Imagine you are on the board of large corporation. You attend the Annual General Meeting and asked the chief executive about that controversial tax avoidance scheme the company had been considering, but which the in-house legal team had advised against. The Chief Exec smiles and says that has been dealt with: “we just sacked the lawyers”.
The BBC is reporting what many suspected. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC was sacked in order to clear the path for major reform of the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. This is bad news, for the UK and potentially for the European Court of Human Rights too.
The Attorney General’s advice, which has been leaked to the BBC, was that plan to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights were “incoherent” and a “legal car crash… with a built-in time delay“. Intriguingly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson also reports that William Hague, the now-former Foreign Secretary, also raised doubts over the plans.
S.A.S v France (Application no. 43835/11) – read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected a challenge to a French law which prohibits the wearing of veils in public. The ruling is, of course, of great political and media interest, but it is also significant from a legal perspective. In a lengthy and detailed judgment, the Court ultimately accepts that, as a matter of principle, a government can legitimately interfere with the rights of individuals in pursuit of social and cultural cohesion.
On 11th April 2011, Law no. 2010-1192 came into force in the French Republic. Subject to certain limited exceptions, the law prohibits anyone from wearing any clothing which conceals their face when in public places, on pain of a 150 euro fine, and/or compulsory citizenship classes. Whilst phrased in general terms, the most obvious effect of the law, and its clear intention, is to ban the niqab (a veil that leaves only the eyes visible) and the burka (a loose garment covering the entire body with a mesh screen over the face).
Public Law Project v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary
Angela Patrick of JUSTICE has provided an excellent summary of this important ruling, which declared a proposed statutory instrument to be ultra vires the LASPO Act under which it was to have been made. The judgment is an interesting one, not least for some judicial fireworks in response to the Lord Chancellor’s recourse to the Daily Telegraph after the hearing, but before judgment was delivered.
But more of that after some thoughts on the discrimination ruling.
PLP v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary
As the House of Lords is scheduled to vote on the Government’s proposals for a residence test for access to legal aid, Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE considers today’s judgment of the Divisional Court in PLP v Secretary of State for Justice.
While we are all following the exciting live feeds on both the reshuffle and the progress of emergency legislation on surveillance, the freshly appointed Attorney General, Jeremy Wright MP, may want to cast his eyes to BAILLI.
The Administrative Court may this morning have handed him one of his first “to-do” list items. In – PLP v Secretary of State for Justice - a rare three judge Divisional Court has held that the Government’s proposal to introduce a residence test for legal aid – where all applicants will have to prove 12 months continuous lawful residence in the UK – is both ultra vires and discriminatory.
Delaney v. Secretary of State for Transport, Jay J, 3 June 2014 – read judgment
Many readers may be wondering how it comes about that a drug-dealer is entitled to compensation against Her Majesty’s Government in circumstances where he was injured during the course of a criminal joint enterprise. The understandable reaction might be: there must be some rule of public policy, reflecting public revulsion, which bars such a claim. The short answer is that there is not.
Well put by the judge. Because as well as being the innocent victim of bad driving, the Claimant happened to have 240g of cannabis on him, and the negligent driver was found to have a smaller quantity. We are back in the familiar territory of ascertaining and applying a rule of law designed to compensate the injured without letting any free-floating moral disapproval get in the way of deciding what that law is. If, by contrast, you feel like a good dose of outrage, just click here for a link to a certain tabloid well-versed in all that.
The problem for the Secretary of State for Transport was, as the judge found, European Law required victims to be compensated in the circumstances, even if the driver’s insurance did not cover the claim. And there was no warrant for a domestic rule preventing such liabilities being paid by the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) or insurers whose job it was to provide compensation in accordance with European law.The judge therefore awarded Francovich damages (see below) against the UK for its breach in not conforming to EU law.
