RE F (CHILDREN) 14 May 2013, Court of Appeal – extempore so currently only available as a Lawtel summary (£)
A topical case, this, given legal aid cutbacks. It concerns the ability of unrepresented litigants to choose those to help them out as advocates in court. Not an unconstrained right, as this case demonstrates. The High Court ruled that a judge had been entitled to refuse an application for a particular person to act as a McKenzie friend despite that individual not being present in court at the time of the application. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision.
This application for permission to appeal resulted from the refusal by a family judge to permit a person to act as a McKenzie friend within care proceedings.
Doogan and Wood v. NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board  CSIH 36 – read judgment here and Alasdair Henderson’s commentary here
It is easy to become complacent about women’s reproductive rights in mainland Britain. Compared to our Irish neighbours, women here are able to access their chosen contraceptive, abortion and maternity services with relative ease. When Savita Halappanavar died after she was refused an abortion in Galway, commentators lamented a system where a woman could be told by healthcare staff that she couldn’t have an abortion because Ireland is a Catholic country. We imagined that such events could not happen here. A recent judgment of the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Session (the Scottish Court of Appeal) shakes that belief. Of most concern is that the court failed to engage with the human rights implications of its decision.
Our abortion law is found in the Abortion Act 1967. Section 1 makes abortion lawful only when it has been authorised by two doctors who attest that continuing the pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s physical or mental health, or where the child would ‘suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. In effect, all abortions, save those for fetal abnormality, are performed on the basis that there is a threat to the woman’s physical or mental integrity as a result of pregnancy. Section 4 excuses a person from ‘participating in any treatment’ under the Act if they express a conscientious objection to abortion. As the Abortion Rights campaign points out, the law gives doctors control over women’s informed choices about their pregnancy that can lead to damaging delays in accessing abortion services.
Much of the House of Lords debate surrounding yesterday’s Second Reading of the Care and Support Bill focused on seeking solutions to complex issues around the future provision of care. Additionally, as several peers flagged, the Bill also provides a timely opportunity to clarify which bodies have legal obligations to uphold protections under the Human Rights Act. Baroness Campbell noted “those who receive their care not from a public authority but from a private body lack the full protection of the Human Rights Act…[This] is a loophole that must be closed.”
Section 6 of the Human Rights Act essentially creates a legal duty to respect, protect and fulfil certain human rights (drawn from the European Convention on Human Rights). This duty is placed on public authorities and those performing “public functions”. The second type of body – those performing public functions – has proved somewhat awkward in practice, particularly in relation to those who receive care services.
One of the most contentious proposals in the Consultation Paper on the transforming legal aid is the removal of client choice in criminal cases. Under the proposals contracts for the provision of legal aid will be awarded to a limited number of firms in an area. The areas are similar to the existing CPS areas. The Green Paper anticipates that there will be four or five such providers in each area. Thus the county of Kent, for example, will have four or five providers in an area currently served by fifty or so legal aid firms. Each area will have a limited number providers that will offer it is argued economies of scale.
In order to ensure that this arrangement is viable the providers will be effectively guaranteed work by stripping the citizen of the right to choose a legal aid lawyer in criminal cases. Under the new scheme every time a person needs advice they will be allocated mechanically by the Legal Aid Agency to one of the new providers. It may not be the same firm the person has used before. The citizen will therefore not be able to build up a relationship with a solicitor. From a human rights perspective this, of course, begs the question would the removal of choice be compatible with the ECHR?
R (on the application of T) v Legal Aid Agency (formerly Legal Services Commission)  EWHC 960 (Admin) Collins J, 26 April 2013 read judgment This successful challenge to a decision by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) arose from an expert assessor in family proceedings – not unnaturally – refusing to begin work unless funding was in place. If the LAA are asked to fund an assessment on behalf of a party with legal aid, then it is common for lawyers to obtain prior authority from the LAA to ensure that the expert will be paid for their work. If not, then the lawyers themselves can be liable for an expert’s costs. In this case, prior authority to pay for the expert assessment had been refused by the LAA thus resulting in further court hearings and delay in the resolution of the case for the children.
