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.