Chakrabarti debates Clarke on secret courts bill

ClarkerabartiThe Constitutional and Administrative Bar Association (ALBA)  hosted an invigorating debate on Tuesday night, pitting Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke against Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, over the question of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) in civil claims, as proposed in the Justice and Security Bill.

The Bill is currently going through the parliamentary process, having reached the report stage in the House of Commons on 4 March 2013. Of particular note to those with an interest in human rights are the proposals to introduce CMPs into civil damages actions, where allegations such as complicity in torture by the UK intelligence agencies are made.

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The BAILII lecture: No Judgment, No Justice

For justice to be seen to be done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses. They must be clearly written so that a reasonably well informed member of the public can understand what is being decided. But they must also be available to the public, and in this sense their accessibility depends on their being reported.

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, so stated in the first BAILII annual lecture, hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP at their premises in Fleet Street last night. The full speech can be read here.

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The 21st Century Coroner

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 has created the office of Chief Coroner, plucked at the very last minute from the Coalition’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’.  On Friday, the first Chief Coroner, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, delivered The Howard League for Penal Reform’s 2012 Parmoor Lecture.

Six weeks into his post, Judge Thornton presents a frank exposition of the challenges facing the system he now heads, sets out what he considers to be its purpose, and charts its remarkable genesis.

Coroners have, it seems, occupied for the best part of a millennium a peculiar pocket of public life, adapting their function and purpose over time in a manner not always understood by those working outside the system, or even by they themselves.  From the Articles of Eyre to the 2009 Act, via Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart (the latter does not come out well), the Chief Coroner describes how ‘crowners’, as they were originally known, have evolved from lay magistrates or collectors of fines, to the judges they are today. Continue reading

Why we allow dissent – by our judges

Why do judges disagree and publish their disagreements when cases get decided? After all, the Cabinet does not do so (openly at least), and our FTSE-100 companies do not generally do so, when their executives propose a merger or launch a new product.  Surely, judicial dissent is a recipe for diminishing the authority of the majority answer, and an invitation to self-indulgence on the part of the minority to re-fight lost and irrelevant battles.

Lord Kerr has given a very persuasive answer to both concerns in the Birkenhead lecture on 8 October 2012. But it is worth thinking about the alternative way of doing things, before making up your mind on whether the current way is the best way.

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Outlawing god?

Interested in the interaction between religion and law? If so, you will be interested in an event I am helping to organise this coming Monday 23 July at 6:30 for a 7pm start. There are a few tickets remaining – click here for details and booking , which is essential. The event is raising money for free legal advice clinics run by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Nb. the event is separate from the blog and 1 Crown Office Row, but hopefully will be of interest to some of our readers…

OUTLAWING GOD? The clash of the courts with religious believers

A “Question Time” style panel discussion of one of today’s most important and controversial issues:

Featuring a superb expert panel:

  • Joshua Rozenberg (chair) – Britain’s best known legal commentator;
  • Dr Evan Harris – Former MP and author of The Secular Manifesto ;
  • Rabbi Michael Laitner – Assistant Rabbi, Finchley United Synagogue (Kinloss), qualified solicitor;
  • John Bowers QC – Deputy High Court Judge and leading barrister with expertise in discrimination law;
  • Dinah Rose QC – Leading public law and human rights barrister. Acted for the pupil in ‘the JFS case’.

Monday, 23 July 2012, 6:30pm for 7:00pm, followed by a reception with canapés and wine

Tickets: £20 – all details here

Norton Rose LLP, 3 More London Riverside, London SE1 2AQ

Supreme Court judge on war, intelligence and the retreat of judicial deference

The recent standoff  between two leading judicial lights, Jonathan Sumption and Stephen Sedley, may make for entertaining reading, but don’t be fooled.

Like the heated question of whether a non-entrenchment clause could be dug into our law to protect UK parliamentary sovereignty, this one wasn’t about law, or even constitutional theory; it was essentially about differing ideological positions vis a vis judicial power.

