R (ota Davis et al) v. Secretary of State for Home Department  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.
Back to basics, then, as the new academic year starts. Which courts decide human rights cases, when, and by what rules?
Well, the easy one is domestic courts. They decide whether a public authority has acted or omitted to act unlawfully under the Human Rights Act.
If the act is a decision about housing or immigration status or prisoners’ rights, the courts can quash it, and so tell the decision-maker either to decide it again or if there is only one lawful answer, tell the decision-maker what decision to take. If it was a past course of conduct (unlawful detention, intrusion into privacy, unacceptable pollution), they may award damages for human rights breaches. If the domestic law is itself unlawful, and cannot be interpreted HR-compliantly, the domestic courts can make a declaration of incompatibility under s.4 of HRA – it does the claimant no good in respect of his claim, though it throws a huge gauntlet down to Parliament to do something about the non-compliant law. And in the criminal courts, the obvious sanction is to dismiss the prosecution for some abuse of process involving the defendant’s human rights.
Last Wednesday, the European Court of Justice issued a flurry of judgments just before the Christmas break. Indeed, there were so many interesting and important decisions amongst the twenty or so handed down that seems foolish to consider any of them the ‘most important’. Nonetheless the judgment in NS and Others v SSHD (C-411/10) must be a contender for the title.
The case concerns an asylum seeker in Britain who first entered the EU through Greece. The Dublin Regulation, which governs this aspect of EU asylum law, would ordinarily dictate that the applicant should be sent to Greece to have his asylum claim considered there. However, Mr Saeedi challenged his transfer to Greece, claiming that his human rights would be infringed by such a transfer as Greece would be unable to process his application. NS was joined with an Irish case, ME & Others v Refugee Applications Commissioner & MEJLR (C-493/10), which raised similar questions for EU law.