GCHQ Surveillance, Tory Bill of Rights and Anti-Semitism – the Human Rights Roundup

GCHQ at Cheltenham, GloucestershireWelcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza of human rights news and views.  The full list of links can be found here.  You can find previous roundups here.  Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Sarina Kidd. 

This week, a group of MPs investigating drones were advised that large amounts of GCHQ surveillance is likely to be illegal, and the Conservatives continued their push for a Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights argued that anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe.

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Lawyers Protest Cuts, Constitutional Nihilism and Libel Liberalisation – the Human Rights Roundup

Justice-Alliance-2014-demoWelcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular wholesome takeaway of human rights news and views.  The full list of links can be found here.  You can find previous roundups here.  Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Sarina Kidd. 

Welcome to 2014 and Santa has brought us the Defamation Act 2013, which aims to reduce the ‘chilling effect’ of previous libel laws . But as we enter 2014, not all is new. The Conservative Party continues to complain about European human rights. They seek to challenge the ECtHR ban on prison life sentences. How to deal with this? With hundreds of years of imprisonment instead. Meanwhile, today criminal lawyers will refuse to appear at court in order to protest against legal aid and criminal barrister fee cuts.

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Keep calm and apply the European Convention on Human Rights – Paul Harvey

Keep CalmThe British public owes a lot to Ernest Davies. Few, if any, will have heard of him. A Londoner and scion of a Labour party councillor, he began a career in journalism, spent the war years at the BBC’s north Africa desk and, in the Attlee landslide of 1945, was elected as Member of Parliament for Enfield. After the 1950 General Election, he was appointed Parliamentary Undersecretary of State in the Foreign Commonwealth Office. And at 4 p.m. on 4th November 1950, together with ministers representing ten other European states, he walked into the Salone of the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, and signed the European Convention on Human Rights on behalf of the United Kingdom.

It is intriguing to imagine what Davies would have made of the current debate over the United Kingdom’s participation in the Convention system. Perhaps as a former journalist he would have known all too well that, at least for some sections of the British media, coverage of European affairs isn’t always to be taken at face value or too seriously.  He would, no doubt, be surprised at the evolution of the Convention into the system it is today.  But I think it would have been surprise mixed with a quiet sense of pride, for he would have known that the text he signed was the product of months of work by British lawyers.

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Last week not a good one for Theresa May: not just Abu Qatada


132957J1 v  Secretary of State for the Home Department, 27 March 2013 – read judgment

A UKHRB editor, Angus McCullough QC, was a Special Advocate for J1 before the Court of Appeal, but not in SIAC below. He had nothing to do with the writing of this post

Hot on the Home Secretary’s loss of the Abu Qatada appeal, a reverse for her in another deportation case about someone whom the Court of Appeal described as “an important and significant member of a group of Islamist extremists in the UK,” and who was said to have links – direct or indirect – with men involved in the failed July 21 2005 bombing plot.

The general contours of the case will be familiar to Abu Qatada watchers, with claims under Articles 3 and 6 of the ECHR  amongst others – that if J1 was returned to his country of origin (here, Ethiopia), his human rights would not be respected. There are however a number of interesting features about this decision of the Court of Appeal; firstly, it reversed a decision of  the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against J1 on Article 3 (recall the heightened regard for SIAC as a specialist tribunal in the Abu Qatada appeal) , and secondly (in dismissing the Article 6 claim) it illustrates graphically some of the dilemmas facing Special Advocates when representing their clients in the imperfect world of “closed procedures” (a.k.a secret trials).

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Court of Appeal rejects latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada

121113AbuQatadaMay_6898438Othman (aka Abu Qatada) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWCA Civ 277 – read judgment

The Home Office last night assured its 70,000 Twitter followers that “it is not the end of the road”.  Yet by the time she had reached page 17 of the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of her latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada, it might well have seemed that way to Theresa May. 

In November, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled that Qatada could not be deported to face a retrial for alleged terrorism offences due to the real risk of “a flagrant denial of justice”.  Read my post on that decision here.  Yesterday, Lord Dyson – the Masters of the Rolls and second most senior judge in England and Wales – together with Lord Justices Richards and Elias, rejected the Home Secretary’s appeal.

