Exclusion of Iranian dissident lawful, says Court of Appeal

Maryam-Rajavi2009R (on the application of) Lord Carlile of Berriew and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department 20 March 2013  [2013] EWCA Civ 199 - read judgment

 Last year the Divisional Court upheld the Home Secretary’s decision to prevent a dissident Iranian politician coming to the United Kingdom to address the Palace of Westminster: see that decision here and my post discussing the “Politics of Fear” here.

In this appeal, the parliamentarians contended that the Divisional Court had failed to consider the proportionality of the exclusion decision with sufficient scrutiny, and, by giving precedence to the possibility of unlawful actions by the Iranian regime, had given inadequate weight to the rule of law. It was perverse, they said, to justify the exclusion decisions by reference to risks to local staff and British government property in Tehran. Furthermore they argued that there had been unfairness in failing to consult the Parliamentary appellants. Continue reading

Court of Appeal downplays Aarhus

_66025376_3166618Evans, R (o.t.a of) Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2013] EWCA Civ 114 – read judgment

There have been important pronouncements over the years by the Aarhus Compliance Committee (ACC) about whether the UK planning system complies with the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention). See my post here for the most important ones, and more are likely to follow shortly (see here). The interest in this domestic planning case is in how the Court of Appeal dealt with those pronouncements, where there is domestic case law going the other way.

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No anonymity for bankers involved in Libor scandal

jXfojqnuU1RNrMC35iMDoxOm1qO4kO9DGraiseley Properties Ltd and others (Claimants) v Barclays Bank Plc (Defendant); Various employees and ex-employees of Barclays Bank plc and Telegraph Group and others (interveners) [2013] EWHC 67 (Comm) 21 January 2013 – read judgment

The Commercial Court has resisted an application to anonymise those individuals at Barclays involved in the LIBOR scandal.

In his firm dismissal of the arguments Flaux J has confirmed the principle that anonymity orders will only be made in cases where the applicant for the order has established that it is strictly necessary for the proper administration of justice. The employees’ claim they should remain anonymous until trial failed at the first hurdle, “because they had simply not established by clear and cogent evidence, or at all, that the order they seek or any aspect of it is strictly necessary for the proper administration of justice.” Continue reading

Inuit, standing and the gates to the Luxembourg Court

flagInuit Tapiriit Kanatami et al v. European Parliament opinion of Advocate General Kokott, 17 January 2013, read opinion, on appeal from the General Court read judgment & my post on it

The EU makes a rule. When can the ordinary person affected seek annulment of the rule on the basis that it is unlawful? This is the big issue tussled with in this important and informative Advocate General’s opinion. You might have thought that if the basic ground for challenge was unlawfulness (and that is a high hurdle in itself), then as long as you were in some way affected by the decision, then you should be able to complain about the decision. That is broadly how we do things here in our UK system of judicial review.

But when you get to the EU Courts very different rules of engagement apply – far fewer people can complain about the illegality directly.

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EU’s non-disclosure of UK EU Charter “opt-out” documents is a breach of the EU Charter


11374Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint against the European Commission, 17 December 2012 – Read decision

The UK secured what Tony Blair described as an opt-out in respect of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights as part of the negotiations leading up to the Lisbon Treaty – which contains the Charter. Rosalind English has summarised here what the Charter involves, and whether the “opt-out” really changes anything. This recent EU Ombudsman’s decision concerns the attempts of an NGO to extract certain EU Commission documents in the run-up to the Lisbon Treaty. The EU Commission was taking its usual head-in-the-sand approach to disclosure (see various posts listed below), hence the complaint to the Ombudsman. And, as we shall see, the Ombudsman gave the Commission both barrels in this highly critical decision.

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Identity of social workers may be published following fostering bungle

question-mark-face Bristol City Council v C and others [2012] EWHC 3748 (Fam) – read judgment

This was an application for a reporting restriction order arising out of care proceedings conducted before the Bristol Family Proceedings Court. The proceedings themselves were relatively straightforward but, in the course of the hearing, information came to light which gave rise to concerns of an “unusual nature”, which alerted the interest of the press.

Background

After family court proceedings decided that child A was at risk of violence from her father, an interim care order was implemented and A was moved to foster carers. However some time afterwards the local authority received information from the police suggesting that someone living at the address of A’s foster carers had had access to child pornography. A also told social workers that another member of the foster household (also respondent to this action) had grabbed her around the throat. As a consequence police and social services visited the foster carers, informed them of the concerns about pornography, removed all computers from the house and moved A to another foster home. On the following day the male foster carer was found dead, having apparently committed suicide. Continue reading

From base pairs to the bedside: medical confidentiality in a changing world

DNA database impact on human rightsThis week David Cameron announced plans  to introduce whole genome mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases within the NHS. 

