This Supreme Court prisoner voting decision really is a victory for common sense

ballot_box_vote.ce.03R (on the application of Chester) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Justice (Respondent), McGeoch (AP) (Appellant) v The Lord President of the Council and another (Respondents) (Scotland) [2013] UKSC 63  – read judgment / press summary

The Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling recently told The Spectator that he wants “to see our Supreme Court being supreme again“. In light of his respect for the court, he should read today’s judgment on prisoner votes very carefully indeed, as should David Cameron who has already endorsed the decision as a “great victory for common sense”.

The Supreme Court dismissed two claims by prisoners who argued their European Convention (Chester) and European Union (McGeogh) rights were being breached because they weren’t allowed to vote in various elections. I won’t summarise the detail of their arguments, which can be found in our previous posts on the Court of Appeal and Scottish Outer House Court of Session decisions.

We will aim to cover the substance of the decisions in due course. But what I find really interesting was the Justices’ views on the European Court’s various decisions on prisoner votes, which the Government argued were poorly reasoned.

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The Supreme Court’s curious constitutional U turn over prisoner rights – Richard A. Edwards

Supreme Court meets StrasbourgOsborn v The Parole Board [2013] UKSC 61 – Read judgment / Press summary

1 Crown Office Row’s David Manknell acted as junior counsel to the Parole Board in this case. He had no involvement in the writing of this post.

Writing in his magisterial new work, Human Rights and the UK Supreme Court, Professor Brice Dickson noted that the Human Rights Act had created ‘an internationalized system of human rights protection rather than a constitutional one.’ Indeed, there had been a marked resistance on the part of the Supreme Court to use the common law to achieve the same goal of human rights protection. In Osborn v The Parole Board the Supreme Court seemed to resile from this position.

Osborn, and the co-joined appeals, concerned the circumstances in which the Parole Board is required to hold oral hearings. Osborn had been recalled to prison after an immediate breach of his licence conditions. Booth and Reilly had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and in both cases the minimum term had expired. The appellants sought early release and had been denied an oral hearing by the Parole Board under the operation of the statutory regime (detailed in paras 3-17). Instead their cases had been decided on paper by a single anonymous member of the Board.

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“Follow the money” powers do not breach sex offenders’ privacy rights

woman_with_hand_over_mouthR (on the application of) Christopher Prothero v Secretary of State for the Home Department  [2013] EWHC 2830 (Admin) 18 September 2013 – read judgment

This was a challenge to regulations  introduced in 2012 under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which require a person on the Sex Offenders Register to provide details of bank, debit or credit card accounts held by him. The claimant sought a declaration that this particular regulation was incompatible with his right to respect for private life under  Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The last time the notification requirements under the 2003 Act came under attack, the Supreme court held that they were capable of causing significant interference with the Article 8 rights of an offender on the register (R (F)(a Child)) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 17) – see our post on that case and its consequences.

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Veils and ignorance: defendant not allowed to wear niqaab when giving evidence

Woman wearing hijabThe Queen v. D (R) – Ruling available here.

The ruling by HHJ Murphy in Blackfriars Crown Court this Monday that a defendant in a criminal trial should not be allowed to wear a niqaab (face veil) whilst giving her evidence has prompted calls for a public debate about the wearing of face veils in public more generally. Adam Wagner has already commented on the case hereA summary and analysis of the decision follows below.

The defendant in this case, D, is a woman who is charged with a single count of witness intimidation. When the judge asked D to remove her veil in order to be formally identified for the court’s purposes at a plea and case management hearing, D refused because she believes she should not reveal her face in the presence of men who are not members of her immediate family. As a result, HHJ Murphy listed a special hearing to consider what orders should be made about the wearing of a niqaab during the rest of the proceedings, describing the issue as ‘the elephant in the court room’ which needed to be dealt with early on.

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The Niqaab issue is too important to be left to liberal instinct

A-Muslim-woman-in-a-niqab-007Yesterday, before His Honour Judge Peter Murphy ruled that a female Muslim defendant in a criminal trial must remove her face-covering veil (niqaab) whilst giving evidence, Home Office Minister Jeremy Brown said  he wasinstinctively uneasy” about restricting religious freedoms, but that there should be a national debate over banning the burka.

