Removal of subsidy for spare room not unlawful

Bedroom taxCotton and others, (R on the application of) v Minister for Work and Pensions and others, 15 October 2014  [2014] EWHC 3437 (Admin) – read judgment

Whether you call it the “spare room subsidy” or the “bedroom tax”, the removal of this type of housing benefit has been nothing short of controversial. There have been several previous legal challenges to the Regulations, as well as to the benefit cap introduced as part of the same package of welfare changes. The outcome of these cases was not promising for these claimants, in particular the decision of the Court of Appeal in R (MA) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 13. Another important case is R (SG (previously JS)) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 156.

Now the High Court has settled one aspect of the matter by ruling that these amendments did not breach the  rights of singe parents under Article 8 ECHR  who looked after their children under shared care arrangements where they received discretionary housing payments to make up the shortfall. Continue reading

Government not required to disclose full details of defence

blind justiceCF v The Ministry of Defence and others [2014] EWHC 3171 (QB) – read judgment

Angus McCullough QC of 1 Crown Office Row acted as Special Advocate in this case. He has nothing to do with the writing of this post.

The High Court has ruled that in a case against the state which did not directly affect the liberty of the subject, there was no irreducible minimum of disclosure of the state’s case which the court would require. The consequences of such disclosure for national security prevailed.

Factual and legal background

The claimant, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, had made a number of claims against various government departments, alleging complicity in unlawful and arbitrary detention and inhuman and degrading treatment and torture on the part of British authorities in Somaliland.  He also sought damages for trespass, breach of the Human Rights Act 1998, and misfeasance in public office. As Irwin J said,

The remedy sought is not confined to ordinary compensation, but extends to damages for breach of the Convention and to declaratory relief, which in the context of this case, and if the Claimant succeeded, would represent an important marking of unlawful behaviour: a matter in which there is a legitimate public interest.

Continue reading

Anorexia, alcoholism and the right to autonomy

imagesA NHS Foundation Trust v Ms X (By her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor), 8 October 2014  [2014] EWCOP 35 – read judgment

The issues that arose before the Court of Protection in this case encapsulate the difficulties involved in applying legal tools to the organic swamp of human pathology. Everything that one may envisage, for example, in planning a “living will” (or, more precisely, an Advance Decision under the Mental Capacity Act), may have no application at the critical time because the human body – or rather the way it falls apart – does not fit in to neat legal categories. In such a situation it is often the right to autonomy that is most at risk, since what you plan for your own medical and physiological future may not square with what the authorities you decide you were capable of planning. Cobb J’s sensitive and humane judgement in this sad case is a very encouraging sign that courts are beginning to resist the tyrannous claims of Article 2 and the obligation to preserve life at all costs.

Factual and legal background

Ms X, a young woman who lives alone in a private rented bed-sit, has suffered from anorexia nervosa for the last 14 years. She also suffers an alcohol dependence syndrome which has caused chronic and, by the time of this hearing, “end-stage” and irreversible liver disease, cirrhosis; this followed many years of abuse of alcohol. The combination of anorexia nervosa and alcohol dependence syndrome is unusual, and has always been medically acutely difficult to manage. This is a vicious cycle of self destructiveness and treatment, and as Cobb J observed,

The causes of her distress are multi-factorial but include the treatment for her anorexia itself and the removal of her personal autonomy when treated

So damaging had been the previous admissions for compulsory feeding, her doctors regarded it as “clinically inappropriate, counter-productive and increasingly unethical”  to cause her to be readmitted; their experience revealed that on each recent admission, she had been more and more unwell (as a result of her anxiety to reverse the weight gained in hospital during the previous visit, combined with renewed alcohol abuse).  In fact Ms X had been on an ‘end of life pathway’ twice in recent months and it was said that her physical condition “is now so fragile that her life is in imminent danger.” Continue reading

British Jihadists and treason

remember-remember-the-fifth-of-november-gunpowder-treason-and-plot-i-see-no-reason-why-gunpowder-treason-should-ever-be-forgotThe news last week was that the Foreign Secretary has proposed a revival of a fourteenth century statute in order to prosecute British jihadists who travel to Iraq or Syria to fight. Cries of foul are coming from the usual quarters, and there’s even a protest that the Strasbourg Court would object, which, given the current controversy surrounding that tribunal, may be a good reason in itself for such a move.

In the current froth over the Convention versus “home grown” human rights, there is much talk of the Magna Carta. So may be of interest to some that in the opinion of one of the greatest legal scholars in history, Edward Coke, the Statute of Treason had a legal importance second only to that of the “Great Charter of the Liberties of England”, piloted by feudal barons to limit King John’s power in 1215.

Politics aside, how would this work? On the face of it, a law which has been on the statute books for centuries, and is found to be applicable to a current state of affairs, is an equum donatum whose dental health should not be examined too closely. Although the last person to be convicted under the 1351 Treason Act – the Nazi propagandist William Joyce (otherwise known as Lord Haw Haw)- was hanged, now any British citizen convicted of the offence could be given a life sentence. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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