Human rights roundup: More cuts, phone-hacking and pets’ rights
19 November 2010
The best of the rest of the human rights news from the web in the past week. You can read our full list of external links here.
Legal aid cuts – some early thoughts on implications – Lawyer Watch More thoughts on the principles underlying the legal aid cuts (see our post) by Professor Richard Moorhead. Also see The cuts to legal aid are closing the law to all but those with money by Jonathan Freedland, who argues that Labour should fight the cuts “root and branch” as “These £350m of savings will come at a much greater cost, either to other public services – including the NHS, forced to pay the higher costs that come with defeat in “no win, no fee” cases – or to society as a whole.”
News of the World phone hacking investigator must give court names of clients – Inforrm: This is the latest decision relating to the long-running News of the World phone-hacking investigation. The case is of interest from a human rights perspective as it highlights the tricky balance to be struck by the courts and the police between protecting journalistic sources, a necessary requirement for freedom of the press, and uncovering criminal activity such as phone-hacking. I posted last on the issue, in relation to Wayne Rooney and William Hague too, here. In the latest decision, the High Court has ordered that the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was ordered to provide information identifying the “News of the World” journalists who instructed him to hack into voice mail messages.
Ken Clarke: jury-less trials in extreme cases to continue – BBC: Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has said (click the link to watch a video) it is “unlikely” that the use of juryless trials “in extreme cases” will be scrapped. During an evidence session with the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 16 November 2010 he said he recognised that trials without a jury should only be used where there is a clear risk of jury intimidation. Trial by jury is still a basic right in the vast majority of Crown Court trials (that is, trials of the most serious criminal offences). However, in recent years the right has been eroded by legislation which allows for jury-less trials in exceptional circumstances such as when there is a real risk of jury intimidation – see our most recent post on the issue.
… and with good timing, the Lord Chief Justice has given a speech on jury trials to the Judicial Studies Board. He supports the system in strong terms:
My starting point is simple. Everything in my own personal career, both at the Bar and then on the Bench, has served to demonstrate the value of our jury system, and the reason for its pre-eminence in our constitutional arrangements for the administration of criminal justice. The jury system ensures that in our jurisdiction no one can be convicted of a serious crime or subjected to a lengthy term of imprisonment unless he has admitted his guilty in open and public court or a body of his fellow citizens has considered the evidence and satisfied itself on the basis of that evidence that they are sure of guilt.
Petsafe Ltd, R (on the application of) v The Welsh Ministers  EWHC 2908 (Admin) (16 November 2010): Do pets have human rights? That eternal question is answered (well, sort of) in this High Court judgment in relation to the Welsh Ministers’ decision to ban electric shock animal collars. The parties did not go as far as arguing that dogs and cats have human rights (which isn’t as silly as it sounds), but the applicants did argue that the ban on the collars amounted to a breach of potential purchasers’ Article 1, protocol 1 rights, the right to peaceful enjoyment of property. We will post more fully on this early next week.
Response to Equality Act 2010: The public sector Equality Duty – Equality and Human Rights Commission – The public sector equality duty (or the “socialism clause” see our post), originally part of the Equality Act 2010, always looked doomed as the Conservatives had made clear they opposed it. The ECHR has issued its response, arguing that the duty must “be unambiguous in their requirements” but also argues that the proposed regulations do not match the government’s ambitious vision for specific duties. The obligations are “unclear” and the ECHR offers ways of making them more specific. Ultimately, the regulations may be deliberately unclear, given the government’s stated distaste for prescriptive, top-down regulation on this issue.
And don’t forget our posts…
- Asylum seekers cannot be sent back and forced to lie about their political beliefs November 19, 2010 Adam Wagner
- Anonymity ain’t here anymore for Take That’s Howard Donald November 18, 2010 Isabel McArdle
- Justice’s hidden backbone – a tribute to BAILII November 18, 2010 Adam Wagner
- UK Human Rights Blog shortlisted for JUSTICE Human Rights Award 2010November 17, 2010 1 Crown Office Row
- Radical cleric Abu Hamza keeps British citizenship November 17, 2010 Alasdair Henderson
- Legal aid cuts: Do we spend more on legal aid than other countries? November 16, 2010 Adam Wagner
- Government “pays out” Al Rawi mistreatment claimants November 16, 2010 Adam Wagner
Once anything is breached – in this case the right to jury trial in the Crown Court – history tells us that things will never return to what they were. The next step is likely to be creeping extensions to judge only trials.
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