Evidence to Parliament on Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

westminsterI will be giving evidence tomorrow at around 3pm to the Public Bill Committee scrutinising the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

I will be giving evidence along with Nicola Mackintosh, Nick Armstrong and Michael Fordham QC, on the potential impact of the Bill on Judicial Review. The session should be available to view online live here. The full programme, which should be very interesting, is listed here.

For more on the Bill, see this recent post by JUSTICE’s Angela Patrick and this one by David Hart QC.

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Don’t be fooled by the “concessions”, there is still a real threat to Judicial Review

kite grayling (UK Human Rights Blog)The Ministry of Justice has published its response to the consultation on the latest round of Judicial Review reforms. The full response is here and the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is here.

In my post on the first draft of the MoJ proposals, I warned to beware of kite flyers, and said:

Sometimes, especially with Government consultations, a kite is raised in order to distract from what is really happening on the ground. As with the last phase of JR reform, the rhetoric is more extreme than the reality.

Without wanting to say “I told you so” (oops), don’t be fooled by the seeming concessions. There is still a lot to be concerned about in what remains, as there was in the last round of changes – as Dr Mark Elliott points out, JR, like the NHS (and Communist Russia), now seems to be in a state of perpetual reform.  I do not intend here to analyse the proposals in detail, but I will point you towards some excellent early articles.

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Barristers tell Parliament that some GCHQ mass surveillance is illegal

Edward Snowden.Two barristers have advised a Parliamentary committee that some mass surveillance allegedly undertaken by the UK’s security services is probably illegal. Jemima Stratford QC and Tim Johnston’s advice (PDF) was commissioned by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones

You may ask why an Parliamentary group on drones is getting involved in the GCHQ surveillance debate, itself kickstarted by the revelations by Edward Snowden (pictured). The slightly tangential answer is that the committee is concerned about the legality of data being passed to the United States for use in drone strikes.

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UK Human Rights Blog 2013 in review

Happy new year UKHRBWhat a year! As the UK Human Rights Blog approaches 2,000 posts and three million hits since its launch in March 2010, below is a link to a summary of the year in stats. No great surprises as to the most popular posts, which track the most controversial issues in human rights.

The main thing to report is that the blog remains extremely popular, with almost 1.2 million hits in 2013 alone, as well as tens of thousands of regular readers and subscribers. Thank you to the contribution of all of our bloggers, both from 1 Crown Office Row (particularly the indefatigable Rosalind English and David Hart QC) and elsewhere, to our wonderful rounder uppers (Daniel Isenberg, Sarina Kidd and Celia Rooney) and to our fantastic commenters who keep us on our toes all over social media.

This year has been the toughest yet for me in keeping the blog ticking along at the pace you are all used to (I have another full time job – being a barrister), but thankfully I have just about managed it. Unfortunately, this has meant I haven’t been able to post as much as I like but I continue to be very proud of the blog’s achievements and influence.

In light of the Conservative Party’s impending plans for human rights reform (which, as was pointed out by Neil Crowther on Twitter, looked to be tracking Dominic Raab’s 2010 blueprint and 2012 bill pretty closely), 2014 is likely to be another interesting year. As always, thanks to our still rather shiny Human Rights Act, there will be plenty of fascinating decisions from our courts too.

All the best and happy new year to all.

Click here to see the complete end of year report.

Times on the legal naughty step for bizarre ‘right to marry’ headline splash

photoThe debate over the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights is already mired with misunderstanding (see this and this), but amazingly Saturday’s Times (£) managed to up the stupid-quotient by another few notches.

The headline was “Ministers to block ‘right to marry’ in EU backlash“. Apparently the Government has “vowed to block a fresh push to introduce new EU human rights, such as the right to marry and the right to collective bargaining, into Britain“. And as the Times’ political editor Francis Elliot (not to be confused with the generally sound legal correspondent Frances Gibb) reported:

The charter enshrines a host of rights not found in other declarations, including personal, work and family relations. One of them is a proposed “right to marry and found a family”.

The only problem is that… the right to “marry and found a family” already exists in the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s in Article 12. It has been there since the UK signed up to the ECHR in 1953. Here it is:

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M&S, Muslim employees and the tricky issue of reasonable accommodation

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.26.46Retailer Marks & Spencer is in the news again, and not this time for its Christmas advert. The ad was, incidentally, filmed in Temple – perhaps M&S bigwigs were on their way to getting some advice on how to deal with Muslim employees who didn’t want to serve pork and alcohol?

Anyway, the retailer has allowed Muslim employees to opt out of the requirement to serve pork and alcohol, both of which their religion prohibits – although it is not clear whether they are also prohibited from serving the products to other Muslims/non-Muslims. If Islam is anything like Judaism, which I am more familiar with, I imagine the practice may vary according to communities.

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When you wish upon a rendition and torture inquiry…

Detainee Inquiry1 Crown Office Row’s Philippa Whipple QC and Matthew Hill were counsel to the Detainee Inquiry. They are not the writers of this post.

On 6 July 2010, in the first innocent days of the Coalition Government, former appeal judge Sir Peter Gibson was asked by the Prime Minister to enquire into “whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11.” Almost 3 1/2 years later, the Detainee Inquiry has  produced a  report (it was originally presented to the Government on 27 June 2012 but there have been heavy negotiations about sensitive material in the public version).

The report makes clear at the outset that it “does not, and cannot, make findings as to what happened”. Why so? Because the Inquiry was scrapped before it heard evidence from any witnesses, so it couldn’t test any conclusions reached purely on the basis of documentary evidence. The reason given at the time by Sir Peter  was that “it is not practical for the Inquiry to continue for an indefinite period to wait for the conclusion of the police investigations“. The “investigations” are those into claims of collusion by the intelligence services with torture in Libya (see this Q&A for more).

