No bans on local authority disinvestment decisions

R (o.t.a. Palestine Solidarity Campaign Ltd and Jacqueline Lewis) v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2017] EWHC 1502 (Admin) 22 June 2017, Sir Ross Cranston – read judgment

Many people like to have a say over the investment policies of their pension funds. They may not want investment in fossil fuels, companies with questionable working practices, arms manufacturers, Israel or indeed any company which supports Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – to choose but a few of people’s current choices. And pension funds, left to their own devices, may wish to adopt one or more of these choices to reflect their pensioners’ views.

Hence the significance of this challenge to some statutory guidance which sought to ban some of those pension decisions but to permit others. The context was local government employees (5 million current or former employees). It arose on that ceaseless battleground of government’s direction/intermeddling in local government affairs.

The key bit of the impugned guidance was that those running local authority pensions must not use their policies to

pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions…against foreign nations and UK defence industries…other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.”;

or

“pursue policies that are contrary to UK foreign policy or UK defence policy”.

The main issue in this challenge was whether these prohibitions went beyond the SoS’s powers under the relevant pension provisions.

No prizes for guessing why the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (in conjunction with War on Want and the Quakers) supported this challenge. The fact that the domestic arms trade got a special unbannability status would provoke many to go to law.
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International human rights can help reverse yet another heavy blow on sexual and reproductive health

Koldo Casla  of the Policy, Research and Training Manager of Just Fair @JustFairUK, an organisation that monitors and advocates economic and social rights in the UK

Women’s sexual and reproductive rights are not safe and accessible in all corners of the United Kingdom: see Rosalind English’s post on the Northern Irish situation here and here.

Abortion is still a crime in Northern Ireland. Women who choose to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights have to travel to mainland Britain, but they have to face costs (about £900 in the recent case discussed by Rosalind English) that would not apply if they lived in England, Wales or Scotland.

By a majority of 3 to 2, the Supreme Court ruled that, while this situation does in principle concern the right to enjoy a private and family life without discrimination (Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights), the difference in treatment is justified because the decision on this matter falls under the powers of the devolved administration of Northern Ireland (paragraph 20 of the Judgment). And therefore the human rights of women living in Northern Ireland are not being breached. Continue reading

Charlie Gard: Strasbourg Court imposes another stay on Supreme Court ruling to consider parents’ arguments

Yates v United Kingdom –  here

Following the Strasbourg Court’s request for interim measures for the UK – which means the hospital may not take Charlie Gard off life support as the Supreme Court has allowed it to do – the Supreme Court arranged a short hearing to take place Monday 19 June, to give directions. The Strasbourg Court has now put in place a further request that treatment and nursing care be continued beyond its original deadline of 19 June (see the press release from Strasbourg here: Gard and Others v. the UK) . This is because that Court has to consider the parents’ application that the case does not just concern Charlie’s right to die with dignity but their rights under Article 8 as his parents to be afforded respect for their decisions as to what is in Charlie’s interests.

This is a unique situation facing the Supreme Court, and, probably, the judges of the European Court of Human Rights.  As the UK court acknowledges, by granting a stay, even of short duration, it would “in some sense” be complicit in directing a course of action which is contrary to Charlie’s best interests, since this was its last word on the matter. It is no wonder that this is causing some soul-searching. The Strasbourg Court’s interim measures order is directed at the government, not Great Ormond Street Hospital or its doctors. The latter won a ruling from the Supreme Court that they should remove life support from Charlie Gard because it is considered to be in violation of his right to die with dignity, and, of course, not in his best interests.  Continue reading

Strasbourg on excessive libel damages

Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd v. Ireland     ECtHR, 5th section, 15 June 2017 – read judgment here

The Strasbourg Court has decided that an award of damages in an Irish libel case was disproportionate – but, as I shall explain – it has not told us what a proportionate award would have been.

This odd position was reached in an application by a newspaper group against the Irish state. It was triggered by a massive jury award (1.872m euros) for what by all accounts was a deeply unpleasant libellous campaign by the paper. But the immediate cause of the litigation arose from an appeal to the Irish Supreme Court, who, by a majority, would have reduced the award to 1.25m euros. 

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NI Abortion Refugees: further thoughts


R (o.t.a A and B) v. Department of Health [2017] UKSC 41, 14 June 2017 – judgment here; previous post here.

Was it unlawful for the Secretary of State for Health, who had power to make provisions for the functioning of the National Health Service in England, to have failed to make a provision which would have enabled women who were citizens of the UK, but who were usually resident in Northern Ireland, to undergo a termination of pregnancy under the NHS in England free of charge?

No, said the Supreme Court (Lord Wilson, who gave the lead judgment, and Lords Reed and Hughes, but with Lord Kerr and Lady Hale dissenting).

Background law and facts

The law on abortion in Northern Ireland is governed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Abortion is only lawful there if there is a threat of long term psychiatric or physical injury to the mother. As this is difficult to prove, a steady stream of women come from Northern Ireland to secure abortions, mostly from private clinics that charge a fee for the service as they are unable to obtain a termination free of charge under the English NHS. Continue reading

Once more unto the breach

The ClientEarth litigation on air pollution rolls into a new phase, six years after they first began proceedings. This post tells the story.

 On 31 May 2017, the environmental NGO ClientEarth announced that it had launched a third round of litigation against the government in relation to air pollution.

ClientEarth have stated that the policy measures set out in DEFRA’s latest draft Air Quality Plan for the UK (the 2017 Plan) do not meet the legal standard, and that more ambitious and far-reaching government action is required.

The 2017 Plan here, which is open to consultation until 15 June (so it ends today), addresses the continuing illegal levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (“NOx”) pollution that are present in both urban and rural areas all across the UK. However, environmental groups have been largely united in their criticism of the 2017 Plan’s limited content. The government had been required by European law to achieve NOx compliance by 2010, but the 2017 Plan now anticipates NOx breaches continuing into the 2030’s.

Currently, 40,000 premature deaths per year in the UK are estimated to be associated with air pollution.

ClientEarth have created an online platform for submitting responses here.

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