High speed rail, Parliament, and the EU Courts

World war one tankR (o.t.a HS2AA, Buckingham County Council and others) v. Secretary of State for Transport, [2014] UKSC 3 – read judgments

So the challenge to the way in which the Government wished to push the HS2 project through Parliament has failed before the Supreme Court, though not without clarifying the way in which key EU environmental provisions are meant to work. And we will also see a further flexing of the Court’s muscles against a too straightforward reading of the supremacy of EU law when seen against our constitutional principles.  

The objectors said the command paper which preceded the Parliamentary hybrid bill, in which the Government set out its proposals for HS2, fell within the scope of the  Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive 2001/42/EC and that an SEA ought therefore to have been carried out. The directive applies to plans or programmes which set a “framework” (Art.3(2)(a)) for future decisions whether to grant development consent for projects, and it was said that the command paper set the framework for the decision whether to grant consent for HS2.

Secondly, the objectors said that the legislative procedure in Parliament does not meet the requirements of the  Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 2011/92/EU. The EU Court of Justice has interpreted that directive as imposing a number of requirements, including that the legislature must have available to it the information required by the directive, and a requirement that national courts must be able to verify that the requirements of the directive have been satisfied, taking account of the entire legislative process, including the preparatory documents and the parliamentary debates. Continue reading

Senior judges speak out on EU and rights law

PrintFollowing David Hart’s highly popular review of  Alan Paterson’s book on the Supreme Court, here’s an account of the recent public speeches of Lord Sumption, Lord Justice Laws, and Lady Hale. I apologise in advance for the length of this post, but to do justice to all three lectures it has proved necessary to quote extensively from each. There are links to the full text of the lectures, if you want to digest them over Christmas. But whether or not that prospect appeals, here is a challenge for the festive season. Lord Sumption divides judges into three categories: the “parson”, the “pragmatic realist” and the”analyst”  (quoted by Professor Paterson in Final Judgment: The Last Law Lords and the Supreme Court). Which of these labels fit the respective speakers? Continue reading

In South Africa, the not-so-quick and the dead.

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There’s a crisis in South Africa’s mortuaries – in the investigation of death.

 This is due to a number of problems – incompetent staff who fail to gather forensic evidence, creaking and inadequate facilities, and the sheer number of dead bodies waiting to be processed. In a gripping but bleak documentary about Salt River Mortuary, which is responsible for processing cadavers in the Western Cape, the figures will make you gasp and stretch your eyes:

For the Western Cape alone, 3,000 bodies are handled by this Mortuary each year. Of this number, 65% are unnatural deaths (accidents, suicides, homicides). Of that number (approx 2,000) a staggering 80% are homicides – in other words, Salt River is responsible for providing the forensic evidence for reconstructing the crime scenes leading to 1,600 murders a year.

Watch the ten minute film here. Continue reading

Australian judge lays down gauntlet for the angels of human rights

PrintJ.D. Heydon: Are Bills of Rights necessary in common law systems?   – read lecture

Former Australian High Court Justice Heydon’s thought-provoking speech questioning the efficacy and indeed the very merits of the Human Rights Act deserves reading in full, but the following summary highlights its main features and should encourage readers to immerse themselves in the lecture.

Proponents of human rights instruments urge their necessity on society because they gesture toward a morality more capacious than the morality of our tribe, or association, or nationality. The forum of human rights is one in which our allegiances are not to persons or to wished-for outcomes but to abstract norms that are indifferent to those outcomes. That is why the Human Rights Act has around it what Heydon calls an “aura of virtue” that would make its repeal extremely difficult from a political point of view, even though it is legally and practically possible. Continue reading

What do *you* think is the way forward for human rights in Northern Ireland?

Good Friday Agreement

Good Friday Agreement

Advice on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, submitted to the Secretary of State by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in 2008, was roundly rejected by the UK government in 2009 and there seems to be little appetite within the Northern Ireland Office for revisiting the issue in the foreseeable future.

In London, the coalition government’s Commission on a UK Bill of Rights, set up in 2011, reported in 2012 but could not suggest an agreed way forward on a UK basis. In Scotland, on the other hand, bearing in mind the forthcoming referendum on independence in 2014, there is renewed interest in whether legislation should be passed by the Scottish Parliament to guarantee a range of social and economic rights. The Republic of Ireland, for its part, is currently re-examining its Constitution and has recently voted in a referendum to enhance the protection of children’s rights.

