The Leveson Report is here!

The Leveson Report into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press has been published. The full report (in four parts) is here. The Executive Summary is here. Thankfully, unlike the artist’s impression which accompanies this post, it is not written in early Hebrew script [Update - this post originally, wrongly, identified the text as Greek. That will teach me for trying to be clever...].

My statement to the Inquiry is here. 1 Crown Office Row barristers represented the Metropolitan Police (Neil Garnham QC and Alasdair Henderson) and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC) (Peter Skelton).

UK not doing enough to combat human trafficking and domestic slavery

C.N. v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 4239/08 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1911 – read judgment here.

The European Court of Human Rights recently held that the UK was in breach of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to have specific legislation in place which criminalised domestic slavery. 

Thankfully Article 4 cases (involving slavery and forced labour) are rare in the UK. Indeed this is only the fifth post on this blog about Article 4, which perhaps shows just how few and far between they are, and the UK has a proud history of seeking to prevent slavery. Although British merchants and traders, to their great shame, played a major part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade throughout the 1600s and 1700s, Britain was then at the forefront of the abolition of the slave trade and slavery from 1807 onwards and the common law has always considered slavery to be abhorrent (as the famous case of ex parte Somersett in 1772 made clear).

Tragically, however, slavery has not been consigned to the history books. Across the world new forms of slavery are prevalent. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are a minimum of 12.3 million people in forced labour worldwide, and one particular form of modern slavery – human trafficking –  is one of the fastest-growing forms of human rights abuse. The UK, as a major destination country for trafficking victims, is not immune from this trend.

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How to keep children anonymous in personal injury cases

MXB v East Sussex Hospital Trust – read judgment

Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. She has nothing to do with the writing of this post.

In personal injury proceedings involving a child it was appropriate to grant an anonymity order  prohibiting her identification since it would defeat the purpose of the proceedings to ensure that she received and kept compensation awarded for her injuries.

Publication of her name was not in the public interest, and the curtailment of her and her family’s right to respect for their private and family life that would occur could not be justified. Continue reading

Hugely important report due imminently… no, not that one

Remember the Commission on a Bill of Rights? You know, the one set up by the Government in the early days of the Coalition to sort out the Human Rights Act? No, not the Leveson Inquiry; that’s about the media (you may have heard that it is reporting tomorrow). CBOR is the one with the eight lawyers, four selected by each of the Coalition partners, a bit like a legal Brady Bunch.

Some accused the Government of kicking the rights issue into the long grass by assigning it to a commission with a far away reporting date – the end of 2012. It seemed so far away, back in the halcyon summer of 2010. Remember David Cameron and Nick Clegg’ romance in the Rose Garden?

Well, the long grass has now grown and CBOR is due to report in just over a month. As I posted in July, the Commission has consulted the public for a second time. The responses have now been published, categorised into Individual responsesRespondent organisations and bodies and Postcard responses. In case you were wondering about the ‘postcard responses’ these resulted from campaigns organised by the British Institute of Human Rights and the Human Rights Consortium.

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Habitats: how to stop death by a thousand cuts

Sweetman v. An Bord Pleanala, CJEU, Advocate-General Sharpston, 22 November 2012 read opinion 

In May 2012 the Habitats Directive celebrated its 20th birthday. It has been under a good deal of flak over the years, particularly from business interests both in and out of government. The reason is plain. The Directive has made member states identify important sites in their territories to the EU (with a certain amount of prodding on the way). It then tells them to keep those sites unaffected by development save in exceptional cases, where there is overriding public interest in the project, there is no alternative solution and, further, that there can be full compensation for the losses caused by the development.

So a member state cannot routinely fudge things against protected habitats in favour of whatever other public interest may be uppermost at the time – wind farms, or supermarkets or chemical works or residential newbuild on greenbelt, for instance. In all but exceptional cases (see here for my post on a proposal which was said to be exceptional), you must not adversely affect the site.

Now for this powerful system of protection in practice, thanks to a tour d’horizon (and de force) by the Advocate-General.

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Have human rights hijacked the language of morals? – and other questions: Laws

Lord Justice Laws’ Inaugural Lecture at Northumbria University, 1 November 2012 – read here 

This is a fascinating and provocative lecture raising important questions about the extent to which the culture of human rights has become the currency of our moral dealings with each other and the State.

Adam commented briefly on Laws’ speech here but since it deserves a post of its own I will try to capture its essence and highlight some of its main features here without I hope too many spoilers.

Laws suggests, as Adam mentioned, that rights should properly be the duty of the State to deliver as an aspect of the public interest, not its enemy. The problem is that we have exalted rights beyond their status of public goods (along with health care, defence, education and so on) into primary moral values served to us not by the government but by the courts. Consequently these two institutions are seen to be serving opposite interests. The entrenchment of rights in morality in Laws’ view carries great danger.

It is that rights, a necessary legal construct, come also to be seen as a necessary moral construct. Applied to the morality of individuals, this is a bad mistake. Continue reading

Secret Courts remixed: any better than the original? – Angela Patrick

This coming Wednesday sees the end of the first stage of the Justice and Security Bill’s passage into law. The Bill which would introduce Closed Material Procedures (CMP) – where one side of a case is excluded with his legal team and represented by a security cleared special advocate in cases involving national security – has become widely known as the Secret Courts Bill. Its progress has been closely scrutinised in this blog over the past six months.

