The right to a fair trial is protected by Article 6 of the Human Rights Act.

How might this right be relevant to my life?

You have the right to a fair trial if you are charged with a criminal offence, or if a public authority (such as social services) is making a decision that has an impact upon your rights.

Some examples of when your right to a fair trial might be at risk include:

  • Not being informed promptly, in a language that you understand, in detail, what you have been accused of, or what decisions have been made by a public authority that affect your rights.
  • Not being given all of the relevant information on how a public authority’s decision was reached.
  • If the public body making the decision was not impartial and/or independent.
  • If your hearing or trial did not take place within a reasonable time frame.
  • If you were denied legal representation and/or an interpreter where needed.
  • If in certain circumstances your trial was not open to the public.
  • If a decision was made by a public authority which seriously affected your life and/or threatened your wellbeing and you were not notified about this decision.
  • If a disciplinary hearing against a public sector employee is carried out unfairly.

Can my right to a fair trial be restricted by a public official?

No. Our right to a fair trial is an absolute right. 

This means that a public official cannot limit or restrict this right in any way. Any restrictions on this right would not be lawful.

However, there are some very limited circumstances where certain parts of the right do not apply. For instance, the right to a public hearing does not always apply to cases involving immigration law, extradition law, tax, and voting rights.

What duties do public officials have?

To respect your right: 

This means that public officials must not deliberately take away or restrict your right to a fair trial. 

To protect your right: 

Public officials must take reasonable steps to protect your right to a fair trial, ensuring that measures are taken to keep you informed of decisions throughout the trial and that you understand the process. Public officials must also ensure that the trial takes place within a reasonable time frame.

To fulfil your right: 

There must be an investigation when this right has been breached to determine what went wrong and ensure it doesn’t happen again. You have the right to appeal any decision made in an unfair way that impacts your rights. You also have the right to appeal any decision that was not made within a reasonable timeframe.

Daniel’s Story

Daniel had applied to receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), but was refused after a medical examination. Daniel had asked the Jobcentre Plus to contact his GP to help with the evidence required for the application. The Jobcentre Plus did not contact the GP or Daniel's social worker.

Daniel appealed the decision to refuse him ESA. At the First Tier Tribunal, Daniel had a right to an oral hearing, but he chose not to because of advice from the Jobcentre Plus. The appeal was dismissed.

The decision was appealed again and this time went to the Upper Tribunal. Considering that Daniel had received bad advice from the Jobcentre Plus, his mental health issues, and the fact that his GP had not been contacted, the Upper Tribunal found that Daniel did not have a fair hearing of his appeal, as was his right under the Human Rights Act. 

(DG v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 2010)

Aneta and Bobbie's Story

Aneta and Bobbie, who both have mild learning difficulties, had a baby together. The baby was born by emergency caesarean section and was placed in the Special Care Baby Unit for a brief time. After a week in hospital, Aneta and the baby were ready to be discharged home.

During their hospital stay, the maternity ward raised concerns with the Local Authority about Aneta and Bobbie’s long term parenting capacity. On the day they were due to be discharged from hospital, a social worker from the Local Authority visited Aneta while Bobbie wasn’t there. The social worker then applied to a Family Court for permission to remove the baby from their care and place them with Bobbie’s parents. The order was granted and the child was removed, before eventually being returned to Aneta and Bobbie’s care two months later.

A couple of months after the baby was returned to their care, Aneta and Bobbie took a human rights case to court saying their right to a fair trial and right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence (Article 8) had been breached. They said their rights had not been respected because they were not present at the hearing, nor did they have any legal representation. The Local Authority had also told the Court that Aneta and Bobbie agreed with the plan to remove the baby from their care, but Aneta said she was not told about the plan, and Bobbie was not present when the social worker visited Aneta and the baby in hospital. The courts agreed with Aneta and Bobbie and ordered the Local Authority to pay them damages.

(CZ & Kirklees Council, 2017)