Strasbourg ties itself in knots over advertising ban

primate adAnimal Defenders International v  United Kingdom, April 22 2013 – read judgment

In what was a profoundly sad day for democracy, on 22 April 2013 the European Court of Human Rights found in favour of the UK government in a landmark test case concerning a TV advertisement produced by ADI in 2005, and subsequently banned under the Communications Act 2003.

This announcement by Animal Defenders International (ADI) describes the fate of a film from which the picture above is taken. The verdict was carried through by a majority of one – eight out of seventeen judges dissented. And the reference to “democracy” in ADI’s response to the judgment is not overblown. The general trend of the majority appears to suggest that it is legitimate, in a democracy, for a government to impose a blanket restriction on the exercise of freedom in the name of broadcasting freedom. Such an aim is not one of those listed in Article 10(2). As some of the dissenting judges pointed out,

The ban itself creates the condition it is supposedly trying to avert – out of fear that small organisations could not win a broadcast competition of ideas, it prevents them from competing at all.

….A robust democracy is not helped by well-intentioned paternalism. Continue reading

4 slaughterhouses hit high fives: Article 6(1) breaches found

37788084345565012_8oFmp54f_222Julius Kloiber Schlachthof GMBH and others v. Austria, ECtHR, 4 April 2013, read judgment

These ECtHR decisions are the latest in a number of claims by slaughterhouses that their rights were infringed by the exaction of a surcharge by the Austrian national agricultural board. The Court decided that (a) the process of surcharging by administrative bodies engaged the criminal part of Article 6 and (b) the Austrian courts hearing appeals against the surcharges did not have the jurisdiction to carry out a “full review” of the decision to surcharge; only that way could one turn the combination of administrative decision and court decision into a decision by a “tribunal” complying with Article 6.

Now to unpack these complex but important ECtHR rules, and to look at how they play out domestically.

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Permanent injunction against anti-vivisection protestors

harlan-investigationHarlan Laboratories UK L & Another v Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and others [2012] EWHC 3408 (QB) – read judgment

The High Court has granted a medical testing laboratory a final injunction against anti-vivisectioners protesting outside their premises. 

Harlan laboratories breed animals for medical and clinical research purposes. The applicants’ harassment claim included assertions that the respondent anti-vivisection groups had verbally abused those entering and leaving its premises, blocked and surrounded vehicles entering and leaving the premises in a threatening manner and trespassed on Harlan’s property. They had also photographed Harlan’s employees and recorded their vehicle registration details. Interim injunctions had been granted restraining, inter alia, where and how often the respondents could demonstrate outside of Harlan’s premises.

The issues  in this application were whether the applicants were entitled to summary judgment on their harassment claim and whether the court should grant a permanent injunction pursuant to s.3(3) of the 1997 Protection Against Harassment Act. The applicants also applied for a permanent injunction under section 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. Continue reading

The only people really not allowed to mention the Holocaust

Peta Deutschland v Germany  (No. 43481/09) – read judgment

Referring to the concentration camps has become an offence on a par with holocaust denial, it seem, in certain contexts.

In 2004 the applicant animal welfare association planned to start an advertising campaign under the head “The Holocaust on your plate”. The intended campaign, which had been carried out in a similar way in the United States of America, consisted of a number of posters, each of which bore a photograph of concentration camp inmates along with a picture of animals kept in mass stocks, accompanied by a short text. One of the posters showed a photograph of emaciated, naked concentration camp inmates alongside a photograph of starving cattle under the heading “walking skeletons”. Other posters showed a photograph of piled up human dead bodies alongside a photograph of a pile of slaughtered pigs under the heading “final humiliation” and of rows of inmates lying on stock beds alongside rows of chicken in laying batteries under the heading “if animals are concerned, everybody becomes a Nazi”. Another poster depicting a starving, naked male inmate alongside a starving cattle bore the title “The Holocaust on your plate” and the text “Between 1938 and 1945, 12 million human beings were killed in the Holocaust. As many animals are killed every hour in Europe for the purpose of human consumption”.

Three individuals filed a request with the Berlin Regional Court to be granted an injunction ordering the applicant association to desist from publishing or from allowing the publication of seven specified posters via the internet, in a public exhibition or in any other form. They submitted that the intended campaign was offensive to them as survivors of the holocaust and violated their human dignity. Continue reading

All about killing badgers

R (o.t.a Badger Trust) v. Defra, Ouseley J, 12 July 2012, read judgment, and on appeal, CA, 11 September 2012, not yet available online.

