Updated | 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).
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
TV cameras are recording Court of Appeal hearings from today. The BBC, ITN, Sky News and the Press Association are cooperating on the project, and have hired an in-court video-journalist who will recommend the most interesting cases.
This is great news. Let in the light. The more that the public can see what is going on in their courts, the better. The courts are a bewildering place for the uninitiated and especially for those who cannot afford to pay someone to explain what is going on. This is still a relatively small advance – only appeals will be broadcast, not trials, so the public is unlikely to see any cross examination of witnesses. But hopefully it will be enough to increase public understanding of and interest in the courts.
But a word of warning. This initiative will only succeed if it is implemented in the right way. And, there are important lessons here from the Supreme Court’s ongoing broadcasting experiment.
On October 2 at 10am, the United Kingdom Supreme Court held an hour long pre-term press-briefing to mark the opening of the Court’s fifth year. This blog looks not only at what was said by the Court, and asked by the journalists on the day, but also what was then reported.
The Supreme Court’s relationship with the media is marked by the same combination of common interests and tensions which mark the media’s relationship with any other public body. Yes the Court wants media coverage; and a function of the media is to cover the Court. The media though will always want more than its subjects are looking to give up, and not only that, will often frame how the subject is presented according to each outlet’s particular agendas. Further, the Court, and its justices, will also have their own goals about what messages should be highlighted.
The second salvo in the Government’s war against Judicial Review was launched last week. At least, that is what you may think after reading the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling’s fire-breathing op-ed in the Daily Mail, in which he gets within a whisker of saying Judicial Review was invented by Karl Marx to foment socialist revolution.
“Beware kite flyers“, warned former Court of Appeal judge Sir Stephen Sedley in a recent article. Before Mr Grayling launched his latest kite, Sir Stephen argued that placing a political attack dog in the constitutionally delicate role of Lord Chancellor “exposed the legal system to the vagaries of politics and policy, with profound implications for the rule of law“. Law was hardly insulated before, but it is difficult to remember a Lord Chancellor putting his case in such a nakedly political and incendiary way.
Yesterday Sir Nicolas Bratza spoke candidly about the responsibility of certain UK politicians and media outlets in tarnishing this countries human rights legacy. He called on lawyers and NGOs to help rekindle the fire for human rights at home.
At an event hosted by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and the Law Society – “Sixty years of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): What does the future hold?” – politicians, legal practitioners, civil servants, academics and activists debated the impact of six decades of the UK’s membership of the ECHR.
According to reports in yesterday’s Times (£) and Telegraph, the government is planning a further set of reforms to judicial review. (I have written before about why the original proposals, published in December 2012, were objectionable—and about the fact that the government pressed ahead with many, but not all, of them, excoriating criticism notwithstanding.) Today, it is said that the Ministry of Justice is drastically to restrict the test for standing in judicial review cases. A “government source” told the Times that:
We’re looking at making some changes so that the system isn’t open to abuse by groups who may not have a direct interest in the issue at hand but simply want to cause delay or disruption to plans or generate publicity for themselves.
This fits with the overarching narrative emerging from (certain parts of) government, according to which accountability to law—whether domestic or European—is increasingly characterised as a brake on economic progress, a challenge to democracy by unelected judges, or little more than a public-relations tool that is strategically deployed so as to “play the system”.
Neumanns v. Adronikou  EWCA (Civ) 916, 24 July 2013 read judgment
This time of year, high court and appellate judges will have been trying to clear their desks – to stop the complex half-finished judgment from skulking around in their minds and spoiling their holidays.
So they must relish this advice from Mummery LJ, a long-standing member of the Court of Appeal, about brevity – in particular, what to do when the CA is dismissing an appeal from an immaculate judgement below:
What sensible purpose could be served by this court repeating in its judgments detailed discussions of every point raised in the grounds of appeal and the skeleton arguments when they have already been dealt with correctly and in detail in the judgment under appeal? No purpose at all, in my view.
But Mummery LJ did a little more than this in an attempt to stifle down at least some of the words pouring out from the courts, as we shall see.