Back in the spotlight: the detention of mentally ill asylum seekers

R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) – read judgment

1 Crown Office Row’s Robert Kellar was instructed for the Defendant in this case.  He is not the writer of this post.

The High Court has ruled that the failure to consider the continued detention of a mentally ill failed asylum seeker in accordance with immigration policy rendered his detention unlawful in part.

The Claimant applied for asylum based upon his account of an attack during the Rwandan genocide and subsequent events.  The Home Secretary refused the application and the Claimant appealed.  At the appeal he was unrepresented and he adduced no medical evidence.  The Immigration Judge dismissed his appeal, disbelieving the entirety of his account. Once his appeal rights had been exhausted (that is, he was unable to appeal any further through the courts), the Secretary of State detained him on 19 October 2010 for the purpose of removal.

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When indefinite becomes arbitrary: James, Wells and Lee v UK

JAMES, WELLS AND LEE v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 25119/09 57715/09 57877/09 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1706 – Read judgment / press release

As Andrew Tickell noted in his post on Wednesday the European Court of Human Rights this week ruled that the UK violated the Article 5(1) ECHR rights of three prisoners sentenced to indeterminate prison sentences for public protection, where reasonable provision for their rehabilitation was not made. 

In April 2005, the Government introduced indeterminate imprisonment for the public protection, or “IPP sentences”, whereby certain prisoners would not have a right to parole.  Instead, under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, they would remain in prison following expiry of their tariff periods until a Parole Board had decided they were no longer a risk to the public.  Prior to an amendment in 2008, an IPP sentence was mandatory where there was a future risk of further offending, and there was an assumption of risk where there was a previous conviction for a violent or sexual offence unless the sentencing judge considered it unreasonable to make such an assumption.

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The UK and Strasbourg: a victim fantasy

Rhubarb, rhubarb. Another defeat for the United Kingdom in Strasbourg yesterday. In James, Wells and Lee v. the United Kingdom, a chamber of the Court’s Fourth Section held that indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection infringed Article 5 of the Convention.  At his first Justice Questions in the House of Commons yesterday, our fresh-minted Conservative Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, advised MPs that:

“I’m very disappointed with the ECHR decision this morning.  I have to say, it is not an area where I welcome the Court, seeking to make rulings.  It is something we intend to appeal.”

One wonders which areas Mr Grayling would welcome the Court’s jurisdiction, but all in all, a somewhat tepid response from a man whose appointment was greeted by the Daily Mail with the enthusiastic suggestion that Grayling…

“… unlike his predecessor Ken Clarke, will have no truck with the cardboard judges at the European Court of Human Rights.”

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How most Australians do human rights without a Human Rights Act

A sparkling, erudite and funny lecture last Thursday 5 July from the Chief Justice of Australia, exploring how the Australian system with a constitution, but without a Bill of Rights/Human Rights Act, seeks to deliver human rights protection – thanks to the Administrative Law Bar Association and the Angl0-Australasian Law Society. I shall try to summarise the differences, though, rather like the pre-HRA UK position, Australian human rights protection is a subtle one and a difficult one to explain in a short post. Particularly for a Pom. So I am in part throwing down a challenge to our Australian readers (up until this point, at least, quite a few) to comment on what follows.

The constitutional framework  is all important. There are three major differences between this and the UK “constitution”. The first is the presence of a written constitution over 100 years old, and amendable only by referendum. The second is a federal system laid down by that constitution. Out of that arrangement comes a separation of powers between judiciary, legislature, and executive, and also between the Commonwealth (i.e, the federation) and each State, taken against the background of general common law principles drawn from the States’ shared colonial history. And the third is the lack of any substantive human rights instrument applicable to Australia as a whole.

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Courts should take note of Strasboug’s doctrine of deference

R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice [2012] EWHC 1810 (Admin)- read judgment

This case about prisoner’s pay provides an interesting up to date analysis of the role of the doctrine of “margin of appreciation” and its applicability in domestic courts.

Margin of appreciation is a doctrine of an international court: it recognises a certain distance of judgment between the Strasbourg court’s overall apprehension of the Convention principles and their application in practice by the national authorities. In theory it has no application in domestic disputes but ever since the Human Rights Act introduced Convention rights into domestic law there has been an ongoing debate about its applicability at a local level. This case demonstrates the importance of its role in the assessment, by the courts, of the compatibility of laws and rules with Convention rights.

