The Round-up: Cameron’s ‘bonanza benefits’ from the slave trade, and the HRA at 15

Image credit: Guardian

Image credit: Guardian

This week’s round-up is brought to you by Charlotte Bellamy

Instead of reparations and an apology for Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, David Cameron is to bestow Jamaica with £25m (or 40%) towards the cost of a new prison – an offer which is “an insult to the people of Jamaica”, according to Jamaican MP Mike Henry, who had led the effort to force a vote on reparations which took place in the Jamaican Parliament in January and passed unanimously. The motion stated that Jamaica would be entitled to receive reparations equivalent to what former slave owners received after abolition.

Prior to Cameron’s visit, Sir Henry Beckles, the chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, called on the PM to acknowledge his responsibility for his share of the situation and to contribute to a “joint programme of rehabilitation and renewal”. He described the PM as “a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors”. The Cameron family was said to have reaped “bonanza benefits”. During his visit, however, Cameron announced that financial reparations “were not the right approach”.

Is a UK-subsidised prison the right approach? BBC political correspondent Carole Walker suggested that some eyebrows may be raised by such an allocation of the Foreign Aid budget. Frances Crook, the CEO of the Howard League, has raised not just her eyebrows, but also concerns that building a prison in Jamaica is “not the answer to the UK’s prison problems”, not least because it is “wrong to spend British aid on building a prison” when “refugees in camps are facing winter and the budget is stretched”.  In addition, the Jamaican prison would only take 300 men by 2020, when prison numbers in this country are going up by more than 300 every month.

Other news

  • In the week that saw the Human Rights Act turn 15, Sir Simon McDonald, the British Foreign Office Chief, inauspiciously commented that human rights are “no longer a top priority” for the Government. Resources will be funnelled into trade deals ahead of fighting injustice in other parts of the world, as part of the Conservatives’ “Prosperity Agenda”, the Independent reports. This perhaps explains George Osborne’s recent silence on human rights abuses during his “trade mission” to China, for which he has been praised by a grateful if somewhat surprised Chinese Government, and criticised by Amnesty International.
  • More fuel was thrown on the fire of the UK’s tangled relationship with Saudi Arabia when it emerged last week via leaked Saudi Foreign Ministry files that the UK made a secret deal with the Saudis to bag themselves both countries seats on the UN Human Rights Council in 2013. Saudi Arabia – who has sanctioned more than 100 beheadings this year – now chairs a UNHRC panel that selects senior officials to draft international human rights standards and report violations. Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs, described the revelation as “a slap in the face for those beleaguered Saudi activists who already struggle with endemic persecution in the kingdom”.
  • The daughter of a man who committed suicide in 2013 after being declared fit to work by an Atos ‘heathcare professional’ is compiling a dossier of information on her father’s case  to assist the imminent UN investigation into whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. This follows a coroner’s conclusion that Mr O’Sullivan’s suicide was a direct result of the outcome of the assessment. The coroner reported found that the Atos healthcare professional (an orthopaedic surgeon in this case) had failed to take into account the views of any of the deceased’s doctors, who had diagnosed him with recurrent depression, panic disorder and agoraphobia.
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has called for “firmer measures” against States ignoring judgments of the Strasbourg Court, urging Council of Europe ministers to make use of the 2010 “infringement procedure” (a tool “as yet untried”) which allows the Court to rule on whether a State has breached its obligation to abide by the Convention. This recommendation was based on a report focused primarily on nine countries responsible for 80 per cent of the 11,000 unimplemented cases (Turkey, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Romania, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Ukraine), though the UK received a special mention (Appendix 1, s10) for “unresolved issues” relating to “significant implementation problems” specifically in relation to prisoner voting rights, following Hirst v UK (No 2) and the pilot judgments Greens and MT v UK where the UK’s blanket ban on prisoner voting was found to be a violation of Article 3.

In the Courts

  • Bouyid v Belgium: slapping by law enforcement officers of individuals under their control was degrading treatment under Article 3 ECHR. Two brothers had alleged that police officers in Belgium had slapped them in the face whilst at a police station in Brussels. The Court found that this had undermined their dignity. The Court emphasised that in a democratic society ill-treatment was never an appropriate response by the authorities, explaining that “a slap to the face affects the part of the person’s body which expresses his individuality, manifests his social identity and constitutes the centre of his senses”.

