General Medical Council too late with child sex abuse complaint, rules High Court – Robert Kellar

785px-Doctors_stethoscope_1Robert Kellar appeared for D in these proceedings

D, R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) – Read judgment

 

The High Court has strongly affirmed the prohibition against the pursuit of long delayed complaints against doctors in regulatory proceedings. The prohibition arose from the General Medical Council’s own procedural rules. It applied even where the allegations were of the most serious kind, including sexual misconduct, and could only be waived in exceptional circumstances and where the public interest demanded. The burden was upon the GMC to establish a sufficiently compelling public interest where allegations had already been thoroughly investigated by the competent authorities such as the police and social services.

Although the Court’s robust approach is to be welcomed, an opportunity to clarify the relevance of Article 6 ECHR in this context was not taken. The author suggests that Article 6 ECHR has an important part to play in protecting the rights of practitioners facing long delayed complaints.

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Veils and ignorance: defendant not allowed to wear niqaab when giving evidence

Woman wearing hijabThe Queen v. D (R) – Ruling available here.

The ruling by HHJ Murphy in Blackfriars Crown Court this Monday that a defendant in a criminal trial should not be allowed to wear a niqaab (face veil) whilst giving her evidence has prompted calls for a public debate about the wearing of face veils in public more generally. Adam Wagner has already commented on the case hereA summary and analysis of the decision follows below.

The defendant in this case, D, is a woman who is charged with a single count of witness intimidation. When the judge asked D to remove her veil in order to be formally identified for the court’s purposes at a plea and case management hearing, D refused because she believes she should not reveal her face in the presence of men who are not members of her immediate family. As a result, HHJ Murphy listed a special hearing to consider what orders should be made about the wearing of a niqaab during the rest of the proceedings, describing the issue as ‘the elephant in the court room’ which needed to be dealt with early on.

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Court of Appeal laments systemic failures in family justice

CH08-P209-ARe A (a child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1104 – read judgment

Appellate judges are obliged to review systemic failings in the family justice system as a whole, not just the merits of the trial judge’s determination, particularly where the process has deprived the parties of their rights to procedural fairness under Articles 6 and 8.  Whilst this particular appeal was  not “a fitting vehicle to enable a root and branch appraisal of the procedural history of this protracted case”,  McFarlane LJ has taken the opportunity to give full voice to the “profound feeling of failure” felt by Court on the part of the Family Justice system.

The law does its best in the triangulation of estranged parents and their children . But sometimes it does nothing more than concentrate an already toxic mixture of manipulation, mistrust and deception that seeps over the fragile construct of family life that has fallen apart at the start.  As anyone involved with the family justice system would readily agree, the conduct of human relationships, particularly following the breakdown in the relationship between the parents of a child, are not readily conducive to organisation and dictat by court order; nor are they the responsibility of the courts or the judges.  Nevertheless, as the Court of Appeal points out,  “substantive” resources have been made available to courts and judges to discharge their responsibility in matters relating to children in a manner which affords paramount consideration to the welfare of those children “and to do so in a manner, within the limits of the court’s powers, which is likely to be effective as opposed to ineffective.”   Continue reading

More developments under Schedule 7

img_6780706_340Sylvie Beghal v Director of Public Prosecutions, [2013] EWHC 2573 (Admin)read judgment

In a judgment with implications for the detention of David Miranda, the High Court has today dismissed an appeal against a conviction for wilfully failing to comply with a duty imposed by virtue of Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000.

The Court rejected the submission that the Schedule 7 powers in question violated the Appellant’s right under Articles 5, 6 and 8 of the ECHR. However, the Court urged consideration of a legislative amendment introducing a statutory bar to the introduction of Schedule 7 admissions in subsequent criminal trials.

Part of the following report is taken from the Court’s press summary, part is based on the judgment itself.

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“Law is no trade, briefs no merchandise”

supreem-court1In Re Rameshwar Prasad Goyal, Advocate, Supreme Court of India, 22 August 2013, read judgment

For the moment, at least, the idea of Stobart-law, supermarket-law, or call-centre-law as the solution to the increasing cost of criminal justice seems to be on hold. But this broadside from the Indian Supreme Court (including my title) helpfully reminds us that the relationship between judges, advocates and their clients fits with difficulty into the bilateral model of most of the entirely commercialised world. The advocate owes a more complex set of duties to the court as well as to his or her client than are typically found in a haulage contract.

