Rules, Rights (rings) and the Twitter Joke – The Human Rights Roundup

Gratuitous Olympics image

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.

In the news

Whilst the eyes of the world are on London’s Olympic Games, the eyes of this blog are on a series of important rulings which our judges produced last week just before they took the short stroll from the Royal Courts of Justice to Horse Guards Parade watch the beach volleyball. There were three particularly important decisions: firstly, Paul Chambers won his appeal against criminal conviction following a Twitter Joke. Secondly, the recent Alvi case clarified the meaning of the word “rule” in immigration law as a response; and finally the RT (Zimbabwe) case established that a person subject to deportation is not to be expected to lie about one’s beliefs (or lack thereof) to avoid persecution.

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Twitter users “free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel”

Paul Chambers v DPP [2012] EWHC 2157 – Read judgment

The famous ‘Twitter joke’ conviction of Paul Chambers has been overturned on appeal, bringing welcome clarity to what is and what is not an offence of this type. On discovering a week before he was due to take a flight that the airport was closed due to adverse weather conditions, he tweeted that “I am blowing the airport sky high!!” unless the situation was resolved by the time of his flight. He was convicted of sending a message of a “menacing character”, but has had the conviction quashed on appeal, on the basis that, as it was a joke, it was not of a menacing character.

“I had decided to resort to terrorism”

Mr Chambers was intending to fly out of Robin Hood Airport on 15 January 2010 to meet a romantic partner he met on Twitter. On 6 January, via Twitter, he became aware that severe weather was causing problems at the airport, and engaged in a conversation on Twitter where he made the following comments:

“…I was thinking that if it does [close due to adverse weather] then I had
decided to resort to terrorism”

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The right not to hold any belief is fundamental, says Supreme Court

RT (Zimbabwe) and others (Respondents) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSC 38 – read judgment

It is no answer to a refugee claim to say that the individual concerned should avoid persecution by lying and feigning loyalty to a regime which he does not support.

So the Supreme Court has ruled today, considering the relevance to political beliefs of the so-called “HJ(Iran) principle” which was formulated in a case where it was held that it was no answer to an asylum claim by a gay man that he should conceal his sexual identity in order to avoid the persecution that would follow if he did not do so. Continue reading

Outlawing God? The limits of religious freedom

Dinah Rose QC

Monday night’s fascinating seminar on Article 9, “Outlawing God”, saw Dinah Rose QC, John Bowers QC, Dr Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat former MP) and Rabbi Michael Laitner (solicitor and Orthodox rabbi) square off over the relationship of the courts to religious belief and believers, refereed (and sometimes stoked) by Joshua Rozenberg in the chair. The seminar, which raised almost £2,000 for legal advice clinics at the Hebrew University, can be listened to here.

There was a clear division in the room: between the lawyers, who felt that the courts in both the UK and Strasbourg afforded less robust protection to Article 9 rights than to the other rights in the Convention; and Dr Harris, who could not accept that a religious belief was any more worthy of protection than any political belief.

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When human rights hit the private law of damages for death

Swift v. Secretary of State for Justice [2012] EWHC 2000 (QB) Eady J, read judgment

This decision involves the intersection of Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR with the law governing who can recover damages for the death of a relative. This law is the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (for the text see [10] of the judgment – embarrassingly, the one freely available on the internet is out of date). One does not to think for very long before realising that the FAA is underpinned by an idea that one ought to respect the rights of the family, and to pay the family when one has negligently caused the death of a family member. But like all such laws, there is the problem of where to stop – where does the family stop for these purposes?

Ms Swift had been living with Mr Winters for 6 months when he was killed at work. She was pregnant with their child. Under FAA rules, her child had a claim for financial dependency against his father’s employer – what he expected to derive from his father had his father lived – even though he was not born at the date of his father’s death. Indeed, her son recovered £105,000. But, says the FAA, Ms Swift does not have a claim. s.1(3) requires an unmarried partner to have been living with the deceased for 2 years before his death before they can become a “dependant”, and no amount of re-writing via  s.3 of the Human Rights Act  (to make the FAA  rights-compliant “so far as possible”) can make “2 years” read as “6 months” . Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.

So Ms Swift’s claim was against the Secretary of State for a declaration that the FAA was incompatible with her Article 8 and 14 rights.

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Immigration rules, prisoner voting and corporate accountability – The Human Rights Roundup

Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly summary 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.

It has been an interesting week for immigration law, with so-called ‘back door’ immigration rule changes struck down by the Supreme Court. The UK has been hauled over the coals yet again about prisoner voting, and those of us interested in corporate accountability saw the High Court rule that it was arguable that the London parent company headquarters of a South African company was its place of central administration for domicile purposes.

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Alien poster campaign’s anti-religious message

Updated | Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v Switzerland [2012] ECHR 1598 (13 July 2012) - read judgment

This case concerned the Swiss authorities’ refusal to allow an association to put up posters featuring extraterrestrials and a flying saucer on the ground that it engaged in activities that were considered immoral.

The association complained it had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber did not agree, ruling that the refusal had met a “pressing social need” and that the authorities had not overstepped the broad margin of appreciation given to them in view of the non-political dimension of the poster campaign.

At first blush there is nothing remarkable about this ruling. But it was a narrow majority (nine votes to eight) and a brief reading of the dissenting opinions gives pause for thought: does the slightly loony nature of a message justify its suppression? Lurking behind the authorities’ refusal to allow the association’s advertising campaign is a sense of disapproval vis a vis their anti-Christian message;  one of the campaigns the association wished to conduct featured a poster stating “God does not exist”, and on another, below the association’s website, ran the message “Science at last replaces religion”. Continue reading