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No, The Sun, the Human Rights Act is not the EU

BCv-H7PCMAA_LNq.jpg-large 2I was watching the England football team beat Ireland in the World Cup earlier when I was tweeted a cracking bit of legal gobbledegook from The Sun: Youngsters at risk after EU ruling. According to The Sun, Now the “EU could let fiends like him prey on your children“.

For the record, the Court of Appeal, which produced the judgment, is not an EU court. It is an English and Welsh court, based in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. And the EU had absolutely nothing to do with this judgment, which was about CRB checks and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to family and private life); you can find our analysis here. I won’t address the detail if the judgment here; read our summary and see if you think The Sun is right.

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A Moral Assessment of the European Court of Human Rights

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297This is a short version of an article on the subject to be published by John Edwards, Professor Emeritus of Human Rights at London University 

There have been three major conferences over the past two years (at Interlaken, Izmir, and Brighton) to discuss the functioning of the European Court of Human Rights and possibilities for its development and reform. Each provided an opportunity to scrutinise such important components of the Court’s work as the subsidiarity principle, the (quite separate) principle of the margin of appreciation, the prioritisation of Convention articles, admissibility criteria, the idea of “European consensus”, “just satisfaction”, and “significant disadvantage” as well as  broader topics such as the future role of the Court and whether a court of individual petition with case law as its only corpus of wisdom is the best way of promoting and protecting human rights in Europe. On each occasion debate was hijacked by the singular topic of reducing the backlog of cases. Wherever one of these components had a bearing on the Court’s overload, discussion was virtually confined to how it could be amended to cut the backlog and bring applications and judgements into balance.  Continue reading

High Court refuses to condemn US drone strikes

military-drone-spy-008R (Khan) v Secretary Of State For Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs [2012] EWHC 3728 (Admin) (21 December 2012) – Read judgment

In this unsuccessful application for permission to apply for judicial review, the Claimant sought to challenge the Defendant’s reported policy of permitting GCHQ employees to pass intelligence to the US for the purposes of drone strikes in Pakistan.  The Claimant’s father was killed during such an attack in March 2011.

The Claimant alleged that by assisting US agents with drone strikes, GCHQ employees were at risk of becoming secondary parties to murder under the criminal law of England and Wales and of conduct ancillary to war crimes or crimes against humanity contrary to international law.  The Claimant sought declaratory relief to that effect and also sought a declaration that the Defendant should publish a policy addressing the circumstances in which such intelligence could be lawfully disseminated. [paragraph 6]

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UK not doing enough to combat human trafficking and domestic slavery

C.N. v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 4239/08 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1911 – read judgment here.

The European Court of Human Rights recently held that the UK was in breach of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to have specific legislation in place which criminalised domestic slavery. 

Thankfully Article 4 cases (involving slavery and forced labour) are rare in the UK. Indeed this is only the fifth post on this blog about Article 4, which perhaps shows just how few and far between they are, and the UK has a proud history of seeking to prevent slavery. Although British merchants and traders, to their great shame, played a major part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade throughout the 1600s and 1700s, Britain was then at the forefront of the abolition of the slave trade and slavery from 1807 onwards and the common law has always considered slavery to be abhorrent (as the famous case of ex parte Somersett in 1772 made clear).

Tragically, however, slavery has not been consigned to the history books. Across the world new forms of slavery are prevalent. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are a minimum of 12.3 million people in forced labour worldwide, and one particular form of modern slavery – human trafficking –  is one of the fastest-growing forms of human rights abuse. The UK, as a major destination country for trafficking victims, is not immune from this trend.

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Iraq soldier families can bring negligence but not human rights claims – Robert Kellar

Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence [2012] EWCA Civ 1365 – Read judgment

Updated – the first two paragraphs of this post have been amended as they were factually inaccurate. Many apologies for this.

Last month, the Court of Appeal decided that the negligence claims of the families of five British soldiers killed or injured on duty in Iraq could go ahead. It would be for the High Court to decide on the facts whether decisions made about troops’ equipment and training fell within the long-standing doctrine of ‘combat immunity’.  The appellants were however unsuccessful in arguing that the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) applied. 

