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  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.
Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. She has nothing to do with the writing of this post.
In personal injury proceedings involving a child it was appropriate to grant an anonymity order prohibiting her identification since it would defeat the purpose of the proceedings to ensure that she received and kept compensation awarded for her injuries.
Publication of her name was not in the public interest, and the curtailment of her and her family’s right to respect for their private and family life that would occur could not be justified. Continue reading →
Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence  EWCA Civ 1365 – Read judgment
Updated – the first two paragraphs of this post have been amended as they were factually inaccurate. Many apologies for this.
Last month, the Court of Appeal decided that the negligence claims of the families of five British soldiers killed or injured on duty in Iraq could go ahead. It would be for the High Court to decide on the facts whether decisions made about troops’ equipment and training fell within the long-standing doctrine of ‘combat immunity’. The appellants were however unsuccessful in arguing that the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) applied.
The case concerned claims brought by the families of five men killed or injured in south-east Iraq. Corporal Allbutt was killed and Troopers Twiddy and Julien injured in Challenger II tanks in fratricide, or ‘friendly fire’, incidents on 25 March 2003. Privates Hewett and Ellis and Lance Corporal Redpath were killed in their Snatch Land Rovers by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on 16 July 2005, 28 February 2006 and 9 August 2007 respectively (the ‘Snatch Landrover claims’).
Almost ten years after the death of Rachel Corrie on 16 March 2003, her case still raises troubling questions. How was a 23-year-old protester killed by an Israeli military bulldozer? Did the driver do it deliberately, as the family have claimed? Were the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) responsible in some other way?
Those questions were all in play in a civil negligence claim brought against the Israeli state by Corrie’s family, who claimed $1 in damages. Having exhausted other avenues, the family were looking for answers, not a pay out. The Haifa District Court examined the issues over 15 days of oral testimony, and two weeks ago Judge Oded Gershon released a 73-page ruling (Hebrew) as well as a detailed summary of the Judgment (English).
I was particularly interested in the judgment as a significant proportion of my work recently has involved public inquiries into allegations against the British Armed Forces over events which happened in Iraq in 2003/4. Unfortunately, the reporting of the ruling has been fairly poor. The Guardian published eight articles and a cartoon about the ruling (by comparison, the appointment of a new Justice Secretary generated four). But despite the sheer volume of commentary, I had no sense from reading the articles that the writers had attended the oral hearings, read the judgment (which is long and in Hebrew) or even consider the court’s English summary. The Guardian’s legal section is very good so it is disappointing that the legal interest of the story was largely ignored.
With this in mind, I thought I would post a summary of the judgment and brief discussion of how an equivalent claim would work in the UK.
Swift v. Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2000 (QB) Eady J, read judgment
This decision involves the intersection of Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR with the law governing who can recover damages for the death of a relative. This law is the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (for the text see  of the judgment – embarrassingly, the one freely available on the internet is out of date). One does not to think for very long before realising that the FAA is underpinned by an idea that one ought to respect the rights of the family, and to pay the family when one has negligently caused the death of a family member. But like all such laws, there is the problem of where to stop – where does the family stop for these purposes?
Ms Swift had been living with Mr Winters for 6 months when he was killed at work. She was pregnant with their child. Under FAA rules, her child had a claim for financial dependency against his father’s employer – what he expected to derive from his father had his father lived – even though he was not born at the date of his father’s death. Indeed, her son recovered £105,000. But, says the FAA, Ms Swift does not have a claim. s.1(3) requires an unmarried partner to have been living with the deceased for 2 years before his death before they can become a “dependant”, and no amount of re-writing via s.3 of the Human Rights Act (to make the FAA rights-compliant “so far as possible”) can make “2 years” read as “6 months” . Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.
So Ms Swift’s claim was against the Secretary of State for a declaration that the FAA was incompatible with her Article 8 and 14 rights.
This post originally displayed an image of a sign at Stepping Hill Hospital, including reference to Stockport NHS Foundation Trust. The case did not involve Stockport NHSFT so I have removed the image: my apologies for any confusion caused. In the absence of any interesting images of Pennine Care NHS Trust, who were the Respondent, I have replaced this with an image of the snowy Pennines.
The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a mental health hospital had an “operational” obligation under article 2 of the European Court of Human Rights (the right to life) to protect a voluntary patient from suicide. This is the first time the reach of the article 2 obligation to protect life has been expanded to a voluntary patient; that is, a patient who was not detained under the Mental Health Act.
My initial thoughts are that this is potentially very important, and follows on from Savagein gradually expanding the reach of Article 2, and therefore the liability of mental health hospitals to patients and (as was crucial in this case) their families. The court observed that Ms. Rabone, who committed suicide after being granted 2-days of home leave by the hospital, could have been detained under the MHA in any event, so the distinction between a voluntary and detained patient was of form rather than substance.
Nonetheless, the decision appears to endorse an “each case on its own facts” approach, and will affect human rights damages claims and arguably so-called article 2 inquests too. Here is a particularly quotable line from Lady Hale at paragraph :
“There is no warrant, in the jurisprudence or in humanity, for the distinction between the two duties drawn by Lord Scott in Savage…”
When you breathed in asbestos fibres from your dusty shipbuilding job on the River Clyde in the 1950s and 1960s, some of those fibres stuck around in the lungs. Some may cause the pleural plaques seen on my image, some may cause asbestosis, and some may lead to the highly malignant mesothelioma.
So your doctor (20+ years later when these diseases manifest themselves) would X-ray you and tell you what form of the disease you had. If he told you you had pleural plaques, you would, at first, breathe a huge sigh of relief that it was not mesothelioma. Because pleural plaques are almost invariably asymptomatic and harmless.
