The remarkable shrinking backlog at the European Court of Human Rights – Alice Donald

dutch-boyIn recent years, a constant feature of debate about the future of the European Court of Human Rights has been the backlog of applications that threatens to engulf it. At its height, in September 2011, this backlog reached the dizzying figure of more than 160,000.

The accumulation of applications has been the basis of the argument both by politicians (such as David Cameron) and figures formerly associated with the Court (such as Luzius Wildhaber) that the Strasbourg system should be fundamentally reformed so that it would deliver far fewer judgments relating only to large-scale violations, structural problems, or important questions of the interpretation and application of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Such reform would mean drastically curtailing the right of individual petition, which for decades has been the cornerstone of the Convention system (and of other regional human rights mechanisms that have emulated the ECHR model).  Yet if the backlog was to be significantly reduced – or eliminated – the foundation of the argument that the Court requires root-and-ranch reform to avoid collapse would, by the same token, disappear. Figures presented last week by the Registrar of the Court, Erik Fribergh, suggest that this scenario is now not only possible, but likely.

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The rule of law needs reaffirmation – Julinda Beqira and Lawrence Mcnamara

PAjusticeOver the next year the United Nations will discuss and adopt an agenda for global development for 2015 – 2030. It will set out the aims countries should strive to achieve in order to secure economic, social and environmental development.

One of the most contentious points of debate – and one of the most important – will be what role the rule of law will occupy in the post-2015 development agenda. Its significance cannot be overstated as it reaches into the very heart of how our future will be shaped.

This year’s General Assembly meetings commence on 24 September and run until 1 October. They will be crucial in shaping the post-2015 agenda. Of the paths the GA may take, there are two main options:

  • in one path, the rule of law will be stated as a goal that States should strive to achieve.
  • in the other, it will not be.

What path should the UN take? And what path will it take? Continue reading

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).

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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.

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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.

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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