Human rights: a reality check

919PxBmnG1LMost law undergraduates are familiar with Jeremy Bentham’s dismissal of natural rights as “nonsense on stilts”.  This is a slight misrepresentation of what he said, which was that “Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts“. But let’s take the stilts away and consider rights in their ordinary sense. They furnish not only arguments before courts, but reasons for going to war and toppling whole regimes. As Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari points out in his recent book:

No one was lying when, in 2011, the UN demanded that the Libyan government respect the human rights of its citizens, even though the UN, Libya, and human rights are all figments of our fertile imaginations.

So, might the author have added, are “citizens”, since in a reality without cities and states, it is a non-sequitur to talk of citizens. Continue reading

The Changing Face of the European Court of Human Rights: Public Lecture by Judge Paul Mahoney

Paul Mahoney European Court of Human rightsThursday 5 February 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta as well as the 50th anniversary of the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London. To commemorate both of these milestones, the Human Rights Collegium at Queen Mary University of London will be hosting this special event.

Paul Mahoney has been the UK judge on the European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg) since November 2012. Before this, he spent the greater part of his career in the Registry of the Strasbourg Court, beginning as a case-lawyer in 1974 working on the case of Golder v. United Kingdom and ending as Registrar of the Court from 2001-05, with a three-year break in the 1990s as Head of Personnel of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg).

This event will be chaired by Professor Geraldine Van Bueren QC, and Lady Justice Arden will deliver the response.

The lecture will take place between 18.30 – 20.30 on Thursday 5 February at the Arts 2 Lecture Theatre, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS.

Book your tickets here.

HRC-ECtHR flyer

Nonagenarian unlawfully detained in care home for nearly two years

UnknownEssex County Council v RF and Others (deprivation of liberty and damages) [2015] EWCOP 1 – read judgment

The Court of Protection has castigated the actions of a County Council in depriving an old person of his liberty and dignity in their overreaction to reports that he might be subjected to financial exploitation. This, said the judge, amounted to punishing the victim for the acts of the perpetrators.

Factual background

The facts of this case can be summarised very shortly. P, a 91 year old gentleman, is a retired civil servant and WWII veteran, and until February 2013, has lived in his own home for fifty years. He has been alone with his companion cat since the death of his sister in 1998. He is described as being a very generous man ready to help others financially if he believed they needed it, as well as making donations to various charities. Continue reading

Male circumcision can be part of “reasonable parenting”, but no form of FGM is acceptable – Family Court

female-genital-mutilation-fgmB and G (Children) (No.2) [2015] EWFC 3 – read judgment

Contemplating the details of different forms of female genital mutilation is not for the faint hearted. But that is what the courts and the relevant experts have to do, not only to protected alleged victims but to defend the interests of those suspected of perpetuating the procedure, whether it is a question of criminal liability under the FGM Act 2003, or determining that a threshold of harm has been passed so as to initiate care proceedings if the victim is a child.

This case concerned the latter; although in the end the court was not satisfied that the evidence was sufficient to satisfy the “significant harm” requirement under the Children Act 1989, Sir James Munby P considered the case sufficiently important to explore the inclusion of FGM, and, more controversially, male circumcision, in the array of cultural and religious rituals that can trigger the state’s intervention in family life.

These were “deep waters” which the judge was “hesitant to enter”, yet, enter them he did, all the better for the clarification of this difficult issue in care proceedings. Continue reading

Monitoring of sex offenders by home visits does not breach human rights – Court of Appeal

_60540582_policevisitsM, R (on the application of) v Hampshire Constabulary and another (18 December 2014) [2014] EWCA Civ 1651 – read judgment

The law governing the monitoring of sex offenders, allowing police officers to visit the homes of registered offenders, did not constitute an unlawful interference with the offenders’ privacy rights under Article 8 of the ECHR.

This was an appeal against a decision by the appellant (M) against a decision by Hallett LJ and Collins J in the Administrative Court that the practice of police officers making visits to the homes of registered sex offenders for the purpose of monitoring their behaviour did not violate the Convention. Continue reading

It is heartless not to assist people to die: Debbie Purdy

UnknownThe multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy died in the Marie Curie hospice in Bradford on December 23 2014. Having been denied her right to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland, which would have exposed her husband to the risk of prosecution under the 1961 Suicide Act, she took the only option available to her – refusing food. Death by starvation is not pleasant. The relevant Wikipedia entry describes some of the symptoms:

The body breaks down its own muscles and other tissues in order to keep vital systems such as the nervous system and the heart muscle functioning.
… Early symptoms include impulsivity, irritability, hyperactivity, and other symptoms. Atrophy (wasting away) of the stomach weakens the perception of hunger, since the perception is controlled by the percentage of the stomach that is empty. Victims of starvation are often too weak to sense thirst, and therefore become dehydrated.

All movements become painful due to muscle atrophy and dry, cracked skin that is caused by severe dehydration. With a weakened body, diseases are commonplace. Fungi, for example, often grow under the esophagus, making swallowing painful.

I apologise for introducing such a gloomy subject into the dying embers of 2014, but it is too important to pass by.

Continue reading

Exceptional legal aid funding should not be limited to extreme cases – Court of Appeal

legal-aidR (on the application of) Gudanaviciene and others v The Director of Legal Aid Casework and others [2014] EWCA Civ 1622 – read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance on exceptional funding in civil legal aid is incompatible with the right of access to justice under Article 6 of the ECHR and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Court has further decided that this Guidance was not compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR in immigration cases; in other words, that legal aid should not be refused when applicants for entry to the UK seek to argue that refusal of entry would interfere with their right to respect for private and family life.

This was an appeal against a ruling by Collins J in the court below that the appellant Director’s refusal to grant the respondents exceptional case funding under Section 10 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 in their immigration cases was unlawful. Continue reading