Munchausen, MMR and mendacious “warrior mothers”

andrew-wakefieldA Local Authority and M (By his litigation friend via the Official Solicitor) v E and A (Respondents) [2014] EWCOP 33 (11 August 2014) – read judgment

It’s been an interesting week for the extreme fringes of maternal care. The papers report a trial where a mother is being prosecuted for administering toxic levels of medication to her daughter for “conditions that never existed” (as the court heard). Let’s see how that pans out.

And now the Court of Protection has published a ruling by Baker J that a a supporter of the discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield embarked on an odyssey of intrusive remedies and responses to her son’s disorder, fabricating claims of damage from immunisation, earning her membership of what science journalist Brian Deer calls the class of “Wakefield mothers.”

On the face of it, the detailed and lengthy judgment concerns the applicant son’s reaction to the MMR vaccination when it was administered in infancy, and whether it was the cause of his autism and a novel bowel disease, the latter being Wakefield’s brainchild.  But at the heart of the case lies the phenomenon that we all used to know as Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy.

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The UK in the European Convention: fudge, or a shining example?

DSC02566Brick Court Chambers Public Law Event 2014: Is it time for the common law to break free from Europe?

Last night’s discussion at Gray’s Inn Hall featured a panel with  Dominic Grieve QC MP (formerly Attorney General), Lord Judge (formerly Lord Chief Justice), Bella Sankey (Policy Director, Liberty), Martin Howe QC (member of the Commission on a British Bill of Rights), David Anderson QC (Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation), all chaired by  Shaun Ley of the BBC.

The Conservative Party’s proposal which sparked off the debate  was that the UK will withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights after the 2015 election unless the European Council of Ministers accepts our proposal that our own common law and statute fulfils the UK’s international obligations.

Martin Howe, a QC most closely involved with this move, simply didn’t understand why it has caused such a “furore”.  Other countries, like Canada and New Zealand, have statutes setting out human rights without having to belong to a regional system. What is so inadequate about the UK’s protection of rights that it should be shackled to Strasbourg, particularly with that court’s history of spending the past sixty years

 inventing entirely new doctrines, not based on the wording of the Convention – in many respects contrary to its express wording

This is an intolerable situation, Howe believes, and it has to be resolved. Continue reading

Asbestos victims successfully challenge change in conditional fee/ATE costs rules


malignantmesothelioma1Whitston (Asbestos Victims Support Victims Support Groups Forum UK)  v Secretary of State for Justice and the Association of British Insurers (Interested Party) [2014] EWHC 3044 – read judgment

Jeremy Hyam and Kate Beattie of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the Claimant in this case. They had nothing to do with the writing of this post.

In April 2013 the rules permitting recovery of success fees under Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) and After The Event (ATE) insurance premiums changed in response to the Jackson proposals – with one exception, namely in respect of mesothelioma claims.

This case concerns the Lord Chancellor’s intention to bring costs rules in mesothelioma claims in line with other claims.

As many of you will know, mesothelioma is an industrial disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos. It is a rare form of cancer which  generally does not become apparent until many years after exposure to asbestos, a feature which at least in the past has led to real problems when mounting a claim against those responsible for the exposure. Once the cancer does become symptomatic its progression is rapid. Most sufferers survive for less than 12 months from the onset of symptoms. Yet the effects of the disease over the period from the onset of symptoms to death are hugely painful and debilitating. This combination of factors means that litigation in relation to mesothelioma is unusual in comparison with many other types of litigation involving personal injury or industrial disease. In almost every case in which a claim is made for damages for mesothelioma the effective defendant is an insurance company. Continue reading

The patentability of living things: the latest in the BRCA gene saga

298x232-dna_genetic_test-298x232_dna_genetic_testD’Arcy v Myriad Genetics Inc [2014] FCAFC 115 (5 September 2014) - read judgment The recent ruling from the Full Federal Court of Australia allowing the breast cancer gene isolated in the laboratory to be patented contrasts sharply with the ruling by the US Supreme Court last year that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a “product of nature” and therefore not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated. The implications of this ruling for gene testing and patenting of biological products have been eloquently discussed elsewhere and I will not attempt to cover the same ground – see for example the excellent discussion posted by the Enhanced Genetic Services Project. All I want to point up in this post – apart from the obvious need for intellectual property law to encompass the development of science and technology – is the Australian court’s focus on how easily misled one may be by semantics in this sort of dispute. This ruling upholds an earlier decision that gene patenting is permissible under Australian law, declaring that “the boundaries of the conception of patentability are not dictated only by deductive logic from the linguistic premises formulated in the scientific knowledge of a particular age”. The concept of patentability has been broadening since the first quarter of the 17th century, and there is no reason why it should reach an artificial wall erected by unfathomable and unexplained “laws of nature” (a premise much relied upon by the US Supreme Court). I posted last year on the decision of the US Supreme Court in Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics Inc. It will be remembered that that Court held that a sequence of DNA mimicking the BRCA breast cancer mutation could not be patented because DNA’s information sequences and  all the other processes that allow the information to manufacture bodily tissues occur naturally within human cells.  Continue reading

