As the world’s press and public stand vigil in support of Charlie Hebdo and the families of the victims of Wednesday’s attack, we wake this morning to reports that our security services are under pressure and seeking new powers. The spectre of the Communications Data Bill is again evoked. These reports mirror renewed commitments yesterday to new counter-terrorism measures for the EU and in France.
This blog has already covered the reaction to the shootings in Paris in some detail. The spectrum of reaction has been about both defiance and fear. The need for effective counter-terrorism measures to protect us all, yet which recognise and preserve our commitment to the protection of fundamental rights is given a human face as people take to the streets to affirm a commitment to protect the right of us all to speak our mind, to ridicule and to lampoon, to offend and to criticise, without fear of oppression or violence. It is against this backdrop that we might remember that UK Ministers are already in the process of asking Westminster to expand our already broad framework of counter-terrorism legislation.
Last night I tweeted that none of the UK newspapers has dared to show a single cartoon from the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine on today’s front pages. This has been retweeted over 1,500 times and counting. For the Twitter-unitiated, that is a lot. My tweet hit a nerve and I want to explain why I think that is.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was, for me, even more affecting that the usual indiscriminate Islamist terror attacks. The gunmen targeted political satirists and cartoonists – they killed the clowns. At base it was, as has been said a million times already, an attack on freedom.
Charlie Hebdo is a left-wing satirical magazine. Safe to say it is anti-religious, amongst other things. It has printed many cartoons of religious leaders including of Mohammed. The magazine’s offices were firebombed in 2011 after it changed its title to Charia Hebdo (a play on Sharia, the Islamic system of law). Its staff were under constant threat but remained unbowed.
Photo credit: guardian.co.uk
For some reason, this post originally appeared in the name of Colin Yeo. It is not by Colin Yeo, but by Martin Downs. Apologies for that.
The future of civil partnerships is again in the news. In October, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan tried to register a Civil Partnership at Chelsea Town Hall but were rebuffed on the grounds that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 reserves that status strictly for same sex couples. Their lawyer, Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors has announced their intention to seek a judicial review and the couple have also started a petition.
Steinfeld and Keidan have rightly identified that CPs provide virtually the same rights and responsibilities as marriage that it is within the gift of government to provide. One of the few differences concerns pension rights and even this will be considered by the Court of Appeal in February 2015.
However, the couple are attracted by civil partnership as a social construct that comes without the historical baggage of patriarchal dominance/subjection of women. They also take aim at the sexist customs that surround it such as “giving the bride away,” virginal white dresses and hen and stag do’s.
The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights this week published a report of its inquiry into whether the UK should ratify Protocol 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As the report states, Protocol 15 is the culmination of the UK Government’s contribution to the process of reform of the European Court of Human Rights, which was the UK’s top priority during its Chairmanship of the inter-governmental arm of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers, in the first half of 2012.
The JCHR identifies as the most significant aspect of Protocol 15 the addition to the Preamble of the Convention of an express reference to the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ and the doctrine of ‘the margin of appreciation’. The Committee welcomes this amendment and recommends that the UK should ratify the Protocol – but only after it has been debated in both Houses as a means of raising members’ awareness of its significance.
This post focuses on the implications of Protocol 15 for the UK’s increasingly turbulent relationship with the Convention system, and for the wider debate about the purported ‘democratic deficit’ created by supranational judicial supervision of domestic democratically-accountable authority.
Gough v UK (Application no. 49327/11), 28 October 2014 – Read judgment
The applicant in this case has been repeatedly arrested, convicted and imprisoned for breaching the peace by walking around naked in public. In a judgment handed down recently, the European Court of Human Rights found the UK authorities’ restriction of his rights under Articles 10 and 8 of the Convention, proportionate to the legitimate aim of preventing disorder and crime.
Stephen Gough has a strong conviction that there is nothing inherently offensive about the human body, and that he harms no-one by walking around naked. A really, really strong conviction. Since he set off on a naked walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2003, he has been nicknamed the ‘naked rambler’ and has spent most of the last eight years in prison, and most of that time solitary confinement.
This post is adapted from a speech given by Judge Robert Spano of the European Court of Human Rights at Chatham House on 13 October 2014. It is reproduced here with permission and thanks.
There is currently a vigorous debate in the UK on the status and future of the European Convention on Human Rights in national law and also on the relationship between my Court, the Strasbourg Court (ECtHR), the UK Parliament and the domestic judiciary.
In principle, democratic debates on such fundamental issues should always be welcome. Indeed, discussions on the role and functions of institutions of public power lie at the core of the democratic concept. It is therefore essential for the Court and its judges to engage in reasoned and informed debate about their work and its wider European implications.
How Does the ECtHR Discharge Its Mandate?
I have been asked to discuss the question of how the Strasbourg Court discharges its mandate. To give an answer, one must first respond to the fundamental question: What is the Court‘s mandate?
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  EWHC 3631 (Admin), Collins J, 5 November 2014 – read judgment UPDATED POST
Fireworks here from Collins J in making sure that Bank Mellat got some disclosure of information in its fight to discharge a financial restriction order against it.
Bank Mellat is an Iranian bank, initially singled out by an 2009 order which prohibited anybody from dealing with it. The order was part of sanctions against Iran in respect of its nuclear and ballistic missiles programme. However, it bit the dust, thanks to the Supreme Court: see judgment. I did a post on that decision, and followed it up with one (here) on the (dis)proportionality arguments which led to the order’s downfall.
However the Bank was subject to two further orders, made in 2011 and 2012. They led to the freezing of €183m held by it in London. The 2012 order has since been revoked, but the 2011 one remains. This is the subject of the Bank’s application to set it aside. On any view, as Collins J recognised, it had caused very serious damage to the Bank’s business.