More on Assange, rape and the right to die – The Human Rights Roundup

Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly smörgåsbord 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 news
This week has been dominated by the figure of Julian Assange, with many UK-based legal bloggers commenting on the many aspects of his case, not least in relation to the question of extradition to the US and diplomatic protection by Ecuador. There has also been a very sad conclusion to the right-to-die campaign by Tony Nicklinson, which is that he refused food and passed away on Thursday.

Equality, human rights and religion or belief: time to get out of the courtroom? – Alice Donald

The interaction between the law and religion or belief is rarely out of the headlines. Debate rages about whether Article 9, the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, receives sufficient – or too much – protection in the courts.  There has been a considerable amount of litigation, much of it contentious (see, for example, here, here and here

A new report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) by researchers at London Metropolitan University, including myself, explores these controversies. It is based largely on interviews and roundtable discussions with around 100 religion or belief groups, human rights and/or equality organisations, employers, public service staff, academics and lawyers. It is concerned as much with differing perceptions and understandings of the law as with the law itself. It also examines the practical application of the law in the workplace and public services.

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Is compulsory regulation of the print media compatible with Article 10 ECHR? – Hugh Tomlinson QC

One of the possibilities being considered by Lord Justice Leveson as he writes the Report for Part 1 of his Inquiry is whether there should be compulsory regulation of the print media.   One, widely discussed possibility is a statutory framework which would require any publisher with turnover or readership above a set threshold to join a “regulatory body”: compulsory regulation for large publishers. 

The purpose of such a provision would be to  deal with the so-called “Desmond problem” – the anomaly of a system of regulation which does not cover all the large newspaper publishers. But an important freedom of expression question arises: is the compulsory regulation of the print media compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights?  This is not a question which has ever been considered by the Court of Human Rights and the answer may not be an entirely straightforward.

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The Assange Reality Distortion Field

It was once said of Apple’s Steve Jobs that he could convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, and persistence. Following Jobs’ untimely death, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has taken over the mantle of his patented Reality Distortion Field.

It would seem (on Twitter at least) that you are now either with Assange or against him. To be with him is to believe that he is in the throes of an international conspiracy involving, but not limited to, the British Government, courts, the Swedish Government, his rape (not bad sexual etiquette) accusers, of course the Americans and possibly the saucer people too. To be in the other (artificially exaggerated) camp is to not automatically believe that his Swedish accusers have been concocted by a dastardly international conspiracy, but rather that their accusations should be met with (whisper it) due process. Moreover, Assange has had his days in court, all the way to the UK Supreme Court, and now must face his accusers.

Since Assange happens to be in the UK (well, technically in Ecuador I suppose), the UK legal blogging community has taken it upon itself to bring reality back into line. Not since the Freemen of the Land has a legal issue generated a series of counter-woo posts of such quality, and after this rather lengthy introduction, all I seek to do is link to them with approval:

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“No precedent? Then set one!” – Nicklinson right to die case

Updated – Tony Nicklinson, one of the two claimants in this case, died on 22 August 2012.

This is Richard Dawkin’s battle cry in response to the recent High Court rejection of the challenge by locked-in sufferers to the murder and manslaughter laws in this country that have condemned them to an unknowable future of suffering.

As explained in my previous posts, Nicklinson, who suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005, argued for an extension to the common law defence of ‘necessity’ for murder because the alternative – forcing him to stay alive – is worse. His lawyers also submitted that the government is in breach of his Article 8 right to ‘privacy, dignity and autonomy’, a right he cannot exercise independently because of severe disability.

The court rejected the “bold” submission, stating that there was no precedent anywhere in the world and such socially controversial changes were only for Parliament.

