In the News:
Right to die campaigners have sustained yet another setback, following the judgment of R (AM) v General Medical Council last week.
In the News:
Michael Gove appeared before the Justice Select Committee last Wednesday, in the first true baring of his political mettle as justice secretary. Overall, it seems, the MP made a largely favourable impression, though legal commentators remain wary. UKHRB’s own Adam Wagner deftly compared Gove’s success to “when they gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize…because he wasn’t George Bush”. The “post-Grayling Gove-hope” may, then, prove deceptively shallow, defined by the simple relief that Gove is not Grayling.
Yet Gove’s evidence before the committee was laudable – reasonable, measured, and skifully non-committal. Gove’s comments on the Human Rights Act obliquely signalled the “proposals” will be published “in the autumn”, failing to specify whether they would be accompanied by a draft Bill. His substantive points were similarly vague. The Lord Chancellor invoked the “abuse” of human rights as justification for the repeal of the HRA, before conceding he could not offer a “one-hundred per cent guarantee” that the UK would remain a party to the Convention. Such a position suggests a British Bill of Rights may “seek to limit certain rights”, argues academic Mark Elliot, which would, “quite possibly”, precipitate British withdrawal from Strasbourg altogether. Gove also stressed the role of the judiciary in applying the common law to uphold human rights, holding that “there is nothing in the Convention that is not in the common law”. Such a view is “highly contestable at best, plain wrong at worst”, holds Elliot, whilst Conor Gearty finds it stokes the fantasy of “the civil libertarian common law”. Gove seems to suggest that HRA-repeal and possible ECHR-withdrawal would be “far from earth-shattering events”, Elliot notes, as judges could still invoke a panoply of common-law rights. Whilst Gove is right to remind skeptics that HRA-repeal would not leave domestic judges powerless, such “overstatement” of the common-law rights model “might end up hoist on its own petard….ringing hollower than its cheerleaders”. Continue reading
Laura Profumo brings you the latest human rights happenings.
In the News:
In a critical, though arguably overdue, decision, the Court of Appeal has suspended the fast-track immigration appeals system. The process, under which rejected asylum seekers are detained and given only seven days to appeal, was held “structurally unfair” by the High Court, before being halted altogether by last week’s appeal. The ruling was welcomed by the appellant charity, Detention Action, as meaning “asylum seekers can no longer be detained…simply for claiming asylum”. Previously, the fast-track deadlines could be imposed on any asylum seeker from any country, if the Home Office considered their case could be decided quickly. This marks the third time courts have found the system to be unlawful, yet the suspension will now stay in force until a government appeal is mounted. The decision deals a major blow to a system which is “inefficient, bureaucratic, demeaning and dehumanising”, writes immigration expert Colin Yeo. Whilst there is “no doubt” a replacement fast track will soon be found, in the meantime “let us savour the respite” from such crude expediency.
In other news, the spotlight remains on America, in the euphoric wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v Hodges. The final paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s judgment, in its stirring clarity, is set to make legal history. Yet not everyone is “enveloped in a warm and fuzzy feeling”, writes UKHRB’s own Jim Duffy. Justice Scalia, the firebrand conservative, “pulled no punches” in his dissent, citing the majority opinion as “egotistic” and a “threat to American democracy”. Scalia’s arrival in London last week further stoked the Obergefell debate. Speaking at a Federalist Society event, Scalia held his colleagues had wrongly used the due process clause to distill a substantive, rather than procedural, right. Defending his position as a constitutional originalist, Scalia maintained the meaning of the Constitution as fixed, rather than the “wonderfully seductive judicial theory” of living constitutions, in which “we can have all sorts of new things, like same sex marriage”. When asked about the proposed Bill of Rights, the Justice’s response was particularly biting: “You can’t do any worse than the situation you’re in now”. Continue reading
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In the news
Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed the introduction of a British Bill of Rights, the Queen’s Speech containing only proposals for consultation. Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti has welcomed the development:
“It is heartening that a Conservative Government committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act has at least paused for thought in its first Queen’s speech. There is a long struggle ahead but time is the friend of freedom.”
