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Unlawful Killing or Self Defence? Some Thoughts on the ECHR Decision in Makarova v. United Kingdom

Published on July 31, 2018        Author: 

The admissibility decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) do not usually attract larger attention. There are, of course, well-known exceptions, such as Banković and Others v. Belgium and Others. The recent decision in Makarová v. the United Kingdom (see here), rendered on 5 July 2018 by a committee composed of three judges, will certainly not become one of these exceptions. Although the decision has made front pages news in the Czech Republic, the country of origin of the applicant, this has more to do with the factual background of the case than with any legal intricacies involved in it. Despite that, the decision, while not necessarily incorrect, has some interesting and possibly controversial aspects that might deserve closer scrutiny.

Facts of the Case

The facts are well-known and largely uncontested. The Czech citizen Zdeněk Makar, a 31-year-old brother of the applicant, was killed in September 2016 in London, where he had been living for 10 years. The person responsible for his death was a 29-year-old UK citizen Raymon Scully. Makar met Scully, who was in the company of younger friends, in a local takeaway restaurant. They had a dispute, after which Makar left the restaurant. Scully and his friends followed him down the street, where Scully attacked the unarmed Makar with a bite lock. According to a witness, “he swung the improvised weapon and struck Mr Makar to the left side of his head, catching him behind the ear and knocking him to the ground where he then struck him at least twice more”. While Mr Makar was dying in the street, Scully and his friends left without providing first aid or calling ambulance.

The trial with Scully took place between 21 March and 3 April 2017 at the Central Criminal Court in London, and involved a jury composed of twelve lay persons. The members of the jury had to decide whether the act committed by Scully was to be qualified as a murder (intentional killing), manslaughter (unintentional killing) or self-defence. They were informed about the legal requirements of these three qualifications. The trial judge also explained to them that Scully’s good character (i.e. lack of previous criminal convictions) could be taken into account when considering the case. On 3 April 2017, the jury delivered a majority verdict concluding that the defendant had acted in self-defence (defending one of his friends). Scully was acquitted of both murder and manslaughter and set free.

The verdict caused outcry in the Czech Republic, where it was interpreted as a sign that in the pre-Brexit UK, the lives of migrant workers from Central Europe were not given much weight. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a diplomatic note, in which it requested the documents related to the case and “assurance that the nationality /…/ had no influence on the judgment”. The Ministry furthermore announced that it would provide assistance to Makar’s sister, Adéla Makarová, in bringing the case to the ECHR. Makarová lodged the application to the Court on 4 September 2017. On 5 July 2018, the Court declared the application manifestly ill-founded and, hence, inadmissible.

ECHR Decision

The application relied on Articles 2 (right to life) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. With respect to the former, the applicant argued that the UK (i.e. England and Wales) criminal system exhibited structural deficiencies in that: a) the proceedings failed to produce clear reasons for the defendant´s acquittal; b) the UK test for self-defence allowed instances of unlawful killing to go unpunished; c) the UK law did not criminalize intentional omissions to provide first aid. Alternatively, the applicant argued that a proper application of the domestic could not have led the jurors to the conclusion they had reached. With respect to Article 13, the applicant complained about the absence of an appeal against an acquittal by a jury in criminal proceedings.

The Court rejected all these arguments. It concluded that the UK satisfied the procedural obligation under Article 2(1), because: a) the Convention does not require jurors to give reasons for their decision; b) the subjective test of self-defence used in the UK does not violate Article 2;c) Article 2 does not impose a positive obligation to criminalise intentional omissions. As to the alternative argument, the Court repeated that there had been sufficient safeguards against arbitrariness.

With respect to Article 13, the Court simply recalled that this provision only applied where an individual had an arguable claim to be the victim of a violation of a Convention right. Since the Court already found the applicant’s complaint under Article 2 manifestly ill-founded, there was no such arguable claim and the complaint under Article 13 was declared manifestly ill-founded as well. Read the rest of this entry…

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Thou shalt not Insult the (Foreign) Head of State?

Published on April 28, 2016        Author: 

Earlier this month, a German prosecutor’s office confirmed that it was investigating TV comedian, Jan Böhmermann, for having read on his TV show, Neo Magazin Royal, a poem targeting the Turkish President Erdogan (see here or here). The poem, entitled “Schmähkritik” (“Defamatory”), accused Mr Erdogan of deliberately suppressing minorities such as Kurds and Christians. As the comedian himself admitted, the language used was deliberately offensive- it contained sexually explicit insults against the Turkish president (and was read in front of the Turkish flag and a portrait of Mr. Erdogan).

The Böhmermann Case

The TV show stirred fierce criticism from the Turkish capital of Ankara. The Turkish Embassy in Berlin lodged a formal request with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the prosecution of Mr Böhmermann. The prosecution could take place under Article 103 of the German Criminal Code entitled “Defamation of organs and representatives of foreign states”. This provision reads as follows:

 (1) Whosoever insults a foreign head of state, or, with respect to his position, a member of a foreign government who is in Germany in his official capacity, or a head of a foreign diplomatic mission who is accredited in the Federal territory shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine, in case of a slanderous insult to imprisonment from three months to five years.

Pursuant to Article 104a of the German Criminal Code, prosecution of this offence would require the following conditions to be met: the Federal Republic of Germany maintains diplomatic relations with the other state; reciprocity is guaranteed and was guaranteed at the time of the offence; a request to prosecute by the foreign government exists; and the Federal Government authorises the prosecution.

The first three conditions are clearly present in the Böhmermann case – Germany maintains diplomatic relations with Turkey; the combination of Article 125 (Insult) and Article 340 (Offences against the Head of a Foreign State) of the Penal Code of Turkey would allow for the criminal prosecution of persons who insult the German head of state in Turkey; and Turkey has requested the prosecution.

Originally, securing authorisation for the prosecution from the German Federal Government was less than certain. In some previous cases involving the alleged insult of Mr. Erdogan (the NDR Case), authorisation had been denied. In the current case however, the Government, after some initial hesitation, decided to grant it. Thus, the case will go forward alongside a civil lawsuit for defamation filed by Mr. Erdogan himself.

While interesting in itself, the case gives rise to a more general question relating to the level of protection provided to heads of state under current international law. Should heads of state, as is the situation with other public officials, be expected to withstand even harsh political criticism, thus being effectively subject to a lower level of protection than common citizens? Or on the contrary, should heads of state be granted a higher level of protection in so far as they represent the state and could therefore be considered one of its symbols? Read the rest of this entry…