Many of us have a gut reaction to the niqaab, which poses particular problems for our mostly liberal, secular society. Arguably, it also prompts less laudable instincts originating in fear of the ‘other’. But trusting in our instincts is never a good way of solving complex problems. As I have suggested before, when politicians appeal to their gut they are often just avoiding making an intellectually sound case for their position.

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More developments under Schedule 7

img_6780706_340Sylvie Beghal v Director of Public Prosecutions, [2013] EWHC 2573 (Admin)read judgment

In a judgment with implications for the detention of David Miranda, the High Court has today dismissed an appeal against a conviction for wilfully failing to comply with a duty imposed by virtue of Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000.

The Court rejected the submission that the Schedule 7 powers in question violated the Appellant’s right under Articles 5, 6 and 8 of the ECHR. However, the Court urged consideration of a legislative amendment introducing a statutory bar to the introduction of Schedule 7 admissions in subsequent criminal trials.

Part of the following report is taken from the Court’s press summary, part is based on the judgment itself.

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Miranda case shows we need more secrecy laws… or does it?

David MirandaAs the August news lull continues, the David Miranda controversy is still troubling commentators – see Daniel Isenberg’s superb roundup. In the past week or so, an interesting symmetry has arisen between those defending and criticising the Police’s actions.

The Police’s critics say the detention was probably unlawful, but even if it was lawful it shouldn’t have been as, if this non-terrorism case can fit within existing anti-terror law, then terrorism powers are too wide. This more or less fits with my view, although I am not sure yet about the lawfulness of the detention. A reverse argument is made by the Police’s defenders: the detention was probably lawful, but if if it wasn’t then it should have been, as we need to be able to prevent these kind of dangerous intelligence leaks from occurring. See e.g. Matthew Parris and to an extent Louise Mensch.

Into the second category steps Lord Ian Blair, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He has told the BBC that the threat from international terrorism was “constantly changing” and there was a need to “review the law”:

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David Miranda – Remember his name.

David MirandaOur attitude to anti-terror policing is very strange indeed. In many ways, it is like a magician’s trick. We (the public) turn up at the show with the full intention of suspending our disbelief so as to be entertained and entranced. The magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat, or makes the Statue of Liberty disappear. We applaud, we are entranced.

But we know , somewhere in the back of our minds, that we are being fooled.

As with our safety from terror. We are happy because major terrorist attacks in the UK or US are thankfully rare. We are told about countless attacks which have been thwarted. We applaud, we are entranced. But we know, somewhere, that there must be a price.

That price is our civil liberties. More accurately, that price is the civil liberties of others, who we don’t know but whose faces occasionally drift through the public conscience. Binyam Mohamad, who was tortured by the CIA, apparently with collusion by our own Security Services. Shaker Aamer, who has been detained in Guantanamo Bay without charge for almost 12 years. And it is no secret that many anti-terrorism laws are draconian and involve a huge potential for abuse.

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Is complicity with the death penalty illegal? – Dr Bharat Malkani

Texas-death-chamber-007In a previous blog post on these pages, the case of Lindsay Sandiford was examined. Sandiford – a British citizen facing the death penalty in Indonesia – had asked the UK Government for funding to help her appeal, but was refused financial help. The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Government, stating that the decision to provide legal aid to a British citizen abroad is a discretionary matter for the executive.

Regardless of whether one agrees with the decisions of the Government and the Court, the case raises interesting questions about the obligations that are imposed on states that have abolished the death penalty. The primary duty on states is to simply refrain from imposing the death penalty, but it is possible to detect an emerging secondary obligation to refrain from facilitating the use of the death penalty elsewhere. This issue is particularly relevant to the UK, because although the UK takes a leading role internationally in campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty, there is evidence that the UK has on occasion aided the use of capital punishment elsewhere.

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NOT AGAIN! ‘EU Judges’ Behind ‘Victory For Evil’, Says Sun

the_sun_gotcha21Updated – headline now corrected | Remember when The Sun was reprimanded by the Press Complaints Commission for muddling up the European Union and our local Court of Appeal in a story about a human rights judgment? You probably should because it happened just two weeks ago.