Debate surrounding the proposed Bill of Rights continues in full force. Proponents of the HRA draw attention to perceived misconceptions advanced by the opposing side. Lord Leveson points out that UK courts are not ‘bound’ by the decisions of Strasbourg (“the legislation only requires us to take them into account”), whilst Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog questions the accuracy of claims that the HRA prevents us from deporting serious foreign criminals. Dr Ed Bates argues in the Constitutional Law blog that the domestic judiciary is more supportive of the ECHR than certain politicians would have us believe. Useful coverage of the views expressed by senior judges is provided here.
Housing: Leading housing charities last month issued a report claiming that the present ‘crisis’ in housing has put the UK in breach of its UN obligations to provide adequate homes. Housing campaigners fear government proposals set to reduce housing benefit for 18-21 year olds will serve to exacerbate the problem. The measures could “spell disaster for thousands of young people who…could be facing homelessness and the terrifying prospect of roughing it on the streets”, warns Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes.
Surveillance: Prominent legal academics have signed a letter calling on the Government to ensure that any changes in surveillance law “are fully and transparently vetted by parliament, and open to consultation from the public and all relevant stakeholders”. The Guardian reports here.
Police: Hampshire Constabulary has admitted a failure to properly investigate the complaint of a victim of rape, who had been accused of lying by the force. An out-of-court settlement was reached with the young woman following commencement of proceedings under the Human Rights Act.
Discrimination: A woman turned down for a job because she observed Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, was successful in her claim for indirect discrimination. The Telegraph reports on the decision.
Gender: An interview with barrister Roy Brown in Halsbury’s Law Exchange examines the significance of recent High Court decisions in JK and Carpenter for transgender rights in the UK.
In the courts
This case concerned the question of legal representation in complex family proceedings. The Court of Appeal held that whilst it may be inappropriate for an unrepresented litigant to conduct cross-examination of his alleged victim, a judge is not entitled to order the Courts Service (HMCTS) to pay for a legally trained advocate to do so on the litigant’s behalf. A court is not permitted to circumvent the detailed provisions for legal aid eligibility set out in LASPO. Further, the result does not amount to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial), since the court has available to it other alternatives. These include the possibility of the judge himself conducting the questioning.
1COR’s David Hart QC analyses the decision here.
UK HRB posts
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Laura Profumo brings us the latest human rights goings on.
In the News:
This afternoon, the new Conservative Government’s legislative plans were announced in the Queen’s Speech. Michael Gove, the recently appointed Justice Secretary, will have to defend his party’s intention to scrap the Human Rights Act, blunting the influence of Strasbourg jurisprudence. As Daniel Hannan observes, Gove faces a “different order of magnitude” in his new role, finding himself up against an “articulate and wealthy lobby” within the legal profession. An “elegant compromise” might be found, Hannan suggests, in amending our extant Bill of Rights to include ECHR freedoms, restoring “our sovereignty and our democracy”.
It is certainly clear that Gove will have to carefully pilot the reforms through Parliament. Lord Falconer cautions that the House of Lords, where the Conservatives don’t have a majority, may prove obstructive:
“If the Conservative measures strike at fundamental constitutional rights, the Lords will throw this back to the Commons”.
The backbencher minority of ‘Runnymede Tories’, forcefully headed by David Davis, will also seek to stall the Bill’s course. Yet, Matthew d’Ancona concedes, “if anyone has the intellectual firepower to square all the circles it is Gove”.
In brighter news, the Republic of Ireland has become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through popular vote. Some 62% of the electorate voted in favour of the reform, with all but one of the Republic’s 43 constituencies voting Yes. The result comes just two decades after the Irish government decriminalised homosexuality, marking a milestone in Ireland’s divisive religious history. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, recognised the vote as a “social revolution”, which requires the Church to “have a reality check, not move into the denial of realities”.
