Article 2 and combat immunity – where next after Al-Skeini and Susan Smith?

British_soldier_during_Operation_Desert_ShieldR(Long) v Secretary of State for Defence [2014] EWHC 2391 (Admin) – read judgment

When will a court order an inquiry into the deaths in combat of soldiers serving overseas? Following recent judgments of the English and Strasbourg courts extending the application of the European Convention on Human Rights to zones of armed conflict overseas in certain circumstances, the question is likely to arise frequently over the coming years. In R(Long), the Divisional Court strongly endorsed the doctrine of combat immunity and appeared to set its face against the recent rise in claims against the MoD by soldiers deployed abroad and their next of kin.

This claim involved the deaths of six military police, who were murdered by an armed mob in Majar-al-Kabir, Iraq on 24 June 2003. They were visiting an Iraqi police station and, contrary to standing orders, did not have an iridium satellite telephone with them. The Oxfordshire Coroner had previously held an inquest into the deaths, which opened in 2004 and closed with an unlawful killing verdict on 31 March 2006. He dealt with the lack of effective communications equipment in a Rule 43 report (now a Report to Prevent Future Deaths), but it could not be said in the circumstances that, had they had a radio, their lives would have been saved. As the coroner said, the only person who might have been able to help them in time was the commander of a nearby paratroop patrol and he thought it possible that “had he endeavoured to help, I would be holding an inquest into the deaths not of six brave men but of 18” – [49].

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Drug-dealer passenger gets Euro-damages for car crash

weed_2929857bDelaney v. Secretary of State for Transport, Jay J, 3 June 2014 – read judgment 

Many readers may be wondering how it comes about that a drug-dealer is entitled to compensation against Her Majesty’s Government in circumstances where he was injured during the course of a criminal joint enterprise. The understandable reaction might be: there must be some rule of public policy, reflecting public revulsion, which bars such a claim. The short answer is that there is not.

Well put by the judge. Because as well as being the innocent victim of bad driving, the Claimant happened to have 240g of cannabis on him, and the negligent driver was found to have a smaller quantity. We are back in the familiar territory of ascertaining and applying a rule of law designed to compensate the injured without letting any free-floating moral disapproval get in the way of deciding what that law is. If, by contrast, you feel like a good dose of outrage, just click here for a link to a certain tabloid well-versed in all that.

The problem for the Secretary of State for Transport was, as the judge found, European Law required victims to be compensated in the circumstances, even if the driver’s insurance did not cover the claim. And there was no warrant for a domestic rule preventing such liabilities being paid by the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) or insurers whose job it was to provide compensation in accordance with European law.The judge therefore awarded Francovich damages (see below) against the UK for its breach in not conforming to EU law.

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Brain-damaged claimant fails in Article 8 claim against Council

7c70bb7581834f77a7ca9f20e4dc6253Bedford v. Bedfordshire County Council, 21 June 2013, Jay J - read judgment

On 29 May 2004, Bradley Bedford, then aged 13, was beaten senseless by one AH, then 15, whom he had the misfortune to encounter entirely by chance near the seaside in Torbay. AH was in a children’s home there which was contracted to the Defendant Council; AH was a “looked after” child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Bradley sued the Council for failing to protect him. His claim was limited to one under the Human Rights Act, and Article 8 ECHR in particular.

Jay J dismissed the claim on the grounds that (a) it was brought too late; (b) there was not a real and immediate risk of harm to Bradley of which the Council should have been aware; (c) even if there was, the local authority took reasonable steps to eliminate or substantially reduce any risk. All these rulings are of some interest.

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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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How to keep children anonymous in personal injury cases

MXB v East Sussex Hospital Trust – read judgment

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

Iraq soldier families can bring negligence but not human rights claims – Robert Kellar

Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence [2012] 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’).

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The troubling case of Rachel Corrie

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.

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When human rights hit the private law of damages for death

Swift v. Secretary of State for Justice [2012] 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 [10] 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.

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Hospital had human rights duty to protect voluntary patient from suicide, rules Supreme Court

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.

Rabone and another (Appellants) v Pennine Care NHS Trust (Respondent) [2012] UKSC 2 – Read judgment / press summary

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 Savage in 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 [92]:

“There is no warrant, in the jurisprudence or in humanity, for the distinction between the two duties drawn by Lord Scott in Savage…”

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Insurers’ human right not to pay for putting asbestos in employees’ lungs?

AXA General Insurance Ltd & Ors v Lord Advocate & Ors (Scotland) [2011] UKSC 46 (12 October 2011

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

Lord Justice Jackson: legal aid should remain for clinical negligence

Lord Justice Jackson spoke in strong terms last week to the Cambridge Law Faculty on the controversial topic of legal aid and legal costs reforms.

The architect of the proposed reforms to legal costs made clear his position on the government’s proposed amendments, set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which was reviewed by the Committee of the House of Commons today, 13 September (listen to the committee recording here). He was keen to highlight which parts of the reforms reflect he views expressed in his report, and which parts he does not consider to be in the interests of justice. He said, in summary:

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Nuclear test veterans appeal to be heard by Supreme Court

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[2010] 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.
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The Redfern Inquiry: the latest investigation into the removal and retention of human tissue

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.
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Protecting child claimants from “fortune hunters and thieves”

UpdatedJXF (a child) v York Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2010] 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.”

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NHS must treat patients despite their personal injury settlements

R (Booker) v NHS Oldham and Direct Line Insurance PLC [2010] 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.

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