Kiobel v Shell: US Supreme Court on corporate accountability for foreign human rights abuses

shell460US Supreme Court : Kiobel et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co et al - Read Judgment 

In a long-awaited judgment, the United States Supreme Court has decided unanimously that there was no jurisdiction for a US federal court to hear a claim by a group of Nigerians alleging that the respondents assisted the Nigerian government to kill, rape, beat and arrest individuals who protested against Shell’s environmental practices. 

The judgment has already attracted a lot of commentary, from those claiming it is undermines US leadership on human rights to those who argue it is sensible or a mixed bag.  The claimants, who resided in the United States, filed suit against the respondents (Dutch, British and Nigerian corporations) in federal court under the Alien Tort Statute (the “ATS”).

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US Supreme Court to rule on affirmative action

The US Supreme Court’s term begins today, and race relations is at the top of the court’s agenda. The US press hails Fisher v University of Texas as the most important case the Court has agreed to hear thus far. Word is out that it could sound the death knell for affirmative action in the United States.

The justices are being asked to decide whether race-based affirmative action in college admissions is still constitutional.  The petitioner is a white student who was turned down by the University of Texas in 2008. She claims she was a victim of illegal race discrimination under their policy of affirmative action.

In 1997 the Texas legislature enacted a law requiring the University of Texas to admit all Texas high school seniors ranking in the top ten percent of their classes.   Whilst this measure improved access to tertiary education for many, the colleges protested at having their hands tied with regard to highly talented students who showed promise in certain subjects but did not come in to the top ten percent (including minority students in highly integrated high schools).  To redress this balance the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that universities could consider a minority student’s race as a “plus factor” in admissions. The Court based its ruling on the need for colleges to ensure a diverse student body. Following this judgment, the University of Texas added a new affirmative action policy to go along with the automatic admission rule  with race being a “plus factor” in admission. Continue reading

Feature | Freedom of expression, the American way

The UK Supreme Court Blog has posted on United States v Stevens, a US Supreme Court decision on animal cruelty videos, involving “freedom of expression in the extreme”. The decision provides for an interesting comparison with the approach to freedom of expression in the UK courts.

If the Human Rights Act 1998 is replaced by a Bill of Rights, the Bill’s drafters are likely to look at other legal systems in order to see how best to recalibrate the balance of the various protections. The drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights themselves had the US Bill of Rights, which has been in force since 1791, as inspiration.

Similar but different

Arguably, the US Bill of Rights places a stronger emphasis on freedom of expression than our domestic law. Freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention is subject to a number of qualifications. There is a long list, including the interests of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals, and the protection of the reputation or rights of others.

Section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shifts the balance slightly, by stating that a court must pay “particular regard” to cases involving the public interest in disclosure of material which has journalistic, literary or artistic merit.

By contrast, despite the US Bill of Rights’ 219 years on the statute books, there remains only a very limited list of forms of expression which are not Continue reading