Shri Rameshwar Prasad Goyal, Advocate-on-Record or AOR in this case, is, according to Indian court statistics, a very busy man. He was acting  in 1678 cases in 2010, 1423 cases in 2011, and 1489 cases in 2012. But he has never actually appeared in court on behalf of his clients. Indeed a request from the Court in the present case for him to appear to explain himself was refused – try that in the High Court in the UK. It did not go down well in New Delhi either. The Court, having chucked out his hapless client’s application, declared that Goyal was guilty of conduct unbecoming an advocate, and told him that if he did not do better over the next year (i.e. turn up to court for his clients) he would get struck off.

The underlying facts show the dangers of allowing all of law to be run completely on business lines. Goyal had found an excellent and cost-efficient business niche. But as the Court explained

In a system, as revealed in the instant case, a half baked lawyer accepts the brief from a client coming from a far distance, prepares the petition and asks an AOR , having no liability towards the case, to lend his signatures for a petty amount. The AOR happily accepts this unholy advance and obliges the lawyer who has approached him without any further responsibility. The AOR does not know the client, has no attachment to the case and no emotional sentiments towards the poor cheated clients. Such an attitude tantamounts [sic] to cruelty in the most crude form towards the innocent litigant.

What is it about law that gives rise to this imbalance? If I go into the bread shop, and am asked £10 for my loaf, I walk out, because I know the price of bread. If I go to my lawyer about a case, which as an individual, I may do (if I am unlucky) once in my life, I have little idea of the standard of the service which I might receive. Even if it were Stobart- or Tesco- law, I might hope that they do things reasonably well, but in truth most people would not really know. Indeed most of us expect never to be arrested in our lives, so we don’t know what can be done by our lawyers if we end up there.

That said, turning up to court is normally expected of an advocate. Indeed, a little more than that, as the Court cuttingly observed

Thus, not only is his physical presence but effective assistance in the court is also required. He is not a guest artist nor is his job of a service provider nor is he in a professional business nor can he claim to be a law tourist agent for taking litigants for a tour of the court premises.

“Service provider”, now there is a phrase beloved of those designing our new criminal justice system – necessary, but not sufficient, for justice.

The Court continued by pointing out that in the present era, the legal profession, once known as a “noble profession”,

has been converted into a commercial undertaking. Litigation has become so expensive that it has gone beyond the reach and means of a poor man. For a longtime, the people of the nation have been convinced that a case would not culminate during the lifetime of the litigant and is beyond the ability of astrologer to anticipate his fate.

The  UK system still has to crack the costs of litigation, given the  conflicting difficulties of litigating properly and cost-efficiently for clients, but it is at least working on that hard, But we do seem to have sorted the time it takes to get to answer problems which we set our judges. Timing has been ruthlessly policed by our courts in recent years, so that you need a pretty good excuse for doing something late or slowly. So, unlike the gloomy picture presented by the Indian Supreme Court, most people know whether they have won or lost before they die – so astrologers are not generally necessary.

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David Miranda – Remember his name.

David MirandaOur attitude to anti-terror policing is very strange indeed. In many ways, it is like a magician’s trick. We (the public) turn up at the show with the full intention of suspending our disbelief so as to be entertained and entranced. The magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat, or makes the Statue of Liberty disappear. We applaud, we are entranced.

But we know , somewhere in the back of our minds, that we are being fooled.

As with our safety from terror. We are happy because major terrorist attacks in the UK or US are thankfully rare. We are told about countless attacks which have been thwarted. We applaud, we are entranced. But we know, somewhere, that there must be a price.

That price is our civil liberties. More accurately, that price is the civil liberties of others, who we don’t know but whose faces occasionally drift through the public conscience. Binyam Mohamad, who was tortured by the CIA, apparently with collusion by our own Security Services. Shaker Aamer, who has been detained in Guantanamo Bay without charge for almost 12 years. And it is no secret that many anti-terrorism laws are draconian and involve a huge potential for abuse.

