The 21st Century Coroner

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 has created the office of Chief Coroner, plucked at the very last minute from the Coalition’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’.  On Friday, the first Chief Coroner, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, delivered The Howard League for Penal Reform’s 2012 Parmoor Lecture.

Six weeks into his post, Judge Thornton presents a frank exposition of the challenges facing the system he now heads, sets out what he considers to be its purpose, and charts its remarkable genesis.

Coroners have, it seems, occupied for the best part of a millennium a peculiar pocket of public life, adapting their function and purpose over time in a manner not always understood by those working outside the system, or even by they themselves.  From the Articles of Eyre to the 2009 Act, via Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart (the latter does not come out well), the Chief Coroner describes how ‘crowners’, as they were originally known, have evolved from lay magistrates or collectors of fines, to the judges they are today. Continue reading

Supreme Court upholds US detention of Yunus Rahmatullah

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and another (Appellants) v Yunus Rahmatullah (Respondent).  (Read judgment)
 
The Supreme Court has ruled that the law of habeas corpus should not be used to order the US to return a Pakistani national held in US custody  to the UK.

Yunus Rahmatullah was captured by British forces in Iraq in 2004 and later taken to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan having been the subject of “extraordinary rendition”.  As a suspected insurgent he remains in US custody, without charge.

The charity Reprieve challenged the Court of Appeal decision to cancel a release order in favour of Mr Rahmatullah after  they received notification from the US authorities that they intended to return him to Pakistan and would be dealing with the Pakistani authorities directly.  The UK Government also appealed, arguing that the Court of Appeal erred in finding that a writ of habeas corpus can be issued where a respondent has sufficiently arguable control of an applicant, and failed to have proper regard to the implications for foreign relations in requiring a request for release to be made to a foreign sovereign state.

The following summary of the facts and reasoning is based on the Supreme Court’s press summary. See my previous post on the Court of Appeal’s ruling on habeas corpus in the case of Rahmatullah. Continue reading

Working with the elderly and infirm: a delicate balance of rights

 R (on the application of J) v the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall [2012] EWHC 2996, 26 October 2012 – read judgment

Close on the heels of last week’s decision regarding disclosure of information from the Child Sex Offenders Register comes this ruling on the police decision to disclose certain information from a nurse’s enhanced criminal records certificates without affording her an opportunity to make representations before the information was released.

The Legal Framework

Section 113B of the Police Act 1997 provides for enhanced criminal record checks to be carried out in various specified circumstances, such as where people are applying to work with children or vulnerable adults. The check is enhanced in the sense that it will involve a check with local police records as well as the centralised computer records held by the Criminal Records Bureau. As well as information about minor convictions and cautions, it will reveal allegations held on local police records about the applicant’s criminal or other behaviour which have not been tested at trial or led to a conviction.If the information satisfies certain threshold tests in the relevant statute, it must be given to the Secretary of State  who must include it in the relevant individual’s Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate or “ECRC.” Continue reading

High Court calls for joined-up thinking on disclosure of sex offender information

X (South Yorkshire) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Chief Constable of Yorkshire  [2012] EWHC 2954 (Admin)- read judgment

The High Court has made an important ruling about the disclosure of information under the Child Sex Offender  Disclosure Scheme (CSOD).

This non statutory arrangement has been in place since March 2010. It  allows members of the public to seek details from the police of a person who has some form of contact with children with a view to ascertaining whether that person has had convictions for sexual offences against children or whether there is other “relevant information” about them which ought to be made available. This request could come from any third party such as a grandparent, neighbour or friend. The  aim of the scheme is described thus:

This is to ensure any safeguarding concerns are thoroughly investigated. A third party making an application would not necessarily receive disclosure as a more appropriate person to receive disclosure may be a parent, guardian or carer.  In the event that the subject has convictions for sexual offences against children, poses a risk of causing harm to the child concerned and disclosure is necessary to protect the child, there is a presumption that this information will be disclosed.

Anya Proops’ post on the Panopticon blog sets out a clear summary and analysis of the ruling by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Hickinbottom J. Here are a few more details about the judgment. Continue reading

Speaking for the dead, prisoner votes and equal pay – 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

This week, free speech continues to be widely discussed, along with prisoner votes and the popular conception of human rights law in the UK. A group of Birmingham women win a landmark equal pay case in the Supreme Court and the Chief Coroner speaks.

1 Crown Office Row seminar on inquests and inquiries

Public Inquiries and inquests have dominated the headlines recently, with members of One Crown Office Row appearing in many of them. On 8 November 2012 One Crown Office Row will be hosting a mock trial and panel discussion on the topic – there are still a few places left for legal practitioners, full details here.

