What a year! As the UK Human Rights Blog approaches 2,000 posts and three million hits since its launch in March 2010, below is a link to a summary of the year in stats. No great surprises as to the most popular posts, which track the most controversial issues in human rights.
The main thing to report is that the blog remains extremely popular, with almost 1.2 million hits in 2013 alone, as well as tens of thousands of regular readers and subscribers. Thank you to the contribution of all of our bloggers, both from 1 Crown Office Row (particularly the indefatigable Rosalind English and David Hart QC) and elsewhere, to our wonderful rounder uppers (Daniel Isenberg, Sarina Kidd and Celia Rooney) and to our fantastic commenters who keep us on our toes all over social media.
This year has been the toughest yet for me in keeping the blog ticking along at the pace you are all used to (I have another full time job – being a barrister), but thankfully I have just about managed it. Unfortunately, this has meant I haven’t been able to post as much as I like but I continue to be very proud of the blog’s achievements and influence.
In light of the Conservative Party’s impending plans for human rights reform (which, as was pointed out by Neil Crowther on Twitter, looked to be tracking Dominic Raab’s 2010 blueprint and 2012 bill pretty closely), 2014 is likely to be another interesting year. As always, thanks to our still rather shiny Human Rights Act, there will be plenty of fascinating decisions from our courts too.
All the best and happy new year to all.
Click here to see the complete end of year report.
J.D. Heydon: Are Bills of Rights necessary in common law systems? – read lecture
Former Australian High Court Justice Heydon’s thought-provoking speech questioning the efficacy and indeed the very merits of the Human Rights Act deserves reading in full, but the following summary highlights its main features and should encourage readers to immerse themselves in the lecture.
Proponents of human rights instruments urge their necessity on society because they gesture toward a morality more capacious than the morality of our tribe, or association, or nationality. The forum of human rights is one in which our allegiances are not to persons or to wished-for outcomes but to abstract norms that are indifferent to those outcomes. That is why the Human Rights Act has around it what Heydon calls an “aura of virtue” that would make its repeal extremely difficult from a political point of view, even though it is legally and practically possible. Continue reading
Navarathnam v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 2383 (QB) - read judgment
There was no unfairness in the Secretary of State for the Home Department refusing a Sri Lankan asylum seeker leave to remain in the United Kingdom, despite the ruling from the Strasbourg court that to return him would violate his rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950.
A decision had been made to grant the applicant six months discretionary leave to remain but he had absconded before it could be implemented, and by the time he resurfaced the secretary of state had been entitled to review the case and determine that the circumstances in Sri Lanka had changed so that he was no longer at risk if returned.
The claimant was a Sri Lankan national who had been subject to removal action after his asylum claim was refused. In 2008 the Strasbourg Court declared that the circumstances in Sri Lanka were such that his expulsion to Sri Lanka would violate the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment under Article 3 (AA v United Kingdom). The UK authorities consequently confirmed that removal directions would not be applied to him, and stated that he would be granted six months discretionary leave to remain (DLR). Continue reading
A quick post to draw your attention to the British Institute of Human Rights’ excellent new publication, Mental Health Advocacy and Human Rights: Your Guide (PDF).
The Guide is aimed at non-lawyers, is attractively presented and looks very useful indeed. From the BIHR launch site:
This Mental Health Awareness week, BIHR is pleased to launch Mental Health Advocacy and Human Rights: Your Guide, our latest practical resource to help respect and protect the human rights of people with mental health problems. This guide has been produced with Mind Brighton and Hove, Wish and NSUN, three of the partner organisations involved in our Human Rights in Healthcare project.
Aimed at both advocates and people who use services, this handy guide explains how the Human Rights Act can be used in mental health settings to secure better treatment and care for people. It draws on real life stories of how laws and legal cases can be used in everyday advocacy practice, providing helpful flow-charts, worked through examples and top tips.
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A fascinating article by SOAS EU law specialist Dr Gunner Beck lays bare some of the important problems created by British hostility to Germany, which, by contrast to the profound social and economic changes that have taken place in both countries in the seven decades since WWII, appears “timeless and unchanging.”
In a wide ranging analysis of the abiding obsession with Nazi Germany in the British media and elsewhere, as well as the “strange sado-masochism” of Germany itself, Gunner Beck demonstrates how effectively this prejudice creates and fosters confusion about the current crisis in the Eurozone and the reaction of some of its members to German demands for closer scrutiny. He asks us to question why German history
is still largely reduced to the twelve years from 1933 to 1945, and why it still seems impossible in Britain to criticise any aspect of German economic or foreign policy, especially on EU matters, without some kind of Nazi connotation or similar historical insinuation lurking somewhere in the background… Why has nearly a lifetime of peaceful and liberal-democratic development in Germany done so little to put the Third Reich into some kind of historical perspective?
Welcome back to the human rights roundup. Our full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
In the news
Will Detainee Inquiry hearings broadcast? Have your say
The Detainee Inquiry Panel has shown its commitment to carrying out an inquiry that is as open and inclusive as possible by inviting comments on their broadcasting proposal, before making a final decision. The Panel welcomes views on this issue from the media, potential witnesses, NGOs and any other groups or individuals who are interested in the Inquiry’s work. You may submit comments via email by 7th January 2012. You can find more details here.
Lord Irvine tonight weighed in to the debate about Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights – and effectively accused the Supreme Court of having surrendered its intellectual independence, and shirked its judicial responsibility.
