Round Up: Worboys, air pollution, and Germany’s social media law

In the News:

taxi

Credit: Garry Knight, Flickr

Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v DSD

The Supreme Court ruled that the police have a positive obligation to conduct an effective investigation into crimes involving serious violence to victims, in line with Article 3 of the ECHR.  In this case the obligation had been breached.

The case concerned the police’s investigation into the ‘black cab rapist’, John Worboys. Two of his victims brought a claim for damages against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), on the basis of an alleged failure of the police to conduct an effective investigation into Worbys’ crimes. The victims were awarded compensation in the first instance. The Court of Appeal dismissed the MPS’ appeal, and the case came before the Supreme Court. Continue reading

Northern Ireland Court of Appeal to consider same-sex marriage challenge

The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland will sit this week to consider an appeal against the refusal of the High Court to give recognition to the marriage of a gay man from Northern Ireland who had married his husband in London under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. The original decision by Mr Justice O’Hara was published last August and reported as Re X [2017] NIFam 12. Under the terms of the 2013 Act, same sex marriage in England and Wales is treated for the purposes of the law of Northern Ireland as a civil partnership (in accordance with the Civil Partnership Act 2004). The Petitioner wants recognition of his marriage as such and argues that the denial of recognition is a breach of his Convention Rights.

When civil partnerships were being introduced for England, Wales and Scotland, Northern Ireland was going through one of its periods of direct rule from London. The UK government embarked upon a lightning consultation exercise and subsequently decided to include Northern Ireland in what came to be the Civil Partnership Act 2004. That meant that civil partnership was a UK wide arrangement. In fact, by a quirk of the law, the first civil partnership ceremony in the UK took place in Belfast, between Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close (who have also been refused a High Court Declaration that they can get married in the North).  Continue reading

Groundhog Day for air pollution breaches: Government loses again


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth No.3) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 21 February 2018, judgment here 

DEFRA has been found wanting again, in its latest attempt to address nitrogen dioxide in air. This is the third time. Yet DEFRA’s own analysis suggests that some 23,500 people die every year because of this pollutant.

I have told the story in many posts before (see list at bottom), but the UK has been non-compliant with EU Directive 2008/50 on nitrogen dioxide (et al) since 2010. The Directive requires that the period in which a state is obliged to remedy any non-compliance is to be “as short as possible”: Article 23.

We have now had 3 Air Quality Plans, the first produced in 2011 and quashed in 2015, and the second produced later in 2015, declared unlawful by Garnham J in November 2016.

The third, in this judgment, was dragged out of DEFRA in July 2017, after various attempts to delay things.  

So why was it decided to be unlawful?

Continue reading

Supreme Court awards damages against the police for failure to conduct an effective investigation

supreme courtCommissioner of Police of the Metropolis v DSD and Anor [2018] UKSC 11Read Judgment

In an important decision for UK human rights law, the Supreme Court confirmed on 21st February 2018 that the police have a positive operational duty – owed to the individual victims of certain crimes – to conduct an effective investigation under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The decision stems from a claim brought by two victims of John Worboys, a London black cab driver who committed “a legion of sexual offences on women” between 2003 and 2008.

The victims, identified in the proceedings as DSD and NBV, sought damages from the Metropolitan Police, due to various failures in the course of investigating their complaints. The action was brought under sections 7 and 8 of the Human Rights Act (“HRA”) 1998, which enables claims for damages to be pursued in the English Courts where there has been a breach of an article of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). This approach was taken because a “standard” action in the tort of negligence would be doomed to failure. There is a long line of authority, still holding firm (although regularly probed and challenged), which provides that police are immune from suit due to negligent failures in the conduct of many of their public functions, largely for policy reasons.

Continue reading

The right to be forgotten before the Courts again

NT 1 & Anor v Google LLC [2018] EWHC 261 (QB) (15 February 2018) – read judgment

This was a Pre Trial Review of an application by the claimants to have details about an old criminal conviction and other information removed from Google and associated websites under the “right to be forgotten”. Each of the claimants sought orders prohibiting the defendant (Google) from continuing to return internet search reports which included information about the claimant which he claimed was inaccurate, stale, irrelevant, and thereby infringed his data protection and privacy rights.  The “right to be forgotten” is, in this context,  also referred to as “de-listing”. The two cases are due to be tried by Warby J at the end of February. In order to avoid an own goal at trial, where those very names and convictions would be made public, the parties sought to come up with forms of pseudonym or cipher that would protect them. One proposal was that

 in the NT1 case a co-defendant of the claimant at his criminal trial in the late 1990s should be referred to as “Mr A”, and that certain offshore companies used by NT1 should be referred to as “Companies A and B”. There are also references to “Businesses A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H”. In the NT2 case, the claimant also had a co-defendant, and the proposal is to call him “Mr A”. This is not the same person as the “Mr A” in the NT1 case. “Company A” in the NT2 case is a cipher for “The business in which the claimant [NT2] previously had an interest.” It is not the same as Company A in the NT1 case. The Confidential schedule in the NT2 case also features “Companies F, G, H, I, J, K and H” which are all different from any of those that feature in the NT1 claim.

Warby J was unimpressed with this alphabet soup. He did not relish the prospect of preparing a judgment, or two judgments, using these ciphers. Continue reading

The new German social media law – a risk worth taking? An ‘extended look’ by Stefan Theil

social media.pngThe German Gesetz zur Verbesserung der Rechtsdurchsetzung in sozialen Netzwerken (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz) (literally: Law on the improvement of law enforcement in social networks and known as ‘NetzDG’) has attracted much media attention, e.g. here and here, since fully entering into force on 1 January 2018. This was sparked to a significant extent by a few high profile deletions, including a tweet from the responsible Minister for Justice.

This contribution will give an overview of the NetzDG and explain how some of the criticisms are overstated and partially misguided. While the NetzDG is unlikely to resolve all challenges surrounding social media and freedom of expression, and undoubtedly presents a certain risk of stifling expression online, I believe it is nonetheless a significant step in the right direction. Rather than undermine freedom of expression, it promises to contribute to more inclusive debates by giving the loud and radical voices less prominence. In any case, it appears reasonable to let this regulatory experiment play out and observe whether fears over a ‘chilling effect’ on free expression are borne out by the evidence. A review of the law and its effects are is planned after an initial three year operation period, which should deliver ample data and regulatory experience while limiting the scope for potential harm.

Continue reading

Where are we now on social services liability?

CN and Anor v Pool Borough Council [2017] EWCA Civ 2185, 21 December 2017 – read judgment

Just over six weeks before the Supreme Court ruled that the police owed the public a duty of care in Robinson (see our post here) the Court of Appeal had unanimously rejected the existence of such a duty in the context of social services and vulnerable children. Giving the leading judgment, Irwin LJ said that there were two strong reasons for rejecting the claimants’ case.

 [F]irst is the concern, articulated in X v Bedfordshire in relation to social services and in Hill v West Yorkshire in relation to the police, that liability in negligence will complicate decision-making in a difficult and sensitive field, and potentially divert the social worker or police officer into defensive decision-making. The second is the principle that, in general, there is no liability for the wrongdoing of a third party, even where that wrongdoing is foreseeable. Both of these considerations, in my view, bite on the facts in this case.

In his concurring judgement, Davis LJ observed that “nothing in this case as pleaded requires or justifies it going to a full trial.”

The claimants have sought permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Continue reading