Article 2 and combat immunity – where next after Al-Skeini and Susan Smith?

British_soldier_during_Operation_Desert_ShieldR(Long) v Secretary of State for Defence [2014] EWHC 2391 (Admin) – read judgment

When will a court order an inquiry into the deaths in combat of soldiers serving overseas? Following recent judgments of the English and Strasbourg courts extending the application of the European Convention on Human Rights to zones of armed conflict overseas in certain circumstances, the question is likely to arise frequently over the coming years. In R(Long), the Divisional Court strongly endorsed the doctrine of combat immunity and appeared to set its face against the recent rise in claims against the MoD by soldiers deployed abroad and their next of kin.

This claim involved the deaths of six military police, who were murdered by an armed mob in Majar-al-Kabir, Iraq on 24 June 2003. They were visiting an Iraqi police station and, contrary to standing orders, did not have an iridium satellite telephone with them. The Oxfordshire Coroner had previously held an inquest into the deaths, which opened in 2004 and closed with an unlawful killing verdict on 31 March 2006. He dealt with the lack of effective communications equipment in a Rule 43 report (now a Report to Prevent Future Deaths), but it could not be said in the circumstances that, had they had a radio, their lives would have been saved. As the coroner said, the only person who might have been able to help them in time was the commander of a nearby paratroop patrol and he thought it possible that “had he endeavoured to help, I would be holding an inquest into the deaths not of six brave men but of 18” – [49].

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Private nuisance – Article 6 and the costs conundrum

400px-Ffos_Y_Fran_open_cast_mine,_Merthyr_TydfilCoventry v. Lawrence [2014] UKSC 13, 23 July 2014, read judgment and Austin v. Miller Argent [2014] EWCA Civ 1012, 21 July 2014 read judgment

Two important cases in the last few days showing how difficult it is to find a fair way to litigate private nuisance cases.  Most of these claims have a modest financial value, but may raise complex factual and expert issues, even before you get to the law. The first case I shall deal with, Coventry, shows the iniquities of the recently departed system. The second, Austin, the dangers of the new.

Coventry is the sequel to the speedway case about which I posted in March – here. The”relatively small”  local speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. More than half of this was no-win-no-fee uplift and insurance premium combined. Indeed, the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they have ordered a further hearing to decide whether such a costs bill was in breach of Article 6 of the ECHR.

Austin is a claim concerning noise and dust affecting the claimant’s house close to an open-cast mine on the edge of Merthyr Tydfil: see pic. Before I go further, I should say that I represented Mrs Austin at an earlier stage of these proceedings.

In the present hearing, she unsuccessfully sought an order limiting the costs which she might have to pay if she lost the litigation (a protective costs order or PCO).

So each case is about a costs burden, which is capable of causing injustice to one or other party.

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Government still on the standing warpath


706x410q70fdb2ae613e49ab38bae8e09d0a46a228O (R o.t.a) v. Secretary of State for International Development [2014] EWHC 2371 (QB) 14 July 2014  read judgment

One proposal of the Lord Chancellor on reforming judicial review last year was the narrowing of the tests for standing, namely the ability to come to court and complain about some public law unlawfulness: see, e.g. here. The idea of statutory reform of standing was later shelved, but the current case is an interesting example of the Government probing the boundaries of the tests laid down by the courts.

The underlying dispute concerns the funding of international aid to Ethiopia by DFID. Mr O is an Ethiopian citizen who says he was the victim of human rights abuses in the course of a programme to re-settle villagers in new and larger communes – this programme (the Commune Development Programme or CDP) is said to involve forced internal relocation. As a result, O fled to Kenya, leaving his family behind. There is evidence of widespread human rights abuses perpetrated in this process of “villagisation”.

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The Tory human rights “car crash”

Car crash human rights

Imagine you are on the board of large corporation. You attend the Annual General Meeting and asked the chief executive about that controversial tax avoidance scheme the company had been considering, but which the in-house legal team had advised against. The Chief Exec smiles and says that has been dealt with: “we just sacked the lawyers”. 

The BBC is reporting what many suspected. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC was sacked in order to clear the path for major reform of the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. This is bad news, for the UK and potentially for the European Court of Human Rights too.

The Attorney General’s advice, which has been leaked to the BBC, was that plan to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights were “incoherent” and a “legal car crash… with a built-in time delay“. Intriguingly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson also reports that William Hague, the now-former Foreign Secretary, also raised doubts over the plans.

