Doogan and Wood v. NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board  CSIH 36 – read judgment here and Alasdair Henderson’s commentary here
It is easy to become complacent about women’s reproductive rights in mainland Britain. Compared to our Irish neighbours, women here are able to access their chosen contraceptive, abortion and maternity services with relative ease. When Savita Halappanavar died after she was refused an abortion in Galway, commentators lamented a system where a woman could be told by healthcare staff that she couldn’t have an abortion because Ireland is a Catholic country. We imagined that such events could not happen here. A recent judgment of the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Session (the Scottish Court of Appeal) shakes that belief. Of most concern is that the court failed to engage with the human rights implications of its decision.
Our abortion law is found in the Abortion Act 1967. Section 1 makes abortion lawful only when it has been authorised by two doctors who attest that continuing the pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s physical or mental health, or where the child would ‘suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. In effect, all abortions, save those for fetal abnormality, are performed on the basis that there is a threat to the woman’s physical or mental integrity as a result of pregnancy. Section 4 excuses a person from ‘participating in any treatment’ under the Act if they express a conscientious objection to abortion. As the Abortion Rights campaign points out, the law gives doctors control over women’s informed choices about their pregnancy that can lead to damaging delays in accessing abortion services.
Much of the House of Lords debate surrounding yesterday’s Second Reading of the Care and Support Bill focused on seeking solutions to complex issues around the future provision of care. Additionally, as several peers flagged, the Bill also provides a timely opportunity to clarify which bodies have legal obligations to uphold protections under the Human Rights Act. Baroness Campbell noted “those who receive their care not from a public authority but from a private body lack the full protection of the Human Rights Act…[This] is a loophole that must be closed.”
Section 6 of the Human Rights Act essentially creates a legal duty to respect, protect and fulfil certain human rights (drawn from the European Convention on Human Rights). This duty is placed on public authorities and those performing “public functions”. The second type of body – those performing public functions – has proved somewhat awkward in practice, particularly in relation to those who receive care services.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is back before Parliament today for the “Report Stage”. The latest version of the Bill is here, updated explanatory notes here, and the full list of proposed amendments here. Predictably, the amendments are the focus of much controversy.
I have written a new article for the New Statesman on some of the myths and realities surrounding the debate - you can read it here. It’s all a bit complicated, as you might expect.
Our previous coverage is linked to below. Hopefully, party politics won’t end up derailing this important bill. As the New Yorker recently predicted
One day, not long from now, it will be hard to remember what worried people so much about gay and lesbian couples committing themselves to marriage.
One of the most contentious proposals in the Consultation Paper on the transforming legal aid is the removal of client choice in criminal cases. Under the proposals contracts for the provision of legal aid will be awarded to a limited number of firms in an area. The areas are similar to the existing CPS areas. The Green Paper anticipates that there will be four or five such providers in each area. Thus the county of Kent, for example, will have four or five providers in an area currently served by fifty or so legal aid firms. Each area will have a limited number providers that will offer it is argued economies of scale.
In order to ensure that this arrangement is viable the providers will be effectively guaranteed work by stripping the citizen of the right to choose a legal aid lawyer in criminal cases. Under the new scheme every time a person needs advice they will be allocated mechanically by the Legal Aid Agency to one of the new providers. It may not be the same firm the person has used before. The citizen will therefore not be able to build up a relationship with a solicitor. From a human rights perspective this, of course, begs the question would the removal of choice be compatible with the ECHR?
N.K.M v. Hungary, ECtHR, 14 May 2013, read judgment
Those of a certain age will remember when top tax rates in the UK were 98%. This was the marginal rate of tax in this successful claim that such taxation offended Article 1 of the 1st Protocol (A1P1) – the peaceful enjoyment of possessions. But the very wealthy seeking to safeguard their bankers bonuses may not obtain too much comfort from the Strasbourg ruling, as the facts were fairly extraordinary.
