According to the President of the Supreme Court, the judiciary not only has a right but an obligation “to speak out on matters concerning the rule of law.” In recent months, it is a duty from which Lord Neuberger has not shirked, and last night’s lecture to the Institute of Government was no exception. Its focus was the importance of legal aid, which Neuberger described through the prism of the UK’s constitutional set-up and the respective roles of the legislature, executive and judiciary within it.
This is not the first time that the UK’s most senior judge has intervened in the debate surrounding the Transforming Legal Aid consultation, which closed on 4 June. Back in March, he warned that proposals intended to save £350 million a year by 2015 could end up costing the Government more, with greater numbers of litigants appearing in court without legal assistance, and longer hearings.
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  UKSC 38 (CMP: see judgment) and 39 (main: see judgment)
Two sets of judgments today from a 9-judge Supreme Court in the Bank Mellat case. The first explains why the Court adopted a secret procedure in the absence of the Bank (i.e. a Closed Material Procedure) but added that the whole palaver in fact added nothing to their knowledge. The second concludes that financial restrictions imposed in 2009 on an Iranian Bank which effectively excluded it from the UK financial market were arbitrary and irrational and were also procedurally unfair.
The saga started when on 9 October 2009 the Treasury made a direction under Schedule 7 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 requiring all persons operating in the financial sector not to have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat. The Treasury said that the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. Continue reading
The British public owes a lot to Ernest Davies. Few, if any, will have heard of him. A Londoner and scion of a Labour party councillor, he began a career in journalism, spent the war years at the BBC’s north Africa desk and, in the Attlee landslide of 1945, was elected as Member of Parliament for Enfield. After the 1950 General Election, he was appointed Parliamentary Undersecretary of State in the Foreign Commonwealth Office. And at 4 p.m. on 4th November 1950, together with ministers representing ten other European states, he walked into the Salone of the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, and signed the European Convention on Human Rights on behalf of the United Kingdom.
It is intriguing to imagine what Davies would have made of the current debate over the United Kingdom’s participation in the Convention system. Perhaps as a former journalist he would have known all too well that, at least for some sections of the British media, coverage of European affairs isn’t always to be taken at face value or too seriously. He would, no doubt, be surprised at the evolution of the Convention into the system it is today. But I think it would have been surprise mixed with a quiet sense of pride, for he would have known that the text he signed was the product of months of work by British lawyers.
Mousa & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 1412 (Admin) (24 May 2013) – Read judgment
Remember the Iraq War? Following the 2003 invasion Britain remained in control of Basra, a city in South Eastern Iraq, until withdrawal over six years later on 30 April 2009. 179 British troops died during that period. But despite there over four years having passed since withdrawal, the fallout from the war and occupation is still being resolved by the UK Government and courts.
Thousands of Iraqis died in the hostilities or were detained by the British. Thanks to two decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2011 (Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda – our coverage here), the state’s duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate deaths and extreme mistreatment applied in Iraq at that time. It is fascinating to see how the UK authorities have been unravelling the extent of that duty. The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry has reported and the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry is ongoing (I acted in the former and still do in the latter). In this major judgment, which may yet be appealed, the High Court has ruled the manner in which the UK Government is investigating deaths and perhaps mistreatment is insufficient to satisfy its investigative duty.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is back before Parliament today for the “Report Stage”. The latest version of the Bill is here, updated explanatory notes here, and the full list of proposed amendments here. Predictably, the amendments are the focus of much controversy.
I have written a new article for the New Statesman on some of the myths and realities surrounding the debate - you can read it here. It’s all a bit complicated, as you might expect.
Our previous coverage is linked to below. Hopefully, party politics won’t end up derailing this important bill. As the New Yorker recently predicted
One day, not long from now, it will be hard to remember what worried people so much about gay and lesbian couples committing themselves to marriage.
Updated, 19 May 2013 | Last night, lawyers, academics, NGOs and even the President of the Supreme Court gathered in a basement conference room in central London. Their purpose was to discuss the UK “without Convention Rights”, a possible future that some might view as post-apocalyptic, and others as utopia. Either way, given recent political developments, the event could not, in the words of the Chair, Lord Dyson, “be more timely or topical.”
The seminar was hosted by city law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and presented by the Human Rights Lawyers Association and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. Lord Dyson, who is the Master of the Rolls (the second most senior judge in England and Wales), introduced three speakers:
- David Anderson QC, the Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation since 2011;
- Professor András Sajó, the Hungarian Judge at the European Court of Human Rights; and
- Professor Hugh Corder, Professor of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.
I have written an article for the New Statesman on the announcement in today’s Queen’s Speech about Article 8 ECHR. It is here. Enjoy!
For more, see:
The Government abandoned its plans to repeal the ‘general duty’ of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) under the Equality Act 2006 (the Act) last week, but insisted upon amendments to the EHRC’s duty to monitor progress on equality and human rights.
The general duty in section 3 of the Act sets out why the EHRC exists and the aims towards which it should be working, namely that it:
shall exercise its functions…with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which
(a) people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination,
(b) there is respect for and protection of each individual’s human rights,
(c) there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual,
(d) each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and
(e) there is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.