Continue reading

Last quango in Paris? Why the fate of the EHRC is important for all of us – Neil Crowther

In its foreign policy, the UK Government is a keen advocate of national human rights institutions (NHRI’s). The Brighton Declaration, drafted by the UK, encourages Council of Europe States to consider ‘the establishment, if they have not already done so, of an independent National Human Rights Institution’. In June 2012 the UK signed a UN General Assembly resolution ‘Reaffirming the important role that such national institutions play and will continue to play.’

Yet at the same time, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote to Theresa May MP raising concerns about proposals to reform Britain’s own NHRI, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC):

While fully respecting your Government’s priority to improve EHRC’s financial and operative performance as a public body, I would like to call on your Government to review some of the proposals with a view to preserving EHRC’s independence and to ensuring its continued compliance with the (Paris) Principles.

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Holding the State to Account: Public Inquiries and Inquests seminar – 8 November 2012

Public Inquiries and inquests have dominated the headlines recently, with members of One Crown Office Row appearing in many of them, including: 

  • The Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the press
  • The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry
  • The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry
  • The Al-Sweady Public Inquiry
  • The 7/7 Inquests
  • The Victoria Climbié Inquiry.

On 8 November 2012 One Crown Office Row will be hosting a mock trial and panel discussion on this important subject. The event will draw on the latest case law concerning the scope of Article 2 investigations, the grounds for a public inquiry, and the test for re-opening inquests.

The speakers will be Neil Garnham QC, Jeremy Hyam, Richard Mumford, Caroline Cross, Adam Wagner and Matthew Hill .

The full flyer for the event is available here (PDF).

There are still a few places remaining to attend this event.  If you are currently practising within the field of public and administrative law and/or inquests and would like to attend please contact Charlotte Barrow, Marketing Executive at One Crown Office Row  (events@1cor.com) stating your name and organisation. Places will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

CPD has been applied for and debate, drinks and snacks will of course follow.

Prohibitive costs – further thoughts

R (Edwards & another) v. Environment Agency, Opinion of A-G Kokott, CJEU, 18 October 2012, read opinion

In my post of yesterday, about this opinion of the Adocate-General, I set out the context in which the Supreme Court was asking for guidance from the CJEU on how to provide for costs in environmental cases, given that the UK is committed by Treaty obligations (the Aarhus Convention) and specific provisions of EU law to ensure that environmental cases are not “prohibitively expensive.”

As I put it, the first and obvious question is – prohibitive to whom? No litigation may be prohibitively expensive to Roman Abramovich. Any costs liability may deter someone on state benefits.

Continue reading

Recall of prisoner on home curfew did not breach right to liberty

Whiston, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice – read judgment

When a prisoner is recalled from home detention curfew he does not suffer a fresh deprivation of liberty so as to engage Article 5(4)of the Convention.  

Since this part of Article 5 confers a right on any person who is detained to challenge the legality of the detention determined by a body sufficiently judicial in character, the lack of review would render the decision unlawful. As Lord Elias says in his opening remarks,

This is one of a growing number of cases which have bedevilled the appellate courts on the question whether and when decisions affecting prison detention engage that Article. Problems arise because of the combination of general and imprecise Strasbourg principles and the complexity of English sentencing practices. Continue reading

More shenanigans on prisoner votes

No means no

The Government has until 22 November to put forth legislative proposals in order to comply with the court’s rulings on prisoner votes.

I will not retrace the bizarre flip-flop which took place yesterday afternoon as the Attorney General appeared to say one thing about implementing the judgment (it’s complicated) and then the Prime Minister another (no way). Joshua Rozenberg has it right when he calls the situation “profoundly depressing”. For the full background, see my post on Scoppola No. 3, the last judgment on the issue.

I do have three thoughts on the current situation. First, it has become popular to say that there may be a way of solving the crisis which doesn’t require the UK to give any more prisoners the vote, which would be to tell the European Court of Human Rights that we already let remand prisoners and others who haven’t paid fines vote. The argument has been made variously by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, The Independent’s John Rentoul and even last night by a member of the Justice Select Committee, Nick de Bois MP – he told BBC Radio 4 (from 26:25) that “you could almost argue that there isn’t a blanket ban… for example someone on prison on remand or.. for not paying a fine doesn’t lose their right to vote” (I am interviewed immediately afterwards).

In short, unless I am missing something, this argument seems bound to fail. Continue reading

When does a case become “prohibitively expensive”?

R (Edwards & another) v. Environment Agency, Opinion of A-G Kokott, CJEU, 18 October 2012, read opinion – updated

In environmental cases, this costs question arises in a sharp-focussed way, because the UK is committed by Treaty obligations (the Aarhus Convention) and specific provisions of EU law to ensure that environmental cases are not “prohibitively expensive.”: Article 9(4) of the Convention. 

My further thoughts on this case are found here.

