(CN) – Europe’s Court of Human Rights came to differing conclusions about hearsay evidence in two United Kingdom trials, holding that one court properly admitted a dead woman’s statements about an assault but another court should not have admitted the statements of a witness who was allegedly too scared to testify.
In one case, physician Imad Al-Khawaja had been charged with assaulting two female patients while they were under hypnosis.
One of the women had committed suicide, but the court still admitted a statement she made to police before her death. The jury unanimously convicted the doctor, and he was sentenced to more than two years in prison.
In the other case, Ali Tahery, an Iranian national, was sentenced to more than 10 years for stabbing another man in London during a gang fight. His conviction was based largely on the statement of a witness who came forward days after the fight, but who had refused to testify, apparently out of fear.
For fairness in convictions involving hearsay, there must be a good reason for a witness to not be present in court, and the convictions cannot be based solely on hearsay, according to the human rights tribunal.
Holding that there was no violation of trial rights in Al-Khawaja’s conviction, the court noted the presence of other evidence sufficiently counterbalanced the hearsay statement. The jury had also heard testimony from another hypnosis patient and from the dead patient’s friends.
But the human rights court also found that the uncorroborated and untested statement served as the main evidence against Tahery, and that hearsay lacked sufficient counterbalance.
The grand chamber of the Strasbourg-based court overturned the 2009 decision of a lower chamber in ruling that hearsay testimony did not violate fairness in criminal proceedings.
Tahery can recoup $23,000 in damages from the United Kingdom, according to the 17-judge court. Two judges issued a separate, partially concurring opinion.