The Guardian reports that Prime Minister Cameron is considering denouncing the ECHR on a temporary basis in order to facilitate the deportation of Abu Qatada. As tennis legend John McEnroe might have put it ‘you cannot be serious!’ In order to remove one man from the jurisdiction the government is contemplating removing the protection of human rights for all. One suspects that this announcement by Downing Street was little more than ‘dog-whistle’ politics with the local elections looming next week. But what if the government is really serious? Two quick thoughts come to mind.
Firstly, the UK is on the face of it able to denounce the ECHR under the terms of Article 58, though see below. But even after a denunciation the ECHR will remain fully applicable for six months. Presumably the government would wait for the six months to expire. It would then seek within domestic law to remove Qatada. As this would also require the suspension or repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 this would require an Act of Parliament. No doubt a political and constitutional storm would break as a result. This would of course not be the end of the matter because the decision would be judicially reviewable, no doubt under an enhanced form of anxious scrutiny. How further forth would the government be then?
What is the test the Court should apply in deciding whether an application is ‘totally without merit’? The question is prompted by the Lord Chancellor’s announcement on 23 April 2013 that he will press ahead with plans to reform judicial review procedure to target ‘weak, frivolous and unmeritorious cases’. A key change will be to give judges of the Administrative Court, when refusing permission to apply for judicial review on the papers, the power to certify a claim as ‘totally without merit’ (TWM), thus depriving the claimant of the right to renew the application before the court at an oral hearing.
This power is one that is already exercisable by judges when refusing applications for permission to appeal on the papers under Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) r. 52.3(4A), the effect of which is to prevent the appellant from renewing the application orally. However, it is better known – or, at least, more widely used – in the context of the courts’ jurisdiction to make ‘civil restraint orders’ under CPR 3.11. Indeed, the Administrative Court has had power to certify an application as TWM for the purposes of making a ‘civil restraint order’ since those rules were introduced in 2004 (see R (Kumar) v Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs  1 WLR 536). Although no statistics are currently available for this use of the power to certify a claim as TWM, according to Lynne Knapman, Head of the Administrative Court Office, these are now being collated for applications made since the beginning of 2013.
US Supreme Court : Kiobel et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co et al - Read Judgment
In a long-awaited judgment, the United States Supreme Court has decided unanimously that there was no jurisdiction for a US federal court to hear a claim by a group of Nigerians alleging that the respondents assisted the Nigerian government to kill, rape, beat and arrest individuals who protested against Shell’s environmental practices.
The judgment has already attracted a lot of commentary, from those claiming it is undermines US leadership on human rights to those who argue it is sensible or a mixed bag. The claimants, who resided in the United States, filed suit against the respondents (Dutch, British and Nigerian corporations) in federal court under the Alien Tort Statute (the “ATS”).
The consequences of Margaret Thatcher’s administration have been long lasting. In many areas of national life Thatcher took the British Bulldog by the scruff of the neck and house-trained it. In the context of the constitution her impact was no less significant.
But Lady Thatcher did not set out to reform the constitution. Although the 1979 Conservative Manifesto raised the possibility of a Bill of Rights nothing came of this proposal during her administration. In reality Margaret Thatcher was a traditional Conservative who believed in a strong state and had an aversion to any constitutional reform that might limit it. Yet her administration has left long lasting changes to the law and constitution. In fact there are too many to comfortably write about in a quick blog though a number of developments are of particular interest.
J1 v Secretary of State for the Home Department, 27 March 2013 – read judgment
A UKHRB editor, Angus McCullough QC, was a Special Advocate for J1 before the Court of Appeal, but not in SIAC below. He had nothing to do with the writing of this post
Hot on the Home Secretary’s loss of the Abu Qatada appeal, a reverse for her in another deportation case about someone whom the Court of Appeal described as “an important and significant member of a group of Islamist extremists in the UK,” and who was said to have links – direct or indirect – with men involved in the failed July 21 2005 bombing plot.
The general contours of the case will be familiar to Abu Qatada watchers, with claims under Articles 3 and 6 of the ECHR amongst others – that if J1 was returned to his country of origin (here, Ethiopia), his human rights would not be respected. There are however a number of interesting features about this decision of the Court of Appeal; firstly, it reversed a decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against J1 on Article 3 (recall the heightened regard for SIAC as a specialist tribunal in the Abu Qatada appeal) , and secondly (in dismissing the Article 6 claim) it illustrates graphically some of the dilemmas facing Special Advocates when representing their clients in the imperfect world of “closed procedures” (a.k.a secret trials).
Othman (aka Abu Qatada) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 277 – read judgment
The Home Office last night assured its 70,000 Twitter followers that “it is not the end of the road”. Yet by the time she had reached page 17 of the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of her latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada, it might well have seemed that way to Theresa May.
In November, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled that Qatada could not be deported to face a retrial for alleged terrorism offences due to the real risk of “a flagrant denial of justice”. Read my post on that decision here. Yesterday, Lord Dyson – the Masters of the Rolls and second most senior judge in England and Wales – together with Lord Justices Richards and Elias, rejected the Home Secretary’s appeal.