A high court judge has ruled that a UK police report should not be made available for a case in Thailand that could result in two Burmese nationals receiving the death penalty. Mr Justice Green described his “very considerable unease” in passing this judgement, but reached the decision on the basis of the UK government’s policy of not assisting overseas authorities with death penalty cases.
The two men on trial are accused of murdering two British tourists, Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, last year. They confessed their alleged involvement in the murders to Thai police, but have since claimed that they only made these confessions as a result of being subjected to torture.
The Metropolitan Police, acting on a request from the Prime Minister, examined the case and produced a report. This report was intended to be used for briefing the families of the victims rather than as an investigatory tool.
Nonetheless, the defendants requested access to the report. They requested that they be provided with information pertaining to themselves under the Data Protection Act, as well as seeking access on the grounds that the report could prove useful to their defence.
The police denied the two men access on the grounds of public interest, and the application made its way to the High Court in the case of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, where Mr Justice Green passed judgement upholding the police’s refusal to release the report.
One of the conditions under which Thailand cooperated with the report was a strict agreement that the report be kept confidential. Furthermore, the judgement points out that the Metropolitan Police’s involvement with the case was not an investigatory one, but rather limited to “observing and recording the investigation” which was being carried out by their Thai counterparts.
Green described how the case required careful balancing of the interests of both police and claimants, with valid and important considerations on both sides. The claimants submitted that the report could potentially have a real bearing on their defence, and the fact that the case carried a possible death penalty should override many other considerations. The police, meanwhile, claimed that going against confidentiality agreements could have “a very serious adverse effect” upon the way that police forces work together across national borders.
Ultimately the judge ruled that “there is nothing in the personal data which would be of any real value to the claimants,” and that this meant that the interests of the police outweighed those of the claimants in this situation. Nonetheless, he described his unease in reaching the judgement, especially as he was required to work out for himself how the defence might be structured and evidence tendered in order to accurately gauge how useful the document would be. “This has not been a comfortable process,” he said.