Prisoner’s rights not breached by segregation

man_in_prisonShahid v The Scottish Ministers [2014] ScotCS CSIH – 18 – read judgment

Solitary confinement of a dangerous prisoner in accordance with the prison rules was neither unlawful nor in breach of his Convention rights, the Scottish Court of Session has ruled.

The petitioner (as we shall call him to avoid confusion, rather than the more accurate “reclaimer”) was serving a life sentence for what the court described as a “brutal and sadistic” racially motivated murder of a 15 year old white boy in 2006.  Apart from a short period during his trial he remained continuously segregated until 13 August 2010, when he was allowed once again to associate with other prisoners (“mainstream”). He claimed that his segregation was contrary to the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2006 and, separately, contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides protection against torture and cruel and unusual punishments, and Article 8, which protects the right to private life. He sought declarations to that effect and £6,000 by way of damages. Continue reading

Disabled challenge to bedroom tax fails

first-home-buyersMA and others (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors [2013] EWHC 2213 (QB) (30 July 2013) – read judgment

The High Court has unanimously dismissed an application for a declaration that the so-called “bedroom tax” discriminates unlawfully against disabled claimants.

The arguments

This was a challenge by way of judicial review to regulations that came into force last year, reducing the amount of housing benefits by reference to the number of bedrooms permitted by the relevant statute (the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 ).  These new rules, which have applied to claimants of housing benefit since April 2013, restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. Discretionary housing payments are available for certain qualifying individuals to mitigate the effect of the new rules, in particular the effects on disabled people and those with foster caring responsibilities. Continue reading

An ABC on proportionality – with Bank Mellat as our primer

seo-marketing-320x200Bank Mellat v HM Treasury [2013] UKSC 39 (see judgment)

My post of earlier this week explained why the majority of the Supreme Court struck down a direction telling all financial institutions not to deal with this Iranian Bank. The legal ground (involving, as Lord Sumption described it, “an exacting analysis of the factual evidence in defence of the measure” [20]) was that the direction was “disproportionate”. The judgments (particularly the dissenting one of Lord Reed) tell us a lot about the scope of proportionality. And there is a good deal more to it than there might at first sight appear.

So it may be worth doing a bit of a bluffers guide, hand in hand with Lord Reed.

The concept arises in human rights law and in EU law. Its ECHR and EU incarnations derive from German administrative law, but its development in English law shows strong common-law influences. It applies in many different contexts, and the intensity of the review required critically depends on that context as well as the right being interfered with. So it is no simple thing to explain, but Lord Reed at [68] – [76] distils the main elements.

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Supreme Court considers conditions for removing child for adoption

mother-and-child_1681173cIn the matter of B (a child) (FC) [2013] UKSC 33 – read judgment

This appeal concerned whether a child of two years of age should be permanently removed from her parents and placed for adoption; and, in that regard, whether the child was likely to suffer “significant harm: within the meaning of s.31(2)(a) of the Children Act 1989; and a consideration of whether her permanent removal might interfere with the exercise of the right to respect for family life under Article 8 of the ECHR, and, if so, whether the order  should be proportionate to its legitimate aim of protecting the child.

The following summary is based on the Supreme Court press report. References in square brackets are to paragraphs of the judgment.

Background facts

The child concerned had been removed from her parents at birth under an interim care order. The mother was for many years in an abusive relationship with her step-father. She also had criminal convictions for dishonesty and a history of making false allegations. She had been diagnosed with somatisation disorder, a condition which involves making multiple complaints to medical professionals of symptoms for which no adequate physical explanation can be found. Continue reading

The felling of a tree might breach occupier’s right to respect for a home

italocalvinoLane v Kensington & Chelsea Royal London Borough Council (19 April 2013) – extempore judgement by Sir Raymond Jack QBD 

In Italo Calvino’s charming short story “The Baron in the Trees” the twelve year old son of an aristocratic family escapes the stultifications of home decorum by climbing up a tree, never to come down again. He literally makes his home in the treetops of his vast family estate.

So perhaps we shouldn’t quarrel with the inclusion of a tree as part of the concept of home life for the purposes of Article 8. The further twist is that the felling of this particular tree took place on a property where the appellant lived without a tenancy. Nevertheless, this event still amounted to a potential interference with his right to a home under Article 8. Continue reading

Satirical insult of head of state should not be a criminal offence, rules Strasbourg

PRS AUTOCEon v France, no. 26118/10   14 March 2013- read judgment (in French only)

The applicant, Hervé Eon, is a French national, a socialist and anti-GM activist living Laval (France). The case concerned his conviction for insulting President Sarkozy.

