2012 has been a busy year on the UK human rights front, never short of controversy, hyperbole and even some interesting points of legal principle along the way.
Here are some of the biggest stories from April to June 2012. The first part of this post, January to March, is here. Feel free to comment on my choices, and add your own if you think something is missing.
April (read all posts from that month here)
- The centre of the European human rights world is… Brighton - The key moment of the UK’s presidency of the Council of Europe was in April: the Brighton Conference. The conference was largely successful, save for the unfortunate timing (in more ways than one) of a dispute over the Abu Qatada appeal and whether the suspected terrorist’s lawyers had brought it on time or not (the Court ultimately found that it was in time but would not be referred to the Grand Chamber – see below). Meanwhile, the we covered the outcome of the conference in detail: The Brighton Declaration and the “meddling court”; UK vs. Strasbourg: don’t believe the hype – Alice Donald; Things to put in your Brighton Conference rucksack
- Abu Hamza and Babar Ahmad can go, rules Strasbourg - It is easy to forget that the European court of Human Rights allowed the UK to extradite some suspected terrorists this year: Abu Hamza and Babar Ahmad can be extradited to USA, rules human rights court. Rosalind English considered the US response to those decisions here. Professor Helen Fenwick asked, interestingly, whether those decisions represented an appeasement approach from the Court, frightened off by the UK’s strong political reaction to previous judgments.
- Free speech in the domestic courts - Some interesting decisions about the boundaries of acceptable speech in April: Hate speech and the meaning of “unacceptable behaviour” (Palestinian activist wins his appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision to deport him as his presence wasn’t conducive to the public good) and the High Court ruled that a ban on Christian advertising with political content (that was the key) was lawful.
- Freedom of information - Not the most glamorous of rights, but one of the most important. In a decision which may represent a landmark, the High Court confirmed the principle of open justice in ordering that the Guardian should have been granted a request to see key court documents in an extradition case. Some great statements of principle for journalists and bloggers to keep in their back pockets when faced with intransigeant judges.
- Two interesting prison judgments – (1) Sexual offender prisoners were unlawfully denied certain privileges under prison rules; (2) Refusal of child care leave to female prisoners was unlawful, rules High Court.
May (all posts here)
- Julian Assange loses in the Supreme Court – By a majority of 5 to 2, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange fails to put a stop to his rape charge extradition to Sweden in the UK Supreme Court. We also asked whether ambiguity remains following the Court’s comments on the Pupino case. Little did we know what he had up his sleeve next…
- Government publishes the Justice and Security Bill - We saw the first draft of the Government’s plans for secret hearings in civil proceedings when the bill (later to be significantly amended) was published - see Justice and Security Bill: The Government is not for turning – Angela Patrick ; a secret justice climb down Perhaps not and Key Justice and Security Bill resources
- Time time time, look what’s become of me - Time was of the essence in May, with the European Court of Human Rights ruling (and fudging) that Abu Qatada’s appeal was in time but would not be heard by Grand Chamber. Meanwhile, in the Supreme Court the Human Rights Act came to the rescue in a particularly nasty time barred extradition case- Time and time again: Article 6 to the rescue. It turns out even statutory time limits need not be impregnable when Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) is in play.
- Retreat but no surrender on prisoner votes - The European Court of Human Rights resolved some of the mess over prisoner votes by reinstating the broad discretion enjoyed by states following the 2005 judgment in Hirst (No. 2). This meant that the UK’s six month time limit for putting a law before Parliament to allow prisoners to vote was back in place… as we know now, things are still unresolved on that front.
- Domestic bliss - Some interesting decisions of the UK courts: (1) Convention should not be a basis for demanding unnecessary public inquiries – Court of Appeal; (2) Housing benefit system discriminated against disabled people, rules Court of Appeal; (3) Discriminatory basis of Child Tax Credit is justified, rules Supreme Court; (4) Censure of councillor for “sarcastic, lampooning and disrespectful” blog breached his free speech rights
- European Court on mental health detention delay and Article 3 - Two opposing views on whether this controversial and potentially wide-ranging judgment was correctly decided: European Court got it right on mental health detention delay – Martha Spurrier vs Delay in transferring mental health patient for treatment amounted to “inhumane treatment”
June (all posts here)
- Europe takes a backseat - Some interesting and controversial domestic decisions in June, including the Supreme Court’s ruling that the interests of children will usually not trump extradition decisions in the cases of serious offences. The High Court refused to compel evidence on unlawful rendition in foreign proceedings, and a Judge ordered that an anorexic woman could be force-fed.
- Naming and shaming immigration judges - Poor stuff from the Sunday Telegraph, although to their credit the journalist concerned responded to the article in the comments. Recommended reading for an interesting debate on lies, damn lies and statistics.
- Independent terrorism reviewer reports - David Anderson QC, the Government-appointed independent reviewer of terrorism published his annual report, recommending that the “cautious rebalancing” of terrorism laws in favour of liberty should continue.
- Article 8 an a half. Or 7 and a quarter? - The Home Secretary announced significant reforms to the Immigration Rules, most notably an attempt to ‘codify’ the way in which Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Can you really do that? The effects are still being ironed out by the Courts, with only a November Upper Tribunal decision so far addressing the issue. No doubt more to come.
- The eternal question - Well, hopefully not, but we are still asking it six months later… Will the European Court force churches to perform gay marriages?
Part 3, July to September, is here.
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