Government may weigh rights against national security without courts’ interference

Mujahedin-e-Khalq-OrganizatR (on the application of Lord Carlile of Berriew QC and others) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) [2014] UKSC 60 – read judgment

The exclusion of a dissident Iranian from the UK, on grounds that her presence would have a damaging impact on our interests in relation to Iran, has been upheld by the Supreme Court. (My post on the Court of Appeal’s ruling is here).

At the heart of the case lies the question of institutional competence of the executive to determine the balance between the relative significance of national security and freedom of speech. The exclusion order was imposed and maintained because the Home Office is is concerned with the actual consequences of Mrs Rajavi’s admission, not with the democratic credentials of those responsible for bringing them about. The decision-maker is not required by the Convention or anything else to ignore or downplay real risks to national security where they originate from people acting for motives which are contrary to the values of this country.

The following summary of the facts is partly based on the Court’s press release. References in square brackets are to the paragraphs in the judgment. Continue reading

Be wary of judicial slogans – Jonathan Sumption

SumptionIn his lecture to the Administrative Law Bar Association  earlier this month, Lord Sumption surveys the concept of “anxious scrutiny” – a judicial method which he characterises as a forerunner to the principle of proportionality. The term was actually coined by Lord Bridge in Bugdaycay (1986), and was meant to apply where the rights engaged in a case were sufficiently fundamental, and stretched the traditional “Wednesbury” test to public authority decisions or actions which were not, on the face of it, irrational. (The citation given in the PDF of the speech incidentally is incorrect). The same way of thinking had been arrived at in the US courts a few years earlier, with their “hard look” doctrine, but to Lord Sumption there was something peculiarly English about the “crab-like” way in which our courts approached and eventually acknowledged this doctrine, hitherto alien to the judicial toolbox.

But if we apply anxious scrutiny to the doctrine itself, Sumption suggests, it raises more questions than it answers. Continue reading

Delays in prisoner rehabilitation did not breach Convention – Strasbourg Court

man_in_prisonDillon v United Kingdom  (no. 32621/11)  – read judgment  and David Thomas v United Kingdom (no. 55863/11) – read judgment 

Two prisoners have failed in their human rights protest against prison rehabilitation courses in the United Kingdom.

Dillon

The applicant Dillon, currently detained in HMP Whatton, had been given an indeterminate sentence following his conviction for sexual assault. He was given a tariff period of four years. His release after the expiry of this tariff period was subject to the approval of the Parole Board.

He completed the core Sex Offenders Treatment Programme (“SOTP”) in March 2009 and had been assessed as suitable for the extended SOTP in 2010. But then the  prison authorities concluded that he was insufficiently motivated to undertake the extended course.  He complained that the only way that he could address the risk he presented to the public was by completing the extended SOTP, but his access to this course had been delayed.   Continue reading

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