The Round-Up: Gove’s Gallop to the Commons

michael-Gove_2566694bLaura Profumo delves into the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

In an “exclusive” last weekend, The Independent revealed that the government is planning to “fast-track” a British Bill of Rights into UK law. The report claimed a 12-week consultation will run from late this year, which will seek to clarify that the UK will not pull out of the ECHR. In an “unusual but not unique” move, a Bill will then proceed straight to the House of Commons, without a preliminary Green or White Paper. With the EU referendum due in 2017, ministers are anxious to extricate the ECHR question from that of EU membership, making the Bill law before the in/out campaigns begin. Yet the Bill’s Parliamentary passage will be far from seamless. A cabinet minister has cautioned that the short timescale is “aspirational”, as the Bill could be “really clogged up in the House of Lords”. The upper chamber, where the Conservatives fail to command a majority, hosts some “seasoned lawyers”, who are fearful of the fallout with Strasbourg. It is understood that Gove will visit Scotland before the consultation is published, to convince the SNP to back the proposal. Yet it is not yet clear whether Gove will visit Northern Ireland and Wales as well, where he must also secure support. If the Bill is to reach the statute books before the MPs’ summer recess, it will need to be propounded in the next Queen’s speech, due in May 2016. Continue reading

The Round-Up: Holyrood’s Hard-line, and Sumption’s Long Game

SumptionLaura Profumo brings you the latest human rights happenings.

In the News: 

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, announced last week that it was “inconceivable” that the SNP would support the Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. Talking to an audience in Glasgow on Wednesday, Sturgeon pledged her unequivocal commitment to block the HRA-repeal. Sturgeon warned that human rights remained a “devolved issue”, meaning that Scottish opposition might well hamper Gove’s forthcoming efforts. Many find sympathy with Sturgeon’s stance. Sturgeon values the HRA as a “careful model” which incorporates human rights protection into UK law, without upsetting our constitutional bedrock, writes Alex Cisneros in The Justice Gap. Continue reading

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reinforces Scottish opposition to repeal of the Human Rights Act

Nicola-SturgeonYesterday morning, in a speech to civic organisations in Glasgow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “no responsible government” would consider repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 due to the numerous negative consequences, both in the domestic and international sphere, that would result from such a move – (see a transcript of the speech here).

Proposals for Repeal of the Human Rights Act

It has been a longstanding Tory policy to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Such a policy is motivated by discontent over a handful of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) that have allegedly “undermine[d] the role of UK courts in deciding on human rights issues”. In October 2014, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced Tory proposals to treat Strasbourg judgments as “advisory” – irrespective of the potential incoherence between treating judgments in such a way and the UK’s obligations under Article 46, ECHR (see John Wadham’s post here). However, the 2015 Tory manifesto included less specific promises to “scrap the Human Rights Act” in order to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights”. Little substantive information has been provided on the development of these plans, apart from an intention, included in the Queen’s speech, to conduct consultations and publish proposals this autumn. Continue reading

Scotland, Sewel, and the Human Rights Act

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

The Queen’s speech suggests a slowing of the Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. But recent comments from the Scottish Human Rights Commissioner suggest the Conservatives may be considering removal of HRA protections in relation to English and reserved UK-wide matters only, leaving the Human Rights Act in place in the other devolved areas of the UK. 

Much ink has been spilled over the Government’s proposals. This article will take a narrow look at Scotland’s relationship with the Human Rights Act, and how devolution may be a future thorn in the Government’s side. 

But wait! I thought the Human Rights Act was enshrined in the Scotland Act. Doesn’t that protect the Human Rights Act in Scotland?

Sort of (not really).

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Cake, Equality, and the Queen’s Speech

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

Laura Profumo brings us the latest human rights goings on.

In the News: 

This afternoon, the new Conservative Government’s legislative plans were announced in the Queen’s Speech. Michael Gove, the recently appointed Justice Secretary, will have to defend his party’s intention to scrap the Human Rights Act, blunting the influence of Strasbourg jurisprudence. As Daniel Hannan observes, Gove faces a “different order of magnitude” in his new role, finding himself up against an “articulate and wealthy lobby” within the legal profession. An “elegant compromise” might be found, Hannan suggests, in amending our extant Bill of Rights to include ECHR freedoms, restoring “our sovereignty and our democracy”.

It is certainly clear that Gove will have to carefully pilot the reforms through Parliament. Lord Falconer cautions that the House of Lords, where the Conservatives don’t have a majority, may prove obstructive:

“If the Conservative measures strike at fundamental constitutional rights, the Lords will throw this back to the Commons”.

