A district judge last month ruled that eight British football fans deported from Portugal during the Euro 2004 soccer tournament were not to be banned from attending future matches as they had not received fair trials. They would not have been able to clear their names if it were not for lawyers representing them on a pro bono basis.
Jon Whitfield and Liam Walker from specialist criminal defence chambers 15 New Bridge Street advised two of the fans, Peter Barwick and John Parkes, initially on a pro bono basis. District Judge Day threw out the Metropolitan Police's attempts to impose the football banning orders on eight British fans halfway through a hearing at Uxbridge Magistrates Court. "I start by stating that it is a salutary experience to criticise a foreign jurisdiction's procedure," the judge said. He went on to find "substantial breaches" of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and ruled that the original convictions were unsafe.
"Each and every one of the men had the same story to tell. [There were] police beatings, some resulting in broken ribs, no food, no water, no sleep and inhumane conditions. No lawyers, no interpreters and a kangaroo court more interested in speedy convictions and publicising a job well done than getting to the truth," says Walker.
The defendants were convicted in Portugal, sentenced and deported under a special fast-track system designed specifically for soccer hooligans. The hearing lasted in the region of 14 hours for 12 defendants and had 40 witnesses. Defendants had no access to a defence lawyer at any time, no chance to question witnesses or present their own evidence. There was one interpreter for all the defendants, who happened to be an English woman who worked locally as a hairdresser.
The Met's application to obtain banning orders was based on the Portuguese convictions. "In cases such as this, there's a presumption against the grant of legal aid," explains Walker. "Indeed, following the 'acquittal' of these men and the condemnation of the proceedingsÃ¢Â€Â¦ the advocates in court are yet to be told if they will be paid."
The Met argued that, since Portugal had signed the ECHR, fairness could be assumed, the conviction was proper and the banning orders should be imposed. "One doesn't assume that a trial is fair because a country has signed the Human Rights Act," says Walker. "The police have to prove that it was fair - after all, they're relying on it."
"The treatment of Mr Parkes was nothing short of a disgrace," he continues. "Without recourse to free representation, Mr Parkes would be in no position to challenge the Portuguese conviction in Europe as he intends to do." Barwick, meanwhile, was "wrongly accused, wrongly convicted and wrongly vilified in the press", says Whitfield, adding: "I'm saddened that it's taken a year for him to clear his name - something he couldn't have done without legal aid."
In an article on 1 August it was erroneously stated that Sharpe Pritchard had been replaced as the primary adviser to the City of Westminster. The firm remains the organisation's primary adviser, while DMH Stallard has been added to its roster of advisers. We are happy to set the record straight.