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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Will the new criminal legal aid reforms breach the right to a fair trial?

Chris Grayling, justiceOne of the most contentious proposals in the Consultation Paper on the transforming legal aid is the removal of client choice in criminal cases. Under the proposals contracts for the provision of legal aid will be awarded to a limited number of firms in an area. The areas are similar to the existing CPS areas. The Green Paper anticipates that there will be four or five such providers in each area. Thus the county of Kent, for example, will have four or five providers in an area currently served by fifty or so legal aid firms. Each area will have a limited number providers that will offer it is argued economies of scale.

In order to ensure that this arrangement is viable the providers will be effectively guaranteed work by stripping the citizen of the right to choose a legal aid lawyer in criminal cases. Under the new scheme every time a person needs advice they will be allocated mechanically by the Legal Aid Agency to one of the new providers. It may not be the same firm the person has used before. The citizen will therefore not be able to build up a relationship with a solicitor. From a human rights perspective this, of course, begs the question would the removal of choice be compatible with the ECHR?

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The Tallinn Bronze Soldier riots – and why Russia was in Strasbourg

X20060505037_lKorobov and others v. Estonia, 28 March 2013, ECtHR read judgment

At one level, this is a story of Estonian police over-reaction to major disturbances on the streets of Tallinn, which will be found reproduced in various incidents throughout ECHR countries at various times of civil strife. But a good deal of history and politics lies behind it, and Russia’s intervention in Strasbourg, in support of the applicants’ claims under Article 3 (excessive force) and 5(1) (unlawful detention) against Estonia is of some interest. 

The Bronze Soldier, originally named “Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn” was unveiled there on 22 September 1947, on the third anniversary of that “liberation” in 1944. Not all – including ethnic Estonians – saw it as a liberation. The Germans had retreated before the Red Army arrived, and on 18 September 1944 the Provisional Estonian government had declared independence – short-lived as Estonia was rapidly incorporated into the Eastern bloc courtesy of the Red Army. So “takeover” might be a term closer to Estonians’ hearts.

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Last week not a good one for Theresa May: not just Abu Qatada


132957J1 v  Secretary of State for the Home Department, 27 March 2013 – read judgment

A UKHRB editor, Angus McCullough QC, was a Special Advocate for J1 before the Court of Appeal, but not in SIAC below. He had nothing to do with the writing of this post

Hot on the Home Secretary’s loss of the Abu Qatada appeal, a reverse for her in another deportation case about someone whom the Court of Appeal described as “an important and significant member of a group of Islamist extremists in the UK,” and who was said to have links – direct or indirect – with men involved in the failed July 21 2005 bombing plot.

The general contours of the case will be familiar to Abu Qatada watchers, with claims under Articles 3 and 6 of the ECHR  amongst others – that if J1 was returned to his country of origin (here, Ethiopia), his human rights would not be respected. There are however a number of interesting features about this decision of the Court of Appeal; firstly, it reversed a decision of  the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against J1 on Article 3 (recall the heightened regard for SIAC as a specialist tribunal in the Abu Qatada appeal) , and secondly (in dismissing the Article 6 claim) it illustrates graphically some of the dilemmas facing Special Advocates when representing their clients in the imperfect world of “closed procedures” (a.k.a secret trials).

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Court of Appeal rejects latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada

121113AbuQatadaMay_6898438Othman (aka Abu Qatada) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWCA Civ 277 – read judgment

The Home Office last night assured its 70,000 Twitter followers that “it is not the end of the road”.  Yet by the time she had reached page 17 of the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of her latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada, it might well have seemed that way to Theresa May. 

In November, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled that Qatada could not be deported to face a retrial for alleged terrorism offences due to the real risk of “a flagrant denial of justice”.  Read my post on that decision here.  Yesterday, Lord Dyson – the Masters of the Rolls and second most senior judge in England and Wales – together with Lord Justices Richards and Elias, rejected the Home Secretary’s appeal.

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