SYLVIE BEGHAL -v- UK – EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS JUDGEMENT

STOP UNDER SCHEDULE 7 TERRORISM ACT 2000 FOUND TO BE IN BREACH OF ARTICLE 8 ECHR AND NOT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LAW

PRESS RELEASE 28.02.19

The European Court of Human Rights has today given Judgement in the case of Sylvie Beghal v UK. Ms Beghal was stopped under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on arrival at East Midlands Airport on 04.01.11 on her return from a visit to her husband in France. She had her three children with her. The two eldest were allowed to proceed to arrivals and the youngest, who was an infant remained with Ms Beghal. Ms Beghal was searched, her luggage was searched and she was questioned without a lawyer being present although she had asked for one. She said she would not answer any questions until her lawyer arrived. Refusal to answer questions under Schedule 7 in any circumstances is a criminal offence to which no defence is allowed in law. She was subsequently prosecuted for refusing to answer questions and appealed her case through the courts in the UK to the European Court of Human Rights. 

The ECtHR found unanimously that the powers under Schedule 7 at that time were ‘not in accordance with the law’ and that the stop was therefore in breach of Article 8 ECHR. The Court also found the complaint concerning Article 5 ECHR (deprivation of liberty) to be admissible but did not consider it necessary to examine the complaint in light of the finding with regards to Article 8 ECHR. The Court did not consider that Article 6 was engaged in this case. 

Natalia Garcia of Fountain Solicitors said:

“The ECtHR has found that when Ms Beghal was stopped under Schedule 7 this was unlawful in that there were insufficient safeguards in the power to prevent it being abused and that as a result her right to respect for her private life was violated. The court also notes that the lack of a requirement for any suspicion when stopping persons under Schedule 7 means that ‘it is difficult for persons to have the lawfulness of the decision to exercise the power judicially reviewed’ and that the oversight of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation is not ‘capable of compensating for the otherwise insufficient safeguards applicable to the operation of the Schedule 7 regime.’ There have been changes to the Schedule 7 regime since Ms Beghal was stopped but these do not remedy the defects identified by the Court. This is a significant judgement for Ms Beghal but also for the operation of the regime as a whole which must now be reconsidered in its entirety.”

At paragraph 109 the judgements states:

In conclusion, the Court considers that when the applicant was stopped at East Midlands airport in January 2011, the power to examine persons under Schedule 7 of TACT was neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse. While it does not consider the absence of any requirement of “reasonable suspicion” alone to have been fatal to the lawfulness of the regime, when considered together with the fact that the examination could continue for up to nine hours, during which time the person would be compelled to answer questions without any right to have a lawyer present, and the possibility of judicially reviewing the exercise of the power would be limited, the Court finds that the Schedule 7 powers were not “in accordance with the law”. It follows that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.