The application for judicial review of the LAA came before Collins J. He concluded that:
For the reasons given the decision of the defendant was wrong in law. Reasons have not been given. This might not have led to any relief beyond a declaration if I were persuaded that the only result could be that the decision was confirmed. Not only am I not so persuaded but I find it difficult to see that it would be reasonable, at least without engaging with the judge whether in writing or orally, to fail to comply with what she has decided is necessary. Continue reading
The Government abandoned its plans to repeal the ‘general duty’ of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) under the Equality Act 2006 (the Act) last week, but insisted upon amendments to the EHRC’s duty to monitor progress on equality and human rights.
The general duty in section 3 of the Act sets out why the EHRC exists and the aims towards which it should be working, namely that it:
shall exercise its functions…with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which
(a) people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination,
(b) there is respect for and protection of each individual’s human rights,
(c) there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual,
(d) each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and
(e) there is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.
The Guardian reports that Prime Minister Cameron is considering denouncing the ECHR on a temporary basis in order to facilitate the deportation of Abu Qatada. As tennis legend John McEnroe might have put it ‘you cannot be serious!’ In order to remove one man from the jurisdiction the government is contemplating removing the protection of human rights for all. One suspects that this announcement by Downing Street was little more than ‘dog-whistle’ politics with the local elections looming next week. But what if the government is really serious? Two quick thoughts come to mind.
Firstly, the UK is on the face of it able to denounce the ECHR under the terms of Article 58, though see below. But even after a denunciation the ECHR will remain fully applicable for six months. Presumably the government would wait for the six months to expire. It would then seek within domestic law to remove Qatada. As this would also require the suspension or repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 this would require an Act of Parliament. No doubt a political and constitutional storm would break as a result. This would of course not be the end of the matter because the decision would be judicially reviewable, no doubt under an enhanced form of anxious scrutiny. How further forth would the government be then?
What is the test the Court should apply in deciding whether an application is ‘totally without merit’? The question is prompted by the Lord Chancellor’s announcement on 23 April 2013 that he will press ahead with plans to reform judicial review procedure to target ‘weak, frivolous and unmeritorious cases’. A key change will be to give judges of the Administrative Court, when refusing permission to apply for judicial review on the papers, the power to certify a claim as ‘totally without merit’ (TWM), thus depriving the claimant of the right to renew the application before the court at an oral hearing.
This power is one that is already exercisable by judges when refusing applications for permission to appeal on the papers under Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) r. 52.3(4A), the effect of which is to prevent the appellant from renewing the application orally. However, it is better known – or, at least, more widely used – in the context of the courts’ jurisdiction to make ‘civil restraint orders’ under CPR 3.11. Indeed, the Administrative Court has had power to certify an application as TWM for the purposes of making a ‘civil restraint order’ since those rules were introduced in 2004 (see R (Kumar) v Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs  1 WLR 536). Although no statistics are currently available for this use of the power to certify a claim as TWM, according to Lynne Knapman, Head of the Administrative Court Office, these are now being collated for applications made since the beginning of 2013.
The Ministry of Justice has released its response to the comments generated by the consultation paper on judicial review that was published in December. Unsurprisingly, the Government has signalled that it intends to press ahead with most of the proposals upon which it consulted. In particular, it plans to implement the following proposals:
- Time limits The time limit for judicial review (which at three months is already very short) will be reduced to six weeks in planning cases and thirty days in procurement cases. The Government recognizes that these timescales are so short that compliance with the Pre-Action Protocol will be impossible, so it will invite the judiciary to disapply the Protocol in such cases. Given that one of the objectives of the Pre-Action Protocol is to encourage pre-litigious resolution of disputes, it is not clear how this will promote the Government’s objective of reducing recourse to litigation.
- Oral renewal of applications certified as “totally without merit” Continue reading
A & S v. Lancashire County Council  EWHC 851 (Fam) read judgment
This was a costs application arising from an extremely important decision by Peter Jackson J in June 2012 (see Alasdair Henderson’s post here and read judgment)
In that original judgment, Lancashire County Council were found to be in breach of Articles 8 (private life), 6 (fair trial) and Article 3 (inhuman treatment) of ECHR. Two brothers had come into local authority care as infants and were freed for adoption.
