Prisoner voting back on the human rights agenda this week

The Guardian reports today that prisoner voting rights will be back in the public eye this week with critical comments from Europe and increased pressure from compensation claims.

Interestingly, the article has now been amended to remove part of a quote from the Ministry of Justice, who had initially said that “Disenfranchisement is an outdated, disproportionate punishment which has no place in a modern prison system with a renewed emphasis on rehabilitation and resettlement”. This line has been replaced by a policy-neutral quote. On the face of it, it seems that government may finally act on this issue, five years after the European Court of Human Rights criticism of its ban in the case of Hirst v UK.

In the 2005 decision of Hirst, the European Court held that Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which prevents prisoners from voting, is in breach of the electoral right under Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Continue reading

Medical records not as private as they may first appear under human rights law

General Dental Council v Rimmer [2010] EWHC 1049 (Admin) (15 April 2010) – Read judgment

A dentist has been ordered to hand over his patients’ medical records to a court in order to help his regulator prosecute him for misconduct. The case raises interesting questions of when the courts can override patient confidentiality which would otherwise be protected by the Human Rights Act.

When health professionals are being prosecuted for misconduct,their patients’ confidential records will almost invariably be disclosed to the court if requested, even without the patients’ consent. Some may find this surprising, given the fact that medical records almost invariably contain highly private and potentially embarrassing information which a person would justifiably not want disclosed in a public court. However, the situation is not as simple as it first appears, as demonstrated by the recent case of an allegedly dodgy dentist.

Continue reading

Libel reform debate hots up as new Government takes advice on reform

Set the ball rolling

The recent announcement of the review of libel and privacy law by a high-profile panel has led to a flurry of conjecture, comment and proposals. The new Government has pledged to reform the law of libel, but what shape will the reforms take?

The committee, which was announced last month, is being led by Lord Neuberger, the head of the Court of Appeal, and will be composed of legal and media experts. One notable absence, as Joshua Rozenberg blogs, is Mr Justice Eady, who has been responsible for many of the more controversial “super injunctions”.

The new Coalition Government have pledged to “reform libel laws to protect freedom of speech“. Cases involving libel, defamation and super-injunctions have seen two competing European Convention rights fighting it out; Article 8 (right to privacy) versus Article 10 (freedom of expression).

Continue reading

New Coalition abolishes Infrastructure Planning Commission after less than a year of operation

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (“IPC”) is to be one of the first fatalities of the new coalition government. What impact will another change to the controversial system have on the fairness of planning decisions?

In a letter on 24 May 2010, the head of the IPC, Sir Michael Pitt, has confirmed the government is planning to scrap the organisation as a part of a wider overhaul planning powers in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The IPC was set up as part of a number of planning reforms under the Planning Act 2008. The goal of the IPC is described on the website as “making the application process for nationally significant infrastructure projects faster, fairer and easier for people to get involved in”. Whether the IPC was achieving this goal is hard to say, as the body only began operation on 1 October 2009, and only began to receive applications on 1 March 2010.

Continue reading

Child rape case sparks debate on child witnesses in criminal courts

The recent Old Bailey case involving two boys aged 10 and 11 accused of rape on an eight year gold has reignited the long running debate over the treatment of child witnesses in the adversarial courts system.

In a Daily Telegraph article John Bingham and Caroline Gammell report that

More than 1,000 children under the age of 10 are called to give evidence in courts in England and Wales every year.Almost two thirds are themselves the victims of crime, asked to relive a traumatic experience, often as much as a year after the event. Although special measures are in place to make the ordeal of giving evidence in court less stressful, the current system remains open to criticism.There is no legal minimum age to give evidence in court but prosecutors must be satisfied that a child is capable of understanding evidence and being cross-examined before they can be called.

It should be noted at the outset that evidence from children can only be compelled by the courts in criminal prosecutions. We posted recently on the case of Re W (Children) [2010] UKSC 12 , where the Supreme Court ruled that refusing an application for a child to give evidence in a trial may contravene Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Lady Hale said at para 22 of the judgment:   Continue reading

Amnesty International report criticises UK’s record on deportation and torture

Amnesty International published its 2010 Report yesterday, documenting torture and other human rights abuses around the world.

In relation to the UK, Amnesty’s report condemns the UK’s continuing reliance on “diplomatic assurances” in deportation cases where individuals were likely to be at risk of torture or other abuse if sent to countries where the Government accepts they would otherwise be abuse, in particular Algeria and Jordan. The report summarises that:

Reports implicating the UK in grave violations of human rights of people held overseas continued to emerge. Calls for independent investigations into the UK’s role in these violations went unheeded. The government’s attempts to return people to countries known to practise torture on the basis of “diplomatic assurances” (unenforceable promises from the countries where these individuals were to be returned) continued. The European Court of Human Rights found that, by detaining a number of foreign nationals without charge or trial (internment), the UK had violated their human rights. The implementation of measures adopted with the stated aim of countering terrorism led to human rights violations, including unfair judicial proceedings.

Continue reading

Transsexual’s NHS breast enlargement claim rejected

AC v Berkshire West Primary Care Trust [2010] EWHC 1162 (Admin) (25 May 2010) – Read Judgment

An NHS Trust acted rationally in refusing to provide breast enlargement surgery to a transsexual, the High Court has ruled, even though there was credible medical evidence that the surgery would have been beneficial. The case raises issues as to when treatment can truly be said to be “necessary” in light of increasingly tight purse strings, and whether NHS policy could be discriminatory towards transsexuals.

The Claimant, AC, had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID). As part of its GID treatment program the PCT had been prepared to provide genital reassignment surgery, which AC had refused.

As part of her treatment, AC was given hormone therapy but was disappointed with her subsequent breast development. Her GP wrote in 2006 that AC had found that her lack of breasts made it “much more difficult for her to feel feminine. It tends to get her down although she does not have a history of significant depressionWhilst we can offer her what support we can with this, this is never clearly going to be as effective as a surgical solution.” Continue reading