Wearing the veil in schools: the debate continues – Clive Sheldon QC

527355094_b1aededd8a_bLast week the Prime Minister entered into the debate on the wearing of veils by Muslim women in schools. This week, it is the turn of the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshire. The Chief Inspector has said that:

The Prime Minister and Secretary of State are right to give their backing to schools and other institutions which insist on removing face coverings when it makes sense to do so.

I am concerned that some heads and principals who are trying to restrict the wearing of the full veil in certain circumstances are coming under pressure from others to relax their policy. I want to assure these leaders that they can rely on my full backing for the stance they are taking.

I have also made clear to my inspectors that where leaders are condoning the wearing of the face veil by staff members or by pupils when this is clearly hindering communication and effective teaching, they should give consideration to judging the school as inadequate.

I am determined to ensure that discrimination, including on the grounds of gender, has no place in our classrooms. We want our schools, whether faith schools or non-faith schools, to prepare their pupils equally for life in 21st century Britain. We need to be confident our children’s education and future prospects are not being harmed in any way.

What are the legal issues for schools? Continue reading

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

Special Guest Post by Professor Robert Wintemute

Professor-Robert-WintemuteOn 19-20 January, the England and Wales High Court (Mrs. Justice Andrews) heard the judicial review of the ban on different-sex civil partnerships brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan. It was argued on behalf of the supposedly LGBTI-friendly UK Government (represented by Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities) that the High Court should follow two anti-LGBTI decisions from 2006. Continue reading

Jeremy Hyam: Mere negligence may breach Art 2 in NHS hospital cases

In the Chamber Judgment (currently available only in French) in the case of Lopes de Sousa Fernandes v. Portugal (App. No. 56080/13) decided just before Christmas, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that there was both a substantive (by 5 votes to 2) and a procedural (unanimous) violation of Article 2 in the case of the death of the Applicant’s husband in circumstances where there was a negligent failure to diagnose meningitis shortly after (successful) nasal polyp surgery, even though that negligent failure was not necessarily causative. This very surprising outcome is important, and may be seen as a radical departure from the established case law of the Court on the necessary threshold for establishing an Article 2 violation in State (i.e. NHS) hospital cases. It also underlines the increased importance of informed consent in clinical negligence cases when viewed from a human rights perspective. Continue reading

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

 

Supreme Court: Failure to disclose evidence did not breach Art 6

Macklin v Her Majesty’s Advocate [2015] UKSC 77, 16th December 2015 – read judgment

The Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal against a decision of Scotland’s High Court of Justiciary (available here) in which it refused to overturn a criminal conviction on the basis that the non-disclosure of evidence breached the appellant’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Facts

On 26th September 2003, Paul Macklin was convicted of possessing a handgun in contravention of section 17 of the Firearms Act 1968 and of assaulting two police officers by repeatedly presenting the handgun at them. At trial, the key issue was the identification of the gunman, with both police officers identifying the appellant in the dock. Two witnesses testified that the man in the dock was not the gunman, however, their evidence was undermined for various reasons including discrepancies in police statements and unreliable alibis.

Several years later, following a change in practice regarding the disclosure of evidence, the Crown disclosed the fact that a fingerprint from another individual with a serious criminal record had been found in a car abandoned at the scene of the crime. The Crown also disclosed statements from six further individuals who had seen the incident.

The High Court’s Decision

Macklin appealed against his conviction on the grounds that the Crown had failed to disclose material evidence, and that by leading and relying on dock identifications without having disclosed that evidence and without an identification parade, the Lord Advocate had infringed his rights under Article 6 ECHR.

The Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary dismissed his appeal. The court held that the fingerprint evidence and three of the undisclosed statements neither materially weakened the Crown case nor materially strengthened the defence. Whilst the other three statements should have been disclosed, there was not a real possibility of a different verdict had there been disclosure. Finally, leading dock identifications from the two police officers without an identification parade did not infringe Article 6.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court first dealt with the issue of its jurisdiction. Under section 124(2) of the Criminal Procedure Scotland Act 1995, every interlocutor (decision) and sentence of the High Court of Justiciary is final, conclusive, and not subject to review by any court. However, under section 288ZB of the 1995 Act, as inserted by section 35 of the Scotland Act 2012, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear an appeal concerning the question of whether a public authority has acted compatibly with the ECHR. As the question raised by the appellant was whether the conduct of the prosecution was compatible with Article 6 the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to hear the matter.

As the European Court of Human Rights explained in Edwards v United Kingdom the question of whether a failure of disclosure breached Article 6 had to be considered in light of the proceedings as a whole. Translating the Strasbourg approach into domestic law in McInnes v HM Advocate (available here), Lord Hope set out two stages to the analysis. First, should the material which had been withheld from the defence have been disclosed? The test here was whether the undisclosed evidence might have materially weakened the Crown case or materially strengthened the defence. Second, taking into account all of the circumstances, was there a real possibility that the jury would have arrived at a different verdict in the event of disclosure?

The appellant challenged the High Court’s conclusion that some of the undisclosed material did not have to be disclosed under Article 6 on the basis that under current Crown practice the evidence would be disclosed. The Supreme Court dismissed this argument. For Lord Reed the argument was a “non sequitur” and Lord Gill described it as “specious”. The fact that the evidence would now be disclosed did not mean that non-disclosure breached Article 6.

