interpreter, if you need one.

Everybody must have equal access to the courts under the Human Rights Act. This includes a right to bring a civil case (a case between individuals or organisations), although this right can be restricted in some situations (see below).

See also the right to no punishment without law.

Are there any restrictions to this right?

The right to a fair and public hearing does not always apply to cases involving:

  • immigration law
  • extradition
  • tax, and
  • voting rights.

There is also no automatic right to an appeal (an application to a higher court for the reversal of the decision of a lower court).

The right of access to the courts can be restricted, for example, if you:

  • keep bringing cases without merit
  • miss the time-limit for bringing a case.

There are times when the public and press are denied access to a hearing. This can happen in the interests of protecting:

  • morals
  • public order or national security
  • children and young people, or
  • privacy.

The courts might also decide to exclude the public or press if they think that their presence is not in the interests of justice.

What the law says

Article 6: Right to a fair and public hearing

1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

  • to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him
  • to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence
  • to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require
  • to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him
  • to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

Example case - DG v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (ESA) [2010]

DG appealed against a decision to refuse him Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which was taken after a medical examination. Even though DG requested Jobcentre Plus to contact his GP (also his nominated representative), neither the GP nor DG’s social worker were approached for evidence. At the first stage of the independent tribunal process (the First Tier Tribunal), DG waived his right to put his case in person at an oral hearing. This decision was based on advice from Jobcentre Plus. The appeal was dealt with on paper and dismissed.

When DG appealed this decision, the Upper Tribunal found that DG did not have a fair hearing of his appeal as required by Article 6. This decision took into account the bad advice from Jobcentre Plus, the claimant’s mental health problems and the failure of both the Department for Work and Pensions and the tribunal to communicate with his GP.

(Case summary taken from ‘Human rights, human lives: a guide to the Human Rights Act for public authorities. Download the publication for more examples and legal case studies that show how human rights work in practice.)

Last updated: 04 May 2016