Two 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
Not 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.
Though 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
Around 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
As 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.
Within 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
As 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.
The 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”.
West London Mental Health NHS Trust (Respondent) v Chhabra (Appellant)  UKSC 80 – read judgment
It is not unknown for lawyers or doctors to speak on a mobile phone about confidential details of a case while travelling by train. Some of you may even have left case papers out on your seat or table while you hunt down a bacon baguette from the Travelling Chef (formerly known as “Toastie Geoff” prior to rebranding). If so, read on, for this is a cautionary tale…
This appeal by Dr Chhabra was concerned with the roles of the case investigator and the case manager when handling concerns about a doctor’s performance under the disciplinary procedures introduced over eight years ago for doctors and dentists in the National Health Service. The national policy framework is known as ‘Maintaining High Professional Standards in the Modern NHS’ (MHPS), which the Trust had implemented through its own policies.
The factual summary below is derived from the Supreme Court Press Summary
The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has today issued important new guidance on “Transparency in the Family Courts: Publication of Judgments” [pdf] and “Transparency in the Court of Protection: Publication of Judgments” [pdf].
These two documents are intended “to bring about an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments in family courts and the Court of Protection”.
Both documents say that:
In both courts there is a need for greater transparency in order to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system. At present too few judgments are made available to the public, which has a legitimate interest in being able to read what is being done by the judges in its name. The Guidance will have the effect of increasing the number of judgments available for publication (even if they will often need to be published in appropriately anonymised form . Continue reading
The glass foyer of the Palais de Droits de l’Homme in Strasbourg (pictured) is not to everyone’s taste. Some find it inspiring, others – often advocates appearing for the first time – are simply too nervous to notice. Typically, Rumpole on his triumphant visit takes a much more down-to-earth approach, comparing the building to the boiler of a ship.
Whatever one makes of it, the foyer of the Court is designed to remind visitors of two things: the Court’s accessibility and its openness. That is not always apparent from the Court’s procedures or from the language it sometimes uses to express itself, but it is beyond question that the Court is open to the different legal traditions of its member States. Most influential among those traditions must surely be the common law.
Marines A & Ors v Guardian News and Media & Other Media  EWCA Crim 2367 – read judgment
On 15 September 2011 a patrol of Royal Marine Commandos were involved in an incident, which resulted in one of them, referred to as “Soldier A”, shooting dead an armed but seriously wounded Taliban fighter. Evidence of the shooting emerged later and five members of the patrol were eventually charged with murder. The charges against two of them were later dropped but the three remaining marines were tried for murder before the Court Martial. On 8 November 2013, Soldier A was found guilty of murder.
Quite apart from this extraordinary facts, the trial was unusual for another reason: publication of the identity of each of the defendants was prohibited at the commencement of the proceedings by an assistant Judge Advocate and later the Judge Advocate General (each of the judge’s in the court martial who considered the issue are referred to throughout as “judge”). The Court Martial Appeal Court (essentially the Court of Appeal Criminal Division sitting under a different name) was later invited to review the orders in respect of reporting restrictions. This was linked to the release of video footage and photographs relied on by the prosecution during the case.
UKHRB editor Adam Wagner asked Twitter for suggestions of human rights kids for books… and Twitter responded! Here are some of those responses, compiled by Thomas Horton.
‘Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we’re paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.’ (Harper Lee, Nelle ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Ch. 24)
Whether Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (as recommended by @Kirsty_Brimelow) will impact a child so much that they want to become a human rights lawyer is not a given. Yet there are plenty of classic novels and human rights-centered literature aimed at a younger audience which give children the opportunity to learn human rights principles. The legal twittersphere responded in their droves to suggestions of such literature, and below are just a selection of what is available:
Mba v London Borough Of Merton  EWCA Civ 1562 – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that a requirement that she work on Sundays indirectly discriminated against her on the grounds of religion or belief.
The Court unanimously found that although both the EAT and the Employment Tribunal (ET) had erred in law, the ET’s decision was ‘plainly and unarguably right’ , and applying the principle in Dobie v Burns International Security (UK) Limited  ICR 812, the errors did not make any difference to the outcome.
Söderman v. Sweden – (application no. 5786/08) - Read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights has decided that it is a violation of the right to privacy if a country does not have a law prohibiting surreptitious photography of people. The ruling has serious implications for paparazzi, and would have been useful to Princess Diana. A ready-made bill exists in the form of a draft published by the Law Commission for England and Wales in 1981.
On 12 November the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Sweden’s lack of a legal ban on invading personal privacy by surreptitious photographs violated the right to privacy. The case involved a camera hidden in the bathroom by the stepfather of a fourteen-year old girl. (Söderman v. Sweden,application no. 5786/08).