As it completes Third Reading and passes to the House of Commons, we reflect on last week’s Lords amendments to the Bill. While there are still issues ripe for discussion at Third Reading, it is broadly accepted that the key Lords votes have passed.

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Debating the Abu Qatada affair – Gavin Phillipson

I watched the BBC’s flagship political debate Question Time last week and saw a panel of senior politicians from the three main parties plus UKIP debate the implications of the Abu Qatada affair with the audience. You can watch it here (starts at 8 mins 27 seconds) and I urge you to do so. I found the debate illuminating and alarming in equal measure; it made me reflect seriously on how precarious Britain’s interwoven system of international and domestic protection for human rights may actually be these days.

It seems a long time ago that we naively thought that repeal of the Human Rights Act was “unthinkable” – now withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) itself must seemingly be taken as a serious possibility, depending on the outcome of the next election.  The failure of the HRA to implant itself into our political, still less our popular culture was starkly apparent from the debate: I don’t think anyone even mentioned it. A statute that should surely be an important reference point in any discussion of a contemporary UK human rights issue has become so marginalised and misunderstood that it simply didn’t come up. Can one imagine American – or German – politicians discussing such an issue without mentioning their constitutional Bills of Rights – or Canadians, without mentioning the Charter?

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Stalking, Judicial Review threatened and Prisoner Voting (Again) – 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.

The government was on the defensive this week on a number of fronts.  It suffered significant defeats in the House of Lords over its proposals for secret civil trials under the Justice and Security Bill.  Prime Minister David Cameron has also received a barrage of criticism over his calls for tightening the criteria for judicial review applications.  Meanwhile, the prisoner voting saga continues, with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling (on the eve of the deadline) giving Parliament (or, more accurately, a Parliamentary committee) three options on the issue. Meanwhile, a new criminal offence of stalking has been introduced.

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“Murder most foul”: whole life imprisonment not a human rights breach

Oakes and others v R [2012] EWCA Crim 2435 – read judgment

The imposition of whole life orders for extremely serious crimes does not violate the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3.

Until relatively recently, the Secretary of State decided the minimum term to be served by a “lifer” – a defendant who subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment. This is now a matter for the sentencing judge whose jurisdiction is conferred by the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. Schedule 21 para 4 allows judges to order a whole life minimum term,  a jurisdiction of last resort in cases of exceptional criminality.

It was submitted in these conjoined appeals that this provision contravenes Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Not so, said the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division.

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A £1,000 prisoner vote signing on bonus? [Updated x 2]

Update | The Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Draft Bill has been released. It will not be put straight before Parliament for a vote; rather, it will be put to a Committee of both Houses for full Parliamentary scrutiny which could propose amendments, then back to the Government which will “reflect on its recommendations” and subsequently introduce a bill. There is no timetable set out for this process, but I imagine the Council of Europe may want a timetable imposed.

The bill sets out three options:

  1. A ban for prisoners sentenced to 4 years or more.
  2. A ban for prisoners sentenced to more than 6 months.
  3. A ban for all convicted prisoners – a restatement of the existing ban.

One interesting point on a quick read through is that option three “would re-enact the current general ban on prisoner voting, with some minor changes.” The language is indeed different to that used to enact the current ban, which is contained in section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

The BAILII lecture: No Judgment, No Justice

For justice to be seen to be done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses. They must be clearly written so that a reasonably well informed member of the public can understand what is being decided. But they must also be available to the public, and in this sense their accessibility depends on their being reported.

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, so stated in the first BAILII annual lecture, hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP at their premises in Fleet Street last night. The full speech can be read here.

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Facebook faux pas and disciplinary proceedings – when do human rights come in?

Smith v Trafford Housing Trust [2012] EWHC 3221 (Ch) – read judgment 

Turner v East Midlands Trains [2012] EWCA Civ 1470 – read judgment

Two employment cases, about Facebook and train tickets respectively, indicate the difficulties of deciding where human rights may or may not be raised in disputes between private parties – neither defendant in these cases was a public authority. 

It is perfectly clear that where there is a statutory provision under attack, Section 3 of the Human Rights Act mandates the “reading down” of its wording to conform to Convention rights even though there is no “public authority” amongst the parties to the litigation. The Turner case below illustrates this particular aspect of the “horizontal” effect of the HRA in disputes between private parties.

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Chagossians: the latest

R (Bancoult) v. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Divisional Court, 21 November 2012  read judgment

I posted recently (here) on two decisions concerning Chagossian refugees in their long-running campaign to be re-settled in the islands from which they were evicted by the UK in the 1960s. The first was a claim for further documentation, the second an application for cross-examination of key Foreign Office witnesses on the basis of a Wikileaks document (read judgment and read judgment). 

And here is another skirmish in the same battle. Continue reading

A war on Judicial Review? [updated]

The Prime Minister is to “get a grip” on people forcing unnecessary delays to Government policy by cracking down on the “massive growth industry” of Judicial Review. David Cameron told business leaders today:

“When this country was at war in the 40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution. … everything was thrown at ‘the overriding purpose’ of beating Hitler. … this country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ – and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.”

The detail of the changes is yet to be revealed (update – more detail is now available on the Ministry of Justice website, including the promise of a public consultation), but the PM plans to ” reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews – so people think twice about time-wasting.”

Clearly some of the PM’s Dunkirk spirit rhetoric is aimed at cheering up business leaders, who need a lot of that at the moment. But putting the rhetoric aside, there is cause for concern here.

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