But the courts can’t keep ducking away from the problem, because Parliament is never going to address this issue. Why? Because, as Dawkins points out, once again, religion turns out to be the major culprit. Every attempt in the House of Lords “to do something about the right to seek professional (or even amateur) assistance in dying when you are too incapacitated to kill yourself” has crashed and burned, despite huge public support for reform in this area. Continue reading

Judicial blogging, right to die and Assange – The Human Rights Roundup

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

With the Olympics over now, there’s been a bit more activity in the legal blogosphere this week. Probably the biggest news is the guidance from the Senior Presiding Judge that may stifle judicial blogging altogether – the guidance requires that a blogging judge be unidentifiable as a judge . In other news, the Free Movement blog features a series of three posts this week discussing the July 2012 changes to the Immigration Rules; locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson loses his High Court case and yet another twist in the tale of Julian Assange emerges.

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A tinge of green in our Bill of Rights?

Amidst the root and branch opposition to socio-economic rights from some quarters, the idea that the Bill of Rights might contain an environmental right seems to have got lost in the smoke of this rather unedifying battle. The July 2012 Consultation on a Bill of Rights summarises the rival contentions well – see below.

I am ducking well away from the underlying question – should there be a Bill of Rights at all? – but support the proposition that, if there is to be such a Bill, it should contain some provision about the environment. Answers on a postcard to the Commission by 30 September, please, whether you agree or disagree with me, but in the interim, here is my penn’orth.

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“Locked-in” sufferer’s challenge to ban on voluntary euthanasia fails in the high court

The Queen(on the application of Tony Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice [2012] EWHC 2381 (Admin) – read judgment

Lord Justice Toulson, sitting with Mrs Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur, has  handed down judgment in the case of Tony Nicklinson and that of another “locked-in” syndrome sufferer, “Martin”. On all the issues, they have deferred to parliament to take the necessary steps to address the problems created by the current law of murder and assisted suicide.

Philip Havers QC  of 1 Crown Office represented Martin in this case. 

Tony Nicklinson sought a declaration of immunity from prosecution for a doctor who would give him a fatal dose of painkillers to end his life in Britain. He also sought a declaration that the current law is incompatible with his right to respect for private life under article 8, contrary to s1 and 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, in so far as it criminalises voluntary active euthanasia and/or assisted suicide.

Martin’s claim was slightly different as his wife does not want to do anything which will hasten his death. He therefore asked for permission for volunteers to be able to help him get to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland (under recent guidelines from the Director of Public Prosecutions only family members or close friends who are motivated by compassion are unlikely to be prosecuted for assisting a suicide). In the alternative he sought a declaration that section 2 of the Suicide Act is incompatible with the right to autonomy and private life under Article 8 of the European Convention.  Continue reading

Let the judges blog

The legal blogosphere has been aflame this week with the news, first published on a magistrate’s blog, that the Senior Presiding Judge has sent new guidance to judges banning them from blogging in their judicial capacity. The SPJ has also threatened disciplinary action unless they remove existing content with breaches the new rules.

The key section of the purported guidance is this:

Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.

The guidance applies to those who blog anonymously because “it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered“.

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A coach and Aarhus through the planning system? Third party rights under scrutiny


The Geneva-based Aarhus Compliance Committee is considering a wide-ranging pair of challenges to the planning system claiming that it does not comply with the Aarhus Convention on Environmental Matters. The Committee (ACC) heard oral submissions on 27 June 2012, and on 12 August received what should be the last of the written submissions of the parties.  A decision may emerge before the end of the year, but there is so much interesting material in the papers before the Committee (for which see this and this link) which is worth having a look at.

The challenges raise a whole host of issues – the key ones are:

(i) not all planning committees allow objectors to address them orally before making a planning decision – when they do, they get a bare 3 minutes to say their piece;

(ii) an objector cannot appeal the grant of planning permission; all he can do is seek judicial review if the planning authority err in law, with the potential costs consequences which that involves; compare the developer who has a full appeal on fact and law;

(iii) an objector cannot enforce planning conditions attached to a grant; all he can do is challenge the local authority if it refuses to enforce, again on a point of law;

(iv) the UK does not comply with Article 6 of the Convention in that not all projects likely to have an effect on the environment are properly challengeable;

(v) the UK does not comply with Article 7 of the Convention in respect of public participation in all plans which may relate to the environment.