During a visit by the President to the département of Mayenne on 28 August 2008, Mr Eon had waved a placard reading “Casse toi pov’con” (“Get lost, you sad prick”), a phrase uttered by the President himself several months previously when a farmer had refused to shake his hand at the International Agricultural Show. The utterance was widely disseminated in the media and on the internet, attaining the status of a slogan. 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

Upper Tribunal confirms the legitimacy of the new immigration rules – but questions their completeness

MF (Article 8 – new rules) Nigeria [2012] UKUT 00393(IAC) – read judgment

This tribunal decision is the first to tackle the so-called “codification” of Article 8 considerations in immigration law (see  Adam’s post  on the Home Office’s proposals earlier this year).

Before the new immigration rules were introduced in July,  cases involving Article 8 ECHR ordinarily required a two-stage assessment: (1) first to assess whether the decision appealed against was in accordance with the immigration rules; (2) second to assess whether the decision was contrary to the appellant’s Article 8 rights. In immigration decisions, there was no doubt that human rights were rooted in primary legislation: s.84(1)(c) and (g) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act  2002, the “2002 Act”) allows an appeal to be brought against a decision which unlawful under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) (public authority not to act contrary to Human Rights Convention) as being incompatible with the appellant’s Convention rights. In addition to this, there is s.33(2) of the UK Borders Act 2007 which provides, as one of the statutory exceptions  to the automatic deportation regime,  “…where removal of the foreign criminal in pursuance of a deportation order would breach (a) a person’s Convention rights”.

But then there was a move to set out an extensive, codified definition of the Article 8 balancing factors, in order to

unify consideration under the rules and Article 8, by defining the basis on which a person can enter or remain in the UK on the basis of their family or private life.  Continue reading

Upper Tribunal confirms illegality of Catholic Charity’s ban on same-sex couple adoption

Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission (on appeal to the Upper Tribunal) CA/2010/0007  - read judgment

A private adoption agency could not justify its exclusion of same-sex prospective parents by arguing that this policy would keep open a source of funding that would otherwise dry up and reduce the number of adoption placements.

This was an appeal by the Catholic adoption services agency against the First Tribunal’s confirmation of the decision by the Charity Commission that it was not permitted to amend its constitution so as to permit it to continue its previous practice to refuse to offer its adoption services to same sex couples. Here is our post on the FTT’s ruling, which sets out the facts and arguments in the case. To recap briefly, the charity argued that the adoption of its proposed objects was justified under the general prohibition on discrimination under Article 14 ECHR (and its statutory analogy, Section 193 of the Equality Act).  The legitimate aim it pursued was that of providing suitable adoptive parents for a significant number of children who would otherwise go unprovided for. The Charity maintained that unless it were permitted to discriminate as proposed, it would no longer be able to raise the voluntary income from its supporters on which it relied to run the adoption service, and it would therefore have to close its adoption service permanently on financial grounds. The FTT rejected this submission, holding that though the charity’s aim of increasing adoption placements was a legitimate one, the evidence before it did not show that the increased funding of the agency’s adoption work under the auspices of the Roman Catholic church would “inevitably” lead to the prospect of an increased number of adoptions. Continue reading

Policy, possession and proportionality – Nearly Legal

Denry Okpor v London Borough of Lewisham, Bromley County Court 25 October 2011 [Transcript not publicly available]

Adam Wagner represented Mr Okpor in this case. He is not the author of this post.

This was a rolled up permission to appeal and appeal hearing (on which more later) for appeal to a Circuit Judge from a possession order made by a District Judge at Bromley. At issue was whether the District Judge was wrong to reject a) a proportionality defence and b) a gateway B public law defence arising from Lewisham’s failure to follow its own policy. It is interesting as an example of proportionality/gateway B defences in action in the County Court, but also somewhat frustrating, for reasons which will become clear.

Mr Okpor was the secure tenant of Lewisham. At the age of 15 he had been taken into care by Lewisham following abuse. He left care aged 18 in 2006. In 2009, aged 21, he was given the secure tenancy. Mr O went into full time higher education later that year and has remained in full time higher education. This meant that the relevant Children Act 1989 provisions for care leavers continued to apply and would do until he was 24, if still in full time higher education. Mr O was receiving support from the Lewisham Leaving Care Team.

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