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.
X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau  EWCA Civ 28 – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that disabled people are not protected by domestic or European legislation against discrimination when they undertake voluntary work.
In this decision the specific question was whether volunteers at Citizens Advice Bureaus are protected from disability discrimination. X, the anonymised claimant, argued that CAB had terminated her role as a volunteer adviser because she had a disability. She claimed that:
M and Others v Her Majesty’s Treasury, Case C‑340/08, 29 April 2010 – Read judgment
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that social security benefits cannot be withheld from family members of those suspected of being associated with the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
The Government will probably now have to change the law, although The Times reports that the judgment will only affect less than a dozen people living in Britain.
The United Nations implemented measures shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks to freeze all assets of terror suspects. The UK had up to now taken a wide view of these measures, and had frozen not just the benefits of the suspects themselves, but also of their families.
The Treasury’s reasoning had been that money spent by, for example, a suspect’s wife on the running of the family household will be “for the benefit” of him. For example, if she buys food for a communal meal in which he participates, the money will have been spent for his benefit.
The case was referred to the ECJ by the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) in 2008 (M, R (on the application of) v Her Majesty’s Treasury  UKHL 26). The question of interpretation was whether the words “for the benefit of” in article 2.2 of Council Regulation (EC) No 881/2002 have a wide meaning which covers any application of money from which a listed person derives some benefit, or whether they apply only to cases in which funds or assets are “made available” for his benefit, so that he is in a position to choose how to use them.