The issue arose because a domestic judicial review got to the House of Lords and the claimant lost. She was ordered to pay the costs. In due course, the matter came before the Supreme Court who asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to say what “prohibitively expensive” means in the Convention. The first and obvious question is – prohibitive to whom? No litigation may be prohibitively expensive to Mr Abramovich. Any costs liability may deter someone on state benefits.

Continue reading

Why saving the Human Rights Act will be good for your health – Alice Donald

Debate about whether the Human Rights Act (HRA) might be replaced by a new UK Bill of Rights often dwells on the potential loss, or at least weakening, of the legal route to accountability and redress for victims of human rights violations. An event next month in Liverpool reminds us how much more might be lost if the HRA were to be scrapped or watered down. In particular, it highlights the significance of section 6 of the Act, which requires all public authorities to act in a way which is compatible with European Convention rights unless primary legislation requires them to act otherwise.

The event in question is the launch of the latest results of the Human Rights in Healthcare programme. The programme was set up in 2006 by the Department of Health and the British Institute of Human Rights; in 2011-12, it was led by Lindsey Dyer of Mersey Care NHS Trust. Under its leadership, pilot NHS Trusts have used human rights to design and run services in areas as diverse as dementia care, acute hospital settings, district nursing and care homes.

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Prince Charles and the curious case of the Black Spider Letters

Litigation relating to information rights can sometimes seem very dry and obscure, entailing lengthy analysis of the merits of public authorities disclosing or withholding information which is highly specialised or obtuse, and of little real interest to the general population. But this case – the case of the “Black Spider Letters” – really is a fascinating one, involving an examination not just of the legislative provisions relating to the disclosure of information, but also a consideration of the existence and extent of constitutional conventions pertaining to the role of the monarchy in government. At the same time, it has the potential to generate such controversy as to make for perfect tabloid fodder. It has been the subject of international news coverage. And it’s not over yet.

It all stems from a request for information made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“the Regulations”) by a Guardian journalist, Mr Rob Evans. In April 2005 he wrote to seven Government Departments, and asked for a list of correspondence between Prince Charles and the ministers for those Departments between 1 September 2004 and 1 April 2005, as well as copies of each piece of correspondence. Many of the Departments initially relied on exemptions contained in the Act in order to refuse to confirm or deny whether or not they held such information. Ultimately however, all the Departments admitted that such correspondence did exist, but they refused to disclose it.

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No hunting on my land, please: but only if my objections are based on conscience

Chabauty v France 4 October 2012 – read judgment

I have posted previously on cases involving the ethical objection of landowners to being forced to allow hunting over their property.

These objections have generally found favour with the Strasbourg Court in the balancing of private and public interests under the right to property.  Mr Chabauty puts the issue into another perspective. He also complained that he was unable to have his land removed from the control of an approved municipal hunters’ association. The difference was – and this proved to be critical to the outcome of the case –  Mr Chabauty is not himself against hunting on ethical grounds. Since no conscience was underlying his Convention complaint, the Court found it not to be disproportionate for the French state to require small landowners to pool their hunting grounds. As such, there had been no violation of Article 1 Protocol 1 or Article 14. Continue reading

The march of “dignity” – an anti-libertarian force?

The recognition of a right to life, liberty, and the autonomy of the individual and the mandate of government to secure these rights is being threatened by an increasingly illiberal notion of “human dignity”, says evolutionary psychologist Stephen Pinker.

His 2008 broadside in The New Republic took to task a now defunct body, the US President’s Council on Bioethics whose publication Human Dignity and Bioethics is shot through with disquiet about advances in biotechnology. It could not be more different from the enlightened report issued earlier this year by  the Council’s successor calling on the current administration not to stifle biomedical research with over-restrictive regulation (see my post). Does the contrast between the  present advisory body’s recommendations and the report put before the previous President signal a fundamental change in the way we approach progress in this field? Probably not. Only two weeks ago, Sir John Gurdon (the Nobel physiologist whom schoolteachers had written off as a scientist) bemoaned the regulatory restrictions that make important therapies too costly to pursue. Pinker’s dismay at the “scientific illiteracy” of society rings true today:

Ever since the cloning of Dolly the sheep a decade ago, the panic sown by conservative bioethicists, amplified by a sensationalist press, has turned the public discussion of bioethics into a miasma of scientific illiteracy. Brave New World, a work of fiction, is treated as inerrant prophesy. Cloning is confused with resurrecting the dead or mass-producing babies. Longevity becomes “immortality,” improvement becomes “perfection,” the screening for disease genes becomes “designer babies” or even “reshaping the species.” The reality is that biomedical research is a Sisyphean struggle to eke small increments in health from a staggeringly complex, entropy-beset human body. It is not, and probably never will be, a runaway train.  Continue reading