Well, despite telling the PCC that they would incorporate the issue into its staff training programme, The Sun has been at it again following yesterday’s European Court of Human Rights ruling on whole life sentences. The politics section of its website currently shows this on the sidebar:

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Damning indictment of police actions surrounding death of Azelle Rodney

Azelle RodneyOn 5th July 2013, the report of the inquiry into the death of Azelle Rodney was published. Mr Rodney was a 24-year-old man who was shot dead by a Metropolitan Police officer on 30th April 2005. Mr Rodney was the rear seat passenger in a vehicle driven by an acquaintance of his and was unarmed.

After the Metropolitan Police had brought the vehicle to a halt, a firearms officer, described as ‘E7’ in the inquiry’s report, shot Mr Rodney 6 times without warning with a Heckler & Koch assault rifle. The fifth and sixth of these shots were a military-style ‘double tap’ to Mr Rodney’s head and would have been fatal. E7 then briefly paused before shooting Mr Rodney a further two times in the head. These shots would also have been fatal.

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Legal aid and ideology: the new basis for Government reform? – Angela Patrick

UK human rigths blog lipmanIn a famous advert from the 80s, Maureen Lipman picked up the phone to caution her distraught grandson that he could never be a failure if he had an “ology”.  It was perhaps in memory of that fine advice that the Lord Chancellor appeared before the House of Commons Justice Select Committee on Wednesday morning.   For the first time, the language of ideology was openly placed at the heart of the Government’s approach to the reform of legal aid. 

Most of the legal profession is familiar with the controversy of the Government’s latest raft of suggestions for reform of legal aid, in the Transforming Legal Aid consultation paper.  JUSTICE and many others have raised substantial concerns about the Government’s approach. The changes proposed to the provision of criminal legal aid will drastically limit the ability of people accused of crimes by the State to access quality legal advice that they can trust. This will increase the likelihood of miscarriages of justice and may make the criminal justice system as a whole more expensive, and less fair, as more people attempt to represent themselves.

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Court lifts anonymity order in David McGreavy case

David McGreavyM, R(on the application of) v The Parole Board and another [2013] EWHC 1360 (Admin) – read judgment

Reporting restrictions on proceedings concerning a life prisoner should be discharged since the public interest in allowing media organisations to publish reports outweighed the prisoner’s human rights.

The claimant had been convicted of the brutal murder of three infant children in 1973. Subsequent to his incarceration in open prison, his movements had come to the attention of the press. Inmates made threats and the claimant was moved to secure conditions.  When he sought judicial review of a decision by the parole board in 2011 (declining his return to open conditions), the judge granted an order restricting reporting of  the claimant’s identity, the details of his offences and his current location.  In this hearing, various media organisations intervened to request the discharge this order. Continue reading

Death penalty legal funding refusal: Appeal court confirms limits of Human Rights Act

Lindsay SandifordR (on the application of Sandiford) v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs [2013] 168 (Admin) – read judgment

On 22 April 2013 the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in refusing to pay for a lawyer to assist Lindsay Sandiford as she faces the death penalty for drug offences in Indonesia. Last Wednesday, they handed down the reasons for their decision.

On 19 May 2012 Lindsay Sandiford was arrested at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali following the discovery of almost five kilograms of cocaine in the lining of her suitcase. A number of southeast Asian countries take a notoriously hard line on drugs offences, and following her conviction on 19 December 2012, Ms Sandiford was sentenced to death. Many media outlets have reported that in Indonesia, death sentences are generally carried out by a firing squad.

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High Court directs major overhaul of Iraq death and mistreatment allegations investigation

iraqMousa & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Defence [2013] EWHC 1412 (Admin) (24 May 2013) – Read judgment

Remember the Iraq War? Following the 2003 invasion Britain remained in control of Basra, a city in South Eastern Iraq, until withdrawal over six years later on 30 April 2009. 179 British troops died during that period. But despite there over four years having passed since withdrawal, the fallout from the war and occupation is still being resolved by the UK Government and courts.

Thousands of Iraqis died in the hostilities or were detained by the British. Thanks to two decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2011 (Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda – our coverage here), the state’s duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate deaths and extreme mistreatment applied in Iraq at that time. It is fascinating to see how the UK authorities have been unravelling the extent of that duty. The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry has reported and the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry is ongoing (I acted in the former and still do in the latter). In this major judgment, which may yet be appealed, the High Court has ruled the manner in which the UK Government is investigating deaths and perhaps mistreatment is insufficient to satisfy its investigative duty.

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