Joshua Rozenberg welcomes Sumption’s latest speech as indicative of his supportive stance  on judicial activism, particularly in the foreign policy sphere.  I don’t agree. In his  FA Mann Lecture  last November Sumption pinned his colours to the mast on judicial activism in general, and this latest fascinating survey of foreign policy case law illustrating the retreat of judicial deference must be read in that light. Continue reading

When their Lordships open their mouths extra-judicially …

Do Lord Phillips, Baroness Hale and other members of the judiciary have the right to say what they think? At first glance that seems like a ridiculous question. Firstly, it is their job to express their views on the legal disputes coming before them on an almost daily basis. Secondly, to look at it from an entirely different perspective, they enjoy the same protections granted by article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) as the rest of us. Of course they have the right to say what they think.

But what about when they are acting in a non-judicial capacity – when they are giving speeches or participating in conferences or being interviewed? What about when the topic of discussion is not a narrowly defined legal point but a more politically charged issue of public debate? The answer must be the same. They have the right to express their views, but whether or not they should is a more nuanced question. This was the topic selected by the Lord Neuberger MR in his Presidential Address to the Holdsworth Club on 2 March 2012.

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The democratic legitimacy of human rights

Why should we bother with the European Convention on Human Rights? Many of those that would never contemplate leaving the ECHR still question whether we should abide by controversial decisions such as those on prisoners’ voting rights or deportation. UCL’s Professor Richard Bellamy attempted to answer this question at the Statute Law Society’s talk on Monday evening. He said that the UK should abide by the ECHR, which gains its legitimacy by being the best way for democratic states regulate their relationships and protect their citizens’ rights.

The talk was entitled ‘The Democratic Legitimacy of International Human Rights Conventions’ (IHRCs). Although perhaps not in such terms, this is a topic that exercises many every week: from those questioning who exactly decides which human rights are the ones that count, to those asking why ‘unelected judges’ in Europe can tell a democracy how to govern itself. Professor Bellamy started by noting that mature democracies are generally less keen on IHRCs; at the post-war inception of the ECHR, he said it was Germany and Italy showing most enthusiasm. Even now, many ‘democratising’ countries show less opposition to Europe’s human rights structures.

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Former Top Judge hits back at current Top Judge

Sir Stephen Sedley, until last year of the Court of Appeal, has launched a stinging rebuttal to the speech of Lord Sumption (Jonathan Sumption QC as was) in which the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice rebuked the judiciary for failing to stay out of the political arena.

This blog covered Lord Sumption’s speech here. Sir Stephen’s response in the London Review of Books takes issue with Lord Sumption’s assertion of excessive judicial interference in political matters, with the words:

there is a repeated insinuation that judicial interference in the political process regularly occurs: ‘The judicial resolution of inherently political issues is difficult to defend.’ It is not only difficult to defend; it does not happen.

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What you can do with rights – Justice Edwin Cameron

On 25 January 2012 Justice Edwin Cameron, Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, delivered an emotive and thoughtful talk entitled “What you can do with rights”. The Law Commission’s annual Lord Scarman Lecture covered apartheid, AIDS denialism, LGBT rights and delved into the essence of moral humanity. It was a lecture delivered with skill and fluency, with only the slight dissatisfaction being the vagueness of Justice Cameron’s conclusion: that legal rights allow people to achieve some progress, but they don’t solve every problem.

Justice Cameron has occupied a seat on the highest judicial bench of South Africa for three years. He was made a judge by President Nelson Mandela in 1994, when his country was emerging from the systemic violence that the apartheid system had wrought on human rights. This position gives him authority, but it is his personal experience that lent the lecture gravitas. The Justice was diagnosed as HIV positive at a time when the true scale of the epidemic was being realised, and publicly fought for access to the anti-retroviral drugs that saved his life at a time when the scale of his government’s folly in denying them to millions was becoming equally clear.

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Attorney General nuances the PM’s dig at European Court

The Prime Minister’s speech at the Council of Europe (see our coverage here) has attracted significant press attention over the past week – ranging from flag-waving, sabre-rattling support to criticism from Sir Nicholas Bratza (the British President of the Court).

Hot on the heels of Cameron’s address on Wednesday, the Attorney-General Dominic Grieve gave a speech on Thursday which set out in further detail the Government’s plans for reform of the European Court of Human Rights and the incorporation of human rights into UK law.

The full text of the Attorney-General’s speech is not yet available (although a similar speech he gave last year and his own speech to the Council of Europe can be found here). However, it was interesting to compare his comments with those of David Cameron just a day before.

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