The rise of the secret trial: Closed Material Procedures one year on – Lawrence McNamara

Justice and SecurityLast week Justice Secretary Chris Grayling reported on how often closed material proceedings (CMPs) have been sought under the Justice and Security Act 2013 (JSA), as he is required to do annually under the Act. As the first and only official consolidated presentation of how the new CMP regime is being used, this two-page written ministerial statement warrants close attention.

The Secretary of State’s report provides only numbers. In the Bingham Centre’s Review of the First Report by the Secretary of State, we have tried to match cases to those numbers and, when read in light of the cases, have found good reasons to be concern about the difficulty of verifying the accuracy of the report, the ways that CMPs are being used, and the adequacy of the reporting requirements.

What are the reporting requirements?   Continue reading

School’s out? Peers ask Government to use summer holidays to reflect on controversial judicial review reforms – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessAngela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE provides a summary of the House of Lords debate on Government proposals to reform judicial review in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

As the House of Lords closes its gilded doors for the long recess, the Westminster village enters its equivalent of the school holidays. Yet, as Ministers pack their red boxes and MPs head diligently back to their constituency business, the House of Lords – debating the Committee Stage of controversial judicial review proposals in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – may have suggested that officials and Ministers yet have some homework to do.

Summing up the debate – and thanking Lord Faulks, the Minister responding to a barrage of criticism from all benches, for his efforts – Lord Pannick acknowledged that many of the Government’s proposals on judicial review had been driven by the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling. He suggested that both Ministers would do well to get together over the summer to digest the Peers’ concerns – perhaps on a convenient beach. There were so many flaws in the Bill that Lord Faulks should pack a red pen with his sunscreen (HL Deb, 30 July 2014, Col 1650).

Continue reading

Plan to stop non-residents getting Legal Aid is unlawful, rules High Court – Angela Patrick

PLP v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary

Residence Test UKHRBAs the House of Lords is scheduled to vote on the Government’s proposals for a residence test for access to legal aid, Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE considers today’s judgment of the Divisional Court in PLP v Secretary of State for Justice.

While we are all following the exciting live feeds on both the reshuffle and the progress of emergency legislation on surveillance, the freshly appointed Attorney General, Jeremy Wright MP, may want to cast his eyes to BAILLI.

The Administrative Court may this morning have handed him one of his first “to-do” list items.   In – PLP v Secretary of State for Justice - a rare three judge Divisional Court has held that the Government’s proposal to introduce a residence test for legal aid – where all applicants will have to prove 12 months continuous lawful residence in the UK – is both ultra vires and discriminatory.

Continue reading

Another “Bedroom Tax” Challenge Fails

Bedroom taxRutherford and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWHC 1613 (Admin) – Read judgement here.

At the end of May, the High Court ruled that the reduction in Housing Benefit under Regulation B13 of Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations – commonly dubbed “the bedroom tax” - did not unlawfully discriminate against a family with a disabled child requiring an additional bedroom for overnight careers because the shortfall was covered by discretionary housing payments.

The case involved three Claimants: Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their 14-year-old grandson Warren. Warren suffers from a profound disability requiring 24-hour care from at least two people. Mr and Mrs Rutherford need the assistance of two paid careers for two nights a week. The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow rented from a housing association and specifically adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Mr and Mrs Rutherford sleep in one room, Warren in another, and a third room is used as a bedroom for overnight carers and to store medical equipment.

Continue reading

You cannot be serious! Peers call ‘out’ on Government’s judicial review reforms – Angela Patrick

mcenroeLast night saw the House of Lords’ first reaction to the Government’s proposed changes to judicial review as the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill had its second reading.   Already dissected at some length in this blog, the proposals have been roundly criticised by both the senior judiciary and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.   Consultations responses, including from JUSTICE, expressed concern that the measures appear, by design or coincidence, to undermine the rule of law, inhibit transparency and shield the Government from judicial scrutiny. Two key concerns arise from the Government proposals: restricting access for individuals without substantial means and limiting the courts’ discretion to do justice in the public interest. Yesterday’s debate was robust and eloquent, with former Law Lords joined by bishops and backbenchers alike to condemn the new measures.  