Council’s decision to close elderly care home not unlawful

ammaoldagehomeKaria, R (on the application of) v Leicester City Council (Sir Stephen Silber, acting as High Court Judge)  [2014] EWHC 3105 (Admin) (30 September 2014)- read judgment

In a robust judgment Sir Stephen Silber has asserted that neither the ordinary laws of judicial review, nor the Equality Act nor the Human Rights Act require the courts to micro-manage the decisions of public authorities. Indeed the latter two statutory powers are not designed as a back door into a merits review of a decision that is restricted to the court’s review of the legality of a public sector decision.

Background facts and law

The claimant, a 101 year old woman of Gujarati descent, challenged the decision to close the care home which she has occupied since 1999. Her grounds of challenge were threefold:

1. that the Council had failed to take account of material issues of fact relating to the present and future levels of demand for residential care one provision

2. that it had reached its decision without due regard to the need under the Equality Act 2010 to avoid unlawful discrimination in the provision of services

3. and it had failed to take into account the impact of the closure on the claimant’s Article 8 rights

She also complained that she had a legitimate expectation of a home for life at Herrick Lodge and that the Council had not considered whether her needs could be met in alternative placements.

Although the judge was at pains to stress that as this was a judicial review application, it was not for him to assess the merits of the Council’s decision, merely its legality. Having done so, he concluded that the Council had not acted irrationally, nor had it  paid due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity.

It is not for the Court to determine whether proper weight has been given to a factor where as here there has been proper appreciation of the potential impact of the decision on equality issues.

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“What’s in a name”? Privacy and anonymous speech on the Internet

internet-anonymityKeynote speech by Lord Neuberger at 5 RB Conference on the Internet, 30 September 2014

The President of the Supreme Court has delivered a very interesting address on the protections that should be afforded to what might be termed the “new Fourth Estate” – journalism on the internet. The following summary does not do justice to his speech but is meant to act as a taster – download the full text of his talk here.

Lord Neuberger explores the interrelationship of privacy and freedom of expression, particularly in the light of developments in IT, and especially the internet. He recalls a colourful eighteenth century figure who contributed a series of letters to a widely disseminated journal under the pseudonym of “Junius”. He managed to make such effective attacks on public figures he brought about the resignation of the Prime Minister, the Duke of Grafton, in 1770. Because of his anonymity this character was able to make criticisms of the powerful for which others of his time faced prosecution.

Junius offered a voice of firm if sometimes scurrilous criticism, prompting both political and legal change. He is rightly remembered as one of the greatest political writers in an age dominated by great figures, yet his identity [still]  remains a mystery.

And it is this lack of traceability that links Junius with today’s bloggers. Print journalists are – with the exception of writers for The Economist – known figures. But forty percent of the world’s population use the internet, and despite initial expectations that bloggers and tweeters could hide behind pseudonyms, it has turned out to be extremely difficult for internet writers to maintain their anonymity. The public and the courts increasingly recognise the press’ interest in publishing the names of individuals in appropriate circumstances. Continue reading

When does a righteous campaign shade into harassment?

Chessington_World_of_Adventures_Kobra2Merlin Entertainments LPC,  Chessington World of Adventures Operations and others v Peter Cave [2014] EWHC 3036 (QB)  25 September 2014 – read judgment 

This case explores the extent to which a campaign of criticism, conducted by internet and email, can merit restraint by the civil courts. As the judge says, whatever the aims of the campaign in question, its supporters may, in the course of their activities, annoy, irritate, and upset companies and individuals.  But should the courts interfere, before the question whether the campaign is justified has been decided?  And to what extent is such a campaign a criminal offence?

This particular dispute concerned a series of communications by the defendant to the general public about the inadequacy of safety measures and other shortcomings of the claimants’ amusement parks. The claimants contended that Dr Cave’s communications with the public and with their employees were defamatory, and in breach of confidence, and that they were thereby entitled to stop him, before any trial, by relying on the statutory tort of harassment. They therefore applied for an interim injunction restraining the defendant from setting up websites and sending mass emails regarding the issue of safety in theme parks. The question before the judge was whether they should wait until they had established defamation and/or breach of confidence, before the court granted a remedy. Continue reading