The applicant had been a Hungarian civil servant for 30 years until her dismissal (with many others) in July 2011. Long-standing rules gave her 8 months severance pay. The 98% tax rate was introduced in 2010; it was then successfully challenged in the Hungarian Constitutional Court. On the day of the Court’s adverse judgment, the tax was re-enacted, but this time the 98% rate was applied to pay exceeding 3.5m forints – c. £10,000 – and, further, only where the earnings came out of specified categories of public sector employees.
A fresh challenge in the Constitutional Court annulled the retrospective effect of this law, but could not as a matter of jurisdiction review the substantive aspects of the tax. So the applicant went to Strasbourg to challenge the tax when deducted from her pay.
A quick post to draw your attention to the British Institute of Human Rights’ excellent new publication, Mental Health Advocacy and Human Rights: Your Guide (PDF).
The Guide is aimed at non-lawyers, is attractively presented and looks very useful indeed. From the BIHR launch site:
This Mental Health Awareness week, BIHR is pleased to launch Mental Health Advocacy and Human Rights: Your Guide, our latest practical resource to help respect and protect the human rights of people with mental health problems. This guide has been produced with Mind Brighton and Hove, Wish and NSUN, three of the partner organisations involved in our Human Rights in Healthcare project.
Aimed at both advocates and people who use services, this handy guide explains how the Human Rights Act can be used in mental health settings to secure better treatment and care for people. It draws on real life stories of how laws and legal cases can be used in everyday advocacy practice, providing helpful flow-charts, worked through examples and top tips.
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GROSS v. SWITZERLAND – 67810/10 – Chamber Judgment  ECHR 429 – Read judgment / press summary
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Swiss guidelines for doctors prescribing lethal drugs were too unclear and therefore breached article 8 ECHR, the right to private and family life. Ms Gross sought a prescription for a lethal drug to end her own life. She has no critical illness, but is elderly and feels that her quality of life is so low that she would like to commit suicide. The Swiss medical authorities refused to provide her with the prescription.
Assisted dying and the right to die have been firmly back in the spotlight this week, with the cases of Lamb and “Martin” going to the English and Wales Court of Appeal. Mr Lamb is taking up the point made by Tony Nicklinson in the High Court, before his death, that doctors should have a defence of necessity to murder charges in cases of assisted suicide. Mr Nicklinson’s widow, Jane, is continuing his fight too. The cases also challenge the current guidelines on when prosecution should be brought for assisting suicide. You can read more about the background to the right to die caselaw here.
I have written an article for the New Statesman on the announcement in today’s Queen’s Speech about Article 8 ECHR. It is here. Enjoy!
For more, see:
Doogan and Wood v. NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board  CSIH 36 – read judgment here
The Inner House of the Court of Session (the Scottish civil court of appeal) ruled last week that two midwives from Glasgow could not be required to delegate to, supervise or support staff on their labour ward who were involved in abortions.
The ruling makes it clear that the conscientious objection provision in s.4 of the Abortion Act 1967 has very broad scope. This probably means that the General Medical Council (GMC), the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will all need to change their guidance on the subject, since the existing versions take a much narrower view. This judgment affects England and Wales as well as Scotland (since the Act covers all three countries), but not Northern Ireland.
The facts of the case, and the original decision of Lady Smith in the Outer House of the Court of Session are covered in our previous blog post here.
Faulkner, R (on the application of ) v Secretary of State for Justice and another  UKSC 23 - read judgment
The Supreme Court has taken a fresh look at what is meant by the Human Rights Act exhortation to take Strasbourg jurisprudence “into account” when fashioning remedies for violations of Convention rights, in this case the right not to be arbitrarily detained under Article 5.
These appeals concerned the circumstances in which a prisoner serving a life sentence or an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection (“IPP”), who has served the minimum period specified for the purposes of retribution and deterrence (the “tariff”), and whose further detention is justified only if it is necessary for the protection of the public, should be awarded damages for delay in reviewing the need for further detention following the expiry of the tariff.