Regarding the evidence which should have been disclosed, the appellant argued that the High Court had failed to apply the second part of the test from McInnes. The Supreme Court also rejected this argument. As it was confined to compatibility issues, the Supreme Court could only ask whether the High Court had applied the correct test, not whether it had applied the test correctly. The Crown’s submission to the High Court was expressly founded on the McInnes test and, by reciting the words of the test, the court made clear that it had applied it. The appellant tried to argue that the High Court’s conclusions on the second part of the McInnes test were so manifestly wrong that it had not in reality applied that test. However, this was essentially an argument that the High Court had applied the test incorrectly and the Supreme Court was not prepared to entertain it. The High Court had applied the correct tests for the purposes of Article 6 and found that the appellant’s trial was fair.

In the end, the role of the Supreme Court was limited. As Lord Reed made clear, the court was not sitting as a criminal appeal court exercising a general power of review. The Article 6 issues had been authoritatively determined by the High Court of Justiciary when it dismissed Macklin’s appeal against his conviction. All the Supreme Court could do was ensure that in exercising its appellate function, the High Court had applied the appropriate Article 6 tests as set out in McInnes.

MoJ signals interest in specialist courts – the Round-up

Lady Justice above the Old Bailey in London

Photo credit: The Guardian

In the news

The Ministry of Justice has signalled an interest in the potential of specialist courts for cases of domestic abuse. It has been considering a report published last week by the Centre for Justice Innovation, which recommends an integrated approach whereby criminal, family and civil matters would be heard under a ‘one judge, one family’ model.

The report highlights evidence from the United States, Australia and New Zealand that integrated courts increase convictions and witness participation, lower re-offending, enforce protection orders more effectively and reduce case processing time. Victims would no longer find themselves “jumping from forum to forum” to resolve matters that are “all facets of the same underlying issue.”

Specialist domestic abuse courts could moreover use post-sentence judicial monitoring of perpetrators, and place a greater emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders. In a speech to the Magistrates’ Association, justice secretary Michael Gove said he had been “impressed” by the potential of problem-solving courts during a recent visit to the US, and was “keen to look more” at what could be done in this area.

However, the proposals under examination are unlikely to allay fears that government cuts are putting women at risk. Under the ECHR, domestic authorities have a duty to “establish and apply effectively a system by which all forms of domestic violence [can] be punished,” and ensure “sufficient safeguards” are provided for the victims [Opuz v Turkey].

Yet current safeguards are under considerable strain, with domestic abuse incidents reported to the police having increased by 34% since 2007/2008. Campaigners warn that austerity measures, which have led to Portsmouth City Council recently announcing a “sizeable reduction” of £180,000 to its domestic abuse service, are likely to put further pressure on authorities already at breaking point.

Other news

  • Daily Telegraph: The Government has announced plans to establish an improved help-line for victims of modern slavery, which will be set up with a £1 million contribution from Google. The service will be modelled on a similar helpline in the US, which provides advice to people who have been subjected to forced labour or servitude, and collates data to combat human trafficking.
  • The Guardian: Health inspectors from the Care Quality Commission have issued a report critical of the wide variations of treatment received by people detained under the Mental Health Act. The inspectors found no evidence of patients’ views being considered in a quarter of the care plans examined, which Deputy Chief Inspector Dr Paul Lelliott said could “hinder their recovery, and lead to potential breaches in meeting their human rights.”
  • BBC: A High Court judge has ruled Lord Janner unfit to plead, with the result that the former politician will not stand trial over allegations of indecent assault and sexual abuse. Mr Justice Openshaw found that the 87-year-old peer had “advanced and disabling dementia that has deteriorated and is irreversible”. A “trial of the facts” is scheduled to take place next April.
  • Civic institutions, laws and practices need to better reflect the UK’s less religious, more diverse society, according to a report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. The Commission, led by former High Court judge, Baroness Butler-Sloss, has suggested that schools should no longer face a legal requirement to provide daily acts of worship of a Christian character, and has pointed to a number of “negative practical consequences” of selection by religion in faith schools. The Guardian reports.

 In the courts

The case concerned the complaints of seven Lithuanian nationals that the conditions of their detention in various correctional facilities had fallen short of standards compatible with article 3 of the Convention. In particular, it was submitted that they were held in overcrowded dormitory-type rooms. Some of the applicants further maintained that they were detained in conditions that violated basic hygiene requirements, and that they lacked access to appropriate sanitary facilities.

The Court found that the compensatory remedies made available by the Lithuanian authorities had been insufficient. It held that there had been a violation of article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of four of the applicants, and made awards of pecuniary compensation accordingly.

This case concerned the asylum applications of two Afghan nationals who married in a religious ceremony in Iran when ZH had been 14-years old. The Swiss authorities did not deem the couple to be legally married, and considered their applications separately, resulting in the removal of RH to Italy after the rejection of his appeal. The applicants alleged that the expulsion of RH amounted to a breach of article 8 ECHR (the right to family life).

The Court held that article 8 of the Convention could not be interpreted as imposing on a member state an obligation to recognise a marriage contracted by a child, in view of article 12 (right to marry) which expressly provided for regulation of marriage by national law. At the time of the removal of RH to Italy, the Swiss authorities had been justified in considering that the applicants were not married. The Court therefore found no violation of article 8.

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.

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.