Visa scheme exposes workers to abuse -the Round-up

In the news

Domestic worker visas are leaving women vulnerable to conditions of abuse that amount to modern slavery, according to an independent review commissioned by the Home Office.

The current system ties overseas domestic workers to the foreign employer who brought them into the UK. Approximately 17,000 visas were issued under the scheme last year, with the large majority of applications coming from the Gulf States.

Workers have no legal right to change their employer, and are liable to deportation if they escape their situation. Campaigners argue that such restrictions expose women to the risk of serious ill treatment, with domestic workers being subjected to physical and sexual violence, deprivation of food and non-payment of wages.

The review of the scheme reinforces these concerns, finding “no evidence that a tie to a single employer does anything other than increase the risk of abuse and therefore increases actual abuse.” It recommends that workers be permitted to change employers and remain in the UK for up to two and a half years.

The Government has stated that it is “carefully considering the report’s recommendations” and would announce its response “in due course.”

In other news:

BBC: An independent investigation into concerns about Yarl’s Wood immigration centre has found no evidence of a “hidden or significant problem of serious misconduct” by staff at the facility. However, the report raised concerns that staffing levels had to some extent “undermined and compromised” the care of residents.

The Guardian: The Upper Tribunal has ordered the Secretary of State for the Home Department to admit to the UK four asylum seekers, currently residing in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. The Tribunal ruled that the three unaccompanied minors and the dependent adult brother of one of them should be allowed to live with their relatives already in Britain while their asylum claims are examined.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that there is now “an industry trying to profit from spurious claims” against UK military personnel which he plans to “stamp out”. However, lawyers have noted that the government has agreed to pay compensation in over 300 cases of abuse, and have urged Mr Cameron not to challenge the principle that no-one is above the law. The BBC reports here.

In a letter written to the Guardian, UK lawyers have sought to draw attention to the plight of human rights defenders in Honduras. Between 2010 and March 2015, the national commissioner of human rights recorded the targeted killings of 91 lawyers. The statement calls for greater protection by the Honduran state for those whose lives are at risk.

In the courts

Ivanovski v The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

This case concerned lustration proceedings brought against the former president of the Constitutional Court of Macedonia, which resulted in his dismissal from office.

The Court found that the proceedings, taken as a whole, had not satisfied the requirements of a fair trial. The Court attached particular importance to the open letter, published by the Prime Minister while lustration proceedings were still pending, which denounced the applicant as a collaborator of the secret police of the former regime. In view of the content and manner in which it was made, the statement was held to be incompatible with the notion of an “independent and impartial tribunal”. The Court therefore found a violation of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial).

UK HRB blog posts

Court of Session: Murderer’s prison conditions fair – Thomas Raine

UK Government tells High Court: Same-sex couples may be shut out of Article 14 – Professor Robert Wintemute

Stop Powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 incompatible with Article 10 – David Scott

Events

UCL will be hosting a lecture by Professor George Letsas – The Moral Dimension of Proportionality. The event will take place at 18.00 on the 17 March 2016. More information can be found here.

Saudi execution of political prisoners sparks protest – the Round-up

The first round=up of 2016 is brought to you by Hannah Lynes.

In the news

The interior ministry of Saudi Arabia has confirmed this week that it has executed 47 people in a single day. Included among those put to death was prominent Shia  cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had been a vocal supporter of the 2011 anti-government protests in the country’s Eastern Province.

The execution of Sheikh Nimr has provoked demonstrations across Iran, Bahrain, Iraq and Shia-majority areas in Saudi Arabia. A spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry has said that the Saudi Government would pay “a heavy price” for its actions, while the US state department has expressed concern that the execution “risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.”

International human rights organisation Reprieve has noted with alarm that “the Saudi Government is continuing to target those who have called for domestic reform in the kingdom”, with at least four of those executed having been convicted of offences related to political protest. The organisation said it had “real concerns” that protestors Ali al-Nimr (Sheikh Nimr’s nephew), Dawoud al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, sentenced to death as children, would be “next in line”.

A statement released by the UK foreign office has emphasised that “the UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country.” But despite the much-criticised record of Saudi Arabia on human rights, it recently emerged that Britain had entered into a vote-trading deal with the kingdom to ensure the election of both states to the UN human rights council.