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No rational basis for denying all prisoners the vote, concludes joint Parliamentary Committee

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 07.28.46The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill today published its report – you can read it in full here (PDF/HTML/conclusions). I gave evidence to the committee a few weeks ago – you can watch again here.

The report strongly recommends enacting legislation so that ” all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less should be entitled to vote in all UK parliamentary, local and European elections”.  The recommendation could not  be more emphatic, with the committee concluding, amongst other things:

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Don’t mess up your European Court of Human Rights application… a new rule

how-I-feel-while-filling-out-forms-640x425I don’t usually post about court procedure, but as any lawyer knows, a failure to comply with what may seem like boring  court rules can lead to a case being struck out before it even begins – this is what we in the trade call a “bad outcome”. In the UK context, see this terrifying recent Court of Appeal judgment

Well, the European Court of Human Rights will from 1 January 2014 be toughening up its procedure rules with a new Rule 47 of the Rules of Court. Essentially, if you don’t get the forms right and provide the required information, your case will be rejected outright. This is part of the strategy to minimise the court’s enormous caseload. The changes are summed up in this handy press release – key extracts below:

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Lessons learned from the ‘Forced C-section’ case

Pregnant-woman-001Updated x 2 | Journalist Christopher Booker reported in Saturday’s Telegraph that an Italian woman was forced by Essex County Council social services to have a cesarean section, and then had her baby taken away from her – all sanctioned by the Court of Protection.

The story has become international news. I was going to write in detail on this, but family law barrister Lucy Reed has done a much better job than I would have been able to do. Her blog is here. Essex County Council have also released a statement of facts, which is here. I also recommend Elizabeth Prochaska and Suesspicious Minds.

I will keep this very simple. It was pretty obvious, based on Christopher Booker and John Hemming’s form (see my blog from 2011), that we were only getting a partial view of the story.

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Too little too late as Daily Mail “corrects” bogus human rights splash

screen-shot-2013-10-12-at-21-11-11The Daily Mail has belatedly “corrected” its front page story on human rights damages, over a month after it appeared on 7 October 2013. Early last month I blogged on  the original bogus article, which was so poor it generated a response from the ordinarily placid Council of Europe.

I have quote-pincered “corrected” as despite the newspaper’s actions, the damage is already done. A month has passed, which in social media time might as well be million years. People have moved on. Another human rights myth is implanted in the collective consciousness, and no sad little correction is going to dislodge a front page headline.

And to make things worse, the story was amplified by a whole host of other newspapers which picked it up without bothering to check the facts, including the Telegraph (corrected) and Daily Star (as yet uncorrected).

What really rankles about this story is how wrong it was.

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EU Balance of Competences Fundamental Rights Review

european_union_grunge_flag_by_think0The Ministry of Justice is calling for evidence on the Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union, specifically relating to fundamental rights. The consultation document is here and main website here.

The deadline for responses is 13 January 2014, but if you want to take part in one of the four discussion groups (three in London, one in Edinburgh), you need to email by tomorrow – all details below.

And don’t let the obscure-sounding title put you off. This review is potentially very important. Just look how broad question 1 is:  Continue reading

Court of Appeal broadcasters must learn the Supreme Court lessons

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

TV cameras are recording Court of Appeal hearings from today. The BBC, ITN, Sky News and the Press Association are cooperating on the project, and have hired an in-court video-journalist who will recommend the most interesting cases.

This is great news. Let in the light. The more that the public can see what is going on in their courts, the better. The courts are a bewildering place for the uninitiated and especially for those who cannot afford to pay someone to explain what is going on. This is still a relatively small advance – only appeals will be broadcast, not trials, so the public is unlikely to see any cross examination of witnesses. But hopefully it will be enough to increase public understanding of and interest in the courts.

But a word of warning. This initiative will only succeed if it is implemented in the right way. And, there are important lessons here from the Supreme Court’s ongoing broadcasting experiment.

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Evidence to Parliament on prisoner voting

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 13.32.48This morning Joshua Rozenberg and I gave evidence the Joint Select Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill. You can watch our evidence session here – we are on from 10:34:30.

It was an interesting experience. There is clearly a range of views on the committee, to say the least. It will be fascinating to see what happens next – it is already almost a year since the draft bill was published and, as Joshua Rozenberg said, it seems quite possible that this issue will not be resolved one way or the other before the 2015 General Election, which is only 18 months away.

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Two events and an evidence session

Schoolhouse_Rock!_Three_Is_Magic_Number_001_0001Just a quick post to tell you about three things I have coming up which you might be interested in:

1. This Wednesday 30 October from 10:30am I am giving evidence to the Joint Select Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill, along with Joshua Rozenberg – full details here. The hearing will be broadcast live online. I will be talking about how media reporting and public perceptions  of the European Court of Human Rights has affected the prisoner voting debate.

2. Then, also on Wed 30 Oct, in the evening, I’m taking part in a panel debate with BPP Fresh Perspectives on Law, which will explore the aftermath of the revelations about the NSA and GCHQ’s communications surveillance programmes. Also speaking: Paul Bernal, Lecturer in Internet and Media Law, University of East Angli; Ben Hayes, Statewatch and Alex Lawson, Lecturer, BPP Law School. Places are free but you have to sign up here.

3. Finally, on Wednesday 20 November I am joining lots of excellent lawyers in a charity mentoring event, raising money for Anna Verrico’s cancer treatment. Tickets are £10, a great cause, all details here.

And that is all.