Metaphors were rife. Descriptions of the Government’s proposals ranged from Lord Woolf’s invocation of the image of Governmental wolves among some unlikely judicial sheep, to the titular and topical tennis imagery used with devastating effect by Lord Brown of Eaton –under-Heywood:

“More and more areas of our lives are controlled by public authorities. At the same time we have become understandably, I suggest, less trusting and certainly less deferential towards those with authority over us. I sometimes wonder whether it did not all start with John McEnroe’s outraged questioning of line calls at Wimbledon way back in the 1970s. However, we should consider how in the long run his behaviour has contributed to the hugely improved policing of those lines that is in operation today…By the same token, the use of judicial review has to my mind undoubtedly raised the standards of public decision-making in recent years.” (Col 1591) Continue reading

Secret trials – a little transparency, a lot to worry about – Lawrence McNamara

RCJ restricted accessGuardian News and Media Ltd -v- AB CD – Read preliminary judgment

The Court of Appeal has published its decision in Guardian News Media v AB and CD. It is not a judgment, the Court says. Judgments – plural – will be given “in due course.” Still, the 24 paragraph decision contains the order and explanation of the order, and gives an indication of some of the reasons that will follow.

Is this a good decision? It is better than it might have been, but there are still deeply worrying problems.

Continue reading

Not in our name: Parliamentary committee rejects Government’s case for Judicial Review reform – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessAngela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE, summarises the important Joint Committee on Human Rights report “The implications for access to justice of the Government’s proposals to reform judicial review”.

Proposed Government restrictions to judicial review, including new cuts to legal aid, have already been dissected in detail by this blog (see here, here and here). Controversial Government proposals to limit when legally aided claimant solicitors will be paid in judicial review claims came into force last week (Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration)(Amendment)(No 3) Regulations).  

Heralding the arrival of the changes, the Lord Chancellor again repeated his now oft-heard refrain that reform is necessary to prevent “legal aid abusers” tarnishing the justice system.  Specific restrictions were justified to limit judicial reviews “instigated by pressure groups, designed to force the Government to change its mind over properly taken decisions by democratically elected politicians”.

Today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) publishes its verdict in a lengthy and considered report on the likely impact on access to justice of the cuts and the proposed changes in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. In short, the Committee rejects the case for reform and suggests that the Government go back to the drawing board.

Continue reading

Article 11: Right to strike and insecure workers – Lauren Godfrey

strike2_5Two different bodies in the last week have reflected on issues concerning the fundamental imbalance in the employment relationship. This provides an opportunity to reflect on what, if any, role human rights principles have in redressing that imbalance:

(1)    The Article 11 Case of RMT -v- UK (Application No 31045/10): The European Court Human Rights (Fourth Section sitting as a Chamber) found that Article 11 (the right to freedom of association) was not infringed by the restrictions imposed on trade unions calling on their members to take strike action by the UK Government as part of the statutory scheme which provides for lawful strikes; that is strikes that attract statutory immunity from common law liability. According to the ECHR, these restrictions on lawful striking were within the wide margin of appreciation enjoyed by the UK Government. The RMT’s case was that the restrictions impermissibly restricted their ability to protect and promote the interests of their members working in industries and for employers with complex corporate structures.

(2)    Zero Hour Contracts Consultation: The Government’s consultation on zero hours contract which appears to have been somewhat upstaged by the Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee publishing an interim report on zero-hours contracts which while recommending some changes, ultimately concludes that ‘in the majority of cases’ zero-hours contracts should not be used at all. The interim report contends that the lack of job security for workers engaged on zero hours contracts places a practical impediment to the majority of the workers surveyed from enforcing other basic rights including the minimum wage, part-time worker protections, and protection for those with caring responsibilities: see summary here. Continue reading

Bike repair and cycling training for your firm – and all for a good cause

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 12.05.40Not too long ago, a friend of mine, Jem Stein, set up a brilliant social enterprise called the Bike Project. It has gone from strength to strength. The project is now loking for (i) new corporate clients for its very reasonable and professional bike repair service and/or bike training service, (ii) new bikes to repair. All details below and in this flier – Adam Wagner

The Bike Project was set up in late 2012 with the primary aim of refurbishing second hand bikes to give to destitute refugees and asylum seekers in London.

Many people come to this country with nothing, often escaping persecution. Whilst a number are forced to live on as little as £35 per week and unable to work as their status as a refugee is approved, those who are able to work find getting around on public transport simply too expensive. The effect that a bike can have is underestimated. It provides access to all that London has to offer: reaching charities that help with food, healthcare, education, and even the lawyer who can aid their application process. Of course, a bike can aid employment, if they are lucky enough to receive refugee status.

Continue reading

Strategic litigation: the noble pursuit of litigation – Polly Botsford

-0430-POLITICS-Justice.-006Though strategic litigation and test cases make essential contributions to the rule of law, there’s concern that they’re being abused. And, as funding comes under attack, there’s a greater need than ever for pro bono lawyers to take on test cases to ensure access to justice and accountability.

Following the fall of communism, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) identified a significant problem with the educational segregation of Roma children in parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Roma children were ending up in what were termed ‘special schools’, supposedly set up for children with intellectual disabilities, and thus segregated from mainstream schooling. In 1998, the ERRC decided to investigate.