It is impossible to drive through the narrow and high-hedged lanes of Herefordshire without coming across the sad and inevitable outcome of car meeting badger. One estimate is that we may lose as many as 50,000 badgers a year this way. But this case is about whether we should kill a lot more badgers – deliberately.

For many years there has been a debate about whether, and if so, to what extent, badgers cause the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, and, if it does, what should we do about it. Recently, a decision was made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to cull some of them. And this challenge is to the lawfulness of that decision.

At which point we immediately run up against a bit of an institutional accident. Defra, is, when you scratch it, the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spliced together with bits of the old Department of Environment. And, a bit like the sad nocturnal collision of badger and vehicle, badgers tend to come off worse when farming interests encounter nature, particularly where, as in this context, the science appears equivocal. That sounds rather contentious, but is not meant to. Let me explain why.

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Hunting, animals, and the evolving landscape of rights

Herrmann v Germany (Application no. 9300/07) 26 June 2012 – read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation of a landowner to allow hunting on his property violated his Convention rights. Although the majority based their conclusion on his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions,  the partially concurring and dissenting opinions and the judgment as a whole provide an interesting insight into the way freedom of conscience challenges are to be approached in a secular society where religion holds less sway than individual ethical positions on certain issues.

Background

In 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the granting of exceptional authorisation for the slaughter of animals without previous stunning, on religious grounds, did not breach the German Basic Law Schächt-Entscheidung (BVerfGE 99, 1, 15 January 2002). The social uproar that followed the ruling led to the German constitutional legislature taking a significant step aimed at protecting animal welfare with the 2002 constitutional reform, by including Article 20a in the Basic Law:

“Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the State shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals through legislation…” Continue reading

Veterinary tribunal did not show bias

Joseph Lennox Holmes (Appellant) v Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (Respondent) [2011] UKPC 48 – read judgment

The disciplinary procedures of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons did not give rise to any appearance of bias so as to breach a practitioner’s right to a fair trial under Article 6.

Despite the fact that the membership of the committee dealing with the prosecution of charges was drawn from the College’s governing body, in whose name any charges were brought, and that the body dealing with the determination of charges was also drawn from the College’s governing body, in practice their procedures were fair.

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Freedom of information – no longer the Cinderella of rights

BUAV v Information Commissioner and Newcastle University (EA/2010/0064) – read judgment

There is no doubt that freedom of expression plays a starring role in the human rights fairy tale. While she is carried aloft on the soaring rhetoric of citizens’ rights from the newsrooms to protesters’ rallies, the right to information, her shy stepsister, is rarely allowed out. How can that be? Surely we can’t have the one without the other?

The key lies in the Strasbourg Court’s traditionally restrictive interpretation of  the relevant part of Article 10 – “the freedom to … to receive and impart information” (10(1)). Although the right to information is explicit (unlike many of the other rights the Court has conjured from the Convention), it does not entitle a citizen a right of access to government-held information about his personal position, nor does it embody an obligation on the government to impart such information to the individual (Leander v Sweden (1987) 9 EHRR 433). This approach is changing, particularly in relation to press applicants. But the culture remains hostile; as the Court says  “it is difficult to derive from the Convention a general right of access to administrative data and documents” (Loiseau v. France (dec.), no. 46809/99, ECHR 2003-XII – a self-serving statement if ever there was one, given that it is not the Convention but the Court’s own case law that has been so tight-fisted in the past.

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The lessons of shaggy dogs and Catgate

Updated x 2 | What can we learn from yesterday’s gaff by the Home Secretary Theresa May involving Maya the cat?

First, when referring to a legal judgment in a speech make sure you get the outcome right. Particularly when prefaced by “I am not making this up”. Secondly, if said speech is being broadcast live, there are plenty of lawyers on Twitter who will enjoy nothing more than tracking down the judgment, reading it and exposing the fact that you have got it wrong.

These lessons are important. But they relate to any amusing but forgettable political gaff. There is, however, a third lesson. There has been for a number of years a trend of wilfully or recklessly misreporting human rights cases. This trend is not just mischievous; it threatens to do real damage to our legal system.

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Admin court grabs bull by the horns

R (on the application of K and AC Jackson and Son) v DEFRA – read judgment.

An interesting ruling in the Administrative Court this week touches on some issues fundamental to public law – the extent to which “macro” policy (such as EC law) should trump principles of good administration; the role of factual evidence in judicial review proceedings, and the connection between public law wrongs and liability in tort.

