Debate about whether the Human Rights Act (HRA) might be replaced by a new UK Bill of Rights often dwells on the potential loss, or at least weakening, of the legal route to accountability and redress for victims of human rights violations. An event next month in Liverpool reminds us how much more might be lost if the HRA were to be scrapped or watered down. In particular, it highlights the significance of section 6 of the Act, which requires all public authorities to act in a way which is compatible with European Convention rights unless primary legislation requires them to act otherwise.
The event in question is the launch of the latest results of the Human Rights in Healthcare programme. The programme was set up in 2006 by the Department of Health and the British Institute of Human Rights; in 2011-12, it was led by Lindsey Dyer of Mersey Care NHS Trust. Under its leadership, pilot NHS Trusts have used human rights to design and run services in areas as diverse as dementia care, acute hospital settings, district nursing and care homes.
I have posted previously on the logistical difficulties in legislating against genetic discrimination.
The prospect that genetic information not only affects insurance and employment opportunities is alarming enough. But it has many other implications: it could be used to deny financial backing or loan approval, educational opportunities, sports eligibility, military accession, or adoption eligibility. At the moment, the number of documented cases of discrimination on the basis of genetic test results is small. This is probably due to the relatively few conditions for which there are currently definitive genetic tests, coupled with the expense and difficulty of conducting these tests. But genetic discrimination is a time bomb waiting to be triggered and the implications of whole genome sequencing (WGS) are considered in a very interesting and readable report by the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing.
Yes, says the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, upholding the validity of human gene patents related to breast and ovarian cancer (Association for Molecular Pathology and others v the Patent Office and Myriad Genetics – read judgment) UPDATED
The three judge panel ruled in a 2-1 decision that the biotechnology company Myriad was entitled to its patents on the molecules because each of them represented “a non-naturally occurring composition of matter”. The court also upheld Myriad’s patent on a technique for identifying potential cancer therapies by monitoring effects on cell growth, but denied their claim on assessing cancer risk by comparing DNA sequences because the method is based on “abstract, mental steps” of logic that are not “transformative”.
This fascinating judgment is a model of clarity and fluency in this difficult area. But what does this intellectual property tussle have to do with human rights? Well, there is nothing unfamiliar to human rights lawyers in litigation over the availability of life-saving treatment (patient B, the Herceptin case and the antiretroviral litigation in South Africa are three examples that spring to mind). And much of it begins in the laboratory, with the critical allocation of exclusivity rights. Continue reading
The Queen(on the application of Tony Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice  EWHC 2381 (Admin) – read judgment
Lord Justice Toulson, sitting with Mrs Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur, has handed down judgment in the case of Tony Nicklinson and that of another “locked-in” syndrome sufferer, “Martin”. On all the issues, they have deferred to parliament to take the necessary steps to address the problems created by the current law of murder and assisted suicide.
Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office represented Martin in this case.
Tony Nicklinson sought a declaration of immunity from prosecution for a doctor who would give him a fatal dose of painkillers to end his life in Britain. He also sought a declaration that the current law is incompatible with his right to respect for private life under article 8, contrary to s1 and 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, in so far as it criminalises voluntary active euthanasia and/or assisted suicide.
Martin’s claim was slightly different as his wife does not want to do anything which will hasten his death. He therefore asked for permission for volunteers to be able to help him get to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland (under recent guidelines from the Director of Public Prosecutions only family members or close friends who are motivated by compassion are unlikely to be prosecuted for assisting a suicide). In the alternative he sought a declaration that section 2 of the Suicide Act is incompatible with the right to autonomy and private life under Article 8 of the European Convention. Continue reading
Eleven Winterbourne View staff have pleaded guilty to 38 charges of ill-treatment and neglect of a mental health patient under s127 Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA). In this post I want to consider why we need ‘special’ offences like s127 MHA and also s44 Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA), rather than prosecuting crimes in care settings using more ‘mainstream’ offences.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), with articles emphasising access to justice (Article 13) and equal recognition before the law (Article 12) encourages us to think about how we can ensure disabled people have effective access to the law that protects us all before we develop parallel ‘special’ systems of rights protection (see, for example, Inclusion Europe, European Disability Forum). So my question is: why are we using ‘special’ offences of ill-treatment and neglect to prosecute crimes that occur in care, rather than the ordinary ‘offences against the person’ those outside of care rely upon?
