The Tory human rights “car crash”

Car crash human rights

Imagine you are on the board of large corporation. You attend the Annual General Meeting and asked the chief executive about that controversial tax avoidance scheme the company had been considering, but which the in-house legal team had advised against. The Chief Exec smiles and says that has been dealt with: “we just sacked the lawyers”. 

The BBC is reporting what many suspected. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC was sacked in order to clear the path for major reform of the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. This is bad news, for the UK and potentially for the European Court of Human Rights too.

The Attorney General’s advice, which has been leaked to the BBC, was that plan to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights were “incoherent” and a “legal car crash… with a built-in time delay“. Intriguingly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson also reports that William Hague, the now-former Foreign Secretary, also raised doubts over the plans.

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“Europe needs the Convention and Europe needs the Court”

PhaleTwo fascinating speeches to recommend.

Lord Phillips, former Supreme Court President, gave a thoughtful speech at Kings College on whether human rights are a “force for good or a threat to democracy”. He expressed quite significant concerns over some recent Strasbourg decisions on jurisdiction, prisoner votes etc. (you know the drill – see Rosalind’s post on the other senior judges/former judges speaking their minds).

The conclusion he reaches, on balance but also with “no hesitation”  is that “Europe needs the Convention and Europe needs the Court. … Strasbourg is a powerful force for good.

I really must do a chart of the senior judiciary and ex-judiciary’s positions on Strasbourg. They are falling over themselves to express a view.

Meanwhile, over at the Law Society of Ireland, Lady Hale gave a speech on Freedom of Religion and Belief, which readers will know is one of this blog’s pet topics (see our other posts on religion).

Whose Magna Carta is it anyway?

90291Yesterday was Magna Carta Day. It is now only 364 days until the 800th anniversary of the sealing of England’s oldest charter of rights, and one of the world’s most influential legal documents.

There will be much celebration in the coming year, and rightly so. Despite its age, Magna Carta is still partly on our statute books. It represents the first legal constraints imposed on the English king by his subjects. It has influenced every major rights law since – notably, the United States Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which are very much still in force.

According to the Magna Carta Trust, there will be eight century beer, festivities, new books, an opera, a calypso tribute and even a new roundabout on the A308 at Runnymede. And if a new roundabout isn’t “English” enough for you, there will of course be lots of dressing up in silly costumes.

But along with celebration, there will be disagreement. It has already started. Continue reading

Human rights reform… Labour reveals its hand

SadiqKhan460

Sadiq Khan, Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary, has given us a glimpse of what the Human Rights Act would look like under a future Labour government in a Telegraph article. Labour will “shift power back to British courts”, says the former solicitor.
The article presents a strong case for human rights as an “ancient British tradition” and ties future reforms in with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. But the only real proposal here is publishing ‘guidance’ to judges in order to

make sure it is clear to the judges what Parliament intended by Section 2 – that they’re free to disagree with Strasbourg, that it’s sometimes healthy to do so, and that they should feel confident in their judgments based on Britain’s expertise and strong human rights standing.

Section 2 of the Human Rights Act says that any judge deciding a question involving human rights “must take into account“, amongst other things, any judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. This has been a controversial provision as on its face it only requires judges to pay attention to, not follow, Strasbourg’s judgments. But the judiciary have often gone further than they a required to – see Rosalind English’s summary of the recent public spat between the judges.
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UKHRB event: The Future of Human Rights – 21 May 2014

Freedman-Failing-to-Protect-webI am delighted to announce that the UK Human Rights Blog in association with Hurst Publishers and Berwin Leighton Paisner are organising a fascinating panel debate, chaired by me, on Wed 21 May 2014. The panel is stellar.

It is a free event but places are strictly limited so you have to register here if you want to secure your place.

‘The Future of Human Rights’ on the occasion of the publication of Failing to Protect: the UN and the Politicisation of Human Rights by Dr Rosa Freedman
Date: Wednesday 21 May 2014
Time: 6.30pm for 7.00pm
Location: The Auditorium, Adelaide House, London Bridge, London EC4R 9HA (map)
Hurst Publishers, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP and the UK Human Rights Blog are delighted to invite you to a panel discussion on ‘The Future of Human Rights’ on the occasion of the publication of Failing to Protect: the UN and the Politicisation of Human Rights by Dr Rosa Freedman.Chair

  • Adam Wagner – Barrister, 1 Crown Office Row and editor of the UK Human Rights Blog

Panel

  • Philippe Sands - Professor of International Law, University College London
  • Jane Connors – Chief of Special Procedures Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Marc Limon – Executive Director, Universal Rights Group
  • Professor Fiona de Londras, Durham University

Drinks will be served before and after the debate.

Please let us know if you will be attending the panel discussion by clicking here.

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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