Restrictions on books in prisons declared unlawful by the High Court

Cornerstone-bookshopR (on the application of Gordon-Jones) v Secretary of State for Justice and Governor of HM Prison Send [2014] EWHC 3997 (Admin)read judgment

Contrary to what some media reports would have us believe, Prison Service Instruction (“PSI”) 30/2013 did not impose an absolute ban on books in prisons. It did, however, impose severe restrictions on the possession or acquisition of books which a prisoner can treat as his or her own. The High Court has found that those restrictions could not be justified by the limited provision of prison library services and are therefore unlawful.

The Claimant is a prisoner serving an indefinite sentence for the protection of the public at HMP Send. She has a doctorate in English literature and a serious passion for reading. The books she wants to read are often not the sort which are required by fellow prisoners or readily available through the prison library (the Dialogues of Marcus Aurelius and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, for example, crop up in the judgment) and she therefore relies on having books sent or brought to her by people outside the prison.

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Cracking intercepts: the war on terror and difficulties with Human Rights

TheImitationGame-BCLiberty v Government Communications Headquarters ( IPT/13/77/H); Privacy International v FCO and others (IPT/13/92/CH); American Civil Liberties Union v Government Communications Headquarters (IPT/13/168-173/H); Amnesty International Ltd v The Security Service and others (IPT/13/194/CH); Bytes for All v FCO (IPT/13/204/CH), The Investigatory Powers Tribunal [2014] UKIPTrib 13_77-,  5 December 2014 – read judgment

Robert Seabrook QC is on the panel of the IPT and  David Manknell of 1 Crown Office acted as Counsel to the Tribunal  in this case. They have nothing to do with the writing of this post.

This is a fascinating case, not just on the facts or merits but because it is generated by two of the major catalysts of public law litigation: the government’s duty to look after the security of its citizens, and the rapid outpacing of surveillance law by communications technology. Anyone who has seen The Imitation Game, a film loosely based on the biography of Alan Turing, will appreciate the conflicting currents at the core of this case: the rights of an individual to know, and foresee, what the limits of his freedom are, and the necessity to conceal from the enemy how much we know about their methods. Except the Turing film takes place in official wartime, whereas now the state of being at “war” has taken on a wholly different character. Continue reading

Couple launch challenge to heterosexual bar on Civil Partnerships

Charles-Keidan-and-Rebecc-012

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.

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Why Somali pirates got damages from Strasbourg

disaster2008_Ponant14Ali Samatar and others v. France, 4 December 2014, ECtHR, Fifth Section, read judgment 

There is a good deal of froth about this case in the media, with little of it looking at what our pirates got their damages for. I also suspect that some of the hostility comes from elements who may not wish to trouble themselves with a judgment only in French. So let’s have a quick look at what the case was actually about. 

The surrounding facts are terrifying but France’s liability to pay damages occurred for mundane reasons, as we shall see.

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Who’s afraid of Protocol 15? Not the Joint Committee on Human Rights – Alice Donald

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297The 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.

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Geoff Hoon sting case fails in Strasbourg

9b316a14-1a4d-41c5-abc3-035aa1e6a91bHoon v. United Kingdom, 13 November 2014, ECtHR, read judgment

Most people’s political memories are short, but we may recall Geoff Hoon’s exquisite discomfiture when he was duped by a journalist, and then criticised by a Parliamentary Committee for his conduct in trying to drum up work. Still piqued, he complained of his treatment to Strasbourg, but, as we shall see, to no avail.

In February 2010, Hoon was an MP and a former Secretary of State for Defence. He had also taken up a voluntary position as one of twelve special advisors to the Secretary-General of NATO. He then announced he would not be contesting the May 2010 elections. He was  contacted by  Claire Webster on behalf of “Anderson Perry Associates”, an organisation that purported to be a “US communications company”.  The company was looking to hire consultants who had an intimate and expert knowledge of government affairs.

Hoon was indeed interested. 

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Super Grieve strikes again: Tory human rights plans would be “devastating” for the UK

Super Grieve (UK Human Rights Blog)Dominic Grieve QC was appointed as the Coalition Government’s Attorney General in May 2010. He remained in post until July 2014 when he was sacked. He said he would “happily” have stayed on, but the reality was that he could not support the Conservative Party’s radical plans to reform UK human rights law. 

Since then he has become a fierce and impassioned critic of the Tory plans, somewhat surprisingly given his public persona which is otherwise calm and lawyerly. He has produced two detailed, and devastating, critiques: the first in Prospect Magazine and then last night in a lecture at University College London. Both are highly recommended as measured and unarguably correct analyses of the Tory plan.

To my mind, Dominic Grieve QC is a bit of a hero. He has stood up for principle at the expense of his political career. He did not just resign in disgust, he then made it his business to explain to people – and particularly those on the Right – why the Tory plans would be “devastating both for ourselves domestically as it will be for the future of the Convention” (p.24).

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