Yesterday, before His Honour Judge Peter Murphy ruled that a female Muslim defendant in a criminal trial must remove her face-covering veil (niqaab) whilst giving evidence, Home Office Minister Jeremy Brown said he was “instinctively uneasy” about restricting religious freedoms, but that there should be a national debate over banning the burka.
Many of us have a gut reaction to the niqaab, which poses particular problems for our mostly liberal, secular society. Arguably, it also prompts less laudable instincts originating in fear of the ‘other’. But trusting in our instincts is never a good way of solving complex problems. As I have suggested before, when politicians appeal to their gut they are often just avoiding making an intellectually sound case for their position.
The second salvo in the Government’s war against Judicial Review was launched last week. At least, that is what you may think after reading the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling’s fire-breathing op-ed in the Daily Mail, in which he gets within a whisker of saying Judicial Review was invented by Karl Marx to foment socialist revolution.
“Beware kite flyers“, warned former Court of Appeal judge Sir Stephen Sedley in a recent article. Before Mr Grayling launched his latest kite, Sir Stephen argued that placing a political attack dog in the constitutionally delicate role of Lord Chancellor “exposed the legal system to the vagaries of politics and policy, with profound implications for the rule of law“. Law was hardly insulated before, but it is difficult to remember a Lord Chancellor putting his case in such a nakedly political and incendiary way.
Yesterday Sir Nicolas Bratza spoke candidly about the responsibility of certain UK politicians and media outlets in tarnishing this countries human rights legacy. He called on lawyers and NGOs to help rekindle the fire for human rights at home.
At an event hosted by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and the Law Society – “Sixty years of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): What does the future hold?” – politicians, legal practitioners, civil servants, academics and activists debated the impact of six decades of the UK’s membership of the ECHR.
As the August news lull continues, the David Miranda controversy is still troubling commentators – see Daniel Isenberg’s superb roundup. In the past week or so, an interesting symmetry has arisen between those defending and criticising the Police’s actions.
The Police’s critics say the detention was probably unlawful, but even if it was lawful it shouldn’t have been as, if this non-terrorism case can fit within existing anti-terror law, then terrorism powers are too wide. This more or less fits with my view, although I am not sure yet about the lawfulness of the detention. A reverse argument is made by the Police’s defenders: the detention was probably lawful, but if if it wasn’t then it should have been, as we need to be able to prevent these kind of dangerous intelligence leaks from occurring. See e.g. Matthew Parris and to an extent Louise Mensch.
Into the second category steps Lord Ian Blair, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He has told the BBC that the threat from international terrorism was “constantly changing” and there was a need to “review the law”:
According to reports in yesterday’s Times (£) and Telegraph, the government is planning a further set of reforms to judicial review. (I have written before about why the original proposals, published in December 2012, were objectionable—and about the fact that the government pressed ahead with many, but not all, of them, excoriating criticism notwithstanding.) Today, it is said that the Ministry of Justice is drastically to restrict the test for standing in judicial review cases. A “government source” told the Times that:
We’re looking at making some changes so that the system isn’t open to abuse by groups who may not have a direct interest in the issue at hand but simply want to cause delay or disruption to plans or generate publicity for themselves.
This fits with the overarching narrative emerging from (certain parts of) government, according to which accountability to law—whether domestic or European—is increasingly characterised as a brake on economic progress, a challenge to democracy by unelected judges, or little more than a public-relations tool that is strategically deployed so as to “play the system”.
I have an opinion piece in today’s Times on Abu Qatada. It is behind a paywall so I can’t reproduce it here, but you can probably guess from the title what my theme is: Abu Qatada’s case shows the human rights system works. Enjoy (if you have access).
Here is a taster:
Tan & Anor v Law & Anor (2013) – Currently available on Lawtel 25/6/2013 and Westlaw, BAILII link to follow
The absence of legal representation for defendants to an action for debt who contended they could not speak English resulted in the High Court granting an application that the trial be adjourned for a second time. The judgment is a good example of the interaction of Article 6 ECHR (right to a fair trial) with the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).
The decision by Judge Burrell QC obviously turns on its own facts. But the absence of legal aid, the rise in litigants in person, and the increasing number of persons in this country for whom English is not their first language (or indeed their language at all) mean that this is not likely to be the last such case.
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  UKSC 39 (see judgment)
My post of earlier this week explained why the majority of the Supreme Court struck down a direction telling all financial institutions not to deal with this Iranian Bank. The legal ground (involving, as Lord Sumption described it, “an exacting analysis of the factual evidence in defence of the measure” ) was that the direction was “disproportionate”. The judgments (particularly the dissenting one of Lord Reed) tell us a lot about the scope of proportionality. And there is a good deal more to it than there might at first sight appear.
So it may be worth doing a bit of a bluffers guide, hand in hand with Lord Reed.
The concept arises in human rights law and in EU law. Its ECHR and EU incarnations derive from German administrative law, but its development in English law shows strong common-law influences. It applies in many different contexts, and the intensity of the review required critically depends on that context as well as the right being interfered with. So it is no simple thing to explain, but Lord Reed at  –  distils the main elements.
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: