Hands off our courts’ relationship with the European Court of Human Rights – Paul Harvey

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe glass foyer of the Palais de Droits de l’Homme in Strasbourg (pictured) is not to everyone’s taste.  Some find it inspiring, others – often advocates appearing for the first time – are simply too nervous to notice. Typically, Rumpole on his triumphant visit takes a much more down-to-earth approach, comparing the building to the boiler of a ship.

Whatever one makes of it, the foyer of the Court is designed to remind visitors of two things: the Court’s accessibility and its openness. That is not always apparent from the Court’s procedures or from the language it sometimes uses to express itself, but it is beyond question that the Court is open to the different legal traditions of its member States.  Most influential among those traditions must surely be the common law.

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Times on the legal naughty step for bizarre ‘right to marry’ headline splash

photoThe debate over the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights is already mired with misunderstanding (see this and this), but amazingly Saturday’s Times (£) managed to up the stupid-quotient by another few notches.

The headline was “Ministers to block ‘right to marry’ in EU backlash“. Apparently the Government has “vowed to block a fresh push to introduce new EU human rights, such as the right to marry and the right to collective bargaining, into Britain“. And as the Times’ political editor Francis Elliot (not to be confused with the generally sound legal correspondent Frances Gibb) reported:

The charter enshrines a host of rights not found in other declarations, including personal, work and family relations. One of them is a proposed “right to marry and found a family”.

The only problem is that… the right to “marry and found a family” already exists in the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s in Article 12. It has been there since the UK signed up to the ECHR in 1953. Here it is:

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No rational basis for denying all prisoners the vote, concludes joint Parliamentary Committee

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 07.28.46The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill today published its report – you can read it in full here (PDF/HTML/conclusions). I gave evidence to the committee a few weeks ago – you can watch again here.

The report strongly recommends enacting legislation so that ” all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less should be entitled to vote in all UK parliamentary, local and European elections”.  The recommendation could not  be more emphatic, with the committee concluding, amongst other things:

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What really goes on in the Supreme Court

9781849463836On 9 December 2013, Professor Paterson launched his new book, Final Judgment (Hart Publishing, absolutely no relation), via the Second annual Bailii lecture, Decision-making in the UK’s top court – read lecture here, order book here (£21.25, Amazon) or direct from the publishers at £20 here (reference ‘PATERSON’ to get the further discount)

The lecture summarises a wise, perceptive, and at times funny work of scholarship, and this post is an unashamed plea that you read the book as well as the lecture.

The book is based upon over 100 interviews with Law Lords, Justices and counsel. Paterson is particularly well-placed, having carried out a review in the 1970s with 15 then current or former Law Lords and 46 counsel. He has also looked at the judicial notebooks of two of the outstanding leaders of the judicial House of Lords, namely Lord Reid in the 1960s and 1970s, and Lord Bingham in the 2000s. These notebooks contain not only records of counsel’s arguments, but also details of what the Law Lords or Justices thought at the end of the “first conference” held immediately after the oral hearing. And the revelation was that in many important cases the judges’ view shifted between that conference and the ultimate decision, often with a critical impact on the outcome. One of the particular interests of the book is to follow through the big cases of the last years, and see how the judges ended up where they did.

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Don’t mess up your European Court of Human Rights application… a new rule

how-I-feel-while-filling-out-forms-640x425I don’t usually post about court procedure, but as any lawyer knows, a failure to comply with what may seem like boring  court rules can lead to a case being struck out before it even begins – this is what we in the trade call a “bad outcome”. In the UK context, see this terrifying recent Court of Appeal judgment

Well, the European Court of Human Rights will from 1 January 2014 be toughening up its procedure rules with a new Rule 47 of the Rules of Court. Essentially, if you don’t get the forms right and provide the required information, your case will be rejected outright. This is part of the strategy to minimise the court’s enormous caseload. The changes are summed up in this handy press release – key extracts below:

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The Supreme Court on “prohibitively expensive” costs: Aarhus again

R (Edwards & Pallikaropoulos) v. Environment Agency et al, Supreme Court, 11 December 2013 read judgment

This is the last gasp in the saga on whether Mrs Pallikaropoulos should bear £25,000 of the costs of her unsuccessful 2008 appeal to the House of Lords. And the answer, after intervening trips to the Supreme Court in 2010 and to the CJEU in 2013, is a finding by the Supreme Court that she should bear those costs.