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The Bill of Rights Commission report: a modest proposal

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Update, 15:15: I originally referred below to there being a majority of six versus two in favour of introducing a bill of rights. This was wrong – in fact there were seven. The Commission chair, Sir Leigh Lewis, should have been included in that number.

The Commission on a Bill of Rights has reported, just in time for its end-of-2012 deadline. The documents are here: News release ; Volume 1 ; Volume 2.

I have read the introduction, which sets out the main proposals. A few things that jumped out:

  • As predicted by most people since the beginning, there are areas of agreement but also some significant disagreements. Only seven out of the nine Commissioners believe there should be a bill of rights. Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands disagree. Even the title is equivocal: “A UK Bill of Rights? The choice before us“.
  • This is not a unified document, but rather a running, almost Socratic, dialectic between the nine members. It is difficult to follow who agrees with which bit, even in individual paragraphs which are often qualified by “a majority believes”. Bizarrely, and going beyond even my pessimistic expectations of strife, there are eight (eight!) separate papers written by individuals and groups of individuals included in the report, including one by Lord Faulks and Jonathan Fisher on the European Court and why it is going beyond its original remit, one by Sands and Kennedy on why they don’t think there should be a bill of rights, a personal explanatory note by Lord Lester… it goes on. That is one of the reasons this is such a long document.

South African Constitutional Court flexes its muscles on prior restraint

Print Media South Africa v Minister of Home Affairs  ([2012] ZACC 22) - read judgment.

In a “momentous”  ruling on freedom of speech, the Constitutional Court has struck down a legislative provision on prior restraint,  “based on vague and overly broad criteria”, as offensive to the right to freedom of expression.

As the attorney for the amicus curiae Dario Milo explains in the Weekly Mail and Guardian (reposted on Inforrm), the court went even further than the relief contended for by the applicants, by striking down the entire provision as unconstitutional, rather than allowing certain criteria to be clarified  in accordance with the Bill of Rights.

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Should atheists be explicitly protected in human rights instruments?

Writing on the Richard Dawkins website, humanist campaigner Leo Igwe-Ieet declares that there is a gaping hole in the protections listed in international rights instruments.

I have heard it proclaimed at the UN that the rights of women are human rights. I have also heard it proclaimed that the rights of gay people are human rights. These proclamations changed the way human rights are perceived around the globe. Personally I have yet to hear it proclaimed at UN, or at our regional and national human rights bodies that the rights of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers are human rights. I do not want these rights to be implied or assumed as currently the case in most countries. I want them to be expressly declared as universal human rights.

The reason why such explicit protection is urgently needed, the writer claims, is because non-believers are particularly vulnerable in some parts of the world, notably Africa. In parts of Africa where fundamentalist belief holds sway, “religious non-believers are treated as if they are not human beings, as if they do not exist or do not have the right to exist.” The right to freedom of religion is of no avail to those who wish to eschew faith altogether. On the contrary,

freedom of religion is often understood as freedom to profess a religion-the religion sanctioned by the state, by one’s family or community- not freedom to change one’s religion or freedom not to profess any religion at all as contained in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Continue reading

Strasbourg is not the Vatican…yet.

Behind the Times paywall Anthony Lester today declares that “Sniping at Strasbourg will only hinder reform”. In his guest column, he says that Court is suffering unfair criticism from “sections of the British media” and “politicians who accuse it of over-reaching its power”. That may well be the case, but the most searing and authoritative criticism comes not from politicians or the press but from Lord Lester’s own profession – see Jonathan Sumption QC’s recent broadside (and our post) and Lord Hoffmann’s much-discussed analysis (posted here).  

If the Court is indeed hobbled by unfair squibs and arrows from a resentful sector of the British populace, as Lord Lester suggests, why is the prisoner votes example the only one he can come up with? That is an important fight, at least from a constitutional angle, but not the only flashpoint;  the Court’s tendency to act as fourth instance appeal tribunal particularly on deportation and terrorism cases is arguably far more “dangerous” and certainly of concern to more people than votes for prisoners. Continue reading

3 days to say whether you want a UK Bill of Rights

The Commission on a Bill of Rights consultation on whether we need one (a bill, not the Commission) closes this Friday 11 November. 