To try and bring about reform, it became apparent that the ERRC needed to identify a test case to put before the courts. In order to find the right applicant it interviewed hundreds of Roma families in the region and found 18 Roma children in the Czech Republic to be the test case. The legal angle the ERRC adopted was indirect discrimination: entry tests to mainstream schools were set for all children but they were biased against Roma children because they focused on Czech customs and language. The Roma children often failed and so were subsequently put in the special schools. The centre found that Roma children were twenty-seven times more likely than non-Roma children to be sent to a special school. Continue reading

Backlog, backlash and beyond: debating the long term future of human rights protection in Europe – Alice Donald

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297Around 150 delegates, including representatives of all 47 Council of Europe states and two judges of the European Court of Human Rights, met in Oslo last week. Their mission? To reflect on the protracted process of reforming the European Convention system and imagine what it might look like in 2030.

Non-government organisations and academics (myself included) joined the insiders to engage in ‘blue-skies’ thinking, despite the dense fog that enveloped the hilltop venue.

The end of the beginning

The Strasbourg Court as we know it came into being in 1998 with the entry into force of Protocol 11 to the Convention. Subsequent reform was driven by two closely-linked imperatives: first, to reduce the backlog both of applications and non-executed judgments and secondly, to reinforce the subsidiary role of the Court vis-à-vis national authorities.

As regards the former, notable developments include the steps taken since 2010 under Protocol 14 to increase the efficiency of judicial decision-making; and (more controversially) the introduction of a shorter deadline, narrower admissibility criteria, and stricter conditions for applicants. The post-judgment process of implementation was also reformed to permit more intensive supervision by the Committee of Ministers (the Council of Europe’s executive arm) of urgent, complex or inter-state cases and lighter touch supervision of the rest. Continue reading

Judicial Review Reform: All about the money, money, money?  – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessAs MPs and Peers consider the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration)(Amendment)(No 3) Regulations and the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE considers the Lord Chancellor’s view that proposed judicial review changes do not restrict access to judicial review remedies or restrict the rule of law.

Tomorrow (Thursday), MPs will consider a series of detailed amendments to the Government’s proposed changes to judicial review in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.  The proposed changes to legal aid for judicial review are not up for debate. The Regulations, which will restrict legal aid to only those cases granted permission, are already made and due to come into force on 22 April.  There will be no debate on those changes, unless MPs and Peers demand one.

Continue reading

Avoiding the nuclear option: the EU moves to strengthen the rule of law – Justine Stefanelli

Nuclear1-348x196Within the past week the EU Commission has laid down its plans for protecting the rule of law across Europe and, importantly, for punishing member states that fail to meet rule of law standards.  At first glance this appears to be a landmark in the EU’s regulation of the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy, but is it the solution it claims to be? 

Between political persuasion and ‘the nuclear option’  

In an effort to prevent more proactively systemic breaches of the rule of law and human rights, the EU Commission has published a Communication on its new Framework to strengthen the Rule of Law. The Framework was largely the product of a consultation which was kick-started by President Barroso when he indicated his desire to develop a monitoring mechanism which would offer a middle ground between “political persuasion” and what he called the “nuclear option” of Article 7 TEU.  Continue reading

Reforming judicial review: cutting pointless delay or preventing legitimate challenge? – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessAs the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill has its Second Reading in the House of Commons today (Monday 24 February), Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights at JUSTICE considers the Government’s proposals for the future of judicial review.

For law students who slept their way through their first latin 101 lessons in ‘ultra vires’, public law and judicial review may have seemed very detached from the realities of everyday life; less relevant to the man on the Clapham Omnibus than the rigours of a good criminal defence or protection from eviction offered by landlord and tenant law.

The Lord Chancellor may be hoping that the public and Parliamentarians are similarly unfocused.

Continue reading

Afghan wins refuge from Daily Express – Athalie Matthews

-0430-POLITICS-Justice.-006The business of the law can tend to harden the heart – but every now and then a case comes along that drives off the spectre of compassion fatigue. This was the effect of a recent libel claim in which I obtained substantial damages and published apologies for a 20-year-old Afghan refugee, Abdul Shizad, who – despite being entirely alone in the UK and having limited English – had the courage to sue the Daily Express, which had falsely accused him of being a “Taliban Suspect”.

The Express’s timing was particularly superlative, its 4 March 2013 article “Now Judges Let Taliban Suspect Stay” coming just a month after Abdul had succeeded in a stressful and exhausting 4 year quest for asylum in the UK.

Accompanied by a most unflattering photograph of two unsuspecting “Judges”, the article lambasted “a new human rights scandal” in which “judges have said a suspected Taliban member can stay in Britain”.

Continue reading