R v Horncastle and others [2009] UKSC 14

On 9 December 2009, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal relating to the admission of hearsay evidence in criminal trials. In so doing it did not follow a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, which had held that convictions based solely or to a decisive extent on the evidence of witnesses that were not available for cross-examination in court breached the right to a fair trial guaranteed by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Supreme Court unanimously held that courts take into account any judgment of the Strasbourg court in relation to the evidence of witnesses unavailable for cross-examination. However on rare occasions, such as R v Horncastle and others this did not mean a breach of Article 6. The Court expressed concerns that the decision of the Strasbourg court had not sufficiently appreciated or accommodated particular aspects of the UK trial process and the safeguards in the statutory scheme. The ECHR decision had not fully considered whether it was justified to impose the rule equally on common law and continental jurisdictions and it would create severe practical difficulties if applied to English criminal procedure.