ECtHR judge ponders on EU/ECtHR dogfight, and recent trends of timidity in the ECtHR

david_thor_bjorgvinssonA Political Decision Disguised as Legal Argument: Opinion of CJEU 2/13 – and other things

Over the summer an interesting article was published by Graham Butler, on his interview with David Thor Björgvinsson, former Icelandic judge in the European Court of Human Rights – see here.

One subject was the CJEU’s refusal to permit accession by the EU to the ECtHR (see my post here) – despite the EU’s commitment to accede via Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty, in December 2009. A Draft Agreement on Accession was concluded in April 2013, but it required the obtaining of an opinion from the CJEU on whether the Agreement was compatible with the EU Treaties – to which the CJEU gave a dusty answer in December 2014.

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Picket lines in General Franco’s Britain – the Round-up

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.”

Other news:

  • 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.

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Challenge to prosecution policy on assisted suicide in Scotland fails – Fraser Simpson

Holyrood-GettyRoss, Re Judicial Review, [2015] CSOH 123 – read judgment

The Outer of House of the Court of Session has refused an individual’s request for clarification of the prosecution policy relating to assisted suicide in Scotland.

Factual Background

The Petitioner, Mr Ross, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and currently resides in a care home due to his dependence on others. Although not wishing to currently end his life, Mr Ross anticipates that in the future he will wish to do so and will require assistance.

In July 2014, the Petitioner requested from the Lord Advocate – the head of the prosecution service in Scotland – guidance on the prosecution of individuals who assist others to commit suicide. The Lord Advocate replied that such cases would be referred to the Procurator Fiscal – the Scottish public prosecutor – and dealt with under the law of homicide. The Lord Advocate further stated that decisions regarding whether prosecution would be in the public interest would be taken in line with the published Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Prosecution Code (“COPFS Code”). However, he admitted that it would often be in the public interest to prosecute such serious crimes as homicide. Continue reading

Controversial named person scheme upheld by the Court of Session

The Christian Institute (and others) v Scottish Ministers [2015] CSIH 64, 3rd September 2015 – read judgment

The Court of Session’s appeal chamber – the Inner House – has unanimously rejected challenges to the Scottish government’s controversial named person scheme. Three individual petitioners, as well as The Christian Institute, Family Education Trust, The Tymes Trust, and Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), contested the appointment of named persons and the scheme’s provisions for data sharing.

The Named Person Scheme

The named person scheme is part of a package of measures introduced by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. According to the Scottish government, the aim of the legislation is to ensure that the rights of children are respected across the public sector. Continue reading

Supreme Court: no-win-no-fee costs regime compatible with Article 6

11769Coventry v. Lawrence [2015] UKSC 50, 22 July 2015, read judgment here

The pre-April 2013 Conditional Fee Agreement system, under which claimants could recover uplifts on their costs and their insurance premiums from defendants, has survived – just. It received a sustained challenge from defendants to the effect that such a system was in breach of their Article 6 rights to a fair trial.

In a seven-justice court there was a strongly-worded dissent of two, and two other justices found the case “awkward.”

The decision arises out of the noisy speedway case about which I posted in March 2014 – here. The speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. On an initial hearing (my post here), the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they ordered a further hearing to decide whether this was compatible with Article 6 .

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Divisional Court strikes down DRIPA communications data law

David-Davis-Tom-Watson-HOCR (ota Davis et al) v. Secretary of State for Home Department [2015] EWHC 2092 – 17 July 2015 read judgment

When a domestic Act of Parliament is in conflict with EU law, EU law wins. And when a bit of the EU Charter (given effect by the Lisbon Treaty) conflicts with an EU Directive, the EU Charter wins.

Which is why the Divisional Court found itself quashing an Act of Parliament on Friday – at the behest of four claimants, including two MPs, the Tories’ David Davis and Labour’s Tom Watson. 

The doomed Act is the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 or DRIPA. It was in conformity with an underlying EU Directive (the Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC or DRD – here). However, and prior to DRIPA, the DRD had been invalidated by the EU Court (in the Digital Rights Ireland case here)  because it was in breach of the EU Charter.

All this concerns communications data, which tell us who was sending an email, to whom, from where, and when – but not the content of the email. DRIPA in effect compels telecoms providers to keep communications data for 12 months, and to make it available to public bodies such as intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

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TTIP news, and whether the UK should encourage big business to sue it

GET_3A2_shutting_down_nuclear_plants_lQuite a lot has happened in the 6 months since my post here on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is a proposed trade agreement between the US and the EU, with negotiations on the substantive issues between the EU and the US underway in Brussels at the moment.

The proposed treaty may have significant effects on EU regulation, but let’s concentrate on whether TTIP should contain specific provisions enabling investors to sue governments.

The ground for action would be governmental “expropriation” of investments – and that may mean anything from telling a cigarette manufacturer that he must have to change what his packets look like, (with consequential loss of profits), to imposing new environmental standards on a power generating plant.

This mechanism is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. Our government seems astonishingly sanguine about this, on the basis that it has not yet been sued successfully under existing bilateral treaties with similar provisions. This does not seem to be a very profoundly thought-through position to adopt, if the proposed system has its problems – which it plainly does, when one compares it with traditional claims in the courts. Put simply, why wave it on?

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