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

Religious no-go area for the courts with their “costly crudities”

Khaira v. Shergill [2012] EWCA Civ 893 read judgment

We have become used to the courts getting involved, more or less willingly, in religious issues, not least where religious freedoms conflict with legal rules which are said to be inconsistent with the exercise of those freedoms. But as Adam Wagner pointed out, in an earlier round of this litigation concerning two Sikh places of worship (Gurdwaras), the courts have developed rules stopping themselves from deciding certain cases, not least because the courts recognise they don’t know what they are doing once they get themselves immersed in issues of religious doctrine.

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Outlawing god?

Interested in the interaction between religion and law? If so, you will be interested in an event I am helping to organise this coming Monday 23 July at 6:30 for a 7pm start. There are a few tickets remaining – click here for details and booking , which is essential. The event is raising money for free legal advice clinics run by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Nb. the event is separate from the blog and 1 Crown Office Row, but hopefully will be of interest to some of our readers…

OUTLAWING GOD? The clash of the courts with religious believers

A “Question Time” style panel discussion of one of today’s most important and controversial issues:

Featuring a superb expert panel:

  • Joshua Rozenberg (chair) – Britain’s best known legal commentator;
  • Dr Evan Harris – Former MP and author of The Secular Manifesto ;
  • Rabbi Michael Laitner – Assistant Rabbi, Finchley United Synagogue (Kinloss), qualified solicitor;
  • John Bowers QC – Deputy High Court Judge and leading barrister with expertise in discrimination law;
  • Dinah Rose QC – Leading public law and human rights barrister. Acted for the pupil in ‘the JFS case’.

Monday, 23 July 2012, 6:30pm for 7:00pm, followed by a reception with canapés and wine

Tickets: £20 – all details here

Norton Rose LLP, 3 More London Riverside, London SE1 2AQ

Levi Bellfield newspaper articles were in contempt of court

Millie Dowler

HM Attorney General v Associated Newspapers Ltd & Anor [2012] EWHC 2029 (Admin) (18 July 2012) Read judgment.

The Divisional Court ruled that reports of Levi Bellfield in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, published while a jury was considering his charge of attempted kidnapping, were in contempt of court.

On 6 May 2011, Levi Bellfield’s trial for the murder of Milly Dowler and attempted kidnap of Rachel Cowles began. He had already been convicted in 2008 of the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy. On 23 June 2011, the jury convicted Mr Bellfield of the murder of Milly Dowler, but had yet to return a verdict on the charge of attempted kidnapping. The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror printed stories on 24 June 2011 including information that wasn’t before the jury in the trial. The question in the resultant contempt proceedings was whether these articles violated the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (CCA).

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Daily Mail on the naughty step for dodgy immigration story

Somebody call Lord Justice Leveson! The Daily Mail have earned themselves a position on the legal naughty step by ‘naming and shaming’ a “controversial” immigration judge for allowing an appeal on human rights grounds, whilst failing to mention that the Home Office themselves had conceded the point.

The article by Andy Whelan and Ross Slater, entitled Judge who let Taliban soldier remain in Britain now allows refugee who raped girl, 12, stay in UK, even included a paparazzi snap of Immigration Judge Perkins looking vaguely sinister. The Mail reported, correctly, that the judge ruled “removing [the Appellant] would be contrary to the United Kingdom’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights“. This is technically right. But there is more. The excellent Free Movement Blog has tracked down the judgment, in which the Judge also made clear that

Before us, on 12 November 2009, Ms R Ashraf, who then represented the [Home Office], accepted that the appeal had to be allowed on human rights grounds.

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BMJ editorial sparks controversy over right-to-life

An editorial article published in the British Medical Journal on 12 July 2012 (subscription required) has provoked controversy in right-to-life circles. The article, entitled “Sanctity of life law has gone too far” criticises the ruling of Baker J in the “M” case where an application to authorise the removal of artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) from a patient in a minimally concscious state was refused. This blog reported on the M judgment in September 2011 here, here and here.

The author of the BMJ article, Dr Raanan Gillon, Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics at Imperial College London (who describes himself as “a hybrid GP and philosopher”) takes Baker J to task for not according significant weight to the informally expressed views of M on life-sustaining treatment, expressed before she came ill. More widely, Dr Gillon questions the implications of the judgment for decisions about the best interests of patients whose state of consciousness is higher than minimal. Most controversial of Dr Gillon’s comments is likely to be his conclusion on the resource implications of the approach to best interests of incapacitated patients, which is put in the following terms:

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Scottish adoption law compatible with human right to family life

ANS v ML [2012] UKSC 30 - read judgment / press summary

Another week and another judgment about adoption. This time it is a decision of the Supreme Court about the Scottish family law system. Whereas last week’s post was about a case where children should have been placed into adoption, but were not, this case concerned a mother who opposed an adoption order being made for her child. The mother challenged the legislation which allowed the court to make an adoption order without her consent, arguing that it was incompatible with her Article 8 rights to private and family life. However, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no breach of the Convention. 

The appellant mother argued that s.31 of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 was incompatible with the Convention. This would mean it was unlawful, as statutory provisions incompatible with the ECHR are not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament under s.29(2)(d) of the Scotland Act 1998. (This is different to the UK Parliament in Westminster, which is able to legislate contrary to the ECHR, and the most the courts can do under the Human Rights Act is make a declaration of incompatibility.)

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Don’t believe everything you read: there is a case for socio-economic rights – Professor Aoife Nolan

Last week, a number of media commentators, politicians and others sought to subvert the second consultation of the Bill of Rights Commission.  This consultation invites views on a number of key issues that form part of the Commission’s mandate. In the Daily Mail’s correspondent’s view, the Commission has committed an appalling transgression by asking potential respondents whether the UK Bill of Rights should include additional rights, referring amongst other things to socio-economic rights. This is echoed by the Sun which argues that the Commission has ‘suggested’ (which it clearly has not) that ‘all Brits be given handouts as a birth right’, and the Daily Express which suggests “Spongers can Sue to Claim Benefits”.

Socio-economic rights are rights that relate to human survival and development.  Like the majority of European and other countries, the UK has volunteered to be bound by a range of such rights as a result of ratifying a number of international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by the UK in 1976); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified in 1992) and the European Social Charter (ratified by the UK in 1962). While these treaties haven’t been made part of our domestic law in the way the European Convention on Human Rights has been as a result of the Human Rights Act, they impose a range of human rights obligations on the UK. The government reports back periodically to the UN expert committees that monitor the implementation of these treaties.

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