The backbencher minority of ‘Runnymede Tories’, forcefully headed by David Davis, will also seek to stall the Bill’s course. Yet, Matthew d’Ancona concedes, “if anyone has the intellectual firepower to square all the circles it is Gove”.

In brighter news, the Republic of Ireland has become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through popular vote. Some 62% of the electorate voted in favour of the reform, with all but one of the Republic’s 43 constituencies voting Yes. The result comes just two decades after the Irish government decriminalised homosexuality, marking a milestone in Ireland’s divisive religious history. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, recognised the vote as a “social revolution”, which requires the Church to “have a reality check, not move into the denial of realities”.

In a prelude to the historical referendum, the ‘Gay Cake’ Case, which has gripped Northern Ireland for the last year, come to a close last week. In a clear decision, it was found that the Christian bakery’s refusal to make a campaign cake the LGBT support group, QueerSpace, amounted to direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The outcome has not been welcomed by all. TUV leader Jim Allister lamented it a “dark day for justice and religious freedom”, whilst Melanie McDonagh, writing in the Spectator, found the decision inversely “intolerant and discriminatory”, forcing a Presbyterian business to promulgate a message “at odds with their belief”. Yet talk of religious persecution is besides the point, argues academic Colin Murray. The case concerned the “ability to do the banal and ordinary things in life without these activities becoming the subject of public opprobrium”. It was not, as McDonagh suggests, a case of cake artisans’ ‘right to ice’, but the right of the public to lawfully contract with a business, irrespective of “how that public is constituted”.

Following the decisive vote across the border yesterday, many hope that Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is still prohibited, will follow suit. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has advocated a referendum: “This is a matter of whether or not we want to live in a modern progressive society that respects minorities”. Now that Northern Ireland has their cake – it remains to be seen whether the idiom will ring true.


In Other News:

  • Haile v London Borough of Waltham Forest: The Supreme Court ruled that the appellant had not made herself intentionally homeless when, after learning that she was pregnant, she left her London hostel. As she would have been evicted from the hostel anyway, on giving birth to her child, the Court ruled in her favour. Her lawyer, Nathaniel Matthews, welcomed the decision as one in which “glorious common sense prevailed. Women who become homeless because they have become pregnant must be protected”.
  • Vladimir Putin has signed a bill which allows foreign NGOs to be banned from operating in Russia. The law will allow authorities to prosecute NGOs which are designated as ‘undesirable’ on national security grounds. Individuals working for such organisations could face fines, or up to six years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International has condemned the measure as part of the “ongoing draconian crackdown…squeezing the life out of civil society”.

In the Courts: 

  • Identoba and Others v GeorgiaThe Georgian police failed to protect participants in a march against homophobia from violent attacks of counter-demonstrators. ECtHR held the police had violated the protestors’ Article 3 and 11 rights, in failing to take sufficient measures to prevent the attacks.
  •  SS v the United Kingdom; F.A and Others v the United Kingdom A case concerning convicted prisoners’ entitlement to social security benefits was held to be inadmissible by ECtHR. The applicants were prisoners in psychiatric hospitals who complained that, under new 2006 regulations, denying them benefits paid to the other patients amounted to unjustified discrimination. The Court emphasised Contracting States’ margin of appreciation in social policy, finding that the differential treatment was not unreasonable, given that the applicants, whilst patients, were also convicted prisoners.
  • Gogitidze and Others v Georgia The ECtHR ruled that the forfeiture of a wrongfully acquired property was not in breach of the tenant’s right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, under Article 1 of Protocol No.1. As the property confiscated belonged to the former Deputy Minister of the Interior, the Court inquired whether a proportionate balance had been struck between the method of forfeiture and the public interest in combating political corruption. The domestic courts were held to have achieved such a balance.



  • ‘Do we need a new Magna Carta?’ The Miriam Rothschild & John Foster Human Rights Trust, and University College London, are hosting a lecture given by Lord Lester QC, on alternatives to the embattled Human Rights Act. The event will take place at 6.15pm, 15th June, at the Institute of Child Health. Please RSVP to you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the Blog’s Commissioning Editor, Jim Duffy, at



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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Courts should take note of Strasboug’s doctrine of deference

R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice [2012] EWHC 1810 (Admin)- read judgment

This case about prisoner’s pay provides an interesting up to date analysis of the role of the doctrine of “margin of appreciation” and its applicability in domestic courts.

Margin of appreciation is a doctrine of an international court: it recognises a certain distance of judgment between the Strasbourg court’s overall apprehension of the Convention principles and their application in practice by the national authorities. In theory it has no application in domestic disputes but ever since the Human Rights Act introduced Convention rights into domestic law there has been an ongoing debate about its applicability at a local level. This case demonstrates the importance of its role in the assessment, by the courts, of the compatibility of laws and rules with Convention rights.

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