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Should we be using ‘special’ offences to prosecute crimes against disabled people? – Lucy Series

Eleven Winterbourne View staff have pleaded guilty to 38 charges of ill-treatment and neglect of a mental health patient under s127 Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA).  In this post I want to consider why we need ‘special’ offences like s127 MHA and also s44 Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA), rather than prosecuting crimes in care settings using more ‘mainstream’ offences. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), with articles emphasising access to justice (Article 13) and equal recognition before the law (Article 12) encourages us to think about how we can ensure disabled people have effective access to the law that protects us all before we develop parallel ‘special’ systems of rights protection (see, for example, Inclusion EuropeEuropean Disability Forum).  So my question is: why are we using ‘special’ offences of ill-treatment and neglect to prosecute crimes that occur in care, rather than the ordinary ‘offences against the person’ those outside of care rely upon?

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The triple Olympic detainee

Othman, R (on the application of) v Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) & Ors [2012] EWHC 2349 (Admin) – read judgment 

Angus McCullough QC represented Abu Qatada as his Special Advocate in the SIAC proceedings.

Along with many others, today I find myself emerging from an Olympic haze. And alongside that morning-after blur comes a nagging feeling that it is time to get back to blogging. Why not start with a man who has watched the last three Olympic Games during what the High Court describes as an “enormously lengthy” period of  detention without charge, and whose last bail application was refused as it would be too difficult to keep track of him during the 2012 Olympics?

The last two or so weeks have been a wonderful time to be in London. Aside from the slightly naff closing ceremony, everything about the sporting carnival has been positive. It has also been a great time to be working in Temple, which has been converted into ‘Belgium House‘ for a fortnight.

Before returning to unlawful detention and Abu Qatada, a personal reflection. The first time I ever visited the Inner Temple was for a scholarship interview which took place on 9 July 2005. I will always remember the date because I had come to London for the interview on 6th July, the day on which the Games were awarded to London. The following day, I was on a bus on the way into town reading a newspaper headline about the Olympics, when I read on the BBC website that there had been a bomb on a tube. I jumped off the bus and flagged a taxi going the opposite direction, and the taxi driver told me he had just seen a bus blow up in Tavistock Square.

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Human rights awards, “special” offences and the porn trial – The Human Rights Roundup

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

Another sparse week for human rights news – eyes, I suspect, remain on the Olympics as Team GB tried to accrue as many medals as possible in this last week, and of course the Parliamentary and legal summer holidays will make these coming months somewhat quiet. Some exciting news, however: Liberty is welcoming nominations for its Human Rights Awards 2012. We also have discussion of neglect and ill-treatment of the disabled, and illuminating commentary on the “Porn Trial”, in which a decision was reached this week.

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Defining “dignity” – nailing jelly to the wall?

In his recent book Harvard philosopher Michael Rosen poses the question: what is dignity, exactly, and do we know it when we see it?  We are all familiar with the mantra that all humans are endowed with equal dignity, but do we really understand what it means?  Since it is a formulation that is increasingly advanced in justifying universal human rights, we should try to get to grips with it, rather than reversing into circularities such as defining it as an intrinsic quality from birth. What makes it intrinsic? And at what point is it acquired? And why do we owe the dead a duty of dignity when they have no rationality and make no choices, autonomous or otherwise?  Continue reading

Twitter arrests, religion and the law, and Article 8 applications

Another gratuitous Olympics pic

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

It has been a quiet week in the blogosphere which suggests that everyone else has been as glued to the Olympics as I have. This week has seen the arrest of a 17 year old following abusive tweets to Tom Daley and a case looking at the interesting question of whether a Jewish girl could be allowed to have herself baptised, as well as cases concerning Article 8 applications. This week also marks the start of Parliamentary recess and the end of the Trinity legal term. The next couple of months will be quiet as the courts and parliament take their summer breaks.

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