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The paradox beneath Strasbourg’s French veil ban decision

french-veil-ban-001S.A.S v France (Application no. 43835/11) – read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected a challenge to a French law which prohibits the wearing of veils in public. The ruling is, of course, of great political and media interest, but it is also significant from a legal perspective. In a lengthy and detailed judgment, the Court ultimately accepts that, as a matter of principle, a government can legitimately interfere with the rights of individuals in pursuit of social and cultural cohesion.

On 11th April 2011, Law no. 2010-1192 came into force in the French Republic. Subject to certain limited exceptions, the law prohibits anyone from wearing any clothing which conceals their face when in public places, on pain of a 150 euro fine, and/or compulsory citizenship classes. Whilst phrased in general terms, the most obvious effect of the law, and its clear intention, is to ban the niqab (a veil that leaves only the eyes visible) and the burka (a loose garment covering the entire body with a mesh screen over the face).

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The non-residents legal aid case – LC advised to go for the ball, not for his opponent’s shins

roy-keane_1342720cPublic Law Project  v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary

Angela Patrick of JUSTICE has provided an excellent summary of this important ruling, which declared a proposed statutory instrument to be ultra vires the LASPO Act under which it was to have been made.  The judgment is an interesting one, not least for some judicial fireworks in response to the Lord Chancellor’s recourse to the Daily Telegraph after the hearing, but before judgment was delivered. 

But more of that after some thoughts on the discrimination ruling.

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Plan to stop non-residents getting Legal Aid is unlawful, rules High Court – Angela Patrick

PLP v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary

Residence Test UKHRBAs the House of Lords is scheduled to vote on the Government’s proposals for a residence test for access to legal aid, Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE considers today’s judgment of the Divisional Court in PLP v Secretary of State for Justice.

While we are all following the exciting live feeds on both the reshuffle and the progress of emergency legislation on surveillance, the freshly appointed Attorney General, Jeremy Wright MP, may want to cast his eyes to BAILLI.

The Administrative Court may this morning have handed him one of his first “to-do” list items.   In – PLP v Secretary of State for Justice - a rare three judge Divisional Court has held that the Government’s proposal to introduce a residence test for legal aid – where all applicants will have to prove 12 months continuous lawful residence in the UK – is both ultra vires and discriminatory.

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Successful A1P1 claims by photovoltaics

Breyer Group plc and others v Department of Energy and Climate Change [2014] EWHC 2257 (QB) – Coulson J read judgment 

This is an important judgment on governmental liability for a rather shabby retrospective change of the rules about subsidies for photovoltaic schemes. The Court of Appeal had decided in 2012 that the changes were unlawful: see judgment  and my post here.  The question in Breyer was whether businesses could obtain damages under A1P1 arising out of the Secretary of State’s decision. Though the judgment proceeds on a number of assumed facts, some critical findings of law were in favour of the businesses.

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Family comes first (even if they’re in Poland)

Adoption blueP (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 888 – read judgment here.

1 Crown Office Row’s Martin Downs represented the parents in this appeal (not at first instance), but is not the author of this blog post.

In this successful appeal against care and placement orders in respect of a young infant with Polish parents, the Court of Appeal were sharply critical of comments made by the first instance judge which made it clear he had closed his mind at an early stage to the possibility of the baby being looked after by her grandparents in Poland. The Court held that both the judge and the local authority had failed to give sufficient weight to their positive obligation under Article 8 to consider ways of retaining a child within the family.

The parents in this case were Polish nationals who moved to England in 2011. Their daughter was born in September 2012. For the first five-and-a-half months of the little girl’s life, there were no concerns about the care she was receiving from her parents. However, in February 2013 she was taken to her local hospital in Warrington with a head injury which was found to be non-accidental and probably inflicted by the father. On discharge from hospital the baby was taken into foster care. Proceedings were instituted and after several hearings before HHJ Dodds concluded in December 2013 with an adoption placement.

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Another “Bedroom Tax” Challenge Fails

Bedroom taxRutherford and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWHC 1613 (Admin) – Read judgement here.

At the end of May, the High Court ruled that the reduction in Housing Benefit under Regulation B13 of Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations – commonly dubbed “the bedroom tax” - did not unlawfully discriminate against a family with a disabled child requiring an additional bedroom for overnight careers because the shortfall was covered by discretionary housing payments.

The case involved three Claimants: Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their 14-year-old grandson Warren. Warren suffers from a profound disability requiring 24-hour care from at least two people. Mr and Mrs Rutherford need the assistance of two paid careers for two nights a week. The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow rented from a housing association and specifically adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Mr and Mrs Rutherford sleep in one room, Warren in another, and a third room is used as a bedroom for overnight carers and to store medical equipment.