Updated | As has been widely reported, a regional German court has ruled that a Muslim boy’s religious circumcision was a crime and that it violated his basic constitutional rights to bodily integrity. This ruling has no direct effect on other European states, but will buoy the campaign against male circumcision.
Thanks to an admirably swift response from the Cologne Regional Court to my request, I have uploaded the appeal decision (the important one), the original decision which was under appeal and the court’s press release. All are in German. I have also uploaded a version of the appeal judgment in English (updated - I have been sent a much better English translation).
Lee Carter, Hollis Johnson, Dr. William Shoichet, The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and Gloria Taylor v Attorney General of Canada (2012 BCSC 886) 15 June 2012 – read judgment
Interest in the “locked-in syndrome” cases currently before the High Court runs high. We posted here on the permission granted to locked-in sufferer Tony Nicklinson to seek an advance order from the court that would allow doctors to assist him to die under the common law defence of necessity.
He is also arguing that the current law criminalising assisted suicide is incompatible with his Article 8 rights of autonomy and dignity. The other case before the three judge court involves another stroke victim who is unable to move, is able to communicate only by moving his eyes, requires constant care and is entirely dependent on others for every aspect of his life. (Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office Row is acting for him)
Re E (Medical treatment: Anorexia)  EWHC 1639 (COP) – Read judgment
Update | In an earlier version of this post a question was raised by the author concerning the implications of funding restrictions within the department of the Official Solicitor for cases similar to E’s. The author is happy to make clear that no criticism is made of the actions of the OS in this or indeed any other case in the judgment of Peter Jackson J or in this post.
Mr Justice Jackson has ruled that it would be lawful and in the best interests of a 32 year old woman (referred to in the judgment as “E”) for her to be fed, using physical force or chemical sedation as necessary, for a period of “not less than a year”.
The judgment has sparked considerable press attention, and is also reported to have drawn criticism from Rochdale Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies. Against that background, this post intends to offer a modicum of analysis as to what was decided, why and what lessons the case holds for the future.
De Almeida, R (on the application of) v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea  EWHC 1082 (Admin) – Read judgment
This was a judicial review of RBK&C’s refusal to provide support under s.21 and s.29 National Assistance Act 1948 and indeed to carry out an assessment under s.47 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990.
Mr De A is a Portuguese national. He lived in the UK from 1998 to 2001 and from 2008 to date. He worked during the first period and for a year after his return. Mr De A had contracted HIV and AIDS. His health deteriorated so that he was not able to work. His prognosis in October 2010 was that he had about a year to live. At the time of the first hearing in this case in November 2011, his prognosis was about 6 months.
The late US law Professor Paul Miller reflected recently that Beethoven, Stephen Hawking and Elton John were examples of individuals whom, if they had been tested for serious genetic conditions at the start of their careers, may have been denied employment in the fields in which they later came to excel.
Earlier this month the Association of British Insurers announced the latest extension on the moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes. But is this “Concordat” sufficient protection? Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly available and profound questions are arising in relation to life and health insurance and employability as genetic screening becomes cheaper and widespread.
According to the Human Genetics Commission (HGC)
The advent of cheap whole-genome sequencing, and greatly reduced costs for genetic tests in general, will provide the platform for genetic testing to be used for novel and unpredicted purposes. (Report on The Concept of Genetic Discrimination, Aril 2011) Continue reading
This piece is in response to Rosalind English’s post on this blog arguing that in M.S. v United Kingdom the European Court extended to far the ambit of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which protects against torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment. This post argues that the European Court’s ruling is both a logical step in the jurisprudence and a welcome one for the protection of those with mental health problems in state detention.
M.S. v United Kingdom identifies a gap in the provision of crisis mental healthcare for those in state detention that has long been recognised by lawyers, campaigning organisations, carers, service users, the police and healthcare providers. The judgment is a welcome recognition of two things: first, that a prolonged and acute mental health crisis while in state detention can amount to degrading treatment for the purposes of Article 3 ECHR. And second, that the state is responsible when delays in the provision of psychiatric care to those in detention cause someone with mental health problems to descend into a crisis that is degrading and undignified.