The judgment by Lord Carnwath (for the Court) is a helpful application of the somewhat opaque reasoning of the European Court on how to decide whether an environmental case is “prohibitively expensive” per Article 9(4) of the Aarhus Convention, and thus whether the court should protect the claimant against such liabilities. The judgment also considers the guidance given by A-G Kokott more recently in infraction proceedings against the UK for breaches of that provision: see my post.

But note that the dispute has been largely overtaken by recent rule changes, and so we should start with these before looking at the judgment.

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CJEU sets itself against secret “nod and a wink” justice

Fulmen & Mahmoudian v. Council of the European Union,28 November 2013,  read judgment

I posted last year on a decision by the General Court in Luxembourg, in which Fulmen successfully challenged sanctions taken against it as part of EU policy to apply pressure on Iran to end nuclear proliferation.

 Fulmen was said to have supplied electrical equipment on the Qom/Fordoo nuclear site and Mr Mahmoudian was said to be a director of Fulmen. Hence all of their assets were frozen by the EU.

The CJEU has now roundly dismissed the appeal by the EU Council from the ruling of the General Court. The sanctions order has been annulled – over 3 years after it was made. The Council has been told that if it wants to uphold such orders, it must adduce evidence to the Court, however sensitive the subject matter, and even if not all of that evidence is passed on to those affected.

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UK may need law against secret filming and photography after European Court ruling – James Michael

A-photographer-with-a-cam-006Söderman v. Sweden – (application no. 5786/08) - Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has decided that it is a violation of the right to privacy if a country does not have a law prohibiting surreptitious photography of people. The ruling has serious implications for paparazzi, and would have been useful to Princess Diana.  A ready-made bill exists in the form of a draft published by the Law Commission for England and Wales in 1981.

On 12 November the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Sweden’s lack of a legal ban on invading personal privacy by surreptitious photographs violated the right to privacy. The case involved a camera hidden in the bathroom by the stepfather of a fourteen-year old girl. (Söderman v. Sweden,application no. 5786/08).

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Hostility to the European Court and the risks of contagion – Philip Leach and Alice Donald

Contagion-007Updated | The relationship between the UK and the European Court remains turbulent and fractious. The Court has been the subject of significant criticism, notably from some politicians and commentators in the UK, relating to its supposed interference in domestic, sovereign questions and the quality of its judges.

Some commentators say that the UK may have to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the court. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky argues that if (as is highly likely) the Council of Europe refuses to institute a “democratic override” for states of European Court of Human Rights decisions, withdrawal should be seriously considered. MP Nick Herbert argues that the UK should withdraw immediately.

Others have proposed withdrawing from the European Convention altogether. For example, in April, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that temporary withdrawal from the Convention was one option being considered by the UK government in its efforts to deport the Islamic cleric Omar Mohammed Othman (also known as Abu Qatada). Two members of the Commission tasked with investigating the creation of a UK Bill of Rights advocated withdrawal from the Convention unless the Court ceased its ‘judicially activist approach’ (p. 182).

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Materiality in environmental judicial review

luftbild_web_klein_bGemeinde Altrip et al v. Land Rheinland-Pfalz, CJEU, 7 November 2013 – read judgment

When you challenge a decision in the courts on the basis that it was unlawful, you must show that the wrong is material. The other side may say that the wrong led to no difference in the decision; it would have inevitably have been the same even if the defendant had acted lawfully. The onus is on you the claimant, but it is not at the moment a high one. Only a possibility of a different outcome is enough to get you home and the decision quashed.

This materiality issue was one of the points in this challenge by local landowners to a flood retention scheme affecting some 320 ha of their land in the former Rhine flood plain. The scheme had undergone an environmental impact assessment which the locals said was defective. But did the locals have to show that correcting the defects might have made a difference to the ultimate decision? That was one of the questions which the German federal administrative court referred to the EU Court.

