The Round-up: Controversy over the Courts Charge and Serdar Mohammed

Photo credit: The Guardian

In the news

The Howard League for Penal Reform has called for a review of the “unfair and unrealistic” Criminal Courts Charge, which “ penalises the poor and encourages the innocent to plead guilty”. The mandatory charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on those who admit committing minor misdemeanours, regardless of their circumstances.

The charity has compiled a list of cases where heavy financial charges have been demanded of people convicted of low-level offences. These include the case of a 38-year-old homeless man who admitted persistently begging in Oxford, and breaching an Asbo prohibiting him from sitting within 10 metres of a cash machine. He was jailed for 30 days and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge.

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Supreme Court: no-win-no-fee costs regime compatible with Article 6

11769Coventry v. Lawrence [2015] UKSC 50, 22 July 2015, read judgment here

The pre-April 2013 Conditional Fee Agreement system, under which claimants could recover uplifts on their costs and their insurance premiums from defendants, has survived – just. It received a sustained challenge from defendants to the effect that such a system was in breach of their Article 6 rights to a fair trial.

In a seven-justice court there was a strongly-worded dissent of two, and two other justices found the case “awkward.”

The decision arises out of the noisy speedway case about which I posted in March 2014 – here. The speedway business ended up being ordered to pay £640,000 by way of costs after the trial. On an initial hearing (my post here), the Supreme Court was so disturbed by this that they ordered a further hearing to decide whether this was compatible with Article 6 .

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Divisional Court strikes down DRIPA communications data law

David-Davis-Tom-Watson-HOCR (ota Davis et al) v. Secretary of State for Home Department [2015] EWHC 2092 – 17 July 2015 read judgment

When a domestic Act of Parliament is in conflict with EU law, EU law wins. And when a bit of the EU Charter (given effect by the Lisbon Treaty) conflicts with an EU Directive, the EU Charter wins.

Which is why the Divisional Court found itself quashing an Act of Parliament on Friday – at the behest of four claimants, including two MPs, the Tories’ David Davis and Labour’s Tom Watson. 

The doomed Act is the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 or DRIPA. It was in conformity with an underlying EU Directive (the Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC or DRD – here). However, and prior to DRIPA, the DRD had been invalidated by the EU Court (in the Digital Rights Ireland case here)  because it was in breach of the EU Charter.

All this concerns communications data, which tell us who was sending an email, to whom, from where, and when – but not the content of the email. DRIPA in effect compels telecoms providers to keep communications data for 12 months, and to make it available to public bodies such as intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

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Scotland, Sewel, and the Human Rights Act

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

The Queen’s speech suggests a slowing of the Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. But recent comments from the Scottish Human Rights Commissioner suggest the Conservatives may be considering removal of HRA protections in relation to English and reserved UK-wide matters only, leaving the Human Rights Act in place in the other devolved areas of the UK. 

Much ink has been spilled over the Government’s proposals. This article will take a narrow look at Scotland’s relationship with the Human Rights Act, and how devolution may be a future thorn in the Government’s side. 

But wait! I thought the Human Rights Act was enshrined in the Scotland Act. Doesn’t that protect the Human Rights Act in Scotland?

Sort of (not really).

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TTIP news, and whether the UK should encourage big business to sue it

GET_3A2_shutting_down_nuclear_plants_lQuite a lot has happened in the 6 months since my post here on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is a proposed trade agreement between the US and the EU, with negotiations on the substantive issues between the EU and the US underway in Brussels at the moment.

The proposed treaty may have significant effects on EU regulation, but let’s concentrate on whether TTIP should contain specific provisions enabling investors to sue governments.

The ground for action would be governmental “expropriation” of investments – and that may mean anything from telling a cigarette manufacturer that he must have to change what his packets look like, (with consequential loss of profits), to imposing new environmental standards on a power generating plant.

This mechanism is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. Our government seems astonishingly sanguine about this, on the basis that it has not yet been sued successfully under existing bilateral treaties with similar provisions. This does not seem to be a very profoundly thought-through position to adopt, if the proposed system has its problems – which it plainly does, when one compares it with traditional claims in the courts. Put simply, why wave it on?

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How mad must you be, not to be responsible for your actions?

1a45b808-20f6-11e5-_934669cDunnage v. Randall & UK Insurance Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 673, 2 July 2015 – read judgment

This is an extraordinary case, and one which goes deep down into why the law of wrongs (or torts) makes people compensate others for injury and losses, whereas the criminal law may decide that a crime has not been committed.

Imagine this. Your uncle (Vince) arrives in your home. He is behaving very hyper. Unbeknownst to you he is in the middle of a florid paranoid schizophrenic episode. He suddenly announces that he will go and fetch a copy of Autotrader from his car. He returns without it, but with a petrol can and a lighter. He sits down and becomes all aggressive and paranoid about you and your partner. He knocks over the petrol can and starts rolling the lighter trigger. After more incoherent accusations by him (e.g. “Why have you got my Hoover?”), you try to drag him clear to save him, but he ignites the lighter. You are badly burned and jump off the balcony. You are very brave. Vince dies at the scene.

You (the man with the dog) sue Vince’s estate, except you don’t really, because you are really suing his household insurers.

You try to pursue a tightrope between arguments. Vince may have been mad-ish, but not that mad, so that he is still civilly responsible for his actions. But the household policy only applies to “accidental” injury, and excludes wilful or malicious actions. So he cannot have been too sane and capable of deliberate and malicious actions.

The judge disallows your claim, on the basis that Vince lacked volition. The Court of Appeal allows it. Why?

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“No union more profound”: The US Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry.

In the history of American jurisprudence, there are a handful of cases which are so significant that they will be known to all US law students, much of the domestic population at large, and even large segments of the international community. Brown v Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in schools, is one example. Roe v Wade, which upheld the right of women to access abortion serves, is another. To that list may now be added the case of Obergefell v Hodges.

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