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.
Prisoner Votes and the HRA
Probably the biggest news this week was the Prime Minister’s statement to Parliament that “no one should be under any doubt – prisoners are not getting the vote under this government“. Joshua Rozenberg, writing in the Guardian, has called this decision, especially as it expressly contradicts the “excellent” Attorney-General Dominic Grieve QC’s position, “depressing”, and believes that while the immediate consequences won’t be serious, the UK government will lose a lot of respect internationally. Our own Adam Wagner agrees with him, in a thorough post that laments the UK’s decision to dig in its heels on this issue when the actual decision could have been dealt with fairly easily (as it gave a good degree of latitude to states as to its implementation) – you can also listen to Adam interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight (click here – fast forward to 27:40).
The departing UK representative on the ECHR, Sir Nicholas Bratza, has also weighed in on this issue this week, asking in the Independent why human rights have become so vilified in Britain when the UK was instrumental in creating the system. He explains that the UK’s human rights record is actually excellent, and its judgments “enrich” the Convention system, but the culture in this country has become so toxic and anti-ECHR to appreciate the benefits of the Convention. Even John Rentoul, who is critical of the Strasbourg court’s decision in this article on the Independent website, concedes that it is not worth giving up on the ECHR over, and we as a country should grit our teeth and accept it.
Finally, Alice Donald’s guest post on UKHRB this week explores why keeping the Human Rights Act (as opposed to a UK Bill of Rights) is a good idea. Specifically, the post focuses on the value of section 6 of the HRA, which is designed to create a “culture” of compliance with the Convention by requiring all public authorities to act in a way compliant with the Convention unless UK legislation dictates otherwise. The issue will be discussed at greater length at the Human Rights in Healthcare event at Aintree, Liverpool on the 21st of November.
Free Speech and Twitter
On Wednesday, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC gave a speech at the London School of Economics; Legal Cheek has reproduced a significant point: the DPP’s statement that re-tweeting a statement that would be offensive under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 can, itself, constitute an offence. The post also includes some of the commentary created by this announcement: “Twitter Joke” trial solicitor David Allen Green suspects that including the phrase “[re-tweeting] is not an endorsement” would not insure one against liability for re-tweeting.
On a different note, comedian Frankie Boyle has won a defamation case against the Mirror group of newspapers, which called him a “racist” in print after a joke in his show Tramadol Nights which used the word “Paki” to poke fun at what Boyle saw as institutional racism in our news reporting. The Guardian’s Siobhan Butterworth reports on this case, and our general “obsession with punishing speech”, here.
Equal Pay in Birmingham
174 female ex-Birmingham City Council manual workers have won the right to make claims against their employers for equal pay after the council lost an appeal to the Supreme Court concerning whether the claims were time-barred. The women’s claims are based on their not receiving bonuses that their male counterparts received; salaries for manual council workers are equal between the sexes. For full details, see this BBC News article; the Supreme Court’s press summary and judgment
Disclosure of Sex Offender Information
As reported by Anya Proops on the Panopticon blog, the High Court ruled on the legality of the government’s new, non-statutory Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, which would allow people to request information about any sex offence convictions held by people working with children, with a presumption in favour of disclosure of information (X (South Yorkshire) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor  EWHC 2954 (Admin)). It was held that these guidelines did not sufficiently reflect the need to consult individual sex offenders prior to releasing information, so that the balancing exercise performed by the decision-maker can be performed properly. The post concludes by observing that our sex offence disclosure laws are far from being at the level of “Megan’s Law” in the USA (which affords sex offenders no right to privacy under any circumstances in respect of their convictions if a request for information is made).
The Speed of Extradition in the UK
Joshua Rozenberg, writing in the “Jurisprudence” column of Standpoint magazine, offers a look at current extradition procedure in this country, focusing on the high-profile Abu Hamza and Gary McKinnon cases, and asking the fundamental question – why did a final decision take so long to be reached in each?
The Chief Coroner speaks
The new (and first ever) Chief Coroner Peter Thornton QC gave a fascinating speech on the history and future of coroners courts – trust us, it is worth a read: The Coroner System in the 21st Century. The coronial system, which investigates deaths, is as important as it is ancient (going on 800 years), and often involves human rights considerations – see our posts on inquests/inquiries here.
And finally, coming on Wednesday at 10am…
… Judgment in the Supreme Court in Rahmatullah, a very interesting case about the ancient concept of “Habeas corpus” (a legal action through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention). This case has everything: terrorism, US-UK relations and the proper jurisdiction of the courts. Full details in Rosalind’s post on the Court of Appeal judgment.
In the courts
J, R (on the application of) v The Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall  EWHC 2996 (Admin) High Court rules that the Chief constable’s decision to include mistreatment allegations in nurse’s enhanced criminal record certificate breached her article 8 rights.
AA, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1383 The Secretary of State was entitled to rely upon an age assessment which had been confirmed by a court in justifying the detention of (it turned out) a child – Secretary of State’s age assessment policy is therefore compliant with Article 5 ECHR.
Whiston, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWCA Civ 1374 Court of Appeal held that revocation of decision to release a prisoner on home detention curfew licence doesn’t engage Article 5(4) ECHR.
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- Holding the State to Account: Public Inquiries and Inquests seminar – 8th November 2012 October 26, 2012 1 Crown Office Row
- Prohibitive costs – further thoughts October 25, 2012 David Hart QC
- Recall of prisoner on home curfew did not breach right to liberty 25 October, 2012 Rosalind English
- More shenanigans on prisoner votes October 25, 2012 Adam Wagner
- When does a case become “prohibitively expensive”? October 24, 2012 David Hart QC
- Why saving the Human Rights Act will be good for your health – Alice Donald October 24, 2012 1 Crown Office Row
- Prince Charles and the curious case of the Black Spider Letters October 23, 2012 Matthew Flinn
- No hunting on my land, please: but only if my objections are based on conscience October 23, 2012 Rosalind English
- The march of “dignity” – an anti-libertarian force? October 22, 2012 Rosalind English