Chagossians update

330px-Chagosmap

A lot is happening in various challenges related to the long-running and shameful exclusion of the Chagossian people from their islands in the Indian Ocean. 

Here are the headlines, with a reminder of what these cases are about:

First, the Court of Appeal has just (2 April 2014) heard an appeal by the Chagossians against the dismissal of their challenge to the designation of the waters around the islands as a Marine Protected Area. 

Second, the closed hearing of the UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal on the merits of the Chagos dispute (Mauritius v UK) is to be held at Istanbul on 22 April 2014. This also concerns the designation of the MPA.

Thirdly, the public hearing in the UK Information Tribunal on access to Diego Garcia pollution data appeal under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which the FCO — contrary to the view of the Information Commissioner — says is inapplicable to overseas territories) is to be held on May 1st, 2014.

Now to a little more detail.

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“A gilded cage is still a cage” – Supreme Court on deprivation of liberty for the mentally incapacitated

bird503_mediumSurrey County Council v P and Others, Equality and Human Rights Commission and others intervening [2014] UKSC 19  (March 19, 2014) – read judgment

Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QCHenry Witcomb and Duncan Fairgrieve of 1 Crown Office Row represented the AIRE Centre, one of the intervening parties, in this case. None of them have anything to do with the writing of this post.

Mentally incapacitated people have the same rights to liberty as everyone else. If their own living arrangements would amount to a deprivation of liberty of a non-disabled individual then these would also be a deprivation of liberty for the disabled person. So says the Supreme Court, which has ruled that disabled people are entitled to periodic independent checks to ensure that the deprivation of liberty remains justified. Continue reading

Gestational parents, non-genetic mothers, siblings with different mothers: family law in a quandary

Orig.src_.Susanne.Posel_.Daily_.News-dna_baby_wombG (Children), Re [2014] EWCA Civ 336 (25 March 2014) – read judgment

This interesting family dispute demonstrates the tension between legal parenthood and biological parenthood in times when both legislation and common law are struggling to keep up with the possibilities offered by reproductive medicine; where a child can be born with no biological relationship with its gestational parent, or, conversely, where children can be borne of two separate mothers and yet be full genetic siblings.

Background

The appellant and respondent had been in a lesbian relationship for some years.  Following unsuccessful attempts by the respondent to conceive using her own eggs, the appellant agreed to donate eggs so that the respondent could become pregnant. She donated eggs which were fertilised with sperm from an anonymous donor. The embryos were implanted in the respondent who carried and gave birth to the twins. Continue reading

Supreme Court: Strasbourg’s mixed messages about Article 10 and any right to receive information

Kennedy v. Charity Commission et al, Supreme Court, 26 March 2014 read judgment

In judgments running to 90 pages, the Supreme Court dismissed this appeal by Mr Kennedy, a Times journalist, for access to documents generated by the Charity Commission under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 concerning three inquiries  between 2003 and 2005 into the Mariam Appeal. This appeal was George Galloway’s response to the sanctions imposed on Iraq following the first Gulf War, and little Mariam was a leukaemia sufferer. Mr Kennedy’s suspicion, amongst others, was that charitable funds had been used by Galloway for political campaigning.

The Charity Commission had refused the request on the ground that the information was subject to an absolute exemption from disclosure contained in s.32(2) of the FOIA. The Supreme Court (in common with the Court of Appeal) held that the absolute exemption applied and dismissed Mr Kennedy’s request. But the result was a little closer in the SC, with two judges dissenting, essentially on Article 10 grounds.

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CA says Prince Charles’ advocacy letters should be produced

article-2218614-15875C88000005DC-566_634x536R (o.t.a Rob Evans) v. Attorney-General,  Information Commissioner Interested Party, 12 March 2014 - read judgment

The Court of Appeal (reversing a strong court including the former Lord Chief Justice – see my previous post) has decided that correspondence between the Prince of Wales and various government departments should be released. A Guardian journalist had made a request under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations to see these documents. The Upper Tribunal had agreed that they should be disclosed.

At that point, the Attorney-General intervened and signed a certificate saying “no”.

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High Court rules dead partner’s sperm can be kept despite lack of written consent

Sperm, microscopicElizabeth Warren -v- Care Fertility (Northampton) Limited and Other [2014] EWHC 602 (Fam) - Read judgment / court summary 

The High Court has ruled in favour of a 28-year-old woman who wanted her late husband’s sperm to be retained even though the correct written consent was not in place. Mrs Justice Hogg (‘Hogg J’) ruled that Mrs Warren has a right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life) to decide to become a parent by her deceased husband.