Bancoult v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs  EWCA Civ 708 – read judgment
Rosalind English (here) has summarised this unsuccessful appeal against the rejection of the Chagossians’ claims by the Divisional Court, and I have posted on this litigation arising out of the removal and subsequent exclusion of the population from the Chagos Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory: see here, here, here and here. The photograph is from 1971 – the last coconut harvest for the Chagossians.
There were three remaining grounds alleged against the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in this judicial review
(i) its decision in favour of a Marine Protected Area was actuated by an improper motive, namely an intention to prevent Chagossians and their descendants from resettling in the BIOT;
(ii) the consultation paper which preceded the decision failed to disclose that the MPA proposal, in so far as it prohibited all fishing, would adversely affect the traditional and historical rights of Chagossians to fish in the waters of their homeland, as both Mauritian citizens and as the native population of the Chagos Islands; and
(iii) it was in breach of the obligations imposed on the United Kingdom under article 4(3) of the Treaty of the European Union.
I want to look at (i), the improper purpose grounds, and (iii) the TEU/TFEU grounds, because in both respects the CA took a different course than the Divisional Court, even though the outcome was the same.
A recent, short (71 pages), and interesting book on the phenomenon of the bad judge, by Graeme Williams Q.C: details here. You may not be surprised to read that, libel laws being what they are, all the subjects of Williams’ book are in their graves. But, as the author points out, the lessons derived from their badnesses live on.
A number of themes emerge.
The first is that bad judges are often clever judges, but people temperamentally ill-suited to listening patiently to other people – which is unsurprisingly a large part of their job.
The second is that some of the most disastrous appointments are truly political ones. Mercifully we now have a sophisticated system of judicial appointments which is currently divorced from the rough and tumble of politics – though with the politicisation of the office of the Lord Chancellor, and the shrilling-up of the press debate about “unelected judges etc etc” we need to keep a beady eye on that. We also have judicial training and all judges will have sat as part timers before they get appointed, so the worst instances of unsuitability get weeded out before they get the full-time job.
On 28 April 2014 I debated Dr Lee Rotherham of the Taxpayers’ Alliance at NYU London. The motion was: This House believes the human rights agenda is promoting unfairness in the UK. I was against the motion (as you may have guessed).
The debate is now up on YouTube – enjoy!
Dhahbi v.Italy, ECtHR, 8 April 2014 – read judgment – in French only
A case to get the Sun leader writers confused, in that the Strasbourg Court was making sure that Italy did not get away with refusing to refer a case to the EU Courts.
Mr Dhahbi lives in Italy. He was of Tunisian origin, and was not at the time of this case an Italian citizen. He applied for and was refused a household allowance on the sole ground of nationality. He relied upon an entitlement to this allowance in an association agreement between the EU and Tunisia (known as the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement). The Italian court refused his application to have the case determined by the CJEU in Luxembourg.
Strasbourg decided that there had been a violation of his fair trial rights under Article 6, and discrimination on grounds of status under Article 14, when read with Article 8.
A lot is happening in various challenges related to the long-running and shameful exclusion of the Chagossian people from their islands in the Indian Ocean.
Here are the headlines, with a reminder of what these cases are about:
First, the Court of Appeal has just (2 April 2014) heard an appeal by the Chagossians against the dismissal of their challenge to the designation of the waters around the islands as a Marine Protected Area.
Second, the closed hearing of the UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal on the merits of the Chagos dispute (Mauritius v UK) is to be held at Istanbul on 22 April 2014. This also concerns the designation of the MPA.
Thirdly, the public hearing in the UK Information Tribunal on access to Diego Garcia pollution data appeal under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which the FCO — contrary to the view of the Information Commissioner — says is inapplicable to overseas territories) is to be held on May 1st, 2014.
Now to a little more detail.
R (o.t.a Rob Evans) v. Attorney-General, Information Commissioner Interested Party, 12 March 2014 - read judgment
The Court of Appeal (reversing a strong court including the former Lord Chief Justice – see my previous post) has decided that correspondence between the Prince of Wales and various government departments should be released. A Guardian journalist had made a request under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations to see these documents. The Upper Tribunal had agreed that they should be disclosed.
