Cavalier with our Constitution: a Charter too far.

Photo credit: Guardian

Marina Wheeler

Last week Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, tabled a set of proposals which the government hopes will form the basis of the UK’s renegotiated relationship with the EU, in advance of an in-out referendum. Politically, the proposals may be just the job: a new commitment to enhance competitiveness, proposals to limit benefits to migrants, recognition that member states’ different aspirations for further integration must be respected, and creation of a (“red card”) mechanism to block EU legislation. Legally, however, they raise more questions than they answer.

My thesis is this: the reach of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg has extended to a point where the status quo is untenable. Aside from eroding national sovereignty, which it does, the current situation also undermines legal certainty, which in turn undermines good governance.

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The round-up: Gove’s Gloss and the Assange Saga

 

assange

In the News

The UN working group on arbitrary detention have concluded that the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” by Britain and Sweden in the Ecuadorian Embassy for the last three and a half years. In particular, the working group considered that Mr Assange had not been guaranteed a fair trial, in violation of Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Articles 9, 10 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They have called on Britain and Sweden to end Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation – which all seems rather steep for someone who has in effect used the Embassy “as a safe haven to avoid arrest” – in the words of the dissenting member of the working group, Ukrainian lawyer Vladimir Tochilovsky.

Julian Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 after the UK Supreme Court rejected his appeal against a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Swedish prosecution authority for rape and sexual assault allegations. He has remained there since, now claiming the UN opinion marks a “sweet victory” – but which the UK and Sweden have flatly rejected, on the basis that only one detaining Assange there is Assange himself.

Joshua Rozenberg answers the question on everyone’s minds – how did the UN get it so wrong? The definition the panel gave for Assange’s “arbitrary detention” was that “non observance … of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial … is of such gravity as to give the detention an arbitrary character”. Of course, such a definition of arbitrary detention presumes detention in the first place – which in this case, was self-confinement in the Embassy.

Tochilovsky, the lone dissent on the panel, was the only one to make the point that “fugitives are often self-confined within the places they evade arrest and detention” and “self-confinement cannot be considered places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the working group”. Continue reading

Is the European Court of Human Rights buckling under Westminister pressure?

22527865148_e67eb8c7df_bIn 2006 David Cameron said the HRA ‘has stopped us responding properly in terms of terrorism, particularly in terms of deporting those who may do us harm in this country’. In 2014 his party published proposals to amend the HRA, and to withdraw from the Convention.

Readers of this blog won’t need reminding that the media has robustly criticized the ECtHR:

“The Court has never, in its 50-year history, been subject to such a barrage of hostile criticism as that which occurred in the United Kingdom in 2011 Over the years certain governments have discovered that it is electorally popular to criticise international courts such as the Strasbourg court: they are easy targets, particularly because they tend, like all courts, not to answer back.”[2]

In the last four years there were some 80 judgments where the UK was the respondent and in about 40 of those cases one or more violations were found.  This does not seem to be particularly (statistically) out of step with previous periods.  However do the key cases suggest the widening of the margin of appreciation for the UK?

Al-Khawaja  Continue reading

The Rule of Law and Parliament: Never the Twain Shall Meet? Brian Chang

Vintage Balance Scale

Vintage Balance Scale

In “The Ballad of East and West”, Rudyard Kipling memorably wrote

East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.

Is this an accurate description of the rule of law and Parliament? Is the rule of law a matter best left to lawyers, judges and courts, or do politicians and Parliament also have a role to play in upholding the rule of law, by holding the Government to account over rule of law violations, and ensuring that proposed legislation do not offend the principles of the rule of law?

A new Bingham Centre report published today makes a valuable contribution as the first ever, but hopefully not the last, empirical study on the rule of law in Parliament. By examining references to the rule of law over the 2013-14 and 2014-15 Parliamentary sessions in Parliamentary debates, parliamentary questions and written statements, using both quantitative and qualitative analysis, the report aims to improve our understanding of how the rule of law has been used in Parliament. Continue reading

Examination of child witnesses not in violation of Article 6

blogimage1Mark William Patrick MacLennan v Her Majesty’s Advocate, [2015] HCJAC 128 – Read judgment

The High Court has refused an appeal under Article 6 on the lack of effective cross-examination of child witness, but has provided interesting commentary on how such investigations could be better handled in future to meet Strasbourg standards.

 The Facts

The original charge concerned reports made against the appellant, the manager at a nursery in Fort William, from children alleging various forms of sexual contact. After initial allegations, joint investigation interviews (JIIs) were conducted between May and July 2013 with various children from the nursery. The value of some of the interviews was questioned by the High Court, with one described as “leading in the extreme” (paragraph 5), yet none were challenged by the defendant when presented as evidence during his trial. Continue reading

Bedroom tax challenge success

The Court of Appeal has given its judgment in a conjoined appeal of two of the latest challenges to the bedroom tax/removal of spare room subsidy (delete as you see fit), holding that it was unlawfully discriminatory in its application to:

 

 

 

  1. A female victim of serious domestic violence living in a home significantly adapted (including the provision of a “safe room”) to ensure her safety in the face of threats from her former partner; and
  2. A severely disabled 15 year old boy cared for by his grandmother and her partner, who required a carer to stay in their home two nights per week.

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