Misconduct in Public Office

July 7th, 2021 by James Goudie KC

Article 7 of the ECHR relates to no punishment without law. It provides that no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence at the time that it was committed. In Norman v UK (2021) ECHR 601 the ECtHR holds that the common law offence of misconduct in public office  carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and not defined in statute, and subject to a Law Commission recommendation for abolition, does not infringe Article 7.

The Court emphasises at para 62 that the common law nature of the offence does not in itself give rise to any particular concerns under Article 7. Article 7 does not require a criminal offence to be put on a statutory footing. What is important is that, whatever the basis for the offence, the substantive guarantees of legal certainty are satisfied. That was so, for the reasons given at paras 64-70 inclusive. The content of the offence was not too vague to satisfy the requirements of Article 7.

The Court also held that there was no violation of Article 10 on freedom of expression.

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