In a prelude to the historical referendum, the ‘Gay Cake’ Case, which has gripped Northern Ireland for the last year, come to a close last week. In a clear decision, it was found that the Christian bakery’s refusal to make a campaign cake the LGBT support group, QueerSpace, amounted to direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The outcome has not been welcomed by all. TUV leader Jim Allister lamented it a “dark day for justice and religious freedom”, whilst Melanie McDonagh, writing in the Spectator, found the decision inversely “intolerant and discriminatory”, forcing a Presbyterian business to promulgate a message “at odds with their belief”. Yet talk of religious persecution is besides the point, argues academic Colin Murray. The case concerned the “ability to do the banal and ordinary things in life without these activities becoming the subject of public opprobrium”. It was not, as McDonagh suggests, a case of cake artisans’ ‘right to ice’, but the right of the public to lawfully contract with a business, irrespective of “how that public is constituted”.
Following the decisive vote across the border yesterday, many hope that Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is still prohibited, will follow suit. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has advocated a referendum: “This is a matter of whether or not we want to live in a modern progressive society that respects minorities”. Now that Northern Ireland has their cake – it remains to be seen whether the idiom will ring true.
In Other News:
In the Courts:
“We can be sure of one thing. A battle is coming.” The future of the Human Rights Act still dominates the news, and this quote comes from UKHRB’s Adam Wagner, who suggests five tactics to ensure that human rights are not eroded. Perhaps the most in-depth analysis to date comes from Jack of Kent, who isolates the “seven hurdles” facing the government, including Scotland, Tory backbench rebels, the House of Lords and the wording of the “British Bill of Rights” itself. He summarises:
So the current situation is: if the UK government can address the immense problems presented by Scottish devolution and the Good Friday Agreement, win-over or defeat Conservative supporters of the Act, shove the legislation through the house of lords, work out which rights are to be protected, somehow come up with a draft Bill of British Rights, and also explain why any of this is really necessary, and can do all this (or to do something dramatic) in “one hundred days” then…the Conservatives can meet their manifesto commitment in accordance with their ambitious timetable. But it seems unlikely.
Jack of Kent´s conclusion is echoed by Matthew Scott in the Telegraph (“Gove…faces almost insurmountable odds”), Mark Elliott in Public Law for Everyone (“the HRA…is far more deeply politically entrenched that the UK Government has so far appreciated”) and the Economist (“getting rid of the HRA will be tough – and almost pointless”). Continue reading
In the news
‘The Conservative Party has won a majority and can implement its manifesto. The Human Rights Act will be scrapped,’ writes Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog. Such an outcome might not be a foregone conclusion, but Professor Mark Elliott is clear that ‘repeal of the HRA, the adoption of a British Bill of Rights and perhaps even withdrawal from the ECHR are now less unthinkable’.
Questions surrounding the content of the proposed Bill of Rights have therefore assumed increased urgency. A press release issued in October 2014 spoke of limiting the rights of illegal immigrants, travellers, victims of British military abuse and foreigners who commit crimes in the UK. Yet as UKHRB founder Adam Wagner notes, ‘only foreign criminals were mentioned in the manifesto, so it is all to play for.’
The HRA has failed to secure resilience in domestic politics. Benedict Douglas for the UK Constitutional Law blog attributes this failure to an absence in the Act of a ‘justification for rights possession in dignity or any other foundational human characteristic’. Mark Elliott points to the manner of its introduction: little effort was made ‘to engage the general public in what was perceived to be a political and legal elite’s pet project’.
Current discussions could thus present an opportunity, argues Adam Wagner for RightsInfo. A ‘Bill of Rights, done properly with real public involvement might help convince people that human rights are for all of us.’
For those looking to read more about human rights reform:
The Human Rights Act and a Question of Legitimacy – Barrister Austen Morgan considers the advantages of a British Bill of Rights for The Justice Gap.
What does a Conservative Government Mean for the Future of Human Rights in the UK? – Professor Mark Elliot puts together a useful list of recent posts he has written on Conservative plans for reform.
In the courts
The case concerned the imposition of administrative fines on individuals who had been acquitted by the criminal courts of the same offence. The ECtHR found a violation of the right to a presumption of innocence (contra. Article 6 ECHR) and also the right not to be tried or punished twice (Article 4 of Protocol No.7).
‘In Conversation with Sir Stephen Sedley’ – As part of LSE’s Legal Biography Project, Sir Ross Cranston will interview Sir Stephen Sedley on his life and career in the law. The event will be held on 19 May in the Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building. More information can be found here.
UK HRB posts
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