18:18 GMT04 August 2020
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    A convicted murderer with one of society’s lowest IQs has lost his case at the European Court of Human Rights in relation a trial eight years ago which he believes breached Article Six of the EU Convention on Human Rights – the right to a fair trial.

    In 2007, Matthew O'Donnell was sentenced to life in jail for murdering a man in 2004. He is currently serving out his sentence in HMP Maghaberry in Northern Ireland.

    O'Donnell has learning difficulties and an IQ which places him amongst the bottom one percent of the population. His understanding of English is the equivalent of a six-year-old child.

    During the trial, O'Donnell did not testify and the judge told the jury to draw "adverse inference" from the defendant's decision not to give evidence. O'Donnell claims that this instruction infringed his right to a fair trial and his lawyers took the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg — but lost.

    Witnesses gave evidence that Mr O'Donnell had spent the day before the murder drinking with his victim and another man, Samuel Houston. After the murder, police found two sets of blood stained clothes and a knife in the flat where Mr O'Donnell was staying at the time.

    He was arrested in the Republic of Ireland and extradited to Northern Ireland where he stood trial.

    At the time, his lawyers argued that Mr O'Donnell should not be required to give evidence because of his mental condition and Mr O'Donnell did not testify. However, a clinical psychologist was allowed to give evidence to the jury as to his vulnerability and the difficulties he would have faced if he had testified.

    But the judge refused and said that he could manage the process in such a way that no unfairness would result. O'Donnell was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to life in jail. The judge ruled that he serve at least 12 years — reducing it from 15 — taking into account his "limited intellectual capacity."

    At the European Court of Human Rights, O'Donnell's lawyers argued that his trial had been unfair and breached Article Six because the judge had not allowed the psychologist to share his conclusions after watching the videotaped interviews which were excluded from the trial.

    Mr O'Donnell blamed the judges direction to the jury about drawing "adverse inferences" from his decision to remain silent and not give evidence.

    But the ECHR has ruled that his case did not violate Article Six — O'Donnell's right to a fair trial.

    In a controversial case earlier this year, judges at the European Court in Strasbourg said Britain was unlawful in banning prisoners from voting in general elections. More than a thousand inmates claimed compensation for being denied the right to vote.

    The Conservative party has been campaigning for a decade to scrap the European Convention on Human Rights Act. In October 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his intentions to reform Britain's human rights laws — if the Tories were to win the 2015 general election.

    Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says a new British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities will reduce the power that the European Court of Human Rights wields over decisions made in British courts.

    The proposal would mean that British courts would no longer have to take into account rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, allowing parliament to veto its rulings.

    Meanwhile, Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat Justice Minister says that the Coalition Agreement meant that "all out obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law and protect and extend British liberties."

    Labour say the Human Rights Act was, to all intent and purposes, a British Bill of Rights.

    The Labour Party introduced the Act in 1998. Articles include: the right to life, freedom from forced labour, right to liberty and privacy, freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

    The influence the European Court of Human Rights has over Britain is underpinned by international law and cannot be changed unless the United Kingdom renegotiates its treaty obligations within the European Convention.

    Related:

    European Human Rights Act – Not Fit for Combat
    Jail Conditions of Disabled Inmate in France Violate Human Rights Law – ECJ
    Lack of Resources Leaves Mentally Ill Prisoners Vulnerable in UK - Charity
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    lawyers, freedom of expression, trial, prison, intelligence, law, violations, human rights, court, conviction, justice, UK Liberal Democrats, Coalition, European Convention of Human Rights, Conservative Party, European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), David Cameron, Simon Hughes, Great Britain, Europe, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, Strasbourg
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