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We need to think about Kevin

Monsters are born, not made: the latest round in the debate about criminal responsibility questions the very  existence of intuitive morality.

US neuroscientist Sam Harris claims in a new book that free will is such a misleading illusion that we need to rethink our criminal justice system on the basis of discoveries coming from the neurological wards and MRI scans of the human brain in action.

The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously demonstrated in the 1980s that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. Subjects were hooked up to an EEG machine and were asked to move their left or right hand at a time of their choosing. They watched a specially designed clock to notice what time it was when they were finally committed to moving left or right hand. Libet measured the electrical potentials of their brains and discovered that nearly half a second before they were aware of what they were going to do, he was aware of their intentions. Libet’s findings have been borne out more recently in direct recordings of the cortex from neurological patients. With contemporary brain scanning technology, other scientists in 2008 were able to predict with 60% accuracy whether subjects would press a button with their left or right hand up to 10 seconds before the subject became aware of having made that choice (long before the preparatory motor activity detected by Libet). Continue reading

The case for letting prisoners vote – Reuven Ziegler

Last Tuesday saw the latest episode in the prisoner voting legal saga with the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber’s judgment  reversing the Chamber judgment which found Italy’s automatic ban on voting for prisoners serving over 3 years in prison (and a lifetime ban with the possibility of future relief for those sentenced to more than 5 years) in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Adam Wagner has compared  the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel, noting that ‘the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table’. Indeed, the UK must still allow at least some prisoners the vote, as required by the 2005 judgment in Hirst v UK (No.2) and the 2010 judgment in Greens & MT v UK.  Over at EJIL: Talk!, Marko Milanovic rightly accounts for the unholy mix of law and (inter)national politics that has generated the Grand Chamber’s unprincipled judgment. Indeed, as Carl Gardner suggests on the Head of Legal blog all that logically remains of the Hirst judgment is that automatic disenfranchisement of prisoners that are sentenced for less than 3 years (probably) breaches the convention.

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European Court of Human Rights retreats but doesn’t surrender on prisoner votes

CASE OF SCOPPOLA v. ITALY (No. 3)(Application no. 126/05) – Read judgment / press release / press release on UK implications

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that states must allow for at least some prisoners to vote, but that states have a wide discretion as to deciding which prisoners. This amounts to a retreat on prisoner votes, but certainly no surrender. As I predicted, the court reaffirmed the principles set out in Hirst No. 2, that an automatic and indiscriminate bans breach the European Convention on Human Rights, but also reaffirmed that it was up to states to decide how to remove those indiscriminate bans.

I have compared the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel. Today’s ruling means that the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table.

Although Scoppola is a case which arose in Italy, the decision is of critical important to the UK for two reasons. First, the Court has made clear to the UK Government that it now has six months from today to bring forth legislative proposals which will end the blanket disenfranchisement of prisoners – see the Court’s helpful press release which explains the effect on the UK. Secondly, the Grand Chamber has now clarified the basic outline of how it expects states to comply with the original prisoner votes ruling, also of the Grand Chamber, in Hirst No. 2. For the full background, see my post from last week or Joshua Rozenberg’s excellent article on Guardian.co.uk.

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European Court got it right on mental health detention delay – Martha Spurrier

This piece is in response to Rosalind English’s post on this blog arguing that in M.S. v United Kingdom the European Court extended to far the ambit of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which protects against torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment. This post argues that the European Court’s ruling is both a logical step in the jurisprudence and a welcome one for the protection of those with mental health problems in state detention. 

M.S. v United Kingdom identifies a gap in the provision of crisis mental healthcare for those in state detention that has long been recognised by lawyers, campaigning organisations, carers, service users, the police and healthcare providers. The judgment is a welcome recognition of two things: first, that a prolonged and acute mental health crisis while in state detention can amount to degrading treatment for the purposes of Article 3 ECHR. And second, that the state is responsible when delays in the provision of psychiatric care to those in detention cause someone with mental health problems to descend into a crisis that is degrading and undignified.

