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.
Commentary on the Leveson report is again dominating the blogosphere this week – and once again, there is some discussion on whether the UK should maintain a relationship with Strasbourg. Gay marriage is also back in the news. However, we also have some “new” news, covering such diverse topics as homosexuality in the Channel Islands, “indie lawyers” and legal aid. A quick reminder: tomorrow (Monday 10 December) is Human Rights Day. We will be hosting a guest post which you can read in the morning.
In the news
It is unsurprising that such a weighty tome as the Leveson Report should be a dominant theme in legal blogs for more than one week – as with last week, there is a lot of commentary and I have cherry-picked the most interesting for this roundup. ObiterJ’s take is, as ever, a good place to start. In this post, he explains in simple terms the proposals made by Lord Justice Leveson and why they do not involve actual statutory regulation, but also why some (including the Prime Minister) are concerned that once the principle that statute can be involved in press regulation is conceded, there could be a slippery slope towards more active regulation of the press by the government (which would of course undermine the role of the press in a democracy).
Some other interesting Leveson posts this week:
- Alex Aldridge of Legal Cheek considers potential effects of the Leveson recommendations on legal blogging – an angle that few have taken, as the Leveson report itself dedicates only a single page to the Internet. If legal bloggers opt in to the Leveson regulator, there are potential benefits (the arbitration body, for one) – but Aldridge then turns to UKHRB’s own Adam Wagner for the counter-argument, drawing on his witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry;
- Alex Bailin QC considers some of the less widely-discussed proposals in the Leveson Report in his post on Inforrm’s blog – specifically, the proposals that the Data Protection Act and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act be amended;
- Finally, Ben Emmerson and Hugh Tomlinson QC have argued that Leveson’s proposals are not a threat to human rights (contrary to what the Daily Mail claimed last week – see Adam Wagner’s UKHRB post), and, further, that not implementing his suggestions would threaten human rights, in an interesting and informative post on Inforrm’s blog.
Homosexuality in the Channel Islands
JURIST columnist Paul Johnson has written a post in two parts on the JURIST website dealing with male homosexuality and the criminal law in Guernsey (first part) and the Isle of Man (second part). The posts explain the surprising range of laws in these jurisdictions (which are associated with the ECHR by their relationship with the UK, but have their own legal systems) which criminalise various homosexual acts (all consensual “buggery” and “gross indecency” not in private is illegal in Guernsey, and homosexual actions remain grounds for dismissing a Guernsey seaman from a merchant ship; the Isle of Man has very similar laws) between consenting male adults. These laws are, of course, relevant from a human rights perspective and Paul Johnson calls for closer international scrutiny of these two jurisdictions.
ECHR or a British Bill of Rights? (Again)
As ever (and especially given that we are now fast approaching the publication of the Commission on a Bill of Rights’ report) the UK’s relationship with Strasbourg is a hot topic for online discussion. This week we have two defences of the Strasbourg Court, both published on the UK Constitutional Law Group blog. The first, by David Feldman, explains exactly why the “unelected foreign judges” at Strasbourg get to tell the Sovereign Parliament what to do (in short, because the UK agreed to be subject to the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisdiction). The second, by David Mead, seeks to explode sundry myths propagated by both sides surrounding the debate over the ECHR, and is therefore highly recommended reading.
On the more specific issue of prisoner voting, Joshua Rozenberg has written a post for the Law Society Gazette in which he explores the government’s options for dealing with the ECHR’s ruling on prisoner voting (and also speculates on the nature of the report which the commission on a Bill of Rights may return) and concludes that the UK’s international standing is at risk (especially if we go down the route of entirely repatriating human rights and sever ties with Strasbourg). Finally, John Rentoul has published a transcript of an interview with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling (BBC 1 Sunday Politics) on the Eagle Eye website, in which Mr. Grayling gives his official (though rather bet-hedging) views both on prisoner voting and the prison system in general.
The equal marriage debate is back in the news as the Prime Minister has announced his support for gay marriage on religious premises – see Adam Wagner’s post on the legal ramifications of this change of direction. Meanwhile, a number of senior members of the Conservative Party have also said they support a change in the law.
Rise of the Indie Lawyer
Alex Aldridge of Legal Cheek has posted an interesting article this week speculating on the future of the legal profession, in which he predicts an emergence of “indie lawyers” not associated with large firms or chambers setting up using social media once they have completed their pupillages or training contracts. This article comes of the back of Legal Cheek’s Google Campus event this week, which asked the question “What’ll Replace Fading Dreams Of City Law Megabucks And Criminal Bar Glamour?”, featuring a panel which included this blog’s editor Adam Wagner.
Legal Aid in the House of Lords
The government’s proposals for further legal aid restrictions in secondary legislation under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 have been narrowly defeated in the House of Lords, as reported by the BBC here. The Lords backed a motion by Lord Bach (a Labour peer) accusing the government of backtracking on its earlier commitment to allow legal aid to point of law appeals against rulings on welfare benefits.
This post by Elizabeth Davidson on the Legal Voice site explains the situation with respect to the secondary legislation dealing with legal aid for judicial review, homelessness and habeas corpus cases – the Lords passed the Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulations 2012, with a “Regret” motion pointing out concern with Regulation 53(b) (which requires that an applicant must exhaust all other avenues before trying judicial review for the director of legal aid to allow the applicant legal aid – the director has no discretion under this Regulation). The government has promised an amendment to this Regulation in 2013 which will address the Lords’ concerns.
Two other notable roundups this week: the first, compiled by Emma Wilson on the Legal Voice website, deals with stories connected to access to justice; the second, compiled for Inforrm’s blog by Judith Townend, contains more commentary on the Leveson report, and some non-Leveson related media law stories (including a thorough list of cases and media law stories from other jurisdictions).
In the courts
XY v Facebook Ireland Ltd  NIQB 96 Northern Irish court orders interim injunction requiring removal of “Keeping Our Kids Safe from Predators” Facebook page revealing paedophiles’ home addresses.
El-Masri v. “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (application no. 39630/09) Judgment to be delivered by Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on December 13th. Case involves purported “secret rendition” of Lebanese-born German national to Afghanistan.
The UKHRB now has an additional feature on the right sidebar of the website – the events list. To add events to this list, email Adam Wagner. Please only send events which (i) have their own webpage which can be linked to, and (ii) are relevant to topics covered by the blog.
- Refugee and Migrant Children and Young Persons’ Rights in Scots Law Legal Services Agency, Glasgow, 15/1/13, 10am-1pm, £60-£150
- Human Rights Conference 2012 Law Society £174-£354, Monday 10 December 2012
- Human Rights: Alternative Enforcement Mechanisms – 14 January 2013 Doughty Street Chambers
- Culling seals to protect farmed salmon: what should we be allowed to know? December 8, 2012 David Hart QC
- Allowing religious gay marriages will avoid human rights challenges December 7, 2012 Adam Wagner
- Priests are not press meat, says Strasbourg December 5, 2012 Rosalind English
- Judge strikes down Facebook page “Keeping our Kids Safe From Predators” December 5, 2012 Rosalind English
- Rules of procedure should not be rigidly enforced – Supreme Court December 3, 2012 Rosalind English
- Should any genetic information be a trade secret? December 3, 2012 Rosalind English