Do foreign policy and human rights mix?

The Foreign Secretary William Hague has sought in today’s Daily Telegraph to re-emphasise the “centrality of human rights in the core values” of UK foreign policy. On the face of it, this is a laudable aim. But does it really mean anything? And may it in fact amount to an unrealisable promise?

The editorial evokes Mr Hague’s early commitment to put human rights at the “irreducible core” of UK foreign policy. This pledge has been questioned recently due to the potential reduction in scope of the Foreign Office’s annual human rights report. Mr Hague addresses this directly, although with little new detail:

Continue reading

Environmental judicial review is “prohibitively expensive”, uncertain and insufficient

A Geneva-based international committee has just said (provisionally) that domestic judicial review law is in breach of international law in environmental cases. Why? And does it matter? In this post we will try and explain why, and suggest that it does matter.

On 25 August 2010, the UN-ECE Aarhus Compliance Committee issued draft rulings in two long-running environmental challenges which, if confirmed, may have wide implications for how environmental judicial reviews are conducted in the UK. A key finding was that such challenges were “prohibitively expensive” to mount and this puts the UK in breach of its “access to justice” obligations under Article 9(4) of the Aarhus Convention. In addition, the Committee ruled that the UK’s grounds for judicial review of the substantive legality of decisions were too narrow, and said that the domestic rules as to timing of these challenges were insufficiently certain.

Continue reading

Increasing prison numbers could save money, says report

A new report from the think-tank Civitas argues that increasing community sentences and cutting prison numbers will lead to more crime and add to costs too.

This is contrary to the the view of the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, who has argued recently that there is no link between the rising level of imprisonment and falling crime.

The report, Prison, Community Sentencing and Crime, is by Ken Pease, a professor at the Manchester Business School and a former Home Office criminologist. It does not present any significant new research; rather, it seeks to put the other side of the debate on prison numbers, in light of the “apparently concerted attempt to justify an increasing use of community sanctions in place of custody for convicted criminals”.

Continue reading

Widow of 7/7 bomber refused legal aid for inquest

Patel, R (on the application of) v Lord Chancellor [2010] EWHC 2220 (Admin) (27 August 2010) – Read judgment

The wife of the purported ringleader of the ’7/7′ London bombings has failed in her judicial review of the Lord Chancellor’s decision to refuse her funding for legal representation at the inquest into the bombings.

Ms Sumaiya Patel, the former wife of Mohammed Sidique Khan, had her initial application for funding to the Lord Chancellor refused. She sought a ruling from the High Court to quash that decision.

Continue reading

Human Rights news roundup

Hoovering up the latest human rights news

We recently started adding links to interesting new articles and case-law on the right the sidebar under the heading “Selected news sources”.

These articles now appear on our Twitter feed (@ukhumanrightsb) and Facebook fan page too. Below is a quick rundown of some of the most recent stories. The full list of links can be found here.

Continue reading

High Court judge says legal aid tender was a “dreadful decision”

Updated 27 Aug  (17:15)  | A High Court judge has branded the Legal Service Commission’s recent and highly controversial tender for legal aid work as a “dreadful” and potentially irrational decision.

The comments of Mr Justice Collins came in a permission hearing (i.e., only the first stage of a two-part process) on the application by the Community Law Partnership to judicially review the LSC’s recent tender, and specifically the rejection of CLP’s own application. It appears from a Law Society Gazette article that the hearing was adjourned, with the judge warning the LSC to consider its position carefully, and that if it fights and loses the decision could set a dangerous precedent. The hearing is to resume in around a week and a half.

Continue reading

Germany HIV popstar conviction: what would happen in the UK?

Updated, 1 Sep | The high-profile criminal trial of a German popstar who caused her former partner to be infected with HIV has resulted in a 2-year suspended sentence. In other words, she has been convicted but escaped jail. What would happen in similar circumstances in the UK?

The facts of Nadja Benaissa’s case were relatively simple. She had been infected with HIV since the age of 16 and is 28 years old now. She had sex with three people without telling them she was infected, and as a result one of them became infected himself. She claimed that she did not intend to infect him, and that she had been told by doctors the risk of passing on the disease were “practically zero”.

Continue reading

Goodbye to the public sector equality duty?

The government is moving away from the wide-ranging public sector equality duty which was due to come into force in April 2011.

The Equalities Office has announced a consultation on the public sector equality duty imposed by the Equality Act 2010. Reading the consultation document, it is clear that the government intends to delegate the equalities duty to the general public, rather than imposing top-down standards from Whitehall:

We do not intend to prescribe how public bodies go about their business, but we will ensure that we put in place the right framework which empowers citizens to scrutinise the data and evidence on how their public services perform.