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Irrational, inhuman and degrading: detention of a mentally ill asylum-seeker was unlawful

R (on the application of HA (Nigeria)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 979 (Admin) – Read judgment

The detention of a mentally ill person in an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment and false imprisonment, and was irrational, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Singh heard a judicial review application by a Nigerian National against decisions to continue to detain him under the UK Borders Act 2007 and the conditions of that detention. From August 2009, HA, an overstaying visitor and asylum seeker, was detained at various IRCs following his release from prison for a drug-related offence which triggered the automatic deportation provisions of the 2007 Act. His behaviour during detention became increasingly disturbed and strange. In January 2010, he was seen by a psychiatrist who recommended HA’s transfer to a mental hospital for assessment and treatment.

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Refusal of child care leave to female prisoners was unlawful, rules High Court

MP, R(on the application of) v the Secretary of State for Justice   [2012] EWHC 214 (Admin) – read judgment

The prison authorities had acted unlawfully in restricting childcare resettlement leave to prisoners who were within two years of their release date and had been allocated to “open” conditions.

Two female prisoners applied for judicial review of decisions of the defendant secretary of state and prison governors to refuse them childcare resettlement leave (CRL). CRL is a type of temporary licence available to prisoners who have sole caring responsibility for a child under 16. CRL enables prisoners to spend up to three days at home (including nights), provided certain conditions are met. The principal issue in the claim was whether the secretary of state was acting lawfully in restricting CRL to female prisoners who have less than 2 years until their earliest release date. Continue reading

Abu Hamza and Babar Ahmad can be extradited to USA, rules human rights court

BABAR AHMAD AND OTHERS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 24027/07 [2012] ECHR 609 – Read judgment / press release

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber, has found that five men accused of serious terrorist activities can be extradited from the UK to the US to face trial.

They had argued that their article 3 rights (article 3 prohibits torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) would be violated if they were extradited and convicted. A sixth man’s case has been adjourned pending further submissions from the parties to the proceedings.

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No extradition for Shrien Dewani – for now

The Government of the Republic of South Africa v Shrien Dewani- Read decision

The extradition to South Africa of Shrien Dewani, the man accused of murdering his wife on honeymoon there in 2010, has been delayed pending an improvement in his mental health.

The case made headlines in 2010, when the story broke of a honeymooning couple who had been ambushed in the township of Gugulethu, South Africa. Mr Dewani told police he had been travelling in a taxi which was ambushed by two men. He described being forced from the car at gunpoint and the car driving away with his wife still inside. She was found dead shortly after.  However, evidence emerged which led the South African authorities to believe that Mr Dewani had initiated a conspiracy with the taxi driver and the men who ambushed the taxi to murder his new wife. Consequently, they sought his extradition from the UK, to which he had returned, to face a trial for murder.

In an appeal to the High Court from a decision by a Senior District Judge that Mr Dewani could be extradited, Mr Dewani made two arguments:
1.    Prison conditions in South Africa were such that his Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) Convention rights would be violated if he were extradited;

2.    His mental health and risk of suicide were such that his should not be extradited. Continue reading

All by myself: segregation, prisons and Article 6

Bourgass and others v Secretary of State for Justice [2012] EWCA Civ 376 Read decision

The ability to interact with other prisoners is a major part of prison life, and not one many prisoners would give up willingly. But there are circumstances where prisoners have to be segregated from the rest of the prison population, such as where they are posing a violent threat to another prisoner or planning an escape. The Court of Appeal has recently looked into the question of how decisions to segregate are made, including the initial decision, the review of the decision and ultimately judicial review, in a human rights context.

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Indefinite detention: not very British

Angus McCullough QC appeared for Abu Qatada as his Special Advocate in the domestic proceedings before SIAC, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. He is not the author of this post.

‘Human Rights Act to blame!’ is a frequent refrain in the media, as well reported on this blog.  Often, though, the outcome that has attracted media ire is not one that has much to do with the Human Rights Act at all. The decision to release Abu Qatada on bail is one such example.

The decision of the European Court of Human Rights that Abu Qatada cannot, for now, be deported to Jordan because of the risk of a trial using evidence obtained by torture has nothing to do with the Human Rights Act. Unless the UK were to withdraw entirely from the European Convention on Human Rights, that decision would always have been reached with or without our own Human Rights Act.

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