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You cannot be serious! Peers call ‘out’ on Government’s judicial review reforms – Angela Patrick

mcenroeLast night saw the House of Lords’ first reaction to the Government’s proposed changes to judicial review as the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill had its second reading.   Already dissected at some length in this blog, the proposals have been roundly criticised by both the senior judiciary and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.   Consultations responses, including from JUSTICE, expressed concern that the measures appear, by design or coincidence, to undermine the rule of law, inhibit transparency and shield the Government from judicial scrutiny. Two key concerns arise from the Government proposals: restricting access for individuals without substantial means and limiting the courts’ discretion to do justice in the public interest. Yesterday’s debate was robust and eloquent, with former Law Lords joined by bishops and backbenchers alike to condemn the new measures.  

Metaphors were rife. Descriptions of the Government’s proposals ranged from Lord Woolf’s invocation of the image of Governmental wolves among some unlikely judicial sheep, to the titular and topical tennis imagery used with devastating effect by Lord Brown of Eaton –under-Heywood:

“More and more areas of our lives are controlled by public authorities. At the same time we have become understandably, I suggest, less trusting and certainly less deferential towards those with authority over us. I sometimes wonder whether it did not all start with John McEnroe’s outraged questioning of line calls at Wimbledon way back in the 1970s. However, we should consider how in the long run his behaviour has contributed to the hugely improved policing of those lines that is in operation today…By the same token, the use of judicial review has to my mind undoubtedly raised the standards of public decision-making in recent years.” (Col 1591) Continue reading

Supreme Court revises confiscation order via A1P1

_41773060_mtic_carousel416x302R v Ahmad and others [2014] UKSC 36, 18 June 2014 – read judgment

A bit of a familiar refrain in which A1P1, the right to property, comes in and stops an order being made which would otherwise be lawful under statute: see my recent post here on the Eastenders case.

The case concerns confiscation proceedings following the conviction of two sets of defendants for carousel fraud.  A carousel fraud involves setting up a whole series of paper transactions to generate an apparent entitlement to reclaim VAT from the tax man: see the pic for an example. The VAT is repaid, at which point the money, and the fraudsters, disappear into the dust. But in these cases, they were found, prosecuted and confiscation orders made against the individuals to try and get the money back.

In the first case, the Ahmad defendants ran a company MST, and took £12.6m (£16.1m uprated for inflation) off the taxman. In the second, the Fields defendants got £1.6m (including inflation) via their company, MDL.

In each case, the order was made in those sums against each individual defendant. So each Ahmad defendant was ordered to pay £16.1m, even if some of that £16.1m was thereafter repaid by another defendant. It was this element of the order which the Supreme Court revised.

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Whose Magna Carta is it anyway?

90291Yesterday was Magna Carta Day. It is now only 364 days until the 800th anniversary of the sealing of England’s oldest charter of rights, and one of the world’s most influential legal documents.

There will be much celebration in the coming year, and rightly so. Despite its age, Magna Carta is still partly on our statute books. It represents the first legal constraints imposed on the English king by his subjects. It has influenced every major rights law since – notably, the United States Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which are very much still in force.

According to the Magna Carta Trust, there will be eight century beer, festivities, new books, an opera, a calypso tribute and even a new roundabout on the A308 at Runnymede. And if a new roundabout isn’t “English” enough for you, there will of course be lots of dressing up in silly costumes.

But along with celebration, there will be disagreement. It has already started. Continue reading

Secret trials – a little transparency, a lot to worry about – Lawrence McNamara

RCJ restricted accessGuardian News and Media Ltd -v- AB CD – Read preliminary judgment

The Court of Appeal has published its decision in Guardian News Media v AB and CD. It is not a judgment, the Court says. Judgments – plural – will be given “in due course.” Still, the 24 paragraph decision contains the order and explanation of the order, and gives an indication of some of the reasons that will follow.

Is this a good decision? It is better than it might have been, but there are still deeply worrying problems.

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Supreme Court reduces religious no-go area for courts

400px-uk_supreme_court_badgeKhaira v. Shergill [2014] UKSC 33, 11 June 2014   read judgment

Adam Wagner assisted two of the respondents in this case on behalf of Bindmans, solicitors, but was not involved in the writing of this post.

 

The Supreme Court has just reversed a decision of the Court of Appeal (see my previous post here) that a dispute about the trust deeds of two Sikh religious charities was non-justiciable and so could not and should not be decided by the Courts. By contrast, the SC said that two initial issues concerning the meaning of trust deeds were justiciable, and, because of this, further issues which did raise religious issues had to be determined by the courts.

The wider interest of the case is its tackling of this tricky concept of non-justiciability.

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