US Supreme Court opens door to marriage equality, UK coming next

Kris Perry kisses Sandy StierHollingsworth v Perry – No. 12–144 – Read judgment

United States v Windsor – No. 12–307 – Read judgment

In rulings that have the potential to influence the jurisprudence of courts around the world, the Supreme Court of the United States has handed down two landmark decisions pertaining to the issue of same-sex marriage.

The right of gay and lesbian couples to wed remains one of the most controversial and debated civil rights issues of our time. However, the ground has been shifting with increasing rapidity in recent years and months. The direction of change is clear. There are now fifteen countries which permit or will permit same-sex marriages, including most recently Uruguay, New Zealand and France. With bills steadily progressing through the Parliamentary process, there is a strong possibility that England, Wales and Scotland may soon be added to the list.

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An ABC on proportionality – with Bank Mellat as our primer

seo-marketing-320x200Bank Mellat v HM Treasury [2013] UKSC 39 (see judgment)

My post of earlier this week explained why the majority of the Supreme Court struck down a direction telling all financial institutions not to deal with this Iranian Bank. The legal ground (involving, as Lord Sumption described it, “an exacting analysis of the factual evidence in defence of the measure” [20]) was that the direction was “disproportionate”. The judgments (particularly the dissenting one of Lord Reed) tell us a lot about the scope of proportionality. And there is a good deal more to it than there might at first sight appear.

So it may be worth doing a bit of a bluffers guide, hand in hand with Lord Reed.

The concept arises in human rights law and in EU law. Its ECHR and EU incarnations derive from German administrative law, but its development in English law shows strong common-law influences. It applies in many different contexts, and the intensity of the review required critically depends on that context as well as the right being interfered with. So it is no simple thing to explain, but Lord Reed at [68] – [76] distils the main elements.

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High Court directs major overhaul of Iraq death and mistreatment allegations investigation

iraqMousa & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Defence [2013] EWHC 1412 (Admin) (24 May 2013) – Read judgment

Remember the Iraq War? Following the 2003 invasion Britain remained in control of Basra, a city in South Eastern Iraq, until withdrawal over six years later on 30 April 2009. 179 British troops died during that period. But despite there over four years having passed since withdrawal, the fallout from the war and occupation is still being resolved by the UK Government and courts.

Thousands of Iraqis died in the hostilities or were detained by the British. Thanks to two decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2011 (Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda – our coverage here), the state’s duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate deaths and extreme mistreatment applied in Iraq at that time. It is fascinating to see how the UK authorities have been unravelling the extent of that duty. The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry has reported and the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry is ongoing (I acted in the former and still do in the latter). In this major judgment, which may yet be appealed, the High Court has ruled the manner in which the UK Government is investigating deaths and perhaps mistreatment is insufficient to satisfy its investigative duty.

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Myths and Realities about Equal Marriage

gay_marriage_cake_300The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is back before Parliament today for the “Report Stage”. The latest version of the Bill is here, updated explanatory notes here, and the full list of proposed amendments here. Predictably, the amendments are the focus of much controversy.

I have written a new article for the New Statesman on some of the myths and realities surrounding the debate - you can read it here. It’s all a bit complicated, as you might expect.

Our previous coverage is linked to below. Hopefully, party politics won’t end up derailing this important bill. As the New Yorker recently predicted:

One day, not long from now, it will be hard to remember what worried people so much about gay and lesbian couples committing themselves to marriage.

Planning policy versus the UN rights of the child

a-1-rose-lane-ripleyStevens v. Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, Hickinbottom J, 10 April 2013 read judgment

As the judge explicitly recognised, this case raised the clash of two principles – how to resolve the policy-driven field of planning with the rights of family under Article 8 ECHR and of the child under Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The battlefield was the well-trodden one of a Gypsy family living in caravans within the Green Belt, but without existing planning permission for those caravans. Ms Stevens sought to regularise this by applying for retrospective permission. The Council turned her down, and her appeal to a planning inspector was dismissed. She then made a statutory challenge to that decision under section 288 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990, seeking to quash it and have it re-determined.

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4 slaughterhouses hit high fives: Article 6(1) breaches found

37788084345565012_8oFmp54f_222Julius Kloiber Schlachthof GMBH and others v. Austria, ECtHR, 4 April 2013, read judgment

These ECtHR decisions are the latest in a number of claims by slaughterhouses that their rights were infringed by the exaction of a surcharge by the Austrian national agricultural board. The Court decided that (a) the process of surcharging by administrative bodies engaged the criminal part of Article 6 and (b) the Austrian courts hearing appeals against the surcharges did not have the jurisdiction to carry out a “full review” of the decision to surcharge; only that way could one turn the combination of administrative decision and court decision into a decision by a “tribunal” complying with Article 6.

Now to unpack these complex but important ECtHR rules, and to look at how they play out domestically.

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Damages for death and human rights


1362401166_wreathSwift v. Secretary of State for Justice, Court of Appeal, 18 February 2013 – read judgment – on appeal from Eady J, read judgment and my previous post

Ms Swift lost her live-in partner in an accident at work caused by negligence. She was pregnant with her partner’s child, but had only been living with him for 6 months. Had she been with him for 2 years, she could have claimed damages for his death under section 1(3) of the Fatal Accidents Act – set out at [1] of the CA judgment. She would then have been a “dependant” as defined under the FAA. So she argued that her rights under Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR were not properly respected by the law governing damages for the death of a relative – there was no justification for this stark cut-off – 1 year 11 months no claim, 2 years a claim. The judge refused to grant a declaration of incompatibility between the ECHR and the Fatal Accidents Act, and the Court of Appeal has just upheld his decision.

A lot of money turned on the point:  Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.

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