The applicants were on board the merchant ship Winner (which was registered in Cambodia) which the French Central Office Against Illegal Drug Trafficking (OCRTIS) obtained permission from Cambodian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to board and if narcotics were present to take legal action.
The commander of the French frigate Lieutenant de vaisseau Le Hénaff, which lay at anchor in Brest harbour and had been assigned a mission off the coast of Africa, was instructed by the French naval authorities to locate and intercept the Winner. The frigate left Brest harbour the same day to search for and intercept the Winner, with the French navy commando unit Jaubert, a special forces team specialised in boarding vessels at sea, on board for the duration of the mission. On 10 June 2002, during a technical stopover in Spain, three experts from the OCRTIS also boarded the frigate.
On 13 June 2002, at 6 a.m., the French frigate spotted a merchant ship travelling at slow speed through the waters off Cape Verde, several thousand kilometres from France. It was not flying a flag, but was identified as the Winner. The merchant ship suddenly changed course and began to steer a course that was dangerous both for the frigate and for members of the armed forces who had boarded a speedboat. While the Winner refused to answer the attempts of the commander of the frigate to establish radio contact, its crew jettisoned a number of packages into the sea; one of the packages, containing about 100 kilos of cocaine, was recovered by the French seamen. After several warnings and warning shots fired under orders from France’s maritime prefect for the Atlantic went unheeded, the French frigate fired a shot directly at the Winner. The merchant ship then answered by radio and agreed to stop. When they boarded the Winner, the French commando team used their weapons to open certain locked doors. When a crew member of the Winner refused to obey their commands, a “warning shot” was fired at the ground, but the bullet ricocheted and the crew member was wounded. He was immediately evacuated onto the French frigate, then transferred to Dakar hospital, where he died a week later.
Under orders from the maritime prefect and at the request of the public prosecutor in Brest, a tug with a military doctor on board was sent from Brest to tow the Winner back to Brest harbour, escorted by the frigate Commandant Bouan. Because of its poor state of repair and the weather conditions, the ship was incapable of speeds faster than 5 knots.
The crew of the Winner were confined to their quarters under military guard. The Government submit that when the crew had calmed down they were allowed to move about the ship under the supervision of the French forces. According to the applicants, the coercive measures were maintained throughout the voyage, until they arrived in Brest.
On 26 June 2002, at 8.45 a.m., the Winner entered Brest harbour under escort. The crew were handed over to the police, acting under instructions dated 25 June 2002 from one of the investigating judges, who immediately notified the persons concerned that they were being placed in police custody and informed them of their rights.
On the same day, the applicants were presented to an investigating judge at the police station in Brest, to determine whether or not their police custody should be extended. The reports submitted to the Grand Chamber by the Government show that certain applicants met one of the investigating judges (R. André) at 5.05 p.m. (Mr Cabrera Leon), 5.10 p.m. (Mr Sage Martínez), 5.16 p.m. (Mr Balaban), 5.25 p.m. (Mr Manolache), 5.34 p.m. (Mr Petcu) and 5.40 p.m. (Mr Dodica), and the other applicants (Mr Medvedyev, Mr Bilenikin and Mr Boreas) were heard by the second investigating judge (B. Simier) at an unspecified time. The applicants were presented to the same investigating judges again the following day, 27 June 2002 (Mr Sage Martínez at 5.05 p.m., Mr Cabrera Leon at 5.10 p.m., Mr Manolache at 5.20 p.m., Mr Balaban at 5.28 p.m., Mr Dodica at 5.35 p.m. and Mr Petcu at 5.40 p.m.; the times for the other three applicants are not known).
On 28 and 29 June 2002 the applicants were charged and remanded in custody pending trial. The applicants applied to the Investigation Division of the Rennes Court of Appeal to have the evidence disallowed, submitting that the French authorities had acted ultra vires in boarding the Winner, as the ship had been under Cambodian jurisdiction and Cambodia was not party to the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances signed in Vienna on 20 December 1988, and also that they had not been brought “promptly” before a judge, as required under Article 5 § 3 of the Convention, when the Winner was intercepted.
On 28 May 2005, the Ille-et-Vilaine Special Assize Court found three applicants – Mr Boreas, Mr Sage Martínez and Mr Cabrera Leon – and one other crew member, S.T., guilty of conspiracy to illegally attempt to import narcotics and sentenced them respectively to twenty years’, ten years’, three years’ and eighteen years’ imprisonment. However, Mr Boreas and S.T. were acquitted of the charge of leading or organising a gang for the purposes of drug trafficking. The Assize Court acquitted the other six applicants and O.L., another crew member, of the charges against them.
In a judgment of 6 July 2007, the Loire-Atlantique Assize Court, examining an appeal lodged by Mr Boreas, Mr Sage Martínez and S.T., upheld the conviction and sentenced them respectively to twenty, twelve and seventeen years’ imprisonment. On 9 April 2008 the Court of Cassation dismissed an appeal on points of law lodged by S.T. and Mr Boreas.
European Court of Human Rights (Chamber).
The Chamber Court noted that the French Law allowing the boarding and exercise of jurisdiction over the vessel relied upon Cambodia being a party to UNCLOS or the 1988 UN Narcotics Convention, and that Cambodia was a party to neither. They did acknowledge that the diplomatic note was sufficient to provide jurisdiction; however, it lacked a legal framework that guarded against arbitrary violations of the right to liberty as “firstly, none of those provisions referred specifically to depriving the crew of the intercepted ship of their liberty or regulated the conditions of deprivation of liberty on board the ship; secondly, they neglected to place the detention under the supervision of a judicial authority. On this last point the Chamber noted that although measures taken under the Law of 15 July 1994 were taken under the supervision of the public prosecutor, the public prosecutor was not a “competent legal authority” within the meaning the Court’s case-law gave to that notion (see Schiesser v. Switzerland, 4 December 1979, §§ 29-30, Series A no. 34).” As such the Chamber Court held that the detention of the crew while en route to Brest was arbitrary and not within the scope of Article 5 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Plaintiff’s claim against France was accepted.
European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber.
The French Government appealed the Chamber Court’s finding that the detention was no in accordance with Article 5 § 1 of the ECHR. The detained crew were also claiming that the detention was also not in accordance with Article 5 § 3 due to the 8 to 9 hour delay before being brought before a judge. The Court found that the detention at sea was not in accordance with Article 5 § 1 as the diplomatic note that authorised the boarding was not sufficiently clear enough to include the detention within its scope. The Court also held that the time taken to bring the detained crew before a judge once they had arrived in Brest was sufficient to satisfy Article 5 §3.
France was found to have violated the rights of the 11 Plaintiffs under Article 5 § 1 but not Article 5 § 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
European Court of Human Rights
This case highlights the extra territorial reach of the European Convention on Human Rights, while also noting the need for governments to be precise in the authorisation and execution of criminal jurisdictions and associated detentions.