Recent Posts

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Strasbourg in the Age of Subsidiarity: Enough Reform to Accommodate Conservative Concerns? Brian Chang

Judge_Robert_SpanoOn 7th September 2015, Judge Robert Spano (of the European Court of Human Rights) spoke at a high-level international conference on “The Role of Parliaments in the Realisation and Protection of the Rule of Law and Human Rights”, organised by Murray Hunt, Legal Adviser to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. This was his second public intervention in the United Kingdom since his seminal speech on “Universality or Diversity of Human Rights: Strasbourg in the Age of Subsidiarity” delivered at Oxford in 2014, the first having been covered by UK Human Rights Blog here, and built upon his earlier speeches by elaborating on four post-Brighton Declaration cases in which the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the European Court) applied the principle of subsidiarity to find no violation of human rights, considering that the cases fell within the national margin of appreciation, after having examined evidence demonstrating that the national Parliaments had considered the human rights issues. Taken collectively, the four cases demonstrate that Strasbourg is well and truly in the age of subsidiarity, deferring to the decisions of national Parliaments, provided those Parliaments had considered the human rights implications of legislation. Whether this will satisfy Conservative Party concerns that membership of the European Convention on Human Rights is incompatible with the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty will be explored at the end of this post. Continue reading

No one has the right to expect the State to make them better parents – Sarah Phillimore

support-picKent County Council v G & others [2005] UKHL 68 involved an appeal by a local authority on a matter of principle.

In the course of care proceedings, they had been compelled to pay about £200,000 to provide a therapeutic residential placement for a family pursuant to section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989. The case had a happy ending; the family stayed together. But the local authority wanted to make it clear for the future that this had been an improper use of section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989 and argued that the court could not compel a local authority to pay for therapy for parents under a statutory provision directed at assessments of the child. Continue reading

Drones, double speak and lethal drugs: the Round up – Charlotte Bellamy

2000In the news

Comparisons to Orwell’s dystopia have inevitably been drawn with the drone strikes recently carried out by the UK in Syria that killed two British IS fighters, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin. Amnesty reacted with alarm at the news that remote control drones had been used as vehicles of execution – action they say “is difficult to conceive as being a feature of the present” – but particularly against a country with which we are not at war.

Controversy is certainly brewing over what Michael Fallon’s critics have termed a US-style “kill-list”  and the legality of the government’s action, which David Cameron initially justified as an act of UK self-defence in his address to the Commons last Monday, necessary to protect the UK from an “imminent threat”  – action which is permitted under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Continue reading

Passports at the junction of international and domestic law – Richard Alton

0304367Western governments are increasingly concerned to establish that they have the power to prevent individuals from traveling to the Middle East to engage in terrorism-related activity (see Rosalind English’s recent post on Jihadi Brides). This has resulted in a spike in passport seizures, especially on the domestic level.  Under Chapter 1 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 the UK government has the authority to seize UK passports

where a person is suspected of intending to leave Great Britain or the United Kingdom in connection with terrorism-related activity.

These events encouraged me to revisit a 2010 publication I co-authored with my colleague Jason Reed Struble, entitled ‘The Nature of a Passport at the Intersection of Customary International Law and American Judicial Practice’ (16 Ann. Surv. Int’l & Comp. L. 9 (2010)). In that piece we discussed the very nature of a passport and its role in both international and United States domestic law. This article focussed on the seizure of foreign passports by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the subsequent tribulations that follow. Thus, the work focused on a different spectrum of passport seizures, i.e. a government seizing another government’s passport, as opposed to a government seizing passports of its own nationals. Continue reading

Emily Thornberry MP – Human rights conventions: when some are more equal than others?

crc_logoWhen a legal challenge to one of the coalition Government’s flagship welfare reforms – an overall cap of £26,000 per year on the amount any family could receive in benefits – was reviewed by the Supreme Court earlier this year, the resulting judgment left many observers scratching their heads. Had the Court declared the cap unlawful or not? The answer seemed to be a mixture of yes and no. Continue reading