Single gene testing is already available across the NHS ranging from diagnosing cancers to assessing patients’ risk of suffering side effects from treatment, but this initiative will mean that the UK will be the first country in the world to introduce the technology within a mainstream health system, with up to 100,000 patients over three to five years having their whole genome – their personal DNA code –sequenced. According to Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies

The genome profile will give doctors a new, advanced understanding of a patient’s genetic make-up, condition and treatment needs, ensuring they have access to the right drugs and personalised care far quicker than ever before.

What will this mean for medical confidentiality?  The official announcement ends with the following declaration:

1. Genome sequencing is entirely voluntary. Patients will be able to opt out of having their genome sequenced without affecting their NHS care.

2.  Whole genome sequence data will be completely anonymised apart from when it is used for an individuals own care.

3. A number of ways to store this data will be investigated. The privacy and confidentiality of NHS patients will be paramount in this decision. Continue reading

Should any genetic information be a trade secret?

dna_infograph1I posted previously on the decision by the   US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to uphold the patents on the genetics company Myriad’s gene sequences for breast cancer research and therapy. In September 2012 the American Civil Liberties Union once again petitioned for Supreme Court review.  The Court should decide today whether to review the case.

The whole question of proprietary claims over genetic information is not limited to patents and is very much open to debate.  In my piece on the US Bioethics Commission’s report to the Obama administration I discussed the challenge faced by lawmakers in regulating the increasing flow of genomic information so as to protect people’s privacy without shutting down the flow of data vital to biomedical research. Whilst it is true that the availability of patent protection creates vital incentives for such research, genetic testing companies like Myriad can extend their exclusivity beyond their patented products by creating limiting access to private databases containing information vital to interpreting the clinical significance of human genetic variations. There is concern that this threatens to impede the clinical interpretation of genomic medicine. The Genomics Law Report Journal reports that

National health systems and insurers, regulators, researchers, providers and patients all have a strong interest in ensuring broad access to information about the clinical significance of variants discovered through genetic testing. Continue reading

Prince Charles and the curious case of the Black Spider Letters

Litigation relating to information rights can sometimes seem very dry and obscure, entailing lengthy analysis of the merits of public authorities disclosing or withholding information which is highly specialised or obtuse, and of little real interest to the general population. But this case – the case of the “Black Spider Letters” – really is a fascinating one, involving an examination not just of the legislative provisions relating to the disclosure of information, but also a consideration of the existence and extent of constitutional conventions pertaining to the role of the monarchy in government. At the same time, it has the potential to generate such controversy as to make for perfect tabloid fodder. It has been the subject of international news coverage. And it’s not over yet.

It all stems from a request for information made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“the Regulations”) by a Guardian journalist, Mr Rob Evans. In April 2005 he wrote to seven Government Departments, and asked for a list of correspondence between Prince Charles and the ministers for those Departments between 1 September 2004 and 1 April 2005, as well as copies of each piece of correspondence. Many of the Departments initially relied on exemptions contained in the Act in order to refuse to confirm or deny whether or not they held such information. Ultimately however, all the Departments admitted that such correspondence did exist, but they refused to disclose it.

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Are Facebook and Twitter making criminals of us all? – Free panel debate, Wed 17 Oct

Update – only 29 places left (2:10pm)

For anyone interested in the issues I raised in my post yesterday about a man given twelve weeks in prison for making sick jokes on Facebook, I am chairing a Question Time-style panel debate next Wednesday 17 October 2012, 6-7:30pm, organised by the Human Rights Lawyers Association and Article 19, the free speech charity. Article 19 are hosting the event at their offices in Farringdon.

The panel is excellent, including Tamsin Allen (head of Media and Information Law at Bindmans solicitors), John Cooper QC (amongst many other things, counsel for Paul Chambers in the Twitter joke trial) and Gabrielle Guillemin (legal officer at Article 19). The event is free and open to all, but space is limited so if you would like to come, please email administrator@hrla.org.uk.

Full details below or in a prettier version, here:

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A Chagossian double bill: an environmental information contest, and a touch of Wikileaks

The Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius v. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, First Tier Tribunal, 4 September 2012, read judgment

and Bancoult v. FCO, 25 July 2012, Stanley Burnton LJ, read judgment

The manoevres by which the Chagossians were evicted from their islands in the Indian Ocean, the late 1960s and early 1970s, so to enable the US to operate an air base on Diego Garcia, do not show the UK Foreign Office in its best light. Indeed, after a severe rebuke from the courts in 2000, the FCO accepted that the original law underlying their departure was unlawful, and agreed to investigate their possible resettlement on some of their islands.

