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Monday 9 December 2019

British grandmother sentenced to death in Bali loses battle for government funding of appeal

John Aston and Cathy Gordon

BRITISH grandmother Lindsay Sandiford lost a London High Court battle today over a UK Government refusal to fund her appeal against a death sentence imposed by an Indonesian court after she was found guilty of drug smuggling.

Two judges in London refused to declare unlawful a Foreign and Commonwealth Office refusal to pay for "an adequate lawyer" to represent Sandiford, 56, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

Mrs Justice Gloster, sitting with Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, said the court understood "the deep concerns of Mrs Sandiford and her family about Mrs Sandiford's predicament" but her case must be dismissed for reasons to be given on Monday next week.

Sandiford, originally from Redcar, Teesside, was given the death penalty by a court in Bali last week for taking 10.6lb of cocaine on to the island.

The sentence would see her shot by a firing squad.

She was accused by the court of damaging the image of Bali and received the sentence despite prosecutors asking only for a 15-year jail term.

The High Court was told that a notice of appeal was filed with Indonesian officials earlier this week and she was given a 14-day deadline to file grounds of appeal.

Aidan O'Neill QC said Sandiford was urgently in need of funding because she is without legal assistance and her family have exhausted all of their available resources.

The Government was accused of breaching Sandiford's "fundamental rights" by refusing to pay for legal representation as she battles for her life.

In an extraordinary last bid to secure the £2,500 said to be necessary to obtain representation from an Indonesian lawyer, Mr O'Neill suggested that the court should order the sum to be paid "by way of a loan" pending an appeal against today's ruling.

But Mrs Justice Gloster said an appeal had "no reasonable prospect of success" and the court was not prepared to order the Government to make a loan.

The judge said: "It would in effect provide the claimant with the relief she seeks in her substantial action."

It is still open to Sandiford's lawyers to ask the Court of Appeal itself to intervene.

Mr O'Neill had earlier told the court a competent lawyer had been found who was willing to waive fees and act pro bono, but required "operational costs" estimated at £2,500 to be met.

Mr O'Neill argued the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FC0) had "unfairly and unlawfully" fettered its discretion by applying a blanket ban on providing legal representation to British nationals overseas.

He also argued the refusal to assist Sandiford was a breach of Government obligations to take all reasonable steps to ensure that her "inviolable human dignity" was respected and protected.

Mr O'Neill said the Government was failing to protect her right to life - and not to face the death penalty - despite being required to do so by the European Convention on Human Rights.

There was also an obligation on the Government to ensure Sandiford had a fair trial and any penalty imposed on her was not disproportionate.

There was also a violation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and a departure, without giving a good reason, from the Government's own policy strategy for the abolition of the death penalty.

This included a commitment to provide adequate legal assistance in countries which retain the death penalty, said Mr O'Neill.

Martin Chamberlain, appearing for the FCO, argued it was neither unfair nor irrational for the Foreign Secretary to refuse to fund Sandiford's appeal, but instead to raise her case through diplomatic channels.

He said said it would be difficult to set up a scheme and limit it to death sentence cases, and the Foreign Secretary had been entitled to conclude such a move would not be "wise or sensible".

There would be pressure to extend such a scheme to other human rights cases where sentences offended "human dignity", such as cases where British nationals might be "sentenced to 30 lashes because they are gay" in some countries, or a woman might be sentenced "for driving a car".

Dismissing Sandiford's case, Mrs Justice Gloster said: "We entirely understand the deep concerns of Mrs Sandiford and her family about Mrs Sandiford's predicament in Indonesia, but we must apply the law as we hold it to be."

Richard Stein from Leigh Day, the lawyer who is representing Ms Sandiford, said: "Mrs Sandiford and her sister, both out in Bali, will be devastated by this decision. Whilst we have a judgment, we do not have the reasons for it. We await these before being able to formulate an appeal to what we believe is a fundamentally-flawed decision."

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