On Friday 19 September I spoke at a very interesting conference at the University of Liverpool on Human Rights in the UK Media: Representation and Reality. My talk was entitled The Monstering of Human Rights. You can download it by clicking here (PDF). It is also embedded below.
As always, comments are welcome. There is quite a lot in there tying together some of the themes I have been writing about over the past few years. As a number of people pointed out in Liverpool, it is too easy to point to errors in human rights reporting as proof that all criticisms of the human rights system are bogus, which is clearly wrong. But nonetheless, misinformation and exaggeration is an important feature of the public debate on human rights and it is interesting to consider why that might be the case, and – a question which has troubled me over the past few years – how to stop it happening.
I expect the issue of human rights reform will arise again now that the Scottish referendum process has concluded and the political parties are setting out their agendas for 2015. It seems pretty clear that the Conservative Party will promise to repeal the Human Rights Act but what they will do in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights is still very much an unknown. My expectation is that they will not promise to withdraw from the ECHR. Not yet, anyway. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are likely to retain the existing system, with a few tweaks. But whoever wins the election, there is a huge amount of work to be done to repair the reputation of human rights laws in the UK and convince the public that they are, on balance, a good thing.
PS. if any kind soul would like to turn the PDF version into a HTML linked blog-ready post, I would be eternally grateful! Email me if you would be interested, you would of course get full credit in the ensuing post/s.
Updated | It emerged on Tuesday the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) for the first time in eight years. The theatre told UKJFF that they must reject longstanding funding from the Israeli Embassy if they wanted to use the venue. UKJFF refused and the relationship ended.
There has already been some excellent writing: see Nick Cohen, Archie Bland and Dorian Lynskey. Cohen makes a powerful case for the decision being anti-Semitic. I’m not going to go there, although as I have been saying on Twitter, in my view this is a bad move by the Tricycle. I thought it would be interesting, however, to investigate whether the Tricycle may have broken any laws.
Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE provides a summary of the House of Lords debate on Government proposals to reform judicial review in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.
As the House of Lords closes its gilded doors for the long recess, the Westminster village enters its equivalent of the school holidays. Yet, as Ministers pack their red boxes and MPs head diligently back to their constituency business, the House of Lords – debating the Committee Stage of controversial judicial review proposals in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – may have suggested that officials and Ministers yet have some homework to do.
Summing up the debate – and thanking Lord Faulks, the Minister responding to a barrage of criticism from all benches, for his efforts – Lord Pannick acknowledged that many of the Government’s proposals on judicial review had been driven by the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling. He suggested that both Ministers would do well to get together over the summer to digest the Peers’ concerns – perhaps on a convenient beach. There were so many flaws in the Bill that Lord Faulks should pack a red pen with his sunscreen (HL Deb, 30 July 2014, Col 1650).
Imagine you are on the board of large corporation. You attend the Annual General Meeting and asked the chief executive about that controversial tax avoidance scheme the company had been considering, but which the in-house legal team had advised against. The Chief Exec smiles and says that has been dealt with: “we just sacked the lawyers”.
The BBC is reporting what many suspected. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC was sacked in order to clear the path for major reform of the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. This is bad news, for the UK and potentially for the European Court of Human Rights too.
The Attorney General’s advice, which has been leaked to the BBC, was that plan to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights were “incoherent” and a “legal car crash… with a built-in time delay“. Intriguingly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson also reports that William Hague, the now-former Foreign Secretary, also raised doubts over the plans.
Public Law Project v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary
Angela Patrick of JUSTICE has provided an excellent summary of this important ruling, which declared a proposed statutory instrument to be ultra vires the LASPO Act under which it was to have been made. The judgment is an interesting one, not least for some judicial fireworks in response to the Lord Chancellor’s recourse to the Daily Telegraph after the hearing, but before judgment was delivered.
But more of that after some thoughts on the discrimination ruling.
PLP v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary
As the House of Lords is scheduled to vote on the Government’s proposals for a residence test for access to legal aid, Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE considers today’s judgment of the Divisional Court in PLP v Secretary of State for Justice.
While we are all following the exciting live feeds on both the reshuffle and the progress of emergency legislation on surveillance, the freshly appointed Attorney General, Jeremy Wright MP, may want to cast his eyes to BAILLI.
The Administrative Court may this morning have handed him one of his first “to-do” list items. In – PLP v Secretary of State for Justice - a rare three judge Divisional Court has held that the Government’s proposal to introduce a residence test for legal aid – where all applicants will have to prove 12 months continuous lawful residence in the UK – is both ultra vires and discriminatory.
Last night saw the House of Lords’ first reaction to the Government’s proposed changes to judicial review as the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill had its second reading. Already dissected at some length in this blog, the proposals have been roundly criticised by both the senior judiciary and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Consultations responses, including from JUSTICE, expressed concern that the measures appear, by design or coincidence, to undermine the rule of law, inhibit transparency and shield the Government from judicial scrutiny. Two key concerns arise from the Government proposals: restricting access for individuals without substantial means and limiting the courts’ discretion to do justice in the public interest. Yesterday’s debate was robust and eloquent, with former Law Lords joined by bishops and backbenchers alike to condemn the new measures.
Metaphors were rife. Descriptions of the Government’s proposals ranged from Lord Woolf’s invocation of the image of Governmental wolves among some unlikely judicial sheep, to the titular and topical tennis imagery used with devastating effect by Lord Brown of Eaton –under-Heywood:
“More and more areas of our lives are controlled by public authorities. At the same time we have become understandably, I suggest, less trusting and certainly less deferential towards those with authority over us. I sometimes wonder whether it did not all start with John McEnroe’s outraged questioning of line calls at Wimbledon way back in the 1970s. However, we should consider how in the long run his behaviour has contributed to the hugely improved policing of those lines that is in operation today…By the same token, the use of judicial review has to my mind undoubtedly raised the standards of public decision-making in recent years.” (Col 1591) Continue reading