Continue reading

The invention of human rights

In a fascinating new essay, Samuel Moyn, a history professor at Columbia University, examines the history of human rights. He concentrates on the concept of international human rights from a U.S. perspective, but many of his observations are highly relevant to those with an interest in UK human rights. As is often the case, examining the movement’s history provides interesting clues as to its future.

Moyn begins by recalling US President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inaugural speech, when he said that “Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere... Our commitment to human rights must be absolute.” Our own Foreign Secretary made a similar commitment after the May 2010 election. But whereas now the concept is well known, in 1977, Moyn says, many people had never heard of “human rights”, and no previous president had mentioned the concept in any substantive way. Interestingly, the current US president Barak Obama has barely mentioned human rights during his time in office, and this may well be a reaction to his predecessor George Bush’s invocation of human rights to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Continue reading

Contraception, capacity and coercion: when does a woman lack capacity to decide whether to use contraceptive treatment?

A Local Authority v Mrs A, by her Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor, and Mr A [2010] EWHC 1549 (Fam) – Read judgment

In the first case of its kind, the court was asked to consider whether a young married woman lacks capacity to decide whether to use contraception, and whether it would be in her interests to be required to receive it.

Mrs A was a 29-year-old woman who suffered from serious learning difficulties, which put her intellectual functioning at approximately 0.1% of adults her age. In 2004 she gave birth to a daughter, and in 2005 she had a son. Both children were removed from her at birth because she did not have the capacity to take care of them.

Continue reading

Value to the community can be taken into account in immigration cases

UE (Nigeria) and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] EWCA Civ 975

The Court of Appeal has held that in deciding whether the removal of a person from the UK is compatible with their human rights, their value to the community can and in many cases should be taken into account.

The court ruled that when a decision-maker is undertaking the balancing exercise required to determine whether the removal of an individual from the UK is proportionate under Article 8 ECHR (right to family life), the individual’s value to the community in this country is a relevant consideration to be taken into account. However, this judgment was qualified by indications from the judges that, in practice, this factor is unlikely to carry much weight in the decision-maker’s evaluation.

Continue reading

The ripple effect from Guantanamo Bay to the English courts

Review: The Ripple Effect: Guantanamo Bay in the United Kingdom Courts” by CRG Murray, International Law Review Online Companion, April 2010 – Read article

A new academic article by C.R.G Murray at Newcastle University analyses the interesting and important line of case-law arising from claims by men detained in Guantanamo Bay. The case-law has involved many issues of a politically sensitive nature and generated much media coverage and pressure on the British Government. The ripple effects from the detentions have led to a series of important judgments.

Murray’s article reviews important case-law arising from detention at Guantanamo Bay and the impact it has had on the decisions reached by the courts. Murray concludes that the case-law demonstrates two major ‘ripple effects’: (1) judicial review has been used to press the British Government into being more active in opposing detentions at Guantanamo Bay; (2) where serious human rights breaches are in issue, the courts have been more willing to disregard historic concepts of comity between courts in different jurisdictions and give their own view of the correct interpretation of law for the benefit of appellate courts in the United States.

Continue reading

Catholic Care gay adoption rejection boosts equality protection

Tenets of belief not enough

The Charity Commission has rejected a bid by a Catholic organisation to amend its charitable objects in order to restrict its adoption services to heterosexuals. The case highlights the significant protections which have been put in place by recent equality law, and the policing role which the Charity Commission is required to play from a human rights perspective.

The Commission was ordered by the High Court in March to look at its initial decision again in light of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The law behind the case is quite convoluted, but is worth looking at again as it is likely to have significant implications for gay couples looking to adopt as well as for religious charities in general.

Continue reading

Terror law reviewers seeking consultation [updated]

The new government is currently undertaking a review of anti-terrorism legislation, and Liberty, the human rights organisation, have been asked to contribute.

Update: The full Liberty response, ‘From War to Law’ can be downloaded here.

The response is predictable, which is unsurprising given how much time and effort the organisation has put into speaking out against New Labour’s more controversial anti-terror policies. Control orders, 28 day detention without charge, the use of wide stop and search powers (currently suspended anyway) and surveillance powers are all mentioned.

More interesting are the organisation’s comments on proposals to ban non-violent groups promoting hatred. This would, say Liberty, be a step too far and would risk “including innumerable organisations, potentially including political and religious bodies.”

Continue reading