The case concerned claims brought by the families of five men killed or injured in south-east Iraq.  Corporal Allbutt was killed and Troopers Twiddy and Julien injured in Challenger II tanks in fratricide, or ‘friendly fire’, incidents on 25 March 2003.  Privates Hewett and Ellis and Lance Corporal Redpath were killed in their Snatch Land Rovers by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on 16 July 2005, 28 February 2006 and 9 August 2007 respectively (the ‘Snatch Landrover claims’).

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Ask and you shall receive – finally, an English translation of the Rachel Corrie judgment

Last month I posted on the troubling case of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old protester killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003. In August, an Israeli court ruled that the Israeli Defence Ministry bore no responsibility in civil law for her death.

I complained that the reporting of the ruling had been poor, despite a reasonably good summary in English produced by the court. One of the main problems undoubtedly was the lack of an English translation of the 73-page Hebrew ruling. Until now, that is. Through the magic of the internet – and a huge amount of work – Irène Solomon, a legal advisor at Ofgem and reader of this blog, has translated the judgment from Hebrew into English. She has taken on this mammoth task for free in her personal capacity and has given me permission to publish her work online as a UKHRB exclusive.

You can download the translation here (PDF) and it is also reproduced after the break below. I should emphasise that this is not an official translation, but it does appear to me to be a very good effort indeed.

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Italy lose in Europe over asylum seeker boat interception – Henry Oliver

Hirsi Jamaar and Others v. Italy (Application no. 27765/09) – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has held that a group of Somalian and Eritrean nationals who were intercepted by Italian Customs boats and returned to Libya fell within the jurisdiction of Italy for the purposes of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights . The return involved a violation of Article 3 (Anti-torture and inhumane treatment), Article 4 of Protocol 4 (collective expulsion of aliens), and  Article 13 (right to an effective remedy). The patrols that returned migrants to Libya were in breach of the non-refoulement principle.

The applicants were eleven Somalian nationals and thirteen Eritrean nationals who were part of a group of two hundred migrants who left Libya in order to reach the Italian coast. On 6th May 2009 Italian ships intercepted them 35 miles south of Lampedusa and returned them to Triploi, in Libya. During the voyage the migrants were not told where they were going (they assumed they were being taken to Italy), nor were they identified.

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Is internet access a human right?

A recent United Nations Human Rights Council report examined the important question of whether internet access is a human right.  

Whilst the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions are nuanced in respect of blocking sites or providing limited access, he is clear that restricting access completely will always be a breach of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to freedom of expression.

But not everyone agrees with the United Nations’ conclusion. Vinton Cerf, a so-calledfather of the internet” and a Vice-President at Google, argued in a New York Times editorial that internet access is not a human right:

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Why Stephen Lawrence killers were sentenced as juveniles and under old law

Updated | Two of Stephen Lawrence’s killers Gary Dobson and David Norris have been sentenced to minimum life terms “at her Her Majesty’s Pleasure” of 15 years 2 months and and 14 years 3 months respectively.

There has been surprise, from the Daily Mail amongst others that Dobson and Norris, now in their mid-30s, were sentenced as juveniles. Curiously, they have also been sentenced under historic law dating back to around 1993, which means they cannot be sentenced under harsh new guidance for racially aggrevated crimes.

This may all sound a bit strange, but as readers of this blog will know, the sentencing of criminals convicted in “cold cases” which have heated up can be much more complicated than if the crime happened a short while before trial. This may upset Daily Mail readers, but the reason is partly the European Convention on Human Rights. As Alasdair Henderson posted last month, Article 7 prohibits retrospective punishment, that is punishment using law which was not applicable at the time of the crime:

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Happy 60th birthday, European Convention on Human Rights

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights on 4 November 1950. This comes hot on the heels of the tenth birthday of the Human Rights Act, which we celebrated on October 2nd.

The European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force on 3 September 1953, guarantees a range of political rights and freedoms of the individual against interference by the State. Before the incorporation of the Convention, individuals in the United Kingdom could only complain of unlawful interference with their Convention rights by lodging a petition with the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That all changed on 2 October 2000 when the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, allowing UK citizens to sue public bodies for breaches of their Convention rights in domestic courts.

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