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European Commission fines and their compliance with Article 6

MK-BM057_EUFINE_NS_20110515165102

C-501/11P Schindler v. European Commission, CJEU, 18 July 2013 – read judgment

Two things of general interest to the human rights lawyer in this unsuccessful attempt by Schindler to challenge a fine of a mere €143 million for anti-competitive behaviour before the EU’s top court.

The first is that the Commission’s role as investigator, prosecutor and enforcer was not found to be in breach of Article 6(1) – because its decisions were subject to “full review” by the EU judges. The second is the remark in the CJEU’s judgment that the EU status of Article 6 ECHR will change when the EU accedes to the ECHR – I shall look at whether this change will be formal or substantive, given the presence of an equivalent right in the EU Charter, within Article 47.

Like a lot of decisions involving issues of high principle, the underlying facts do not reflect well on the offending company, in this case Schindler. It, with three other companies (Kone, Otis and ThyssenKrupp), stitched up the lift and escalator markets in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Somebody tipped off the Commission, who conducted a massive investigation, and fined all these companies. As is standard, the process of investigation did not involve any oral hearing, with some limitations on the access by the accused companies to all the material which the Commission received.

As my image shows, cartel fines by the Commission involve big big money, and I dare say they dwarf any fines levied by member states on “true” criminals.

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Standing and judicial review: why we all have a “direct interest” in government according to law – Dr Mark Elliott

RCJ restricted accessAccording to reports in yesterday’s Times (£) and Telegraph, the government is planning a further set of reforms to judicial review. (I have written before about why the original proposals, published in December 2012, were objectionable—and about the fact that the government pressed ahead with many, but not all, of them, excoriating criticism notwithstanding.) Today, it is said that the Ministry of Justice is drastically to restrict the test for standing in judicial review cases. A “government source” told the Times that:

We’re looking at making some changes so that the system isn’t open to abuse by groups who may not have a direct interest in the issue at hand but simply want to cause delay or disruption to plans or generate publicity for themselves.

This fits with the overarching narrative emerging from (certain parts of) government, according to which accountability to law—whether domestic or European—is increasingly characterised as a brake on economic progress, a challenge to democracy by unelected judges, or little more than a public-relations tool that is strategically deployed so as to “play the system”.

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Part 82: The worrying new rules of the Secret Court – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessWhile MPs were dreaming of the imminent long summer break and a possible pay hike, in mid-June the Government produced the draft amendments to the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) necessary to bring Part 2 of the Justice and Security Act 2013 (“JSA”) into force.  Many – including JUSTICE – consider the Act’s introduction of closed material procedures (“CMP”) into civil proceedings unfair, unnecessary and unjustified.  

That one party will present their case unchallenged to the judge in the absence of the other party and their lawyers is inconsistent with the common law tradition of civil justice where proceedings are open, adversarial and equal.   This blog has spent many pages dissecting the constitutional implications of the expansion of CMP in the JSA and its controversial passage through both Houses of Parliament.

Perhaps in a bid to avoid similar controversy, the draft Rules were dropped quietly into the libraries at the Houses of Parliament without fanfare.  Less than two weeks later and without significant change, the Rules were tabled.

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The Times on Abu Qatada

Muslim cleric Abu Qatada prepares to board a small aircraft bound for JordaI have an opinion piece in today’s Times on Abu Qatada. It is behind a paywall so I can’t reproduce it here, but you can probably guess from the title what my theme is: Abu Qatada’s case shows the human rights system worksEnjoy (if you have access).

Here is a taster:

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Public interest environmental litigation in Strasbourg

zimbabwe_environmental_law_association_(zela)Public Interest Environmental Litigation and the European Court of Human Rights: No love at first sight, by Riccardo Pavoni – read article 

Thanks to this link on the ECHR blog, a fascinating account of the twists and turns of Strasbourg environmental case law from Professor Pavoni, of the University of Siena. It is 30 closely-argued pages, so I shall try and give a flavour of the debates Pavoni covers, as well as chucking in my own penn’orth. 