His at times toughly-worded lecture to the UCL Judicial Institute and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law chimes with what the Attorney General Dominic Grieve has been saying recently about the need for primary responsibility for human rights protection to lie with states, not Strasbourg – and Grieve will surely approve of both the content and timing of Lord Irvine’s intervention, on the eve of the European Court’s ruling in Al-Khawaja and Tahery v. UK and in the context of Britain’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe. I’ll link to the text of his speech when it’s available.
Ain't no sovereignty clause
Some of this week’s human rights news, in bite-size form. The full list of our external links can be found on the right sidebar or here.
Speeches: “The English Law of Privacy: An Evolving Human Right” – Lord Walker – UKSC blog: Supreme Court Justice Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe gave a speech to Anglo-Australasian Lawyers Society on the subject of privacy. The lecture contains an interesting overview of the current law of privacy, particularly in relation to the media.
Kenneth Clarke reveals what cuts will mean for the courts – Joshua Rozenberg: The Ministry of Justice has to make £2bn cuts from its £9bn budget (see our post on where the cuts are likely to come from). According the justice ministers’ Tory conference speech, legal aid is in line for a “total review” – no surprises there – and that popular panacea, alternative dispute resolution, will be encouraged and court discouraged. Rozenberg concludes: “Things are not going to get better and nobody should pretend otherwise. All we can hope for is the best publicly funded legal system that we can afford.” Difficult times ahead for access to justice.
Two prominent public law barristers spoke last night on the future of the Human Rights Act at the annual seminar organised by the Constitutional and Administrative Bar Association.
The seminar had a special significance as the HRA has just celebrated its 10th birthday. Both speakers looked to the future of the act in light of the coming budget cuts and economic austerity policies.
Lord McNally, the minister of state for justice, has told the Liberal Democrat Party conference that the Justice Ministry is looking at the Human Rights Act, not to “see how we can diminish it”, but so it can be “better understood and appreciated.”
There will be, he said, “no retreat” over human rights. His comments have been reported as “likely to anger” backbench Tory MPs, who have “long criticised the HRA”.
In reality the reports may cause anger, but they will come as absolutely no surprise. Whilst it is true that the Conservatives pledged in their election manifesto to repeal the act, a lot has happened since then.
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the head of the UK Supreme Court, has responded to accusations that the Human Rights Act is hampering the fight against terrorism, and that “respect for human rights is a key weapon in the ideological battle”.
With reports this morning that the Government has written to High Court judges encouraging then not to delay a deportation flight to Bagdad, the speech presents a well timed defence of judicial independence.
The Gresham Special Lecture: The Challenges of the new Supreme Court is available in text and audio format. Lord Phillips used the opportunity to defend the judiciary in light of their regular use of the Human Rights Act to limit the effects of the anti-terrorism laws enacted by the government in the past decade, including controversial measures such as control orders and the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC). He said:
After 9/11 the British Government decided that the threat of terrorism in Britain was such as to amount to a public emergency threatening the life of the nation and purported, on that ground, to derogate from the Convention.
The Economist has provided a useful analysis of the Coalition Government’s proposed policies on civil liberties.
The article highlights the fact that the policies detailed may not represent the transformative change which Nick Clegg suggested in his reform speech, but rather “uncontroversial quick wins” which will be dwarfed in policy terms by the incoming government’s policing and immigration policies:
The disagreements can probably be haggled away, with the Lib Dems getting their way (eventually) on human rights in return for agreeing to control orders. Coalition government is such a novel and interesting thing that almost any fudge or u-turn can be passed off as a natural product of the “new politics”, at least for now. Continue reading
The full Coalition agreement is now available, and has made things a little clearer on the new government’s plans for the Human Rights Act. But will the promised review of the 1998 Act be anything more than a time-wasting exercise born of irresolvable disagreements between the partners on fundamental rights, and will the changes last?
“The Coalition: our programme for government” is available to download here. The civil liberties section is largely the same as in the draft agreement published last week, but with an added section on the recently announced Commission to
investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.
We posted earlier in the week on three possible outcomes arising from the Commission; first, full repeal of the 1998 Act, second, repeal and replacement with a Bill of Rights or, third, create in effect a “Human Rights Act Plus”, which would bolster the 1998 Act whilst maintaining the UK obligations under the European Convention. As predicted, it appears that the third option has been selected, but under the Bill of Rights banner. Continue reading
We posted this morning on the case of the “Pathway students”, in which two suspected terrorists used human rights law to avoid deportation due to fear of torture. Almost immediately after the decision was announced, the BBC reported that a “commission” is to be set up to address the future of the Human Rights Act. Has the case prompted a swift reconsideration of the Coalition’s position on human rights?
Probably not. It would appear that a commission to review the 1998 Act will be set up, as part of a wide raft of civil liberties reforms to be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg later today. However, the timing of the announcement alongside the terror decision is probably coincidental and the commission is likely to have been planned since last week’s Coalition agreement.
The Coalition Government is only a few days old but it is already receiving a cautious welcome from civil liberties commentators and bloggers, with all eyes on significant policy commitments in the Con-Lib deal. The previous government enacted major civil liberties legislation within a year of taking power; the question now is whether the Coalition has the time, will and co-operative potential to fulfil its lofty promises.
In its final years, New Labour was regularly criticised on civil liberties issues, particularly in relation to anti-terrorism law. But it is undeniable that within around a year of coming to power it had enacted a major piece of civil liberties legislation in the Human Rights Act 1998, which was followed shortly after by two others; the Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information Act 2000. Some, such as the Human Rights in Ireland Blog, say that sadly this was a high water mark and not to be repeated.
The Con-Lib coalition has already made significant early promises. The focus of commentators has been on the cabinet appointees who will influence law and order policy, as well as the surprisingly full civil liberties section in the Con-Lib Coalition agreement. Just as important, however, is what has been left out.