Appellate courts do not ordinarily interfere with an award of damages simply because they would have awarded a different figure if they had tried the case. However, as the Supreme Court was being asked in this case to give guidance on quantum, the Court determined the level of the award that would adequately compensate the appellants. Continue reading
R (on the application of T) v Legal Aid Agency (formerly Legal Services Commission)  EWHC 960 (Admin) Collins J, 26 April 2013 read judgment This successful challenge to a decision by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) arose from an expert assessor in family proceedings – not unnaturally – refusing to begin work unless funding was in place. If the LAA are asked to fund an assessment on behalf of a party with legal aid, then it is common for lawyers to obtain prior authority from the LAA to ensure that the expert will be paid for their work. If not, then the lawyers themselves can be liable for an expert’s costs. In this case, prior authority to pay for the expert assessment had been refused by the LAA thus resulting in further court hearings and delay in the resolution of the case for the children.
The application for judicial review of the LAA came before Collins J. He concluded that:
For the reasons given the decision of the defendant was wrong in law. Reasons have not been given. This might not have led to any relief beyond a declaration if I were persuaded that the only result could be that the decision was confirmed. Not only am I not so persuaded but I find it difficult to see that it would be reasonable, at least without engaging with the judge whether in writing or orally, to fail to comply with what she has decided is necessary. Continue reading
Y and Z (Children), 25 April 2013  EWHC 953 (Fam) – read judgment
Having children is a lottery. No judge or court in the land would sanction the regulation of childbearing, however feckless the parents, unsuitable the conditions for childrearing, or unpromising the genetic inheritance.
Adoption on the other hand is stringently regulated, set about with obstacles for prospective parents, and strictly scrutinised by an army of authorities backed up by specialist family courts and a battery of laws, statutory instruments and guidance papers. Usually the filtering is in one direction only: the suitability of the parents to the child or children up for adoption. But sometimes it goes the other way, and this case raises the fascinating and somewhat futuristic question of whether children’s chance of finding a suitable home might be increased by genetic testing.
The circumstances were somewhat exceptional here, since the local authority had ascertained from the biological father of the two young boys in question that they might have a chance of inheriting a rare genetic disorder of the central nervous system. Huntington’s Chorea is caused by a single gene mutation on chromosome IV and causes damage of the nerve cells and areas of the brain which in due course leads to severe physical, mental and emotional deterioration. Anyone whose parent has the disease is born with a fifty per cent chance of inheriting the gene. Anyone who inherits the gene will, at some stage, develop the disease. Continue reading
What is the test the Court should apply in deciding whether an application is ‘totally without merit’? The question is prompted by the Lord Chancellor’s announcement on 23 April 2013 that he will press ahead with plans to reform judicial review procedure to target ‘weak, frivolous and unmeritorious cases’. A key change will be to give judges of the Administrative Court, when refusing permission to apply for judicial review on the papers, the power to certify a claim as ‘totally without merit’ (TWM), thus depriving the claimant of the right to renew the application before the court at an oral hearing.
This power is one that is already exercisable by judges when refusing applications for permission to appeal on the papers under Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) r. 52.3(4A), the effect of which is to prevent the appellant from renewing the application orally. However, it is better known – or, at least, more widely used – in the context of the courts’ jurisdiction to make ‘civil restraint orders’ under CPR 3.11. Indeed, the Administrative Court has had power to certify an application as TWM for the purposes of making a ‘civil restraint order’ since those rules were introduced in 2004 (see R (Kumar) v Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs  1 WLR 536). Although no statistics are currently available for this use of the power to certify a claim as TWM, according to Lynne Knapman, Head of the Administrative Court Office, these are now being collated for applications made since the beginning of 2013.
Salvesen v. Riddell  UKSC 22, 24 April 2013, read judgment
When can an agricultural landlord turf out his tenant farmer? The answer to this question has ebbed and flowed since the Second World War, but one element of the latest attempt by the Scottish Parliament to redress the balance in favour of tenants has just been declared incompatible with Article 1 of the 1st Protocol (A1P1) as offending landlords’ rights to property. The Supreme Court has so ruled, upholding the Second Division of the Court of Session’s ruling in March 2012.
The reasoning is not just of interest to agricultural lawyers either side of the border. But a brief summary of the laws is necessary in order to identify the invidiousness of the new law as identified by the Court – and hence its applicability to other circumstances.
As will be seen from my postscript, the decision of the court below to the same effect appears to have had tragic consequences.