Article 6: Fair trials

We are innocent until proven guilty. If we’re accused of a crime, we have the right to hear evidence against us before a judge in a public court.

Article 6 of the Human Rights Act protects our right to a fair trial – and is fundamental to the rule of law and democracy.

It’s means court cases must be heard in public by an independent and impartial judge, in a reasonable amount of time.

It also means defendants must have a real opportunity to present their case – and that they are innocent until proven guilty.

People must have real and effective access to a court, which may also require access to legal aid.

Article 6 also means a court or tribunal must give reasons for its judgment and that there must be ‘equality of arms’ on both sides – meaning a fair balance between the opportunities given to both parties.

An accused person must be able to effectively participate in a criminal trial. Except for strictly limited exceptions, they are entitled to be physically present to give evidence in person and to be legally represented.

Most hearings and judgments must be made public – but hearings can be held in private if:

  • it can be shown to be necessary and proportionate and in the interest of morals, public order or national security.
  • it is in the best interests of a child
  • it is required for the protection of the private life of those involved
  • it is strictly necessary in special circumstances when the court believes publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

Article 6 applies to both civil and criminal cases.