Mr R Fraser -v- University & College Union – Case Numbers: 2203390/201 – Read judgment
In this case, a member of the Union brought various claims of harassment related to his “race, religion or belief” under section 57 of the Equality Act 2010. The wide ranging allegations made by the Claimant arose, in essence, from the way in which Union had handled the Israel/Palestine debate. For example, claims arose from motions debated at the Union’s congress on proposals for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and related questions. The Claimant alleged that the Union was guilty of “institutional anti-Semitism” which he alleged constituted harassment of him as a Jewish member of the Union.
The Tribunal described the litigation as being “gargantuan” in scale. It heard from 34 witnesses including academics and MPs. The hearing lasted 20 days and required 23 hearing bundles. Ultimately, in an extremely robust decision, the Tribunal rejected the Claimant’s allegations in their entirety. It found them to be “manifestly unmeritorious” and an “impermissible attempt to achieve political end by litigious means”. The Tribunal also expressed themselves as being worried by the implications of the claim. They sensed that underlying the litigation was a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression”. Of particular interest was the way in which the Tribunal dealt with issues of legal principle at heart of the claim.
The consequences of Margaret Thatcher’s administration have been long lasting. In many areas of national life Thatcher took the British Bulldog by the scruff of the neck and house-trained it. In the context of the constitution her impact was no less significant.
But Lady Thatcher did not set out to reform the constitution. Although the 1979 Conservative Manifesto raised the possibility of a Bill of Rights nothing came of this proposal during her administration. In reality Margaret Thatcher was a traditional Conservative who believed in a strong state and had an aversion to any constitutional reform that might limit it. Yet her administration has left long lasting changes to the law and constitution. In fact there are too many to comfortably write about in a quick blog though a number of developments are of particular interest.
‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ is the lead piece of statutory guidance on… well, working together to safeguard children. Originally published in 1999, a new edition was published in 2006 following the changes brought about following the death of Victoria Climbié. And the next edition in 2010 incorporated recommendations of the second Laming Report which followed the death of Baby P. It had grown longer over time, as we all learned lessons from Haringey; but its growing length was causing concern.
A new version was published last month. The new version was published the week after judgment was handed down in AB & Anor, R (on the application of) v The London Borough of Haringey  EWHC 416 (Admin) (13 March 2013) (my firm represented the Claimants).
Max Hastings greeted the new Supreme Court with the prediction that it was a “constitutional disaster in the making.” For Hastings this was Blair’s Court, Blair’s legacy; its creation just one more example of Labour’s wrecking of ancient British institutions. Of course, there was also positive coverage in the early days in papers like the Guardian and Times, but ideally the Court needed to get its own message about itself. How has it gone about doing this? And what has it been saying? What challenges has it faced in its first three years?
This blog (a shortened version of an article out this month in Public Law) looks at the Court’s innovative approach to getting the message out not only about what it is doing in cases, but also about its role in general. It is a topic covered recently by Adam Wagner, here. At the heart of the Public Law article is the idea that the Court is quietly asserting its role as a new and powerful constitutional actor. Its communication’s operation has been at the heart of this.
Today we will see the beginning of the end of the passage of the Justice and Security Bill through Parliament: the process commonly known as parliamentary “ping-pong”.
The notion of a Bill being swatted back and forth across the Palace of Westminster is at its most accurate in the case of controversial legislation such as the “secret courts” Bill (see previous discussions of these controversies).
With allegations that ministers may have misled parliamentarians on the scope of their prized Bill, the picture of political game-playing might be apt. However, this is the last chance for parliament to consider the government’s case for the expansion of “closed material procedures” (CMP), where a party to proceedings and his lawyers (together with the public and the press) are excluded – and his interests represented by a publicly appointed security vetted lawyer, known as a Special Advocate. An analogy more serious than Boris’ “wiff-waff” might be needed for tonight’s debate. Some commentators have suggested the Lords will play “ping-pong with grenades”.