R (on the application of AM) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 521 - Read judgment
Whether expert evidence relied upon by an asylum seeker amounted to “independent evidence” of torture was the key issue before the Court of Appeal in this case . The issue arose in the context of AM’s claim against the Home Office for wrongful imprisonment contrary to the UK Border Agency’s Enforcement Instructions and Guidance. The Guidance, which contains the policy of the Agency on detentions (amongst other things), says that where there is “independent evidence” that a person has been tortured, that person is suitable for detention only in “very exceptional circumstances”.
AM, an Angolan national, was detained pending removal following an unsuccessful appeal from the refusal of her asylum claim, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal having found her to have “no credibility whatsoever” and rejected her evidence that she had been raped and tortured. She later launched a fresh asylum claim on the basis of new evidence, in the form of an expert report by a wound and scar specialist, Ms Kralj, which linked the various scars on her body to torture. The claim was refused again but AM won her appeal. The Tribunal this time found that she had been raped and tortured as she had claimed, causing the scars on her body.
Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, R (on the application of) v Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts & Anor  EWCA Civ 472 - Read judgment.
Marina Wheeler of 1 Crown Office Row appeared for the successful Appellant in this case. She is not the author of this post
When is reorganisation of healthcare services unlawful? When can consultation, rather than a final decision, successfully be challenged? These were the questions dealt with by the Court of Appeal in relation to the reconfiguration of paediatric heart surgery services. The Bristol Royal Infirmary scandal had left these services in need of change; the Court of Appeal found that there was nothing unlawful in the consultation process resulting in the Royal Brompton failing to be chosen as one of the two specialist centres in London.
Following the failures in Bristol that were subject to a public inquiry in 1998, there have been a number of reports on paediatric heart surgical care. This is an extremely specialised area of medicine. The recent trend has been for such specialist areas (another example is major trauma care) to become concentrated in fewer hospitals: the principle being that when professionals come into contact with such work more regularly they become better at it; spreading such cases wide and thin results in poor outcomes.
Department of Health v IC, Healey and Cecil(EA/2011/0286 & EA/2011/0287) - Read Decision
In a recent post, Panopticon brought you, hot-off-the-press, the Tribunal’s decision in the much-publicised case involving publication, under Freedom of Information Law, of the NHS Risk Register. Somewhat less hot-off-the-press are my observations. This is a very important decision, both for its engagement with the legislative process and for its analysis of the public interest with respect to section 35(1)(a) of Freedom of Information Act 2000 (formulation or development of government policy) – particularly the “chilling effect” argument. At the outset, it is important to be clear about what was being requested and when.
Risk registers in general
The DOH prepared two “risk registers” documenting the risks associated with implementing the “far-reaching and highly controversial” NHS reforms under what was then the Health and Social Care Bill. The Tribunal heard that risk registers are used widely across government for project planning. They provide snapshots (rather than detailed discussions) combining the probability of and outcomes from any given risk associated with the proposed reform; risks are then classified in red, amber or green terms. According to Lord Gus O’Donnell, who gave evidence in support of the DOH’s case, risk registers are the most important tool used across government to formulate and develop policy for risk management in advising ministers. John Healey MP, one of the requesters in this case, said that he was a minister for ten years and was never shown such a register.
Photo credit: cas.sk
Stübing v Germany (no. 43547/08), 12 April 2012 - Read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights (fifth section) has ruled unanimously that Germany did not violate Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private and family life) by convicting Patrick Stübing of incest
Professor Jonathan Haidt, a well-known social psychologist, presented this scenario as part of a study:
Julie and Mark, who are brother and sister, are traveling together in France. They are both on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At very least it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie was already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. They both enjoy it, but they decide not to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret between them, which makes them feel even closer to each other. So what do you think about this? Was it wrong for them to have sex?
Most people answered with a resounding yes, supporting their “yuck” response with reasons. Yet, Professor Haidt noticed that many respondents ignored elements of the story. Continue reading