After a brief hiatus, the Human Rights Round-up is back. Our new team of expert summarisers – Hannah Lynes, Alex Wessely and Laura Profumo – is installed and ready to administer your regular dose of UK human rights news.
This week, Hannah reports on the Global Law Summit, access to justice, and what’s happening in the courts.
In the News
‘If you wrap yourself in the Magna Carta…you are inevitably going to look ridiculous if you then throw cold water on an important part of its legacy.’ Lord Pannick QC was not alone last week (23-28th February) in suggesting that there was some irony in Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling evoking the spirit of the Magna Carta at his launch of the three-day Global Law Summit.
Northamptonshire County Council v AS, KS and DS  EWFC 7 - read judgment
A Family Division judge has awarded damages under the Human Rights Act against a local authority in what he described as an “unfortunate and woeful case” involving a baby taken into foster care. Mr Justice Keehan cited a “catalogue of errors, omissions, delays and serial breaches of court orders” by Northamptonshire County Council. Unusually, the judge decided to give the judgment in this sensitive case in public in order to set out “the lamentable conduct of this litigation by the local authority.”
On 30 January 2013, the local authority placed the child (known as ‘DS’) with foster carers. He was just fifteen days old. In the weeks prior to DS’s birth, his mother’s GP had made a referral to the local authority due to her lack of antenatal care and because she claimed to be sleeping on the street. The mother then told a midwife that she had a new partner. He was a heroin addict.
After the birth DS’s mother avoided seeing her midwife. She frequently moved addresses and conditions at home were exceedingly poor. Three days before DS was taken into care, his mother told social workers that her new partner was being aggressive and threatening to her. She reported that he was leaving used needles around the house. Continue reading
M, R (on the application of) v Hampshire Constabulary and another (18 December 2014)  EWCA Civ 1651 – read judgment
The law governing the monitoring of sex offenders, allowing police officers to visit the homes of registered offenders, did not constitute an unlawful interference with the offenders’ privacy rights under Article 8 of the ECHR.
This was an appeal against a decision by the appellant (M) against a decision by Hallett LJ and Collins J in the Administrative Court that the practice of police officers making visits to the homes of registered sex offenders for the purpose of monitoring their behaviour did not violate the Convention. Continue reading
Re K and H (Children: unrepresented father: cross-examination of child)  EWFC 1, HHJ Bellamy – read judgment
Philippa Whipple QC of 1 COR appeared for the Lord Chancellor in this case. She has played no part in the writing of this post.
This case raises a very stark problem. A father wants to see his children aged 5 and 4. The mother has an elder daughter, Y, aged 17. Y told her teacher that the father sexually abused her. The truth or otherwise of this allegation is relevant to whether there should be contact between father and his children.
The father is a litigant in person, and unsurprisingly (whatever the status of her allegations) Y does not to be cross-examined by the father, nor, equally understandably, does the father wish to do so himself.
So who should? And does the court have the power to order Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to pay for legal representation for the father limited to that cross-examination of Y? So the Lord Chancellor was allowed to intervene – he had been invited to do so in a previous case (Q v. Q – here, and our post here, to which we will come), but had been unwilling to do so – not perhaps tactful to the judges but then he still seems to be learning the ropes in that respect – see here.
R (on the application of) Gudanaviciene and others v The Director of Legal Aid Casework and others  EWCA Civ 1622 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance on exceptional funding in civil legal aid is incompatible with the right of access to justice under Article 6 of the ECHR and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Court has further decided that this Guidance was not compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR in immigration cases; in other words, that legal aid should not be refused when applicants for entry to the UK seek to argue that refusal of entry would interfere with their right to respect for private and family life.
This was an appeal against a ruling by Collins J in the court below that the appellant Director’s refusal to grant the respondents exceptional case funding under Section 10 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 in their immigration cases was unlawful. Continue reading
Liberty 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  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
Cotton and others, (R on the application of) v Minister for Work and Pensions and others, 15 October 2014  EWHC 3437 (Admin) – read judgment
Whether you call it the “spare room subsidy” or the “bedroom tax”, the removal of this type of housing benefit has been nothing short of controversial. There have been several previous legal challenges to the Regulations, as well as to the benefit cap introduced as part of the same package of welfare changes. The outcome of these cases was not promising for these claimants, in particular the decision of the Court of Appeal in R (MA) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions  EWCA Civ 13. Another important case is R (SG (previously JS)) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions  EWCA Civ 156.
Now the High Court has settled one aspect of the matter by ruling that these amendments did not breach the rights of singe parents under Article 8 ECHR who looked after their children under shared care arrangements where they received discretionary housing payments to make up the shortfall. Continue reading