Family legal aid tender process was “unfair, unlawful and irrational”

Updated The High Court has ruled that the Legal Service Commission’s legal aid tender process was “unfair, unlawful and irrational”. The decision came in  a judicial review of the tender brought by the Law Society.

According to the Law Society’s press release:

The failure of the LSC to anticipate, let alone manage, the outcome of the process was the latest and perhaps most alarming of the LSC’s apparently haphazard attempts to reshape legal aid…

The LSC’s actions would have seen the number of offices where the public could get subsidised help with family cases drastically cut from 2400 to 1300.

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New “loss of control” defence as murder law reforms take effect

Joshua Rozenberg has written an article in today’s Guardian pointing out that, as of Monday, a major reform of the law of murder will take effect. The measures, which were introduced by the last Government, in effect replace the old partial defence to murder of provocation with a new partial defence of “loss of control”.

As Rozenberg points out, a partial defence reduces an offence from murder to manslaughter, which means that a judge will not have to impose a mandatory life sentence on conviction. The reforms to the law on provocation stem from long-standing criticism that the defence’s archaic origins in the common law have led to it being unduly lenient in instances of hot-headed violence (e.g. a husband killing his wife on discovery of infidelity), while providing insufficient protection for “slow burn” cases (and in particular those where victims of prolonged domestic violence finally kill the perpetrators). In recent years, attempts by the courts to extend the partial defence to “slow burn” cases have led to increasingly strained interpretations of the law in this area, which have furthered calls for reform.

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Roma: Commission shies away from full discrimination action against France

We reported earlier on the threat by EC Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding to institute infringement proceedings against France in respect of its expulsion of Roma and the dismantling of their encampments. It seems now that the Commission itself may not have the stomach for an action expressly based on the ban on discrimination in the EC Treaty and the Free Movement Directive.

As the Darren O’Donavan reports in Human Rights in Ireland,

The Commission decided to threaten a less controversial legal action against France for not having correctly transposed the Free Movement Directive into national legislation.

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UK discriminated by making same-sex relationship mum pay more child maintenance

J M v. The United Kingdom – 37060/06 [2010] ECHR 1361 – Read judgment

The European Court of Rights has declared that rules on child maintenance prior to introduction of the Civil Partnership Act discriminated against those in same-sex relationships.

The events happened nearly a decade ago and the law in relation to same-sex couples has greatly altered since, so it will be of limited relevance to those paying child benefit now. Of more interest is the reasoning of the majority in deciding the case under the right to peaceful enjoyment of property rather than the right to family life.

The case summary is based on the Court’s press release, and is followed by my comment.

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Human rights roundup: Green Milibands, press freedom and Guantanamo Bay rights

Some of this week’s human rights news, in bite-size form. The full list of our external links can be found on the right sidebar or here:

Can an institution demand a CRB check from tutors visiting to train staff? – Anna Fairclough, Liberty: Another excellent answer to a human rights question via the Guardian’s Liberty Clinic. This edition addresses the overzealous use of Criminal Records Bureau checks by employers. I referred to this issue in a recent roundup, as Nacro, a crime reduction organisation, is campaigning to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act so that ancient and trivial criminal offences would no longer be a bar to employment as they often are now.

Which Miliband is greenest? – Halsbury’s Law Exchange: Stephen Hockman QC, an environmental law expert, says that both Milibands have done more than the current government to promote green issues. Perhaps when David returns to front-line politics he will take up the environmental post his brother recently vacated. We have been featuring environmental law recently on the blog – see a list of recent posts here. Also, good to see the Halsbury’s Law Exchange are now blogging regularly!

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Coroners take action on deaths in custody

Coroners are making more recommendations about how to avoid deaths in custody, according to the latest report from the Ministry of Justice.

The latest statistics on “rule 43 reports”, where coroners make reports to prevent future deaths, show that deaths in custody account for 11% of reports made, up from just over 6% in the two previous reporting periods.

Since July 2008 coroners have had a wider power to make reports to prevent future deaths and a person who receives a report must send a response within 56 days.

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Did the security services know about detainee mistreatment?

Binyam Mohamed

More documents have emerged calling into question what the UK security services knew about the alleged mistreatment of ‘War on Terror’ detainees. Until this case is resolved, it is unlikely that work will begin on the upcoming torture inquiry.

Various documents have been disclosed in the ongoing case of Al Rawi and Others v The Security Services, in which six men who were detained at various locations, including Guantanamo Bay and Bagram in Afghanistan, allege various forms of mistreatment. They say that the UK government knew or should reasonably have known that the mistreatment was happening. Although the case has not yet reached trial, it has been the subject of a number of high-profile applications for secret documents (see our posts here and here).

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A Russian reminder

Sutyagin

I attended a talk this morning given by Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear scientist who was detained for 11 years on charges of treason. He was released in July as part of the high-profile spy-swap with the United States.

