The applicant, Mr. Benham, was tried by a magistrate’s court, because he had not paid community charge in due time. The maximum penalty he faced was a maximum term of three months' imprisonment. Mr. Benham was not represented by a lawyer and the court did not appoint a lawyer to assist him, although he was eligible for it.
The applicant contended that the fact that he had no automatic right to legal representation at the hearing before the court meant that he was denied access to a fair hearing.
The Court emphasized that where deprivation of liberty is at stake, the interests of justice in principle call for legal representation. In this case, finding that Mr. Benham faced an imprisonment and the law which the national court had to apply was complex and difficult to understand, the Court considered that the interests of justice demanded that, in order to receive a fair hearing, Mr. Benham ought to have benefited from free legal representation during the proceedings before the national court. As he did not receive such legal assistance, the Court ruled that his right to fair trial had been violated.