Yesterday morning, in a speech to civic organisations in Glasgow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “no responsible government” would consider repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 due to the numerous negative consequences, both in the domestic and international sphere, that would result from such a move – (see a transcript of the speech here).
Proposals for Repeal of the Human Rights Act
It has been a longstanding Tory policy to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Such a policy is motivated by discontent over a handful of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) that have allegedly “undermine[d] the role of UK courts in deciding on human rights issues”. In October 2014, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced Tory proposals to treat Strasbourg judgments as “advisory” – irrespective of the potential incoherence between treating judgments in such a way and the UK’s obligations under Article 46, ECHR (see John Wadham’s post here). However, the 2015 Tory manifesto included less specific promises to “scrap the Human Rights Act” in order to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights”. Little substantive information has been provided on the development of these plans, apart from an intention, included in the Queen’s speech, to conduct consultations and publish proposals this autumn. Continue reading
Photo credit: The Independent
In the news
The controversial Trade Union Bill this week passed its second reading in the House of Commons by a majority of 33 MPs. The bill contains plans to impose a minimum 50% turnout in industrial action ballots, whilst public sector strikes will require the backing of at least 40% of all eligible voters. It further includes proposals to:
- Increase the period of notice given by unions before a strike can be held from seven to 14 days;
- Permit the employment of agency workers to replace permanent staff during strike action; and
- Introduce fines of up to £20,000 on unions if pickets do not wear an official armband.
The civil rights organisation Liberty has warned that the bill will infringe the right to join a trade union, protected by Article 11 of the ECHR. Director Shami Chakrabarti has described the measures as a “spiteful and ideological attack” on freedoms that “must have one-nation Tories like Disraeli and Churchill spinning in their graves.”
Aspects of the bill have moreover come into criticism from senior members of the Conservative party. David Davis MP made clear his opposition to the requirement that organisers of picket lines register their details with the police, suggesting that the proposed reform was reminiscent of the Spanish dictatorship of General Franco.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid has, however, defended the measures, insisting that the reforms would “stop the ‘endless’ threat of strike action” and ensure that the right to strike was “fairly balanced with the right of people to be able to go about their daily lives and work.”
- A coroner has concluded that the suicide of 60-year-old Michael O’Sullivan was a direct result of his assessment by a DWP doctor as being fit for work. Mr O’Sullivan, who suffered from severe mental illness, hanged himself after his disability benefits were removed. The Independent reports.
- Proposals announced by the Ministry of Justice to further increase court fees have been criticised by the Bar Council, which has warned that higher costs would give wealthy individuals and big business an unfair advantage over weaker parties in court proceedings. The Bar Council press release can be read in full here.
- The Guardian: Cuts to legal aid have led to an increase in demand for free legal representation and advice, placing considerable strain on the resources of charities and lawyers engaged in pro bono work.
- Local Government Lawyer: Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has launched a review of the youth justice system, which is to be led by Charlie Taylor, former chief executive of the National College of Teaching. Mr Gove noted in a statement to Parliament that 67% of young people leaving custody reoffend within a year, and emphasised that the rehabilitation of young offenders had to be a government priority.
UK HRB posts
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On 7th September 2015, Judge Robert Spano (of the European Court of Human Rights) spoke at a high-level international conference on “The Role of Parliaments in the Realisation and Protection of the Rule of Law and Human Rights”, organised by Murray Hunt, Legal Adviser to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. This was his second public intervention in the United Kingdom since his seminal speech on “Universality or Diversity of Human Rights: Strasbourg in the Age of Subsidiarity” delivered at Oxford in 2014, the first having been covered by UK Human Rights Blog here, and built upon his earlier speeches by elaborating on four post-Brighton Declaration cases in which the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the European Court) applied the principle of subsidiarity to find no violation of human rights, considering that the cases fell within the national margin of appreciation, after having examined evidence demonstrating that the national Parliaments had considered the human rights issues. Taken collectively, the four cases demonstrate that Strasbourg is well and truly in the age of subsidiarity, deferring to the decisions of national Parliaments, provided those Parliaments had considered the human rights implications of legislation. Whether this will satisfy Conservative Party concerns that membership of the European Convention on Human Rights is incompatible with the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty will be explored at the end of this post. Continue reading
Kent County Council v G & others  UKHL 68 involved an appeal by a local authority on a matter of principle.
In the course of care proceedings, they had been compelled to pay about £200,000 to provide a therapeutic residential placement for a family pursuant to section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989. The case had a happy ending; the family stayed together. But the local authority wanted to make it clear for the future that this had been an improper use of section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989 and argued that the court could not compel a local authority to pay for therapy for parents under a statutory provision directed at assessments of the child. Continue reading
Does the current jurisprudence on Article 1 of the ECHR create potential human rights problems in the Syrian conflict?
Reports of two British citizens killed by RAF drone strikes in Syria last week have thrown up a whole host of ethical and legal questions. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve has already suggested the decision to launch the attack could be “legally reviewed or challenged”, while Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has made clear that the UK would not hesitate to launch such attacks in the future.
This post assesses the (European) human rights dimension of these targeted drone strikes, particularly in the wake of Al-Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 715 (Admin). I must express gratitude to Dr Marko Milanovic, whose lectures at the Helsinki Summer Seminar and excellent posts on EJIL: Talk! greatly informed this post. Any mistakes are, of course, my own. Continue reading
Brett Wilson LLP v Person(s) Unknown, Responsible for the Operation of the Website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, 7 September (Warby J)  EWHC 2628 (QB) – read judgment
This was a claim in libel by a firm of solicitors who acted for another firm which also claimed against the operators of SFHUK, causing the original site to be shut down (Law Society v Rick Kordowski ). In this case the words complained of appeared on a new site, but despite efforts by the present claimants, it was not possible to find out who was operating it. The site alleged various aspects of mismanagement, including incompetence and fraud. It also quoted a client of the claimant firm who alleged overcharging and who refused to pay their fees. (It is worth noting that the site appears to have been taken down since default judgement was given in this case)
Updated: Well, not exactly. But the outrage attending Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment of animal welfare campaigner Kerry McCarthy to the shadow DEFRA post betrays a level of panic which defies logic. What is wrong with someone concerned with humane animal husbandry being in charge of those who regulate it? See Maria Chiorando’s “A vegan shadow agriculture minister is a good move for farming” for a sane assessment of this particular episode in the post-Corbyn drama.
The timing is perhaps apt: The picture to the left depicts a cow awaiting her slaughter after a long journey through Europe. To register your objection to this practice, join Compassion in World Farming on 9th October in London: https://www.facebook.com/events/141120356236597/