The UK Government has also come under pressure to discontinue its supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia, in circumstances where its bombing campaign in Yemen has led to thousands of civilian deaths. In a legal opinion commissioned by Amnesty International, lawyers from Matrix Chambers concluded that authorisation of the transfer of weapons to the state would “constitute a breach by the UK of its obligations under domestic, European and international law.”

In other news:

The Guardian: A gay British man has avoided extradition to Dubai on charges of theft. A judge at Westminster magistrates court ruled that the UAE had failed to provide adequate assurances that the trial and treatment of Mr Halliday, given his circumstances, would meet the required human rights standards.

The Telegraph: Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC has expressed concern that the Government is undermining freedom of information laws, and is “obsessively secretive”about things that should be in the public domain. The latest  releases by the National Archives included only 14 files for the years 1987 and 1988, whereas last year more than 500 files were released.

The Law Society and the Bar Council have issued a joint call for legally privileged communications data to be protected by express provisions in the investigatory powers bill. Current proposals have been criticised as threatening a common law right traceable back to the 16th Century. The Law Society Gazette reports.

The Independent: Senior civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood is understood to be opposed to the implementation of any major reforms to the Freedom of Information Act. A Government commission is considering proposals to introduce charges for information requests and stricter rules for the obtaining of information.

In the Courts:

This case concerned an allegation of inconsistent case-law amounting to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial). The applicants complained about the rejection of their civil claims against Serbia by domestic courts, and the simultaneous acceptance by the same courts of other claims which were based on similar facts and concerned identical legal issues.

The Court reiterated the principle that an assessment of whether conflicting decisions of different domestic courts were in breach of Article 6 consisted in establishing whether “profound and long-standing differences” existed in the relevant case-law. The Serbian judiciary had, generally speaking, harmonised their case-law on the matter, and the rejection of the applicants’ cases was exceptional. The possibility of conflicting court decisions was an inherent trait of any judicial system based on a network of trial and appeal courts with authority over a certain area. That in itself, however, could not be considered to be in breach of the Convention. The Court therefore found no violation of Article 6.

Events

If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email Jim Duffy at jim.duffy@1cor.com

 

10 human rights cases that defined 2015

Supreme Court

Photo credit: Guardian

It has been a fascinating year in which to edit this Blog. Political and social challenges – from continued government cuts to the alarming rise of Islamic State – have presented new human rights conundrums that have, as ever, slowly percolated to the doors of the country’s highest courts. And all this during the year of an astonishing General Election result and amid continually shifting sands around the future of the Human Rights Act. Continue reading

The Round-Up: NI Change in Abortion Laws, and the Lord’s Prayer Ban

Photo credit: GuardianLaura Profumo considers the latest human rights headlines.

In the News

The High Court in Belfast today ruled that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHCR) brought the case to extend abortion to cases of serious foetal malformation, rape and incest.

The Abortion Act 1967 does not extend to Northern Ireland: abortion is only allowed there if a woman’s life is at risk, or if there is a permanent risk to her mental or physical health. In this judicial review, it was held that the grounds for abortion should be extended, though it is still to be determined whether new legislation will be required to give effect to the ruling.

Continue reading

Prison law failing trans people: the Round-up

 

In the news

LGBT campaigners have called for an urgent reform of the law, following the death of 21 year-old transgender woman Vicky Thompson in an all-male prison. Ms Thompson had previously said that she would take her own life if she were placed in a prison for men.

The system of locating transgender people within the prison estate has recently come into criticism after transgender woman Tara Hudson was placed at HMP Bristol, an all-male establishment. Ms Hudson spoke of being sexually harassed by other prisoners, before a petition signed by more than 150,000 people led to her eventual transfer to a women’s prison. Statistics from the US suggest that transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely than the general prison population to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated.

Under the current rules, in most cases prisoners must be located “according to their gender as recognised under UK law”, although the guidance allows discretion where the individual is “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process.” But the case of Vicky Thompson has been said to show that “the law is simply not working. For people living for years as women to be sent to serve sentences in prisons for men is inviting disaster.”

Responding to a question on the issue, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous has stated that the government intends to implement “revised policy guidance… in due course.”

