Withdrawal of nutrition and hydration would not offend right to life – Strasbourg Court

P3_010457_Sonde_SHS_PUR_violett_Kurzzeit_SG8_80_A6_RGB_575px_01Lambert and Others v. France (application no. 46043/14) – read judgment

In an important step away from Pretty v UK, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court has upheld the right of to die with dignity by ruling that there would be no violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights if artificial nutrition and hydration were to be withdrawn from a patient in a persistent vegetative state.

Although the facts were very different, it is heartening to see Strasbourg at last allowing the argument that the state’s obligation to protect life also involves a duty to respect people’s rights to exit life with dignity. The importance of this ruling cannot be underestimated, as can be seen in the ferocity of dissent set out in the Separate Opinion annexed to the judgment (discussed at the end of this post.)

The case involved a challenge by some of the patient’s family members to a judgment delivered on 24 June 2014 by the Conseil d’État which authorised this step.  The following summary of the facts and judgment is based on the Court’s press release.

Background facts

Vincent Lambert sustained serious head injuries in a road-traffic accident on 29 September 2008, which left him tetraplegic and in a state of complete dependency. At the time of this hearing he was in the care of a hospital which specialises in patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.In 2011 his condition was characterised as minimally conscious and in 2014 as vegetative. He receives artificial nutrition and hydration which is administered enterally, through a gastric tube. Continue reading

Birth certificate cannot be retrospectively changed to reflect father’s gender reassignment

birthcertificate300x203_4fba822944823JK, R(on the application of) v Secretary of State for Home Department and another [2015] EWHC 990 (Admin) 20 April 2015 – read judgment

This case concerned the rights of transgender women, and their families, in particular the right to keep private the fact that they are transgender.

The Court heard a challenge to the requirement in the UK’s birth registration system that men who had changed gender from male to female should be listed as the “father” on the birth certificates of their biological children. Having decided that this did engage the claimant’s privacy rights under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, in conjunction with the right not to be discriminated against under Article 14, the Court concluded that the interference was justified.

Factual and legal background

The clamant JK had been born male. She was married to a woman, KK, and the couple had two naturally conceived children. After the birth of the first child in 2012, JK was diagnosed with gender identity disorder and concomitant gender dysphoria. In October 2012, she started a course of feminising hormone treatment. The treatment pathway requires two years living as a female before consideration is given for referral for gender reassignment surgery. Before the claimant started feminising hormone therapy, KK fell pregnant a second time, again conceiving naturally by the claimant. Continue reading

Supreme Court rejects right to die appeals

Tony NicklinsonR (on the application of Nicklinson and another) (Appellants) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent); R (on the application of AM) (AP) (Respondent) v The Director of Public Prosecutions (Appellant) [2014] UKSC 38 – read judgment

On appeal from [2013] EWCA Civ 961

The Supreme Court has declined to uphold a right to die a dignified death.  However, a glimmer is is to be found in this judgment in that two out of the seven justices who concluded that it was for the United Kingdom to decide whether the current law on assisted suicide was incompatible with the right to privacy and dignity under Article 8, would have granted such a declaration in these proceedings., particularly where the means of death was one that could have been autonomously operated by the disabled appellant, leaving no doubt as to the voluntary and rational nature of his decision.

But the majority concluded that this was a matter for Parliament, not for the Courts.

The following summary is from the Supreme Court’s Press Summary

Bacground 

These appeals arise from tragic facts and raise difficult and significant issues, namely whether the present state of the law of England and Wales relating to assisting suicide infringes the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”), and whether the code published by the Director of Public Prosecutions (“the DPP”) relating to prosecutions of those who are alleged to have assisted suicide is lawful. Continue reading

Seizure of worker’s wages breached Convention right – Strasbourg

proceeds-of-crimePaulet v United Kingdom Paulet (application no. 6219/08) – read judgment

The Strasbourg Court has declared, by five votes to one, that the UK authorities had acted unlawfully by seizing the wages of an Ivorian worker who used a false passport to gain employment. The majority ruled that the UK courts should have balanced individual property rights against interests of the general public.

This case on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime raises many difficult legal questions such as the nature of the link between the crime and the proceeds and the distribution of the burden of proof in establishing this link. Mr Paulet complained that the confiscation order against him had been disproportionate as it amounted to the confiscation of his entire savings over nearly four years of genuine work, without any distinction being made between his case and those involving more serious criminal offences such as drug trafficking or organised crime. The Court found that the UK courts’ scope of review of Mr Paulet’s case had been too narrow. The majority objected to the fact that the domestic courts had simply found that the confiscation order against Mr Paulet had been in the public interest, without balancing that conclusion against his right to peaceful enjoyment of his possessions as required under the European Convention. Continue reading

Have human rights hijacked the language of morals? – and other questions: Laws

Lord Justice Laws’ Inaugural Lecture at Northumbria University, 1 November 2012 – read here 

This is a fascinating and provocative lecture raising important questions about the extent to which the culture of human rights has become the currency of our moral dealings with each other and the State.

Adam commented briefly on Laws’ speech here but since it deserves a post of its own I will try to capture its essence and highlight some of its main features here without I hope too many spoilers.

Laws suggests, as Adam mentioned, that rights should properly be the duty of the State to deliver as an aspect of the public interest, not its enemy. The problem is that we have exalted rights beyond their status of public goods (along with health care, defence, education and so on) into primary moral values served to us not by the government but by the courts. Consequently these two institutions are seen to be serving opposite interests. The entrenchment of rights in morality in Laws’ view carries great danger.

It is that rights, a necessary legal construct, come also to be seen as a necessary moral construct. Applied to the morality of individuals, this is a bad mistake. Continue reading