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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 22:18 GMT 23:18 UK
Heroin couple's right to silence upheld
European Court of Human Rights
Strasbourg ruled the judge's direction was "deficient"
A couple convicted on drugs charges have won a right to silence legal action in the European Court of Human Rights over comments made by the judge at their trial.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that William and Karen Condron of London had had their right to a fair trial violated by the judge's comments to the jury over their failure to answer police questions.

The test case in the Strasbourg court arose from the couple's conviction for supplying heroin.

They were awarded 15,000 for legal costs and expenses by the court, which found that their right to silence was safeguarded by the Human Rights Convention.

At the time of their arrest they had been advised by their solicitor not to answer police questions because they were suffering from heroin withdrawal symptoms.

At the end of the trial the judge gave the jury the option of drawing "an adverse inference" from the fact that the couple had opted to remain silent.

The civil liberties campaigning group Liberty welcomed the decision, even though the Human Rights Court emphasised that silence is not an absolute right in all cases.

'Fundamental right'

Liberty's associate director Mary Cunneen, who acted as solicitor for the Condrons, said: "The judgement affirms the fundamental importance of the right to silence in the criminal trial process.

"Any attempts to erode this must be treated with the utmost caution."

Later the Court of Appeal said the judge's direction was "deficient" but it was satisfied that the couple's convictions were safe.

The judges said that "as a matter of fairness" the trial judge should have directed the jury that it should not draw an adverse inference if it was satisfied with the explanation.

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