The round-up – Books, Boycotts, and Gove’s Debut

01_NH10RES_1148962kLaura Profumo serves us the latest human rights happenings.

In the News: 

Michael Gove appeared before the Justice Select Committee last Wednesday, in the first true baring of his political mettle as justice secretary. Overall, it seems, the MP made a largely favourable impression, though legal commentators remain wary. UKHRB’s own Adam Wagner deftly compared Gove’s success to “when they gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize…because he wasn’t George Bush”. The “post-Grayling Gove-hope” may, then, prove deceptively shallow, defined by the simple relief that Gove is not Grayling.

Yet Gove’s evidence before the committee was laudable – reasonable, measured, and skifully non-committal. Gove’s comments on the Human Rights Act obliquely signalled the “proposals” will be published “in the autumn”, failing to specify whether they would be accompanied by a draft Bill. His substantive points were similarly vague. The Lord Chancellor invoked the “abuse” of human rights as justification for the repeal of the HRA, before conceding he could not offer a “one-hundred per cent guarantee” that the UK would remain a party to the Convention. Such a position suggests a British Bill of Rights may “seek to limit certain rights”, argues academic Mark Elliot, which would, “quite possibly”, precipitate British withdrawal from Strasbourg altogether. Gove also stressed the role of the judiciary in applying the common law to uphold human rights, holding that “there is nothing in the Convention that is not in the common law”. Such a view is “highly contestable at best, plain wrong at worst”, holds Elliot, whilst Conor Gearty finds it stokes the fantasy of “the civil libertarian common law”. Gove seems to suggest that HRA-repeal and possible ECHR-withdrawal would be “far from earth-shattering events”, Elliot notes, as judges could still invoke a panoply of common-law rights. Whilst Gove is right to remind skeptics that HRA-repeal would not leave domestic judges powerless, such “overstatement” of the common-law rights model “might end up hoist on its own petard….ringing hollower than its cheerleaders”. Continue reading

Divisional Court strikes down DRIPA communications data law

David-Davis-Tom-Watson-HOCR (ota Davis et al) v. Secretary of State for Home Department [2015] EWHC 2092 – 17 July 2015 read judgment

When a domestic Act of Parliament is in conflict with EU law, EU law wins. And when a bit of the EU Charter (given effect by the Lisbon Treaty) conflicts with an EU Directive, the EU Charter wins.

Which is why the Divisional Court found itself quashing an Act of Parliament on Friday – at the behest of four claimants, including two MPs, the Tories’ David Davis and Labour’s Tom Watson. 

The doomed Act is the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 or DRIPA. It was in conformity with an underlying EU Directive (the Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC or DRD – here). However, and prior to DRIPA, the DRD had been invalidated by the EU Court (in the Digital Rights Ireland case here)  because it was in breach of the EU Charter.

All this concerns communications data, which tell us who was sending an email, to whom, from where, and when – but not the content of the email. DRIPA in effect compels telecoms providers to keep communications data for 12 months, and to make it available to public bodies such as intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Continue reading

Scotland, Sewel, and the Human Rights Act

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

The Queen’s speech suggests a slowing of the Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. But recent comments from the Scottish Human Rights Commissioner suggest the Conservatives may be considering removal of HRA protections in relation to English and reserved UK-wide matters only, leaving the Human Rights Act in place in the other devolved areas of the UK. 

Much ink has been spilled over the Government’s proposals. This article will take a narrow look at Scotland’s relationship with the Human Rights Act, and how devolution may be a future thorn in the Government’s side. 

But wait! I thought the Human Rights Act was enshrined in the Scotland Act. Doesn’t that protect the Human Rights Act in Scotland?

Sort of (not really).

Continue reading

TTIP news, and whether the UK should encourage big business to sue it

GET_3A2_shutting_down_nuclear_plants_lQuite a lot has happened in the 6 months since my post here on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is a proposed trade agreement between the US and the EU, with negotiations on the substantive issues between the EU and the US underway in Brussels at the moment.

The proposed treaty may have significant effects on EU regulation, but let’s concentrate on whether TTIP should contain specific provisions enabling investors to sue governments.

The ground for action would be governmental “expropriation” of investments – and that may mean anything from telling a cigarette manufacturer that he must have to change what his packets look like, (with consequential loss of profits), to imposing new environmental standards on a power generating plant.

This mechanism is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. Our government seems astonishingly sanguine about this, on the basis that it has not yet been sued successfully under existing bilateral treaties with similar provisions. This does not seem to be a very profoundly thought-through position to adopt, if the proposed system has its problems – which it plainly does, when one compares it with traditional claims in the courts. Put simply, why wave it on?

Continue reading

How mad must you be, not to be responsible for your actions?

1a45b808-20f6-11e5-_934669cDunnage v. Randall & UK Insurance Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 673, 2 July 2015 – read judgment

This is an extraordinary case, and one which goes deep down into why the law of wrongs (or torts) makes people compensate others for injury and losses, whereas the criminal law may decide that a crime has not been committed.

Imagine this. Your uncle (Vince) arrives in your home. He is behaving very hyper. Unbeknownst to you he is in the middle of a florid paranoid schizophrenic episode. He suddenly announces that he will go and fetch a copy of Autotrader from his car. He returns without it, but with a petrol can and a lighter. He sits down and becomes all aggressive and paranoid about you and your partner. He knocks over the petrol can and starts rolling the lighter trigger. After more incoherent accusations by him (e.g. “Why have you got my Hoover?”), you try to drag him clear to save him, but he ignites the lighter. You are badly burned and jump off the balcony. You are very brave. Vince dies at the scene.

You (the man with the dog) sue Vince’s estate, except you don’t really, because you are really suing his household insurers.

You try to pursue a tightrope between arguments. Vince may have been mad-ish, but not that mad, so that he is still civilly responsible for his actions. But the household policy only applies to “accidental” injury, and excludes wilful or malicious actions. So he cannot have been too sane and capable of deliberate and malicious actions.

The judge disallows your claim, on the basis that Vince lacked volition. The Court of Appeal allows it. Why?

Continue reading

The Round-up: Srebrenica veto, and legal aid boycott latest

Srebrenica_massacre_memorial_gravestones_2009_1Alex Wessely brings you this week’s Human Rights Round Up.

In the News:

“Twenty years after Srebrenica, incomplete justice”. This is Human Rights Watch’s conclusion after Russia vetoed a UN resolution to refer to the 1995 massacre as “genocide”. Amnesty go further; calling the veto “an insult to the memory of the dead”. HRW calls for the European Union and the United States to encourage the Bosnian local courts to develop a national war crimes strategy to address the “case backlog” and bring war criminals to justice. Tensions between Serbia and Bosnia remain high; on Sunday the Serbian prime minister was attacked with stones when attending a 20th anniversary commemoration at Srebrenica.

In UK news, the legal aid boycott enters its second week, and has begun to bite. Delays are building up in the magistrates’ courts and police stations. A Bristol murder case has had to be adjourned due to the defendant being unrepresented and Liverpool magistrates’ are reportedly in “chaos”. The Criminal Bar Association is ballotting its members and will decide on Wednesday whether to support the boycott through a ‘no returns’ policy and by refusing new work. Continue reading

The private lives of child rioters

Derry riotsIn the matter of an application by JR38 for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland) [2015] UKSC 42

Does the publication of photographs of a child taken during a riot fall within the scope of Article 8 ECHR?

It depends, says a Supreme Court majority, specifically on whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy. Either way, the Court in J38 agreed that whether or not the 14 year-old Appellant’s right to respect for private life was in play, the publication of police photographs of him was justified in the circumstances.

Continue reading