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Too little too late as Daily Mail “corrects” bogus human rights splash

screen-shot-2013-10-12-at-21-11-11The Daily Mail has belatedly “corrected” its front page story on human rights damages, over a month after it appeared on 7 October 2013. Early last month I blogged on  the original bogus article, which was so poor it generated a response from the ordinarily placid Council of Europe.

I have quote-pincered “corrected” as despite the newspaper’s actions, the damage is already done. A month has passed, which in social media time might as well be million years. People have moved on. Another human rights myth is implanted in the collective consciousness, and no sad little correction is going to dislodge a front page headline.

And to make things worse, the story was amplified by a whole host of other newspapers which picked it up without bothering to check the facts, including the Telegraph (corrected) and Daily Star (as yet uncorrected).

What really rankles about this story is how wrong it was.

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Renewable energy ambitions of the Scottish Ministers “trounce the law of the land”

march-image350The sequel to this Scottish judicial review decision in Sustainable Shetland, (Lady Clark of Calton, read judgment, and my post) is another unedifying example of executive government ignoring courts when it suits them.

In this case, the judge (a former Law Officer in Scotland) quashed the grant of a wind farm consent, for two reasons, the relevant one being that the wind farmer could not apply for the consent anyway because it had not got the requisite licence which was a pre-condition for such an application. Readers will recall that Scottish Ministers had also resisted the highly controversial planning appeal being heard at public inquiry – or the Scottish equivalent.

If you are an ordinary citizen, and you get an adverse judgment, you can only do one thing – appeal it and wait for the decision on appeal. The Scottish Ministers plainly do not like the decision. They have sought to reverse it by a legislative amendment, which did not find favour in the House of Lords. But, rather less attractively, they are simply ignoring the decision pending that appeal on the basis that it is wrong. Judges, rather than ministers, might be thought to be a reasonable judge of that. But the Scottish Ministers think not.

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EU Balance of Competences Fundamental Rights Review

european_union_grunge_flag_by_think0The Ministry of Justice is calling for evidence on the Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union, specifically relating to fundamental rights. The consultation document is here and main website here.

The deadline for responses is 13 January 2014, but if you want to take part in one of the four discussion groups (three in London, one in Edinburgh), you need to email by tomorrow – all details below.

And don’t let the obscure-sounding title put you off. This review is potentially very important. Just look how broad question 1 is:  Continue reading

1940 Soviet massacre outside reach of European Convention, rules Strasbourg

Trzy_krzyze-1Janowiec and Others v Russia (Applications nos. 55508/07 and 29520/09)read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that it had no competence to examine complaints relating to the adequacy of Russia’s criminal investigation into events that had occurred prior to the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950: namely the Katyń Massacre of 1940.

The applicants were relations of 12 victims of the Katyń Massacre. They had been executed by the NKVD together with over 20,000 other former Polish Army officers, government officials, and landowners. A criminal investigation into the deaths ran from 1990 until 2004 when the Chief Military Prosecutor decided to discontinue ‘Criminal Case no. 159’ on the grounds that any alleged suspects were dead.

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Wind farms, birds, and that pesky thing called the rule of law

bp_whimbrel_15_240409_500Sustainable Shetland, Re Judicial Review, 24 September 2013, Lady Clark of Calton  read judgment

The current storms brought down a turbine in Teignmouth: see here for good pics of this and other mayhem. And the rule of law recently brought down a massive wind farm proposed for Shetland. The Scottish Ministers had waved aside a request for a public inquiry, and ended up drafting reasons which ignored the obligations in the Wild Birds Directive in respect of this bird – the whimbrel. Lady Clark quashed the consent on this ground, and also decided that the wind farmer could not apply for the consent anyway because it had not got the requisite licence which she concluded was a pre-condition for such an application. 

And there is a very good chance that the NGO which brought this challenge would not be entitled to do so if Mr Grayling gets his way, because it might well not have been held to have “standing”. Such a change he would regard as “firmly in the national interest”: see my post of last week on proposed reforms to judicial review rules. There are, to say the least, two sides to that argument about national interest, hence the importance of responding to his consultation paper, with its closing date of 1 November 2013.

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