All Greek to a defendant abroad

The case of Philip Portington has not loomed large in law reports. But it is one which highlights the difference in the quality of justice for Britons at home and abroad. And whatever critics may say about our courts, UK justice comes out on top.

Portington was arrested in Salonika, Greece, in 1985 for the murder of an Englishman. He had little in the way of funds to engage a lawyer and spent three years in jail pending trial in 1988.

The evidence at his trial largely consisted of rumours and hearsay. He was not provided with an official interpreter and the court, realising he could not speak any Greek, asked if there was anyone in the court who could translate proceedings. A courier volunteered but was inadequate for the task, with the result that Portington had no idea what was happening at his trial. He was convicted and received the death penalty.

He appealed against his conviction but it was eight years before his appeal moves led to a retrial in February this year. Again no interpreter was provided and Portington was once more in the dark about the proceedings. The death sentence imposed on him was commuted to a life sentence.

The case is now on the books of solicitor Andrew McCooey, based in Sittingbourne, Kent, and founder of the Freedom Now organisation which fights for the rights of Britons in trouble in overseas jurisdictions.

Portington’s only recourse is a complaint to the European Court at Strasbourg which has indicated concern that the Greek government had delayed so long in hearing the appeal.

An early hearing at Strasbourg is hoped for.

McCooey, whose cases under the Freedom Now banner have included fighting for Britons facing death sentences in the US and winning freedom for teenager Tara Kelly, who was wrongly charged with starting a fire at her Miami hotel which led to the death of several tourists. In Kelly’s case, it was only after McCooey intervened and obtained forensic evidence to show the fire was accidental that the prosecution abandoned the case on the first day of the trial.

“We live in an era of increasing foreign travel, with the result that increasing numbers of people from this country are finding themselves in trouble with the laws of foreign countries,” said McCooey.

“People from the UK tend to forget that authorities in other countries have a less relaxed attitude towards so-called soft drugs and that bail, which is relatively easy to get here, is far from easy to get in some foreign countries.”

He also warned that courts abroad adopt a different attitude to bail – they want hard cash, not security.

McCooey added that with the price of foreign travel continually dropping, UK lawyers will find themselves involved in similar situations and said that the profession must gear itself up accordingly.