Hearing Sutyagin’s description of the Russian justice system, as well as the “gulag” he was sent to for over a decade, brings into focus the enormous difference between legal systems within Europe. In the UK we can confidently expect that courts and judges will uphold the rule of law and act with impartiality. Whilst there are notable exceptions, our legal system has checks and balances in order that poor decisions can be weeded out. That system is imperfect but at least it is predictable and, on the whole, fair.

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Warning: Wild Lawyers at Large

A group of lawyers, academics and campaigners has been deciding how to shake up our legal landscape to make the future safer for our environment.

Sixty years of human rights and it feels like they’ve been with us for ever.  Two hundred and nine years since the founding fathers’ Bill of Rights came into effect in the United States; two hundred and eleven since the French National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of man. Now, there are more humans to seek out and flourish those rights than was ever imaginable in those brave new worlds.

In Paul Simon’s words, there are

Too many people on the bus from the airport

Too many holes in the crust of the earth

The planet groans

Every time it registers another birth

People’s rights and aspirations, as set out in these pioneering aristocratic instruments, may have reached the end of their useful life.

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Police breached rights of short-skirt snooper

A, R (on the application of) v B [2010] EWHC 2361 (Admin) (21 July 2010) – Read judgment

When should the police disclose a person’s private sexual practices to his employer? The high court has just ruled that a detective inspector breached a man’s human right to privacy by telling his employer that he had been taking pictures of short-skirted women in the street without their knowledge.

The case of ‘A’ raises important questions of the extent of the police’s duty to keep the peace and prevent crimes before they happen. This duty can come into conflict with the human right to respect of private and family life , which can be breached by the state in order to keep the public safe.

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Fathers’ rights on the agenda for upcoming family justice reform

Last week I posted on a speech given by Sir Nicholas Wall on family justice reform. The speech has been widely reported: see the BBC, Zoe Williams’ challenge to Sir Nicholas’ point that intelligent parents made worse litigants, and this thorough analysis from Marylin Stowe.

It should not be forgotten, however, that Sir Nicholas’ speech was to Families Need Fathers (FNF), a fathers’ rights lobby group – see the Wikipedia entry on the movement’s history.

There are two interesting articles on fathers’ rights in this morning’s Observer, the second of which comments on the speech. FNF is, according to the Observer, “at the forefront of a shift in tone in fathers’ rights – away from the notorious stunts of Fathers 4 Justice, which involved grown men dressed as superheroes unfurling banners on public monuments, towards a professional lobbying approach, deploying reasoned argument and concern for the child.”

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Supreme Court status “still to be decided” in bonfire of quangos

Updated x 3 | The UK Supreme Court Blog has pointed out that the UK Supreme Court is listed as “still to be decided – options being considered” in the quango reform document which was leaked this morning.

But what does this mean? Surely not that the new UK Supreme Court, after £56m of investment and a successful first year in operation, is for the chop?

Not a chance. The Supreme Court is the highest appeal court in the land and an integral part of the UK justice system. Whilst the name and venue are new, the court itself is almost identical to the House of Lords committee which it replaced, and most (although not all) consider its new independence from Government to be a positive step for the rule of law.

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Human rights roundup: Gaza acquitting, Google snooping and grade suing

Some of this week’s human rights news, in bite-size form. The full list of our external links can be found on the right sidebar or here:

Judge’s veiled criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza causes a legal dilemma – Joshua Rozenberg: I posted on this in July (see here). A judge in a criminal damage case gave what appears to be a biased summing up to the jury, expressing political views about the war 2008/9 Gaza. Joshua Rozenberg asks what, if anything, can be done about it.

Mental health tender criteria ‘discriminate against smaller firms’ – The Law Gazette - More trouble for the Legal Services Commission? The Law Society are already judicially reviewing their tender for family legal aid work.

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Eviction of council tenants was breach of human rights

Updated x 2 | Kay and Others v United Kingdom (European Court of Human Rights, 21st September) – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK violated the human rights of short-term tenants of council property whose leases had been terminated. The decision will not, however, prove much help to evicted tenants in similar situations in the future, although it should encourage courts to take their personal circumstances into account when deciding if they should be evicted.

The applicants were occupiers of housing units owned by Lambeth borough council under leases which had been provided  by a charitable housing trust. Lambeth brought possession proceedings after the leases were terminated in 1999. The applicants complained that these proceedings breached their right to respect for private and home life under Article 8 (the right to a family life). They were unsuccessful before the domestic courts but the Strasbourg Court found a violation of Article 8, insofar as the applicants had been prevented from raising it as a defence.

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When is access to environmental justice “prohibitively expensive”?

Coedbach Action Team Ltd v Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change [2010] EWHC 2312 (Admin) – Read judgment

A recent decision of the High Court, relating to a challenge to planning permission for a power station, could significantly limit access to environmental justice for local community groups.

The Aarhus Convention requires that access to justice and effective remedies be provided to members of the public in environmental matters, and that the procedures be “fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive.”

Both the UK and the EU are signatories to the Convention; the access to justice provisions are given effect in EU law in the Directive 85/377 EEC, which requires that such access be given to “members of the public concerned” who have a sufficient interest or  are maintaining the impairment of a right.

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