UK

Mother-Of-Three Sylvie Beghal Claims Her Human Rights Violated At East Midlands Airport

21/03/2013 14:48 GMT

A Muslim woman is seeking a legal declaration that her human rights were violated when she was prosecuted after refusing to submit to an interrogation under anti-terrorism laws at an airport.

Mother-of-three Sylvie Beghal was stopped and questioned, even though she was not "suspected" of being a terrorist.

east midlands airport

Sylvie Beghal was returning to the UK from a visit to Paris

Police officers said they needed to speak to her regarding her "possible involvement" in acts of terrorism.

In what is believed to be the first legal challenge of its kind, Mrs Beghal's lawyers argued this week at London's High Court heard.that the entire process of stopping and questioning people "without reasonable suspicion" breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

They said it was significant that Mrs Beghal had no right of access to a lawyer while being questioned and was being put under direct compulsion to provide information.

The court heard she indicated she would answer questions after the arrival of her lawyer, but the police chose not to wait.

When her lawyer arrived after her questioning had finished, the officers did not seek to ask her any more questions in the lawyer's presence, three judges were told.

Mrs Beghal, a French national living in the UK, arrived back at East Midlands Airport with her children on 4 January 2011 following a visit to Paris but was not formally detained or arrested.

She was stopped at the UK Border Agency desk but refused to co-operate with questioning by Leicestershire police officers acting under powers given by schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (TACT).

Mrs Beghal asked to consult with a lawyer and for an opportunity to pray.

After being given time to pray, police officers told her she could telephone her lawyer after she was searched. The prosecution initially accused her of physically resisting the search.

ukba east midlands

Ms Beghal refused to co-operate when she was stopped at the UKBA desk

At 9.30pm she was taken to a room for an examination under Schedule 7 and asked to provide reasons for her journey, where she stayed in Paris, whom she had met or visited and how her travel was funded.

She was also asked whether she had a criminal record and about her knowledge of the French-Algerian community in Leicestershire, her use of vehicles, the languages she spoke and her current and past employment.

She failed to provide answers to most of the questions, indicating she would only answer questions after her lawyer arrived.

She was subsequently charged with wilfully obstructing a search, assaulting a constable and wilfully failing to comply with her duty under Schedule 7 to answer questions.

The first two charges were eventually dismissed in December 2011 after the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence and Mrs Beghal pleaded guilty to the third charge.

She did so after District Judge Temperley, sitting at Leicester Magistrates' Court, refused her request to stay the charge as an abuse of process, and the case was referred to the High Court.

Ms Beghal's counsel Matthew Ryder asked three senior judges - Lord Justice Gross, Mrs Justice Swift and Mr Justice Foskett - to rule Schedule 7 "incompatible" with the human rights convention.

Mr Ryder argued Schedule 7 violated the right to liberty (Article 5), right to a fair trial (Article 6) and Ms Beghal's right to protection for her private and family life (Article 8).

Mr Ryder also argued the prosecution was an unjustifiable interference with Ms Beghal's "right to free movement" within an EU country as an EU national.

Louis Malby, appearing for the Crown Prosecution Service, told the judges that Schedule 7 empowered officers to question a person entering or leaving the country if they "appear to be a person who is, or has been, concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".

Any person being questioned was under a legal duty to give the officer any information in his or her possession that was requested.

Arguing that Mrs Beghal's rights had not been breached, Mr Malby said: "The ability to stop and examine passengers at ports is an essential tool in the protection of the public from terrorism."

Mr Malby said Mrs Beghal was given an opportunity to consult with a solicitor in advance of questioning, and it was agreed that a telephone consultation took place.

But a solicitor would have had no purpose at the actual questioning, other than as an observer to ensure proper procedure, as Mrs Beghal was under a legal obligation to answer the questions put to her.

Reserving judgment, the judges said they would give their ruling at a future date.