Human rights roundup: The FCO, Shoesmith, and local authorities taking over the world

2 September 2010 by

Some of this week’s human rights news, in bite-size form. The full list of our links can be found on the right sidebar or here:

FCO decision on human rights report ‘puts businesses at risk’ – The Law Gazette: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has threatened to cut back on its annual international human rights report. The President of the Law Society has said human rights are an “increasingly a prominent risk factor in business”, but it is not clear what this really means, beyond corporate social responsibility which is at most seems a peripheral business consideration. We questioned earlier this week (see post) whether foreign policy and human rights could or should mix.

Treasury attacked over equality impact of budget – The Law Gazette: More details of the Fawcett Society’s threatened judicial review of the budget, on the grounds that the Treasury did not carry out an appropriate equality impact assessment. Apparently, research by the House of Commons library has shown that 72& of the savings will come from women’s income. See our post on the disappearing Public Sector Equality Duty.

Permission to appeal granted in Sharon Shoesmith v Ofsted and Ors case: Sharon Shoesmith was the leader of Haringey Council at the time of the Baby Peter affair in 2007. She was sacked after a scathing report by Ofsted, and failed in her judicial review of the decision. Her case against Ofsted, the Secretary of State for Children and Families and the London Borough of Haringey, which will now go to the Court of Appeal, is one of the many ripple effects of the scandal, alongside the government’s recent announcement that it would review the child protection system. The full judgment is here. Also, kudos to Mr Justice Foskett (a former member of my Chambers) for his excellent use of the internet in publishing decisions, summaries and even submissions in this case. If more judges followed suit, there would be better understanding of legal issues by the general public.

Free up councils by abolishing ultra vires principle, says think tank – Local Government Lawyer: “Ultra Vires” means “beyond the powers”, and is a commonly used remedy in judicial review proceedings. A court can rule that (for example) a local authority has acted outside of its powers as set down by statute or statutory instrument. The New Government Network, a think tank, argues in a report that the principle should be abolished to give more powers to local authorities. The coalition have recently proposed a rule of “general competence” which would effectively allow LAs to abolish and institute byelaws without approval from central government; they would only need to put the issue to locals. This is the kind of news which may escape the radar of many but could have an enormous practical effect. As to abolishing ultra vires, this seems a step too far as it would effectively leave the local population with no remedy if they feel that LAs have expanded beyond their powers.

Sittingbourne man jailed for giving woman HIV – BBC News: See our recent post on the law of reckless or deliberate HIV transmission in the UK.

G20 pathologist guilty of misconduct  – BBC News: Dr Freddy Patel, a pathologist, carried out the first post-mortem examination of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson, who died at the G20 protests in London on 1 April 2009. He has now been found guilty by the General Medical Council on misconduct charges relating to three previous post-mortems, although not in relation to the Tomlinson post-mortem. This will put further pressure on the Director of Public Prosecutions to look again at the decision not to prosecute the police officer who hit Tomlinson with a baton around an hour before he died. One of the main justifications for not bringing a prosecution was that the pathologist’s evidence would provide reasonable doubt and a jury would not be able to convict. But if Dr Patel has been found to be generally unreliable (and this is debatable), a prosecution may now be more likely. But as is often the case, it is very difficult to look behind the findings of the initial post-mortem.

Reporting Privacy Injunctions (re third Premier League Footballer Injunction) – Inforrm: Inforrm provide a sober analysis of the myths surrounding the so-called “privacy law by the back door”; a favourite expression of the press but not necessarily backed up by reality – see also Journalism, entrapment and the public interest.

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