Human rights roundup: Pickles pickled, judges feminized, Twitter demonized

12 November 2010 by

The best of human rights news from the web in the past week. You can read our full list of external links here.

Alternative feminist judgment: R v A (No 2) [2001] UKHL 25 – This ‘alternative’ judgment is part of the new Feminist Judgments Project, an interesting attempt by academics, practitioners and activists to produce 23 alternative feminist judgments to a series of key cases in English law. An introductory article in the Guardian explains that the project’s aim is not to encourage judges taken an ideological viewpoint but, rather, to accept that prejudice may have coloured even the highest judges’ reasoning at various points in English legal history and see whether things could have been different. It could be said that all they are doing is replacing one form of prejudice with another.

In any case, no matter how clever our judges are – and they are very bright indeed – it must be of some relevance that at the highest level they are almost exclusively white males aged 60+. The debate over judges’ prejudices is still much more alive in the United States than it is here, but that doesn’t mean we should continue to ignore it, particularly after the passing of the Human Rights Act which means courts are ruling on increasingly sensitive social issues. This project seeks to tease out the potential of an alternative viewpoint.

Charlemagne: A grim tale of judges and politicians – The Economist: The Economist tackles the strength of the constitutional court in Germany, whose judges are the “creatures of dread” in the European Union (see our post from earlier this week).
The court has been threatening to scupper the International Monetary Fund’s €750m Euro zone bail out. This issue is highly relevant to the UK: only yesterday, William Hague announced a new European Union Bill which seeks to enshrine British sovereignty. The foreign secretary is clearly jealous that he cannot attend European Union meetings in fear (or hope) that the UK’s courts may render negotiations irrelevant, as the German leader Angela Merkel can. In any event, there is a general consensus in the commentariat that the bill will make no difference.

Law Review: Twitter Joke Trial – A travesty… why do we really bother? – Charon QC: Paul Chambers has lost his first appeal against a criminal conviction for a tweet in which he (jokingly, he says) threatened to blow up Nottingham airport. Most in the legal blogosphere, many of whom probably have a better appreciation of the emerging tone and custom of Twitter than the courts, think the decision is a daft one. This may well be overturned on appeal; if every silly or potentially misunderstood Tweet or Facebook status were pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service, they would have time for nothing else. Afua Hirsch also asks if Twitter has lost its innocence. Our (rather serious) Twitter feed is here.

Nick Clegg rejects call for law change after ‘hundreds denied vote’I blogged in July on the Electoral Commission’s damning report into the 2010 general election. It called for its wide-ranging reform program to be brought forward, including a “comprehensive electoral modernisation strategy”. This call has apparently been rejected by the Deputy Prime Minister. The Commission “is “disappointed” the government had ignored its call for legislation to prevent a repeat of angry scenes during May’s general election, when some people queuing to vote were turned away at the deadline“.

Nick Clegg told Parliament that the problem was “lack of resources… poor organisation by the returning officer“, and that reaching “for the statute book” would not solve the problem. He may or may not be right; we may not find out until it is too late. It might be asked what information he is basing his conclusions on, given he has rejected the conclusions of the official election regulator.

Senior British officers could face war crimes trial over alleged Iraqi abuse | Law | Joshua Rozenberg examines the possibility that various members of the Army and intelligence services may face war crime trials relating to events during the Iraq war, following a 3-day judicial review in the High Court into the treatment of Iraqi civilians. The 200 or so Iraqis are demanding a full public inquiry.

‘Big society’ decision to scrap regional housing targets ruled unlawful – High Court has ruled that the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles acted unlawfully in scrapping the regional plans which set housing targets across councils in England. The decision is here (law report here), and Mr Pickles has said the government does not intend to appeal. The decision is interesting as it shows the power of the courts, following the famous (in public law circles) 1960s decision of Padfield, to quash a Minister’s decision if they did not properly construe (that is, follow) an Act of Parliament. These kind of challenges may increase if ministers are given the sweeping new ‘Henry VIII’ powers proposed by the Public Bodies Bill (see our post).

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