But on second thoughts, now you know you have indeed been exposed to asbestos such that you might develop mesothelioma – and you have seen colleagues die a miserable death from that disease. So, when you leave your chest physician’s room, you are worried, not about what you have, but about what you might get. Do you get damages for this? And anyway, where do the human rights in my title – those under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to ECHR, or the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions – come into this story?Continue reading →
On Thursday 28th July, the Supreme Court heard a “permission to appeal” argument in the British nuclear testing case. The judgment to be appealed is that of the Court of Appeal Civil Division in Ministry of Defence v AB and others EWCA Civ 1317 – (Smith and Leveson LJJ and Sir Mark Waller).
In terse legalese, the issue to be appealed is whether the Court of Appeal – (1) applied the wrong legal test for knowledge in section 14 of the Limitation Act 1980, and (2) adopted the wrong legal approach to the exercise of discretion under section 33 of the Act. The Supreme Court granted permission for the appeal – see BBC 28th July and The Independent 28th July. Continue reading →
November saw the publication of the report of the Redfern Inquiry into human tissue analysis in UK nuclear facilities (read the report, here).
The inquiry was the latest in a number of investigations looking at the post mortem removal, retention and disposal of human body parts by medical and other bodies, and the extent to which the families of the deceased knew of and consented to such practices. The Inquiry chairman, Michael Redfern QC, also chaired the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital (Alder Hay) Inquiry. Continue reading →
Updated | JXF (a child) v York Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  EWHC 2800 (QB) – Read judgment
Mr Justice Tugendhat has held that the High Court should withhold the identity of a child claimant when approving the settlement of a clinical negligence case. The decision represents a restatement of the orthodox principle that cases should be heard in public and reported without restrictions, and that anonymity orders should only be granted after careful scrutiny.
His reason for coming to this particular decision was that revealing the name of the claimant would “make him vulnerable to losing the [settlement] money to fortune hunters or thieves.”
R (Booker) v NHS Oldham and Direct Line Insurance PLC  EWHC 2593 (Admin)- read judgment
The High Court has held that where a claimant agrees a damages settlement that includes an indemnity to fund private nursing care should existing NHS provision be withdrawn, it was unlawful for a primary care trust to cease its funding of the claimant’s care on the basis that her needs would be met through the settlement.
The claimant, B, was a tetraplegic who had sustained her injuries in a road traffic accident. She had received care from the defendant NHS trust (“the Trust”) over a number of years, and there was no dispute that her medical needs made her eligible for future care. In October 2009, B’s personal injury case was settled on the basis of both a lump sum and periodical payments, the latter due to commence from 15 December 2011. In respect of the period between the settlement date and the first periodical payment, a series of “safety net undertakings” were given by both sides in the litigation, and by DLI, the insurer of the injury claim defendant. These were to the effect that B would use her best endeavours to maintain the NHS funded care that she was receiving, but, should it nonetheless be withdrawn, DLI would indemnify B against the cost of providing replacement care. In June 2010, the Trust informed B that it intended to withdraw its provision of care from her with effect from the autumn, on the basis that B had elected to receive private care and hence no longer required NHS services. B sought judicial review of this decision.
A (a minor) and B (a minor) v. A Health and Social Services Trust,  NIQB 108 – Read judgment
In a fascinating case involving IVF treatment, the High Court in Northern Ireland has held that no duty of care is owed to human cells and that having a skin colour different to that intended cannot be considered legally recognisable loss and damage.
Professor Robert Edwards, the British scientist who pioneered in vitro fertilisation, was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. But while Professor Edwards’ achievements have changed the lives of millions of infertile couples around the world, they have also given rise to a whole host of thorny ethical and legal questions. A recent decision by Mr Justice Gillen in an extremely unusual case has attempted to wrestle with some of these issues, and in particular with the rights (if any) of human cells.
If a terminally ill patient has made a “living will”, specifying in advance that they do not want to be resuscitated, doctors must respect these wishes or risk being struck off. The General Medical Council is to announce this guidance in response to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which gives “living wills” legal status. Doctors must not follow their own personal or religious convictions by prolonging treatment unless there is evidence that a patient may have changed his or her mind.
Update 25/05/10 – The Guidance has been published and can be found here
If a doctor is unwilling to follow the express verbal instructions of a patient – communicated through a friend or relative as legal proxy — they can withdraw from treating the individual. A second medical opinion must sought before hydration and nutrition is withdrawn. Telegraph Medical Correspondent Kate Devlin reports that
Doctors who flouted the guidelines would be forced to attend a fitness to practise hearing before the GMC and would be struck off if the case against them were proved. The rules affect patients deemed to be mentally capable of making these decisions. If they do not have this capacity, or have not designated someone to act on their behalf, doctors are required to make any judgment about treatment in the best interests of the patient. The guidance says that in these cases, when the decision over end of life treatment is “finely balanced”, the patient’s previously stated wishes “will usually be the deciding factor”.
Sharon Shoesmith’s court action over her sacking by Haringey Council has once more brought to the fore the sorry account of neglect and mismanagement by police and local authorities of that led to the death of baby Peter Connelly (‘Baby P’). It has also, however, highlighted the increasingly significant role of courts in the UK and Europe in holding public and private authorities to account in claims involving allegations of child abuse.
The claimant (MAGA) was at the time a child of 12 with learning disabilities. The High Court had ruled that the Church was not liable for the abuse as MAGA was not a Roman Catholic, and as such Father Clonan had no business having any dealings with him and was not doing so in his capacity as a priest. MAGA succeeded on appeal because the Court of Appeal accepted that a priest’s duties are very wide, and involve him befriending non-Catholics, such as in the course of his evangelising role.