The first of these new cases is an environmental information appeal concerning the next phase of the story – how the FCO decided that it was not feasible to resettle the islanders in 2002-2004.

This decision was taken in the modern way – backed by a feasibility study prepared by consultants supporting the stance which the FCO ultimately were to take. And this case concerns the islanders’ attempts to get documents lying behind and around the taking of this decision.

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Is compulsory regulation of the print media compatible with Article 10 ECHR? – Hugh Tomlinson QC

One of the possibilities being considered by Lord Justice Leveson as he writes the Report for Part 1 of his Inquiry is whether there should be compulsory regulation of the print media.   One, widely discussed possibility is a statutory framework which would require any publisher with turnover or readership above a set threshold to join a “regulatory body”: compulsory regulation for large publishers. 

The purpose of such a provision would be to  deal with the so-called “Desmond problem” – the anomaly of a system of regulation which does not cover all the large newspaper publishers. But an important freedom of expression question arises: is the compulsory regulation of the print media compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights?  This is not a question which has ever been considered by the Court of Human Rights and the answer may not be an entirely straightforward.

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Contractual security vetting by the police: public or private law?

A, R (o.t.a A) v. Chief Constable of B Constabulary [2012] EWCA 2141 (Admin), Kenneth Parker J, 26 July 2012, read judgment

The public/private divide still gets lawyers excited, even in an Olympic summer, and for good reason – my image is simply to cool the fevered brow of those fresh from the stadium or the beach. Now for the problem met head on in this case. Generally speaking, parties to a contract may treat the others how they please, as long as that treatment does not offend the terms of the contract or specific consumer protection rules. But, equally generally, a public body is obliged to treat others in accordance with public law rules of fairness, and can challenge unfairness by judicial review. And this case is a good example of the intersection between these principles.

A had run a breakdown recovery service for the police for some years. The police then interposed a main contractor, FMG, who awarded the contract to A for the continuation of the job, now as a subcontractor. But the sub-contract, understandably enough, provided that its award was subject to vetting by the police. And the police then refused to give A clearance. Why? The police would not say, even when A threatened proceedings. And they said that they did not have to. Their line in court was that it was all governed by the contract, and the courts had no business in poking its nose into their reasoning – in the jargon, it was non-justiciable. They relented to some extent in the course of the proceedings, by giving some information, but still said that they were not obliged to do so.

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Alien poster campaign’s anti-religious message

Updated | Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v Switzerland [2012] ECHR 1598 (13 July 2012) - read judgment

This case concerned the Swiss authorities’ refusal to allow an association to put up posters featuring extraterrestrials and a flying saucer on the ground that it engaged in activities that were considered immoral.

The association complained it had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber did not agree, ruling that the refusal had met a “pressing social need” and that the authorities had not overstepped the broad margin of appreciation given to them in view of the non-political dimension of the poster campaign.

At first blush there is nothing remarkable about this ruling. But it was a narrow majority (nine votes to eight) and a brief reading of the dissenting opinions gives pause for thought: does the slightly loony nature of a message justify its suppression? Lurking behind the authorities’ refusal to allow the association’s advertising campaign is a sense of disapproval vis a vis their anti-Christian message;  one of the campaigns the association wished to conduct featured a poster stating “God does not exist”, and on another, below the association’s website, ran the message “Science at last replaces religion”. Continue reading

When the EU implements Aarhus against itself, oh, how minimally it does it.


On the EU watch again, I am afraid. We have looked at getting documents out of the EU, in the context of the IFAW case about the German Chancellor’s letter, via Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 (the EU Access to Information Regulation). And also on how to seek annulment of  EU laws and decisions from the EU courts (Inuits and all that). Both apply to all EU issues. We have mused on what might happen if the EU institutions sign up to the ECHR, so that complaints about them can go to the Strasbourg Court.

Now we return to environmental cases, where there is a specific measure, EU Aarhus Regulation 1367/2006, which applies the Aarhus Convention to EU institutions. We have seen how in a specific context this Regulation must be interpreted in the light of the meaning of the Convention:  my post on the pesticides and air quality challenges, where the General Court of the EU effectively ignored the words “of individual scope” in the Regulation to make the Regulation comply with the Convention. But I am now going to have a look at this measure more generally. Remember we are not here dealing with getting environmental information out of member states; that question is dealt with via a separate EU Directive (2003/4), transposed in the UK by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

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