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.

 

    Events:

  • ‘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 rsvplectureinvitation@gmail.com.If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the Blog’s Commissioning Editor, Jim Duffy, at jim.duffy@1cor.com

     

     

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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Happy 10th birthday Human Rights Act

Updated x 2 Today marks ten years since the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, on 2 October 2000. The act brought UK citizens under the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights. For ten years, it has been unlawful for a public authority to breach those rights.

We at the UK Human Rights Blog wish the oft-maligned act a very happy birthday. We, along with our sister-site the Human Rights Update Service, have been covering human rights case-law since 2000.

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The ripple effect from Guantanamo Bay to the English courts

Review: The Ripple Effect: Guantanamo Bay in the United Kingdom Courts” by CRG Murray, International Law Review Online Companion, April 2010 – Read article

A new academic article by C.R.G Murray at Newcastle University analyses the interesting and important line of case-law arising from claims by men detained in Guantanamo Bay. The case-law has involved many issues of a politically sensitive nature and generated much media coverage and pressure on the British Government. The ripple effects from the detentions have led to a series of important judgments.

Murray’s article reviews important case-law arising from detention at Guantanamo Bay and the impact it has had on the decisions reached by the courts. Murray concludes that the case-law demonstrates two major ‘ripple effects’: (1) judicial review has been used to press the British Government into being more active in opposing detentions at Guantanamo Bay; (2) where serious human rights breaches are in issue, the courts have been more willing to disregard historic concepts of comity between courts in different jurisdictions and give their own view of the correct interpretation of law for the benefit of appellate courts in the United States.

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Prisoners in psychiatric hospitals not entitled to equal benefits with other patients

R (D and M) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; R (EM) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2010] EWCA Civ 18

Read judgment

With apologies, this post originally appeared with the wrong title

The Court of Appeal has ruled on two linked challenges to the entitlement to welfare benefits of prisoners detained in psychiatric hospitals. One claim alleged unlawful discrimination as compared with other psychiatric patients not serving sentences, in breach of Article 14 ECHR, taken together with Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR. The other claim raised a point of construction of the relevant regulations affecting one category of such prisoners

The discrimination aspect of the case considered two categories of convicted, sentenced prisoners: those transferred to psychiatric hospitals under section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983, and those subject to hospital and limitation directions under section 45A of the Act. Prisoners in the first category are transferred after sentence, and generally after serving time in prison, while those in the second were subject to a direction at the same time as they are sentenced. Such prisoners were to be contrasted with, on the one hand, convicted prisoners who serve their sentence in prison and, on the other, patients who have been detained under purely civil law powers or under section 37 of the Act (that is, following conviction, but without any sentence having been passed). Continue reading