Mr Brewer had put his sperm into storage in April 2005 in order to enable his wife, Elizabeth Warren, to conceive a child by him after his death. However, he was not advised by his Clinic as to the statutory steps he needed to take in order for his sperm to be stored for longer than 10 years. In the event, he sadly passed away shortly before the lawful expiry of his consent, leaving his widow insufficient time to decide whether she wished to conceive his child.

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Supreme Court rules on EU conditions for asylum seekers

UK Border Agency officerEM (Eritrea) and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] UKSC 12 – read judgment

The Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision on the correct test for when an asylum seeker or refugee resists their return to another EU country (here Italy) in which they first sought or were granted asylum. The parties before the court all agreed that the test applied by the Court of Appeal, namely a requirement for a systemic deficiencies in the listed country’s asylum procedures and reception conditions was incorrect. 

The Supreme Court agreed and held that even when the Dublin II Regulation was engaged, the correct test was that laid down in Soering v United Kingdom (1989) 11 EHRR 439  –  the removal of a person from a member state of the Council of Europe to another country was contrary to the ECHR “where substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned… faces a real risk [in the country to which he or she is to be removed] of being subjected to [treatment contrary to article 3 of the Convention].” 

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Supreme Court brings private nuisance into the 21st century

270866141Coventry v. Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13, 26 February 2014, read judgment

The law of private nuisance is the way of balancing the rights of neighours, the right to be noisy or smelly, and to be free of noise or smells. Hitherto it is has been explicitly a private law remedy, and has slightly odd rules. But it has been struggling with public interests for some years; are they irrelevant, or can they carry the day for claimant or defendant in a private nuisance claim?

Fortunately, enough of the big issues bedevilling this area of the law came before the Supreme Court in one fell swoop. And they have led to an important re-balancing of the rules. In particular, public interest is relevant, but not at the first stage of deciding whether someone has a claim, but later – can they get an injunction to stop the noise or should they be confined to damages?

 And all this arose in the context of some speedway, stock car, banger and motocross racing in an otherwise fairly rural bit of Suffolk.

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New Year, new tort of misuse of private information

google-sign-9Vidal Hall and Ors v Google Inc [2014] EWHC 13 (QB) – read judgment

A group of UK Google users called ‘Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking’ have claimed that the tracking and collation of information about of their internet usage by Google amounts to misuse of personal information, and a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998The Judge confirmed that misuse of personal information was a distinct tort. He also held that the English courts had jurisdiction to try the claims. 

Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision was on the basis that (1) there was a distinct tort of the misuse of private information (2) there was a serious issue to be tried on the merits in respect of the claims for misuse and for breach of the DPA; (3) the claims were made in tort and damage had been sustained in the jurisdiction and (4) England was clearly therefore the most appropriate forum for the trial.

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High speed rail, Parliament, and the EU Courts

World war one tankR (o.t.a HS2AA, Buckingham County Council and others) v. Secretary of State for Transport, [2014] UKSC 3 – read judgments

So the challenge to the way in which the Government wished to push the HS2 project through Parliament has failed before the Supreme Court, though not without clarifying the way in which key EU environmental provisions are meant to work. And we will also see a further flexing of the Court’s muscles against a too straightforward reading of the supremacy of EU law when seen against our constitutional principles.  

The objectors said the command paper which preceded the Parliamentary hybrid bill, in which the Government set out its proposals for HS2, fell within the scope of the  Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive 2001/42/EC and that an SEA ought therefore to have been carried out. The directive applies to plans or programmes which set a “framework” (Art.3(2)(a)) for future decisions whether to grant development consent for projects, and it was said that the command paper set the framework for the decision whether to grant consent for HS2.

Secondly, the objectors said that the legislative procedure in Parliament does not meet the requirements of the  Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 2011/92/EU. The EU Court of Justice has interpreted that directive as imposing a number of requirements, including that the legislature must have available to it the information required by the directive, and a requirement that national courts must be able to verify that the requirements of the directive have been satisfied, taking account of the entire legislative process, including the preparatory documents and the parliamentary debates. Continue reading

Does the EU Rights Charter apply to private disputes? Sometimes, sometimes not…

European-Union-Flag_1Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT, Hichem Laboubi, Union départementale CGT des Bouches-du-Rhône, Confédération générale du travail (CGT), Case C‑176/12 – read judgement

The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled on whether the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union can apply in a dispute between private parties, although it is not quite clear what its conclusion implies.

