Magna Carta and its progeny

National Archives Displays An Original Copy Of Magna CartaMagna Carta Uncovered, Hart Publishing, October 2014 - details here

Two old friends, Lord Judge (former Lord Chief Justice) and Anthony Arlidge QC have written a compelling and scholarly account of the 1215 political settlement known as the Magna Carta. This instrument has become something of a missile in the dust-up over  the European Convention versus “rights brought home”.

The authors have taken on the task of tracing the way in which the Magna Carta has played a part in political challenges since its inception, critically in 17th century clashes between King and Parliament (think the Five Knights and Ship Money cases and the 1689 Bill of Rights). And the Charter then formed the background for the US Bill of Rights and many constitutional settlements since. 

Magna Carta (strictly the first Magna Carta, as others followed in 1216, 1217 and 1225, to similar effect) was “granted” by King John in June 1215. Initial negotiations about the monarch’s relationship with the Church concluded on 23 November 1214 (800 years today) within the Temple in London – our authors are past and current Treasurers of the Middle Temple. The “grant” was not really that. John had been forced to make peace with his rebel barons, and the liberties forced out of the king were unwillingly conferred.

We know or think we know what Magna Carta says. But this book strips off some of the varnish which later thinkers have imposed upon it.

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Ping pong: CJEU air pollution ruling – back to the Supreme Court


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs , CJEU, 19 November 2014 – read C404-13 

In May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here) was sufficiently concerned about the UK’s lack of compliance  with EU legislation, Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air)  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 the Directive since 1 January 2010, because 40 “zones and agglomerations”  had nitrogen dioxide at concentrations greater than the limit values set out in the Directive. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and, given the admission, the first instance judge and the Court of Appeal said that there was no point in granting any declaratory relief. It was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings. And those lower courts disagreed with ClientEarth’s interpretation of the Directive, which, as we shall see, has now for the first time been upheld by the CJEU.

The Supreme Court went rather further; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning of the Directive to the CJEU.

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The European Court of Human Rights: anti-democratic or guardian of fundamental values? – Judge Robert Spano

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297This post is adapted from a speech given by Judge Robert Spano of the European Court of Human Rights at Chatham House on 13 October 2014. It is reproduced here with permission and thanks.

There is currently a vigorous debate in the UK on the status and future of the European Convention on Human Rights in national law and also on the relationship between my Court, the Strasbourg Court (ECtHR), the UK Parliament and the domestic judiciary. 
In principle, democratic debates on such fundamental issues should always be welcome. Indeed, discussions on the role and functions of institutions of public power lie at the core of the democratic concept. It is therefore essential for the Court and its judges to engage in reasoned and informed debate about their work and its wider European implications. 


How Does the ECtHR Discharge Its Mandate? 


I have been asked to discuss the question of how the Strasbourg Court discharges its mandate. To give an answer, one must first respond to the fundamental question: What is the Court‘s mandate?

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Wind turbines, noise and public information

3844964938R (o.t.a Joicey) v. Northumberland County Council , 7 November 2014, Cranston J  read judgment

An interesting decision about a Council not supplying some key information about a wind turbine project to the public until very late in the day. Can an objector apply to set the grant of permission aside? Answer: yes, unless the Council can show that it would have inevitably have come to the same conclusion, even if the information had been made public earlier.

Mr Barber, a farmer, wanted to put up one turbine (47m to tip) on his land. The claimant was an objector, another farmer who lives 4km away, and who campaigns about subsidies for renewables – it is him in the pic. The planning application was complicated by the fact that an application for 6 turbines at Barmoor nearby had already been approved (where Mr Joicey is standing), and the rules on noise from wind turbines looks at the total noise affecting local people, not just from Mr Barber’s turbine.

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Letting in a chink of light to closed material cases : Bank Mellat again

brown-blanket-ray-of-lightBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2014] 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.

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Kenyan President uses Tory human rights plans to defend war crimes charges

Photo credit: Guardian.co.uk

Photo credit: Guardian.co.uk

It is easy to forget that our domestic debate over the European Convention on Human Rights might be having an international impact. But the UK is only one of 47 states which is party to the Convention, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg protects over 800 million people.

This morning, we brought you exclusive interviews with survivors of the Beslan massacre who are rightly worried that if the UK leaves the Convention, or even threatens to leave as the Conservatives did recently, that will affect their fight for justice. In short, Vladimir Putin would have a ready excuse for ignoring any conclusions reached by the Court.

Well, here is another example of the effect which political trash-talking about the ECHR can have. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is facing war crimes charges in the Hague relating to ethnic violence which erupted after the 2007 elections leaving 1,200 dead and 600,000 displaced.

He has recently stepped down in order to face the charges. He made a speech to the Kenyan Parliament (PDF) on 6 October strongly asserting Kenya’s “sovereignty”, and in doing so he said this: Continue reading

“UK must not think only of itself”: Massacre families urge UK not to leave ECHR – Alice Donald

Photo credit: Guardian.co.uk

Photo credit: Guardian.co.uk

The Conservative Party’s proposals to introduce a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities that would weaken the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – and the legal chaos that would ensue if it was ever enacted – have been hotly debated. The proposal makes clear that if the Council of Europe was to reject the UK’s unilateral move, as it would be bound to, the UK ‘would be left with no alternative but to withdraw’ from the Convention. 

The policy is highly isolationist. The brief section on the ‘international implications’ of the plan does not pause to consider the impact of withdrawal on the other 46 states on the Council of Europe or the Convention system as a whole. Nor does it address the implications for the UK’s ability to promote human rights and the rule of law in countries with significantly worse human rights records.

This is despite the evident risk of contagion to newer Council of Europe states. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, has argued that if the UK persists in its disrespect for the Strasbourg Court, exemplified by its protracted non-compliance with the judgment on prisoners’ voting rights, this would

… send a strong signal to other member states, some of which would probably follow      the UK’s lead and also claim that compliance with certain judgments is not possible,     necessary or expedient. That would probably be the beginning of the end of the   ECHR system.

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