The consultation document is here: Do we need a UK Bill of Rights. You can respond by email or to the Commission’s address. Our posts on the commission are here and listed below for background – you can also read our existing Bill of Rights, from 1689, here, the Magna Carta here and the Human Rights Act here.

I intend to collate responses and summarise them once the deadline passes, so please feel free to email your responses (ideally as an MS Word document or PDF) to 1crownofficerow@gmail.com .

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A grown-up speech on human rights reform

At around the same time that 79 Conservative Party MPs were rebelling over a European referendum, the Conservative Attorney General was giving a very interesting speech entitled European Convention on Human Rights – Current Challenges.

In a month in which the Justice Secretary called part of the Home Secretary’s speech on human rights “laughable” and “childlike”, Dominic Grieve presented a refreshingly grown-up argument on human rights reform.

The speech is worth reading in full. Grieve presented the Government’s arguments, most of them already well-known, on why the Human Rights Act needs to be replaced by a Bill of Rights. There were no big surprises; his central theme, subsidiarity, that is the European Court giving member states more space to set their local social policy, is something which the Justice Secretary has spoken about – see my post on his evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee.

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Who are the Bill of Rights Commission “human rights experts”?

The much trumpeted commission on a UK Bill of Rights has been launched by the Ministry of Justice. It is pretty much as was leaked last week, although it will now have 8 rather than 6 experts chaired by Sir Leigh Lewis, a former Permanent Secretary to the Department of Work and Pensions.

The commission is to report by the end of 2012. Its members, described as “human rights experts”. Are they? The roll call, made up mostly of barristers, is:

 

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Expenses scandal four lose parliamentary privilege appeal

Morley & Ors v. R [2010] EWCA Crim 1910 – Read judgment

Four former Members of Parliament have failed in their appeal of a Crown Court ruling preventing them from claiming parliamentary privilege in criminal proceedings arising from the parliamentary expenses scandal.

The appeal was of Mr Justice Saunders’ ruling in the Southwark Crown Court that the parliamentary privilege enshrined in the 1688 Bill of Rights does not extend to protecting the four ex-MPs, Elliott Morley, David Chaytor, James Devine and Lord Hanningfield, from prosecutions for claiming inflated expenses. He had said that he could “see no logical, practical or moral justification for a claim for expenses being covered by privilege; and I can see no legal justification for it either.”

The Lord Chief Justice gave the judgment of the court, and made clear that Parliamentary privilege was simply not designed to protect these four men from the allegations currently against them:

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Bill of Rights privilege plea fails parliamentary expenses four

Morley & Ors, R. v [2010] EW Misc 9 (EWCC) (11 June 2010) – Read judgment

Four former Members of Parliament have failed in their initial bid to claim parliamentary privilege in criminal proceedings arising from the parliamentary expenses scandal. The case has highlighted constitutional principles which reach back hundreds of years to the time of Oliver Cromwell, and raises questions of whether parliamentarians are above the criminal justice system.

This will not be the end of the affair, however, as leave to appeal has been granted with the case to be heard by the Court of Appeal as early as before the end of this month

Mr Justice Saunders sitting the Southwark Crown Court ruled that the parliamentary privilege enshrined in the 1688 Bill of Rights does not extend to protecting the four ex-MPs, Elliott Morley, David Chaytor, James Devine and Lord Hanningfield, from prosecutions for claiming inflated expenses.

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Geoffrey Robertson QC makes case for a British Bill of Rights

We have been following the debate on whether Britain will opt to supplement the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights. In a wide-ranging article published today, Geoffrey Robertson QC, a barrister specialising in human rights, has advocated “moving on from the Euro Convention – building on it, but not abandoning it.”

In the article, he concludes:

Despite these inadequacies, there is ample evidence that the Human Rights Act has measurably improved the level of dignity and decency accorded by the state to its most-vulnerable citizens, and for that relief much thanks to the Blair government which enacted it with cross-party support in 1998. But it has not, as its proponents hoped, conduced to a “culture of liberty”….

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