Should atheists be explicitly protected in human rights instruments?

Writing on the Richard Dawkins website, humanist campaigner Leo Igwe-Ieet declares that there is a gaping hole in the protections listed in international rights instruments.

I have heard it proclaimed at the UN that the rights of women are human rights. I have also heard it proclaimed that the rights of gay people are human rights. These proclamations changed the way human rights are perceived around the globe. Personally I have yet to hear it proclaimed at UN, or at our regional and national human rights bodies that the rights of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers are human rights. I do not want these rights to be implied or assumed as currently the case in most countries. I want them to be expressly declared as universal human rights.

The reason why such explicit protection is urgently needed, the writer claims, is because non-believers are particularly vulnerable in some parts of the world, notably Africa. In parts of Africa where fundamentalist belief holds sway, “religious non-believers are treated as if they are not human beings, as if they do not exist or do not have the right to exist.” The right to freedom of religion is of no avail to those who wish to eschew faith altogether. On the contrary,

freedom of religion is often understood as freedom to profess a religion-the religion sanctioned by the state, by one’s family or community- not freedom to change one’s religion or freedom not to profess any religion at all as contained in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Continue reading

Retention of data on octogenarian protester “amply justified”

Catt v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis [2012] EWHC 1471 (Admin) – read judgment

Retention of data on a national database of material relating to a protester’s attendance at demonstrations by a group that had a history of violence, criminality and disorder, did not engage Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.

The claimant, now aged 87, applied for judicial review of the decision of the defendants to retain data, seeking an order that, as he had not himself been engaged in criminality, any reference to him should be deleted from the allegedly unlawfully retained material.

 Background

 The data in issue was essentially comprised of records (or reports) made by police officers overtly policing demonstrations of a group known as “Smash EDO”, which carried out a long-running campaign calling for the closure of a US owned arms company carrying on a lawful business in the United Kingdom. Disorder and criminality had been a feature of a number of the protests along with harassment of the company’s staff. The defendant authority had retained data relating to the claimant’s attendance at various political protests on the National Domestic Extremism Database, and maintained by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. Continue reading

Abu Qatada detention will continue through Olympics

Mohammed Othman v Secretary of State for the Home Department, 28 May 2012 – read judgment

This was a further application for bail to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) after the appellant had failed in his application to the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court earlier this month, but had launched an appeal to be heard by SIAC, against the Home Secretary’s refusal to revoke his deportation order.

Angus McCullough QC appeared for Abu Qatada as his Special Advocate in these proceedings before SIAC. He is not the author of this post.

A full hearing will take place in October. Until then, bail has been refused and Abu Qatada will remain in detention.

Given the evidence before him, Mitting J had to base his judgment on the assumption that the Secretary of State would not have maintained the deportation order unless convinced that she was in possession of material which could support her resistance to the appellant’s appeal and which could satisfy “the cogently expressed reservations of the Strasbourg Court about the fairness of the retrial”which the appellant would face in Jordan.

Two consequences flowed from these developments, according to the judge. One is that SIAC’s final decision in October is likely to put an end to this litigation. The second is that the risk of Qatada absconding has increased, if he assumes, in the light of the expressed determination of the Secretary of State, that he would not avoid deportation to Jordan by litigation in and from the United Kingdom. Continue reading

Assange: does it matter if ministers mislead Parliament?

Assange v. The Swedish Prosecution Authority [2012] UKSC 22, read judgment

Today, the Supreme Court held that Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden for alleged rape. This is subject to further submissions on one point (concerning the Vienna Convention on Treaties), well covered by Joshua Rozenberg in his post on the lively proceedings when the judgment was handed down.

The whole of the appeal turned on one technical point, simple to state, but it took the Court 266 paragraphs to answer. Was the European Arrest Warrant which triggered the extradition request signed by a”judicial authority,” given that it was signed by a prosecutor? Most English lawyers, unburdened with the detail, would say – no, a prosecutor is not a judicial authority, indeed he or she is the opposite of that, a party. But, according to the Supreme Court, they are wrong, and so are the ministers who told Parliament that a judicial authority has to be some sort of judge or court.

Continue reading

NHS Trust rapped on knuckles for refusing to reinstate union activist

R(on the application of Yunus Bakhsh) v Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust [2012] EWHC 1445 (Admin) - read judgment

This fascinating short judgment explores the extent to which a judicial review claim, or a free-standing claim under the Human Rights Act, may be precluded by a statute covering the same issue.

If Parliament has decided on a particular avenue of appeal in a certain context, and settled upon a sum in compensation, do the courts have any room for manoeuvre outside those statutory limits?  There is very strong authority to the effect that the courts have no discretion to grant any relief going beyond the remedy which Parliament has seen fit to provide (see Johnson v Unisys Ltd [2003] 1 AC 518). But on arguability grounds at least, this short permission decision by Foskett J suggests that public law must attend to the policy behind the statute. If the redress provided by the legislation does not fully serve the aims of that policy, it may be that public law has to come to the rescue.

Background

In essence the claimant, a former mental nurse who had been sacked because of his trade union activities and not granted reinstatement, was seeking to challenge the decision by his employer, a public NHS trust, not re-engage him after it had been ordered to do so by an Employment Tribunal in 2010. The reason they failed to do so was not put forward but was probably because of his anticipated continued trade union militancy. Continue reading

The Erika: Cour de Cassation has its thinking cap on

I posted recently on the continuing legal see-saw in France arising from the prosecution of Total and other parties for their responsibility for the loss of the Erika on 12 December 1999. The Erika sank off the Brittany coast, spilling some 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, polluting  some 400 km of the French coastline, and killing this poor guillemot, amongst many.

Last week, on 24 May, this criminal case reached the highest French court, the Cour de Cassation. Some thought that the court was going to rule immediately on whether Total and the others were criminally liable for the oil pollution. Previously, the Criminal Court of First Instance, and the Court of Appeal in Paris  had said that Total and others were responsible. But now the prosecutor, Advocate-General Boccon-Gibod, was of the view that Total had no criminal liability. His written opinion appears not to have surfaced on the ‘net, but from the decision of the Court of Appeal (for the brave, and not for those with slow broadband, all 487 pages), you can see the points that Total was making, and which he seems to have accepted.

Continue reading

Justice and Security Bill: The Government is not for turning – Angela Patrick

Publishing the Justice and Security Bill this morning, the Secretary of State for Justice said “I have used the last few months to listen to the concerns of … civil liberties campaigners with whom I usually agree.”

There are many people who today would sorely like to agree that Ken has listened and has taken their concerns on board.  Unfortunately, the Government’s analysis remains fundamentally flawed.  The Green Paper was clearly a “big ask”.  There have undoubtedly been significant changes made from the proposals in the Green Paper.  However, the secret justice proposals in the Justice and Security Bill remain fundamentally unfair, unnecessary and unjustified.

Continue reading