The European Court of Human Rights has announced today that it will deliver two Grand Chamber judgments, in the cases of Axel Springer AG v Germanyand von Hannover v Germany (No.2) on 7 February 2012. The cases were both heard more than 15 months ago, on 13 October 2010.
We had a post about the hearing at the time (and an earlier preview).Both cases concern the publication in the media of material which is alleged to be private. The Axel Springercase concerned the publication in “Bild” of an article about a well-known television actor, being arrested for possession of cocaine. The article was illustrated by three pictures of the actor. The German court granted him an injunction to prohibit the publication of the article and the photos. The applicant company did not challenge the judgment concerning the photos. The newspaper published a second article in July 2005, which reported on the actor being convicted and fined for illegal possession of drugs after he had made a full confession.
Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office Row is representing Martin in the judicial review proceedings. He is not the author of this post.
Albert Camus famously wrote: ‘there is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.’ However profound a philosophical problem, the question of suicide or, more precisely, assisted suicide is proving quite a legal conundrum.
It is a well-known fact that, at present, it is lawful in England and Wales to commit (or to attempt to commit) suicide but unlawful to help someone else to do so. Encouraging or assisting suicide is an offence under section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. On a literal reading of the Act, even obtaining information about euthanasia for someone who plans to commit suicide could constitute a breach of section 2.
The Prime Minister’s speech at the Council of Europe (see our coverage here) has attracted significant press attention over the past week – ranging from flag-waving, sabre-rattling support to criticism from Sir Nicholas Bratza (the British President of the Court).
Hot on the heels of Cameron’s address on Wednesday, the Attorney-General Dominic Grieve gave a speech on Thursday which set out in further detail the Government’s plans for reform of the European Court of Human Rights and the incorporation of human rights into UK law.
The full text of the Attorney-General’s speech is not yet available (although a similar speech he gave last year and his own speech to the Council of Europe can be found here). However, it was interesting to compare his comments with those of David Cameron just a day before.
A child learns early that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it. Thankfully that principle does not apply to Government consultations and this is aptly demonstrated by a group of responses to the consultation into whether “closed material” (secret evidence) procedures should be extended to civil trials.
Of the responses that I have read, there is very little support for the proposals as they stand and, as journalist Joshua Rozenberg has pointed out, the most damning criticism has come from the very lawyers who are currently involved in “closed” proceedings.
If you are interested in the issue, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is hearing evidence on it today from two special advocates, including my co-editor Angus McCullough QC (see his post on the topic), as well as the current and former independent reviewers of terrorism legislation. The session begins at 2:20pm and can be watched live here.
As I did with the Bill of Rights Commission consultation, I asked people to send me their consultation responses. What follows is a wholly unscientific summary of the ones I received:
Updated | Welcome back to the human rights roundup, your regular human rights bullet. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
In the news
Mr Cameron goes to Strasbourg
This week, the European Court of Human Rights released its 2011 annual report and Prime Minister David Cameron paid Strasbourg a visit, where (amongst other things) he accused the Court of having become a “small claims court”.
Unsurprisingly, this has been heavily commented on in the press. Adam Wagner posted on the build-up, Professor Francesca Klug minced no words in the follow-up and Joshua Rozenberg reported on the ensuing discussion between Cameron and the secretary-general of the Council of Europe – see also Deciding the future of human rights court … in Brighton. Also worth reading is The Small Places heartfelt and insightful defence of human rights, Obiter J’s excellent post and Beyond Abu Qatada: Why The UK Shouldn’t Split From the European Court of Human Rights in the Huffington Post (UK edition).
Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has thrown a firecracker into the consultation on gay marriage, which is about to begin in March. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph he declared that he did not agree that it was the role of the state to define what marriage is. “It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are”.
Gay rights campaigners have poured scorn on this pronouncement, calling the Archbishop a “religious authoritarian” who wants to “impose his personal opposition to same-sex marriage on the rest of society.” But this outbreak of bad temper – not unpredictable, given the skirmishing over the consultation on the same issue which took place in Scotland last year – raises the wider issue of the role and influence of church leaders in the process of legal change.
In a secular society, the participation of clerics in the House of Lords is grudgingly accepted as part of an ancient tradition. And on this issue at least, the general view seems to be that the Church has grounds for complaint. The current system recognises gay partnerships under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA). But the main change is to alter the Equality Act so as to allow such partnerships to take place on religious premises, and it is that which is being so bitterly opposed, apparently because it brings the matter within the church’s bailiwick. But even if it does, we have to ask what it is that privileges Sentamu’s voice over any others in the debate over whether gay and heterosexual partnerships should be on an equal footing in all respects, including the place where they are registered. Continue reading
Two recent posts on this blog have brought deserved attention to the question of the European Court’s handling of admissibility decisions. In the course of criticising the substantial misrepresentation of the statistics for UK petitions to the European Court, Andrew Tickell’s piece highlighted the significant contribution of “highly discretionary concepts” in the filtering of the Court’s caseload.
Alongside clearer procedural hurdles such as the six month time bar and exhaustion of domestic remedies, the “manifestly ill-founded” criterion may be a clear and meaningful legal term but certainly isn’t manifest exactly what obstacle it sets.