The starting point, as I see it, is that public interest environmental litigation is a square peg in the round hole of Strasbourg case law. The Convention and the case law are concerned with victims of human rights abuses. Environmental degradation affects everyone, but not necessarily in a way which makes them a a Strasbourg victim. Take loss of biodiversity, say the decline in UK songbirds, or the peace of a remote moorland affected by 150m high wind turbines. Who is the potential victim in those cases when judged by human rights? Pavoni argues that if the Strasbourg Court were to assert jurisdiction over environmental cases as a common good, alongside adverse impacts on private victims, this would not result in a major overhaul of the Court’s current principles – not too much expansion of the hole needed to fit the square peg in snugly. How does he reach that position?

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Legal aid and ideology: the new basis for Government reform? – Angela Patrick

UK human rigths blog lipmanIn a famous advert from the 80s, Maureen Lipman picked up the phone to caution her distraught grandson that he could never be a failure if he had an “ology”.  It was perhaps in memory of that fine advice that the Lord Chancellor appeared before the House of Commons Justice Select Committee on Wednesday morning.   For the first time, the language of ideology was openly placed at the heart of the Government’s approach to the reform of legal aid. 

Most of the legal profession is familiar with the controversy of the Government’s latest raft of suggestions for reform of legal aid, in the Transforming Legal Aid consultation paper.  JUSTICE and many others have raised substantial concerns about the Government’s approach. The changes proposed to the provision of criminal legal aid will drastically limit the ability of people accused of crimes by the State to access quality legal advice that they can trust. This will increase the likelihood of miscarriages of justice and may make the criminal justice system as a whole more expensive, and less fair, as more people attempt to represent themselves.

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Will Article 6 come to the rescue after the legal aid reforms? – Guy Mansfield QC

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel, Zack Snyder's Superman movieTan & Anor v Law & Anor (2013) – Currently available on Lawtel 25/6/2013 and Westlaw, BAILII link to follow

The absence of legal representation for defendants to an action for debt who contended they could not speak English resulted in the High Court granting an application that the trial be adjourned for a second time.  The judgment is a good example of the interaction of Article 6 ECHR (right to a fair trial) with the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR). 

The decision by Judge Burrell QC obviously turns on its own facts. But the absence of legal aid, the rise in litigants in person, and the increasing number of persons in this country for whom English is not their first language (or indeed their language at all) mean that this is not likely to be the last such case.

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An ABC on proportionality – with Bank Mellat as our primer

seo-marketing-320x200Bank Mellat v HM Treasury [2013] UKSC 39 (see judgment)

My post of earlier this week explained why the majority of the Supreme Court struck down a direction telling all financial institutions not to deal with this Iranian Bank. The legal ground (involving, as Lord Sumption described it, “an exacting analysis of the factual evidence in defence of the measure” [20]) was that the direction was “disproportionate”. The judgments (particularly the dissenting one of Lord Reed) tell us a lot about the scope of proportionality. And there is a good deal more to it than there might at first sight appear.

So it may be worth doing a bit of a bluffers guide, hand in hand with Lord Reed.

The concept arises in human rights law and in EU law. Its ECHR and EU incarnations derive from German administrative law, but its development in English law shows strong common-law influences. It applies in many different contexts, and the intensity of the review required critically depends on that context as well as the right being interfered with. So it is no simple thing to explain, but Lord Reed at [68] – [76] distils the main elements.

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Supreme Court – Measures against Iranian bank unlawful, and the secret hearing ruling

mellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2013] UKSC 38 (CMP: see judgment) and 39 (main: see judgment)

Two sets of judgments today from a 9-judge Supreme Court in the Bank Mellat case. The first explains why the Court adopted a secret procedure in the absence of the Bank (i.e. a Closed Material Procedure) but added that the whole palaver in fact added nothing to their knowledge. The second concludes that financial restrictions imposed in 2009 on an Iranian Bank which effectively excluded it from the UK financial market were arbitrary and irrational and were also procedurally unfair. 

The saga started when on 9 October 2009 the Treasury made a direction under Schedule 7 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 requiring all persons operating in the financial sector not to have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat. The Treasury said that the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. Continue reading