The Round-up: Human Rights Act – the long struggle ahead

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch is vocal in his support for the HRA

This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Hannah Lynes

In the news

Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed the introduction of a British Bill of Rights, the Queen’s Speech containing only proposals for consultation. Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti has welcomed the development:

“It is heartening that a Conservative Government committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act has at least paused for thought in its first Queen’s speech. There is a long struggle ahead but time is the friend of freedom.”

Debate surrounding the proposed Bill of Rights continues in full force. Proponents of the HRA draw attention to perceived misconceptions advanced by the opposing side. Lord Leveson points out that UK courts are not ‘bound’ by the decisions of Strasbourg (“the legislation only requires us to take them into account”), whilst Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog questions the accuracy of claims that the HRA prevents us from deporting serious foreign criminals. Dr Ed Bates argues in the Constitutional Law blog that the domestic judiciary is more supportive of the ECHR than certain politicians would have us believe. Useful coverage of the views expressed by senior judges is provided here.

Other news

Housing: Leading housing charities last month issued a report claiming that the present ‘crisis’ in housing has put the UK in breach of its UN obligations to provide adequate homes. Housing campaigners fear government proposals set to reduce housing benefit for 18-21 year olds will serve to exacerbate the problem. The measures could “spell disaster for thousands of young people who…could be facing homelessness and the terrifying prospect of roughing it on the streets”, warns Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes.

Surveillance: Prominent legal academics have signed a letter calling on the Government to ensure that any changes in surveillance law “are fully and transparently vetted by parliament, and open to consultation from the public and all relevant stakeholders”. The Guardian reports here.

Police: Hampshire Constabulary has admitted a failure to properly investigate the complaint of a victim of rape, who had been accused of lying by the force. An out-of-court settlement was reached with the young woman following commencement of proceedings under the Human Rights Act.

Discrimination: A woman turned down for a job because she observed Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, was successful in her claim for indirect discrimination. The Telegraph reports on the decision.

Gender: An interview with barrister Roy Brown in Halsbury’s Law Exchange examines the significance of recent High Court decisions in JK and Carpenter for transgender rights in the UK.

In the courts

This case concerned the question of legal representation in complex family proceedings. The Court of Appeal held that whilst it may be inappropriate for an unrepresented litigant to conduct cross-examination of his alleged victim, a judge is not entitled to order the Courts Service (HMCTS) to pay for a legally trained advocate to do so on the litigant’s behalf. A court is not permitted to circumvent the detailed provisions for legal aid eligibility set out in LASPO. Further, the result does not amount to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial), since the court has available to it other alternatives. These include the possibility of the judge himself conducting the questioning.

1COR’s David Hart QC analyses the decision here.

UK HRB posts


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The dangers of data snooping – Angela Patrick

Civil liberties and the coalition have been happily filling the political pages this week. The damning conclusion of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that there is no evidence to justify expanding closed proceedings (expertly dissected by Rosalind English earlier in the week) vied for column inches with leaks that the Government planned to introduce “real time” monitoring of how we use the internet in the interests of national security.

These latter “snooping” proposals echo the ill-fated Communications Data Bill 2008, proposed by the Labour Government. After cross-party condemnation and criticism from the Information Commissioner’s Office and others, that Bill was withdrawn, with Home Office officials sent back to the drawing board.

After meeting similar condemnation in the press and online this week, and reservations expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister; it appears we can expect a draft Communications Data Bill to be resurrected in the Queen’s Speech.

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Muslim area CCTV cameras to be covered by plastic bags [updated]

The BBC report that plastic bags are to be put over “scores” of surveillance cameras in Birmingham following allegations that they deliberately targeted Muslim areas.

Update 19/06/10: Campaigners and the Guardian say police are now facing an investigation for failing to disclose the true purpose of the cameras

The decision marks a victory for campaigners who threatened to bring a judicial review challenging a surveillance project that uses 150 automatic number plate recognition  cameras to monitor the roads in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham. We posted earlier this week on the issue, sparked by a Guardian investigation:

The newspaper’s investigation has led to considerable public criticism of the scheme and the threat of legal action. The criticisms have concerned three main areas.First, it has been alleged that the scheme constitutes an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties. Local MPs Roger Godsiff (Labour) and John Hemming (Lib Dem) have attacked it on these grounds, with the latter said to be seeking the support of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Second, there have been complaints about a lack of consultation despite the fact that Project Champion is reported to be undergoing tests with the intention of going live in August.

The cameras will not be used “until a consultation has been carried out“.

Legal challenge to surveillance of Muslim areas

The Human Rights organisation Liberty is threatening to bring a judicial review challenging a surveillance project that uses 150 automatic number plate recognition (“APNR”) cameras to monitor the roads in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham.

Update 18/06/10 – Muslim area CCTV cameras to be covered by plastic bags [updated]

The Guardian reports that the plan, Project Champion, is funded by the Association of Chief Police Officer’s Terrorism and Allied Matters fund, which is intended to “deter or prevent terrorism or help to prosecute those responsible”. Project Champion provides for three times as many APNR cameras in the suburbs of Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath as are present in Birmingham City Centre. According to the Guardian: “The cameras form “rings of steel”, meaning residents cannot enter or leave the areas without their cars being tracked. Data will be stored for two years.”

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