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.

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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.

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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.

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We need to think about Kevin

Monsters are born, not made: the latest round in the debate about criminal responsibility questions the very  existence of intuitive morality.

US neuroscientist Sam Harris claims in a new book that free will is such a misleading illusion that we need to rethink our criminal justice system on the basis of discoveries coming from the neurological wards and MRI scans of the human brain in action.

The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously demonstrated in the 1980s that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. Subjects were hooked up to an EEG machine and were asked to move their left or right hand at a time of their choosing. They watched a specially designed clock to notice what time it was when they were finally committed to moving left or right hand. Libet measured the electrical potentials of their brains and discovered that nearly half a second before they were aware of what they were going to do, he was aware of their intentions. Libet’s findings have been borne out more recently in direct recordings of the cortex from neurological patients. With contemporary brain scanning technology, other scientists in 2008 were able to predict with 60% accuracy whether subjects would press a button with their left or right hand up to 10 seconds before the subject became aware of having made that choice (long before the preparatory motor activity detected by Libet). Continue reading

Key Justice and Security Bill resources

The Justice and Security Bill, which proposes to introduce secret ‘Closed Material Procedure’ (CMP) hearings into civil trials, has been published. Here are some useful resources for picking your way through the controversy:

  • The Ministry of Justice’s page on the Bill, including some ‘myth-busting’ (including ‘This is undermining the centuries old legal tradition’) is here.
  • 84 responses to the Green Paper which led to this bill can be found here, and the Government’s response of 29 May is here.
  • The Joint Committee on Human Rights’ highly critical report on the proposals is here.
  • You can access all of the UK Human Rights Blog coverage of the secret trials proposals here, including our exclusive on the Special Advocates’ opposition to the proposals, which became the most damaging aspect of the case against the Green Paper.

More to come on the proposals soon…

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Free Speech at Work: A 1COR Seminar and Mock Trial – Wed 27th June

On Wednesday 27 June, One Crown Office Row is hosting an informative and entertaining evening examining the present state of the law relating to freedom of speech in the workplace. The centrepiece will be a mock trial, set in the employment tribunal, which will cover whistleblowing, dismissal and human rights obligations.

  • The seminar will be chaired by Martin Forde QC, who has extensive experience of workplace disputes, in particular in the healthcare sector.
  • The evening’s judge will be Martin Downs, an Employment Judge since 2002, who has expertise in all aspects of employment law.
  • Counsel for the parties will be Robert Kellar and Alasdair Henderson, members of 1COR’s employment team and regular advocates in the ET and appellate courts.
  • Marina Wheeler, a senior member of the team, will give an introductory talk on recent developments and the legal framework.

This event will be registered for 1.5 CPD points and debate, drinks and snacks will of course follow. Doors open at 5:30pm for a 6pm start.

There are still a few places remaining to attend this event. If you are currently a legal practitioner and would like to attend please contact Charlotte Barrow, Marketing Executive at One Crown Office Row on charlotte.barrow@1cor.com stating your name and organisation. Places will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Time and time again: Article 6 to the rescue

Last week Rosalind English did a summary post on the important Supreme Court case of Lukaszewski and others, R (on the application of Halligen) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSC 20 - read judgement.

The technicalities of this decision about extradition time limits are set out in her post. Here, I explore the potential implications for other cases.

The Extradition Act contains firm rules that appeals need filing and serving within 7 or 14 days, depending on the procedure. The Supreme Court decided that there should be a discretion in exceptional circumstances for judges to extend time for service of appeal, where the statutory time limits would otherwise operate to impair the right of appeal and therefore be in breach of  the right to a fair trial afforded by Article 6(1) of the Human Rights Convention. And it is this discretion which is important for a whole range of appeals  where mandatory time limits are laid down by statutes.

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Prisoner voting, Bratza’s replacement and peaceful protest – The Human Rights Roundup

“I believe that it should be a matter for parliament to decide, not a foreign court.”

Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly bulletin of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.

The biggest news of the week this week was the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Scoppola v Italy case; the latest in the long-running prisoner voting saga. The Court refused to overrule its 2005 decision in Hirst No. 2 but also found that proportionality does not require individual determination by a judge on a case by case basis. There was predictable anger from the tabloid press plus some more cogent articles, some of which have been set out below.

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The case for letting prisoners vote – Reuven Ziegler

Last Tuesday saw the latest episode in the prisoner voting legal saga with the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber’s judgment  reversing the Chamber judgment which found Italy’s automatic ban on voting for prisoners serving over 3 years in prison (and a lifetime ban with the possibility of future relief for those sentenced to more than 5 years) in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Adam Wagner has compared  the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel, noting that ‘the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table’. Indeed, the UK must still allow at least some prisoners the vote, as required by the 2005 judgment in Hirst v UK (No.2) and the 2010 judgment in Greens & MT v UK.  Over at EJIL: Talk!, Marko Milanovic rightly accounts for the unholy mix of law and (inter)national politics that has generated the Grand Chamber’s unprincipled judgment. Indeed, as Carl Gardner suggests on the Head of Legal blog all that logically remains of the Hirst judgment is that automatic disenfranchisement of prisoners that are sentenced for less than 3 years (probably) breaches the convention.

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Police denied TV footage of Dale Farm evictions

BSkyB and another, R(on the application of) v Chelmsford Crown Court [2012] EWHC 1295 (Admin) – read judgment

The police failed to satisfy the court that their need for footage taken by TV organisations was likely to be of substantial value to criminal investigations and therefore would be a justified interference with the rights of a free press under Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention.

Sky, BBC, ITN etc. succeeded in quashing an order to produce of 100+ hours of video footage to Essex Police of  the Dale Farm protesters on the grounds that there were no “reasonable grounds” for believing that the footage of over 100 hours included material likely to be of substantial value to the investigation.

Background facts

After the Dale Farm evictions and the disorder that ensued, the police sought an order for the recordings taken by the claimant organisations to help identify those who had committed indictable offences when attempting to prevent the eviction.  They submitted that it was necessary, not least for the prevention of similar disorder on future occasions, to identify as many as possible of those who committed indictable offences in attempting to frustrate the lawful enforcement procedures. Production orders were duly made by Chelmsford Crown Court, defendant in this action. Continue reading

Time extended for appeals under Extradition Act

Lukaszewski and others, R (on the application of Halligen) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSC 20 - read judgement

The Supreme Court has ruled that there should be a discretion in exceptional circumstances for judges to extend time for service of appeals against extradition, where the statutory time limits would otherwise operate to prevent an appeal in a manner conflicting with the right of access to an appeal process under Article 6(1) of the Human Rights Convention

The following report is based on the Supreme Court’s press summary. A full analysis of the case will follow shortly.

Background facts

Lukaszewski (“L”), Pomiechowski (“P”) and Rozanski (“R”) are Polish citizens who are each the subject of a European Arrest Warrant (“EAW”) issued by the Polish court. Each is wanted in order to serve an existing sentence. L is wanted, in addition, to stand trial on ten charges of fraud. The fourth appellant, Halligen (“H”), is a British citizen whose extradition is sought to the USA under Part 2 of the Extradition Act 2003 (the “Act”) to face allegations of wire fraud and money laundering. All four appellants were arrested and brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Continue reading