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The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed an Article 6 challenge to the court system on the island of Sark in the Channel Islands.

An application was made to the European Court by Torgeir Nordbø following his unsuccessful defence of civil proceedings concerning a property on Sark. Mr Nordbø alleged a violation of Article 6(1) ECHR on grounds that the Seneschal (the first instance judge) was not independent and that the domestic proceedings had been unfair. The United Kingdom was the respondent since Sark is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is a United Kingdom Crown Dependency.

 Mr Nordbø repeated arguments that were previously advanced in the High Court of England and Wales in R (Barclay) v Secretary of State for Justice [2013] EWHC 1183 (Admin). The High Court accepted an argument that the Seneschal lacked independence by reason of the provisions governing his remuneration. However, the Secretary of State for Justice (supported by Guernsey and Jersey) successfully appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis that, insofar as the High Court had had jurisdiction to hear such a challenge, it should not have exercised its discretion to hear it: [2014] UKSC 54. The Supreme Court did not express any view on the alternative argument that the High Court had been wrong to conclude that there was a violation of Article 6.

The European Court held that Mr Nordbø’s arguments about the domestic proceedings being unfair were not borne out on the facts and dismissed them as manifestly ill-founded under Article 35(3)(a). The Court further held that it did not need to reach a conclusion about whether the Seneschal’s alleged lack of independence amounted to a violation of Article 6. The Court declared that aspect of the complaint inadmissible under Article 35(3)(b) on the basis that Mr Nordbø had not suffered a significant disadvantage, respect for human rights did not require an examination of the application on the merits (in particular since the law governing remuneration of the Seneschal had been amended to remove the alleged defect) and the case had been duly considered by a domestic tribunal.

 The judgment is available here.

 Iain Steele acted as sole counsel for the United Kingdom Government. He previously acted for Guernsey and Jersey in the Supreme Court case mentioned above.

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