In other news:

  • The Guardian: The Metropolitan Police has issued an unreserved apology and paid substantial compensation to women who were deceived into forming long-term intimate sexual relationships with undercover police officers. The police force acknowledged that the relationships had been “a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma.”
  • BBC: Members of the public and journalists will be permitted to attend the majority of hearings in the Court of Protection, where issues affecting sick or vulnerable people are heard. The new pilot scheme is intended to provide greater transparency, whilst safeguarding the privacy of the people involved.
  • MPs on the justice select committee have called for the scrapping of the criminal courts charge, voicing “grave misgivings” about whether it is “compatible with the principles of justice.” The charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on convicted criminals, and is not means-tested. In its report, the parliamentary committee expressed concern that the charge, which is higher for those convicted after pleading not guilty, was creating “perverse incentives” affecting defendant behaviour. The BBC reports here.
  • The Legal Voice: The Ministry of Justice has announced that the introduction of duty provider contracts will be postponed until 1 April 2016. A number of legal proceedings have been issued, challenging the legitimacy of the procurement process. The decision has been welcomed by the Bar Council, which has consistently opposed measures it claims would “damage access to justice and the provision of high quality advocacy services.”
  • BBC: A couple from north west London have been found guilty of keeping a man enslaved in their home for 24 years, in “a shocking case of modern slavery.” The couple had “total psychological control” over their victim, threatening that if he left the house he would be arrested by police as an illegal immigrant.

In the courts

The Court found that a family of asylum seekers evicted from an accommodation centre had been exposed to degrading treatment, in violation of their rights under article 3 ECHR. The family had been left in conditions of extreme poverty, without basic means of subsistence for a period of four weeks. The Belgian authorities had not paid due consideration to the vulnerability of the applicants, who had small children including a seriously disabled daughter.

UK HRB posts

Best interests, hard choices: The Baby C case – Leanne Woods

Events

If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the details to Jim Duffy, at jim.duffy@1cor.com.

The Round-Up: Plaudits for Gove, and the Constitutional Convolutions of the Ministerial Code.

michael-Gove_2566694bLaura Profumo serves us the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

At the Howard League for Penal Reform AGM last week, Michael Gove held his own when challenged about criminal justice reform. Despite his Making Prisons Work speech in July, and his successful overturning of his predecessor’s prison book ban, Gove has remained relatively reticent on his plans for the criminal justice system. Speaking for some 30 minutes, Gove addressed the “need to move away from the sterile debate of ‘lock people up or let them out’”, and summon a “new era of talking about crime and punishment”. His audience, many still bristling from Grayling’s stringency in office, were won over by the Lord Chancellor’s more peaceable approach to penal reform. In addition to emphasising the need for a more sensitive sentencing framework, Gove urged for the causes of criminality to be tackled, including the “moral absence” experienced by many offenders growing up in care. In contrast to Grayling’s perceived complacency over prison conditions, Gove recognised the current “crisis”, pledging his commitment to his “new for old” prisons policy – replacing ineffective Victorian prisons with functional new ones – as well as to improving the autonomy of prison governors. The Lord Chancellor also proposed the use of more advanced technology in prisons, in order to improve the safety of staff and inmates, and to meet the particular educational needs of prisoners with learning difficulties. The conference ended on an especially poignant note, with Gove expressing his admiration for social workers – words which left Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League “blown away”.

It remains to be seen whether the Autumn Statement, unveiled later this month, will affirm Gove’s ambitious plans. Yet his moral framework for policy choices bodes well, informing the ongoing debate on the prison system with a quieter rhetoric of hope and realism. Continue reading

The Round-Up: Gove’s Gallop to the Commons

michael-Gove_2566694bLaura Profumo delves into the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

In an “exclusive” last weekend, The Independent revealed that the government is planning to “fast-track” a British Bill of Rights into UK law. The report claimed a 12-week consultation will run from late this year, which will seek to clarify that the UK will not pull out of the ECHR. In an “unusual but not unique” move, a Bill will then proceed straight to the House of Commons, without a preliminary Green or White Paper. With the EU referendum due in 2017, ministers are anxious to extricate the ECHR question from that of EU membership, making the Bill law before the in/out campaigns begin. Yet the Bill’s Parliamentary passage will be far from seamless. A cabinet minister has cautioned that the short timescale is “aspirational”, as the Bill could be “really clogged up in the House of Lords”. The upper chamber, where the Conservatives fail to command a majority, hosts some “seasoned lawyers”, who are fearful of the fallout with Strasbourg. It is understood that Gove will visit Scotland before the consultation is published, to convince the SNP to back the proposal. Yet it is not yet clear whether Gove will visit Northern Ireland and Wales as well, where he must also secure support. If the Bill is to reach the statute books before the MPs’ summer recess, it will need to be propounded in the next Queen’s speech, due in May 2016. Continue reading