This was a request for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU from the Cour de cassation (France), received by the CJEU in April last year. Continue reading

Trains, pains and allegations: fairness in medical misconduct cases – Richard Booth QC

785px-Doctors_stethoscope_1West London Mental Health NHS Trust (Respondent) v Chhabra (Appellant) [2013] UKSC 80 – read judgment

It is not unknown for lawyers or doctors to speak on a mobile phone about confidential details of a case while travelling by train. Some of you may even have left case papers out on your seat or table while you hunt down a bacon baguette from the Travelling Chef (formerly known as “Toastie Geoff” prior to rebranding). If so, read on, for this is a cautionary tale…

This appeal by Dr Chhabra was concerned with the roles of the case investigator and the case manager when handling concerns about a doctor’s performance under the disciplinary procedures introduced over eight years ago for doctors and dentists in the National Health Service. The national policy framework is known as ‘Maintaining High Professional Standards in the Modern NHS’ (MHPS), which the Trust had implemented through its own policies.

The factual summary below is derived from the Supreme Court Press Summary

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State immunity upheld against human rights challenges in Strasbourg

Saudi_mapJones and Others v. the United Kingdom (application nos. 34356/06 and 40528/06) – read judgement

The Strasbourg Court has ruled that the inability of four men to bring torture compensation claims against Saudi Arabia in UK courts did not breach the Convention.  The Court held that a “grant of immunity to the state officials in the present case reflected generally recognised rules of public international law”  and that there had been no violation of  Article 6 (right of access to court).

The claimants argued that there there was emerging support for a special exception to this immunity in cases concerning civil claims for torture lodged against foreign State officials. But the Court took the view that the bulk of the authority was to the effect that the State’s right to immunity may not be circumvented by suing its servants or agents instead. The fact that conduct was unlawful or objectionable was not, of itself, a ground for refusing immunity. Continue reading

Rendition to Libya an “act of state” and therefore non-justiciable

gaddafi_2036309cBelhaj and another v Straw and Others [2013] EWHC 4111 (QB) 20 December 2013 – read judgment

Peter Skelton of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the defendants in this case. He has nothing to do with the writing of this post.

The High Court has struck out claims against British establishment defendants for “unlawful rendition”.  The doctrine of immunity attaching to an act of state is  total bar to that such claims and is not limited by the gravity of the alleged violation of rights.

Factual background

The first claimant, an opponent of the Gaddafi regime, and his wife, the second claimant, had been apprehended in Bangkok in 2004 whilst trying to travel from Beijing to the UK to claim asylum. They were held in a detention centre in Kuala Lumpur for two weeks and whilst they were there the UK authorities, along with the US, the Malaysians and the Chinese, worked together to secure their extradition to Libya (this was a time when friendly relations were maintained between the UK and the Libyan government).   After another journey to Bangkok, where they were detained in a US “black site”, they were flown to Tripoli  and transported to Tajoura prison, a detention facility operated by the Libyan intelligence services. The second claimant was released later in 2004, but the first claimant was transferred to another prison and held until 2010. Continue reading

Reporting restrictions at courts martial: the need for a structured approach – Simon McKay

Royal-Marine-video-012Marines A & Ors v Guardian News and Media & Other Media [2013] EWCA Crim 2367 – read judgment

On 15 September 2011 a patrol of Royal Marine Commandos were involved in an incident, which resulted in one of them, referred to as “Soldier A”, shooting dead an armed but seriously wounded Taliban fighter. Evidence of the shooting emerged later and five members of the patrol were eventually charged with murder. The charges against two of them were later dropped but the three remaining marines were tried for murder before the Court Martial. On 8 November 2013, Soldier A was found guilty of murder.

Quite apart from this extraordinary facts, the trial was unusual for another reason: publication of the identity of each of the defendants was prohibited at the commencement of the proceedings by an assistant Judge Advocate and later the Judge Advocate General (each of the judge’s in the court martial who considered the issue are referred to throughout as “judge”). The Court Martial Appeal Court (essentially the Court of Appeal Criminal Division sitting under a different name) was later invited to review the orders in respect of reporting restrictions. This was linked to the release of video footage and photographs relied on by the prosecution during the case.

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