Businesses, 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”.
Implementation of what? Continue reading
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  EWHC 3631 (Admin), Collins J, 5 November 2014 – read judgment UPDATED POST
Fireworks here from Collins J in making sure that Bank Mellat got some disclosure of information in its fight to discharge a financial restriction order against it.
Bank Mellat is an Iranian bank, initially singled out by an 2009 order which prohibited anybody from dealing with it. The order was part of sanctions against Iran in respect of its nuclear and ballistic missiles programme. However, it bit the dust, thanks to the Supreme Court: see judgment. I did a post on that decision, and followed it up with one (here) on the (dis)proportionality arguments which led to the order’s downfall.
However the Bank was subject to two further orders, made in 2011 and 2012. They led to the freezing of €183m held by it in London. The 2012 order has since been revoked, but the 2011 one remains. This is the subject of the Bank’s application to set it aside. On any view, as Collins J recognised, it had caused very serious damage to the Bank’s business.
Fish Legal v The Information Commissioner, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water and Southern Water (Case C-279/12) – read Opinion of AG Cruz Villalon
In this most recent case concerning access by private individuals to environmental information held by public authorities, the AG grasps the nettlish question of what precisely a public authority is. The issue was a subject of debate because the request for information had been addressed to private companies which manage a public service relating to the environment. The question therefore was whether, even though the companies concerned are private, they may be regarded as “public authorities” for the purposes of the Directive governing access to environmental information (Directive 2003/4).
Clearly the definition of the concept of “public authority” is an issue of importance not just in relation to access to information, but across the board, whether involving EU law or the application of the Human Rights Act 1998 and judicial review in domestic law. Continue reading
Cross-government coordination on an issue that affects trade, international development, foreign affairs, business activity and human rights is remarkable, especially at such a difficult economic time. So the UK’s Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, which is the government’s long-awaited strategy for implementing the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, is to be applauded for this achievement. Yet, while the Plan establishes clear expectations that UK companies should respect human rights, there are no effective legal requirements placed on them to do so.
In issuing this Plan, the Foreign Secretary and the Business Secretary reinforce the business case for respecting human rights, which includes reputational, legal and investment risk issues, and consumer expectation reasons. They also note that protection of human rights is good for business and communities, as “the thread of safeguards running through society that are good for human rights – democratic freedoms, good governance, the rule of law, property rights, civil society – also create fertile conditions for private sector led growth”. Adam Smith thought that this was required over two and a half centuries ago.
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.
Fenty & Ors v Arcadia Group Brands Ltd (t/a Topshop) & Anor  EWHC 2310 (Ch) – Read judgment
The ruling in the Rihanna/Topshop case marks a significant trend, both in case law and society, towards equating image with commodity. Increasingly, celebrities and sports personalities earn large sums of money from sponsorship and advertising deals because companies recognise that their image sells products. So how can so-called image rights be protected?
The legal regime around image rights has arisen out of common law concepts of property, trespass and tort (civil wrong). The common law system means that precedents for the protection of an individual’s likeness have arisen from judges’ decisions in cases involving unauthorised exploitation of a likeness where an individual has suffered damage as a result. Some US states have enacted specific legislation equating celebrities’ personality rights with property rights, where expiration of the rights occurs 70 years following the death of the celebrity.
Neumanns v. Adronikou  EWCA (Civ) 916, 24 July 2013 read judgment
This time of year, high court and appellate judges will have been trying to clear their desks – to stop the complex half-finished judgment from skulking around in their minds and spoiling their holidays.
So they must relish this advice from Mummery LJ, a long-standing member of the Court of Appeal, about brevity – in particular, what to do when the CA is dismissing an appeal from an immaculate judgement below:
What sensible purpose could be served by this court repeating in its judgments detailed discussions of every point raised in the grounds of appeal and the skeleton arguments when they have already been dealt with correctly and in detail in the judgment under appeal? No purpose at all, in my view.
But Mummery LJ did a little more than this in an attempt to stifle down at least some of the words pouring out from the courts, as we shall see.