It all started with Boxster the pedigree bull and notices issued by DEFRA which sealed his fate, or at least appeared to do so when his owners received them in April and July 2010. They were directed to arrange  the slaughter of the animal as a result of a positive bovine tuberculosis (bTB) test that had been carried out by DEFRA technicians earlier in the year. The notices of intended slaughter were issued under paragraph 4 of the Tuberculosis (England) Order 2007, an Order made under powers contained in the Animal Health Act 1981. Continue reading

Libel threatens to stifle debate about factory farming

Libel threatens to stifle debate about factory farming

Food production is becoming a chosen territory for some of the fiercest current battles about freedom of information in this country.  In 2009 the Channel 4 broadcast of a film about the  pork factory business was effectively shut down by the threat of libel action; in the last week the Guardian reported that libel lawyers Carter and Ruck have written to the Soil Association threatening legal action if they failed to withdraw allegations underlying their objection to a planning application for one of the country’s largest pig units.

Update (15 January 2011): Nocton Dairies Ltd has withdrawn its planning application for a 3,700-cow mega-dairy in Lincolnshire.

Pig production company Midland Pig Producers (MPP) is seeking planning approval for 30 acres of land in Foston, Derbyshire, to develop a pig unit containing 2,500 sows and up to 25,000 pigs. The Soil Association formally objected to the plans because of the ‘increased disease risk and poor welfare conditions” of intensive units.

The application to South Derbyshire district council was in fact withdrawn after it was ruled that it needed to go to the county council instead. This is because the proposed inclusion of an anaerobic digestion unit on the site brings in waste matters which concerns the jurisdiction of the county council rather than the district planners. MPP expects to reapply in the next few weeks. Continue reading

Batty behaviour in Hampshire habitat

Morge (FC) (Appellant) v Hampshire County Council (Respondent) on appeal from [2010] EWCA Civ 608- Read judgment

We cannot drive a coach-and-horses through natural habitats without a bit of soul-searching, says the Supreme Court .

The UK has conservation obligations under EU law to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and this goes beyond holding back only those developments that threaten significant disturbance to species. Detailed consideration must be given to the specific risks to the species in question. But this consideration can be left to the quangos; planning committees are not obliged to make their own enquiries.

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Analysis: Pet shock collar ban – barking, or a new era for rights?

Updated | The recent High Court decision upholding the ban on electronic training collars for domestic animals raises the interesting and topical issue of animal welfare and its role in EU law.

In her post on the case Catriona Murdoch discusses the various arguments involved,  from human rights to irrationality to proportionality under EU law, and the extent to which the language of human rights can be enlisted in the service of animal protection. Conor Gearty has analysed this topic in a persuasive paper published in 2008; here we  look at the question in relation to permitted justifications for impeding free movement for goods and services in the Community.

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Electric shock pet collar ban did not breach human rights

Petsafe Ltd, R (on the application of) v The Welsh Ministers [2010] EWHC 2908 (Admin) (16 November 2010) – Read judgment

The High Court has ruled that a Welsh ban on the use of collars designed to administer electric shocks to cats and dogs does not breach Article 1 of the First Protocol of the ECHR or impinge upon the free movement of goods protected under European Union Law.

The Judicial Review application was brought by two interested parties, Petsafe Ltd and The Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association against the Welsh Ministers who after a lengthy consultation period dating from 2007, brought into force the Animal Welfare (Electronic Collars (Wales)) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/934) (“the 2010 Regulations”) which banned the use of electric collars. The 2010 Regulations were created under the powers conferred to the Welsh Ministers under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (“AWA 2006”). A breach of the 2010 Regulations is an offence punishable with up to 51 weeks imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding Level 5 (£5,000).

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Feature | Freedom of expression, the American way

The UK Supreme Court Blog has posted on United States v Stevens, a US Supreme Court decision on animal cruelty videos, involving “freedom of expression in the extreme”. The decision provides for an interesting comparison with the approach to freedom of expression in the UK courts.

If the Human Rights Act 1998 is replaced by a Bill of Rights, the Bill’s drafters are likely to look at other legal systems in order to see how best to recalibrate the balance of the various protections. The drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights themselves had the US Bill of Rights, which has been in force since 1791, as inspiration.

Similar but different

Arguably, the US Bill of Rights places a stronger emphasis on freedom of expression than our domestic law. Freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention is subject to a number of qualifications. There is a long list, including the interests of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals, and the protection of the reputation or rights of others.

Section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shifts the balance slightly, by stating that a court must pay “particular regard” to cases involving the public interest in disclosure of material which has journalistic, literary or artistic merit.

By contrast, despite the US Bill of Rights’ 219 years on the statute books, there remains only a very limited list of forms of expression which are not Continue reading