At that point, the Attorney-General intervened and signed a certificate saying “no”.
EM (Eritrea) and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 12 – read judgment
The Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision on the correct test for when an asylum seeker or refugee resists their return to another EU country (here Italy) in which they first sought or were granted asylum. The parties before the court all agreed that the test applied by the Court of Appeal, namely a requirement for a systemic deficiencies in the listed country’s asylum procedures and reception conditions was incorrect.
The Supreme Court agreed and held that even when the Dublin II Regulation was engaged, the correct test was that laid down in Soering v United Kingdom (1989) 11 EHRR 439 – the removal of a person from a member state of the Council of Europe to another country was contrary to the ECHR “where substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned… faces a real risk [in the country to which he or she is to be removed] of being subjected to [treatment contrary to article 3 of the Convention].”
Commission v. UK, judgment of CJEU, 13 February 2014 – read judgment – UPDATED
Litigation costs are troublesome, but they are particularly difficult in environmental cases where the claimant is not necessarily pursuing his private interests. This case is the result of a long-running and successful campaign by NGOs to persuade the EU Commission to investigate UK environmental legal costs. The main finding may not bother the UK too much, because wisely it saw this one coming and changed costs rules in environmental public law cases. A subsidiary ruling about cross-undertakings has also been more recently included in a rule change.
All of this comes from Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention (to which the EU has subscribed) which says that members of the public should be able to challenge environmental decisions, and the procedures for doing so shall be adequate and effective and “not prohibitively expensive”. Continue reading
Sections 50 to 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill and Explanatory Notes; the full Government response is here, 4 February 2014
At first sight, proposals full of sound and fury, and signifying not a great deal for planning and environmental challenges. There are some slippery costs changes which we need to look at, but some of the potentially more concerning proposals (see Adam’s post and the linked posts) do not fully apply to this area, as I shall explain. There are also some perfectly sensible proposals about harmonising planning challenges which lawyers have been advocating for years.
This consultation got going in September 2013 when Grayling put forward his round 2 of reform to judicial review in a wide-ranging, and frankly worrying, consultation paper. This week’s announcement and draft bill seeks to take some of these measures forward, but leaves others at home.
Mercifully, the bill does not include the ill-thought out consultation proposal to reform rules about standing in judicial review – who can complain of unlawful action by government? The proposal had been very worrying to those concerned with environmental challenges. It would have led to the rather unsatisfactory position that a NIMBY complaining about a nearby development would have been able to challenge an unlawful decision, but an entirely altruistic concern about unlawfulness affecting, say, birds, bats or habitats would have been dismissed not on the merits, but because the NGO or individual conservationist had insufficient “interest” in the outcome. See my previous post on this.
R (o.t.a HS2AA, Buckingham County Council and others) v. Secretary of State for Transport,  UKSC 3 – read judgments
So the challenge to the way in which the Government wished to push the HS2 project through Parliament has failed before the Supreme Court, though not without clarifying the way in which key EU environmental provisions are meant to work. And we will also see a further flexing of the Court’s muscles against a too straightforward reading of the supremacy of EU law when seen against our constitutional principles.
The objectors said the command paper which preceded the Parliamentary hybrid bill, in which the Government set out its proposals for HS2, fell within the scope of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive 2001/42/EC and that an SEA ought therefore to have been carried out. The directive applies to plans or programmes which set a “framework” (Art.3(2)(a)) for future decisions whether to grant development consent for projects, and it was said that the command paper set the framework for the decision whether to grant consent for HS2.
Secondly, the objectors said that the legislative procedure in Parliament does not meet the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 2011/92/EU. The EU Court of Justice has interpreted that directive as imposing a number of requirements, including that the legislature must have available to it the information required by the directive, and a requirement that national courts must be able to verify that the requirements of the directive have been satisfied, taking account of the entire legislative process, including the preparatory documents and the parliamentary debates. Continue reading