EU judges oppose accession of EU to ECHR

Dog_SeatOpinion of CJEU, 18 December 2014 – read Opinion

Well, here’s a thing. The EU top court in Luxembourg has decided that it is somehow against the EU treaties for it to defer in specific instances to the other European top dog, the ECtHR in Strasbourg.

Accession of the EU to the ECHR has been a very slow-burn process, with the Commission starting things off in 1979 (sic). The breakthrough, or so it appeared at the time, was the entry into force of Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty of European Union, in December 2009. This (Art.6(2)) makes it a treaty obligation  that the EU

“shall accede to the ECHR”.

Nice and simple then? No, not exactly, when you look at the extremely complex  Draft Agreement on Accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, concluded in April 2013- my post here. This seeks to make the adjustments to both the EU and ECHR institutions enabling a non-state organisation such as the EU to sign up to the ECHR.

One of the steps contemplated by the draft Agreement was the obtaining of an opinion from the CJEU on whether the Agreement was compatible with the EU Treaties. And the CJEU’s firm “non” to that question will inevitably set back the process, if not lead to its complete derailment.

The Opinion has already been well analysed by Aidan O’Neill QC here and Steve Peers here, neither in terms flattering of the CJEU. It is of some importance, so here is my penn’orth.

 

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Consultation again – this time for dentists

simple-consultation-y200British Dental Association v. General Dental Council [2014] UK EWHC 4311 (Admin) 56, Cranston J, 18 December 2014 - read judgment UPDATED

Philip Havers QC and Jeremy Hyam of 1COR were for the successful Claimants in this case. They had no part in the writing of this post.

The Supreme Court has very recently reviewed the law on consultation and unlawfulness in the Moseley case (read judgment, and my post here). The present case is a good illustration of those principles in practice.

Dentists have to be registered with the General Dental Council. The GDC regulate them and may bring proceedings against them if their fitness to practise is impaired. All that regulation has to be financed by annual fees, and the current challenge by the dentists’ trade union (BDA) was to a decision by the GDC to raise the annual fee to £890 per dentist.

As I shall explain, Cranston J decided that the consultation in advance of that decision was unfair and hence unlawful.

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Time for human rights to get down to business? – Adam Smith-Anthony

open-for-business4Businesses, governments and civil society descended on Geneva last week for the 2014 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, the largest global gathering in the business and human rights field. There were lofty statements of high ambition but the pervasive tone and success of the Forum was more prosaic: nitty-gritty implementation.

It was a conference dedicated to developing and sharing the best practices capable of shifting businesses from showcase philanthropy to real accountability, from vague aspirations to measurable impacts, and from a race to the bottom to a competition to be recognised as world leading. It was a call for real action; as one panel moderator told his coffee-clutching audience early on Day 3: “I want to see dust on everybody’s shoes”.

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Restrictions on books in prisons declared unlawful by the High Court

Cornerstone-bookshopR (on the application of Gordon-Jones) v Secretary of State for Justice and Governor of HM Prison Send [2014] EWHC 3997 (Admin)read judgment

Contrary to what some media reports would have us believe, Prison Service Instruction (“PSI”) 30/2013 did not impose an absolute ban on books in prisons. It did, however, impose severe restrictions on the possession or acquisition of books which a prisoner can treat as his or her own. The High Court has found that those restrictions could not be justified by the limited provision of prison library services and are therefore unlawful.

The Claimant is a prisoner serving an indefinite sentence for the protection of the public at HMP Send. She has a doctorate in English literature and a serious passion for reading. The books she wants to read are often not the sort which are required by fellow prisoners or readily available through the prison library (the Dialogues of Marcus Aurelius and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, for example, crop up in the judgment) and she therefore relies on having books sent or brought to her by people outside the prison.

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Couple launch challenge to heterosexual bar on Civil Partnerships

Charles-Keidan-and-Rebecc-012

Photo credit: guardian.co.uk

For some reason, this post originally appeared in the name of Colin Yeo. It is not by Colin Yeo, but by Martin Downs. Apologies for that.

The future of civil partnerships is again in the news. In October, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan tried to register a Civil Partnership at Chelsea Town Hall but were rebuffed on the grounds that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 reserves that status strictly for same sex couples. Their lawyer, Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors has announced their intention to seek a judicial review and the couple have also started a petition.

Steinfeld and Keidan have rightly identified that CPs provide virtually the same rights and responsibilities as marriage that it is within the gift of government to provide. One of the few differences concerns pension rights and even this will be considered by the Court of Appeal in February 2015.

However, the couple are attracted by civil partnership as a social construct that comes without the historical baggage of patriarchal dominance/subjection of women. They also take aim at the sexist customs that surround it such as “giving the bride away,” virginal white dresses and hen and stag do’s.

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Why Somali pirates got damages from Strasbourg

disaster2008_Ponant14Ali Samatar and others v. France, 4 December 2014, ECtHR, Fifth Section, read judgment 

There is a good deal of froth about this case in the media, with little of it looking at what our pirates got their damages for. I also suspect that some of the hostility comes from elements who may not wish to trouble themselves with a judgment only in French. So let’s have a quick look at what the case was actually about. 

The surrounding facts are terrifying but France’s liability to pay damages occurred for mundane reasons, as we shall see.

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Who’s afraid of Protocol 15? Not the Joint Committee on Human Rights – Alice Donald

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights this week published a report of its inquiry into whether the UK should ratify Protocol 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As the report states, Protocol 15 is the culmination of the UK Government’s contribution to the process of reform of the European Court of Human Rights, which was the UK’s top priority during its Chairmanship of the inter-governmental arm of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers, in the first half of 2012.

The JCHR identifies as the most significant aspect of Protocol 15 the addition to the Preamble of the Convention of an express reference to the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ and the doctrine of ‘the margin of appreciation’. The Committee welcomes this amendment and recommends that the UK should ratify the Protocol – but only after it has been debated in both Houses as a means of raising members’ awareness of its significance.

This post focuses on the implications of Protocol 15 for the UK’s increasingly turbulent relationship with the Convention system, and for the wider debate about the purported ‘democratic deficit’ created by supranational judicial supervision of domestic democratically-accountable authority.

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