Abu Qatada, public prayer and cameras in court – The Human Rights Roundup

12 February 2012 by

Welcome back to the human rights roundup, your recommended weekly intake of human rights news. 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

Abu Qatada released on bail

Abu Qatada was released on “very restrictive” bail conditions this Monday in a decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission on the basis of both British legal precedent and Strasbourg human rights case-law. This also follows from the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that he should not be returned to his native Jordan, where torture-derived evidence may be used against him in trial.

Qatada’s release from prison has sparked a  great deal of commentary, including from Rosalind English, who posted on the case here, and from freemovement, who makes the point that this decision is actually based in British rather than Strasbourg law, here. The Attorney-General Dominic Grieve commented in the Guardian on the tension between concerns over the release of a dangerous suspect such as Qatada and the implications of indefinite detention without trial for the rule of law in this country.

Simon Jenkins writes that Britain should either give Qatada the law’s full protection, relying on ‘British robustness’ to safeguard against his extremism, or deport him, ignoring the ECtHR’s ruling.  Bagehot’s Notebook in The Economist is more guarded on the subject of breaking international obligations, commenting that to do so would harm Britain’s reputation.

Freedom of Speech

The cases of Axel Springer and Von Hannover were decided in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights this week in two rulings that have been heralded as great victories for freedom of the press, notably by Brid Jordan of the RPC Privacy Law Blog. The UK Human Rights Blog’s take on these cases can be seen here.

The Strasbourg court gave a set of “guidelines” in each case, to be applied to determine when the conflict between the right to free speech and the right to privacy will be decided in favour of the press. Inforrm’s blog contains a post for each case, and both are well worth reading for those interested: Sara Mansoori writes on Axel Springer, and Kristen Sjøvoll comments on Von Hannover.

I highly recommend Charon QC’s Without Prejudice podcast on the Leveson Inquiry and the Twitter Joke case for those with half an hour to spare for contentious free speech issues, a discussion of how the press might be regulated, and commentary on the perplexing Twitter Joke case. More commentary on the Twitter Joke case, which went to the High Court this week, may be found on Inforrm’s blog, by Gervase de Wilde, while for more on phone hacking, take a look at Inforrm’s short discussion of the recent declaration that the Metropolitan Police were in breach of Article 8 of the Convention by failing to provide information about phone hacking.

Hate speech

The European Court of Human Rights published a fact sheet on hate speech this month, which may prove interesting reading for anyone curious about exactly what counts as “hate speech”, and what will instead be protected by the article 10 right to free speech.

Cameras in court

The BBC, ITN and Sky sent a letter to the Prime Minister this week requesting that the ban on cameras in courtrooms (the High Court and Court of Appeal in particular) be lifted, in order to promote transparency and the ability to witness justice in action, citing the success of live streaming from the Supreme Court over the last two years. They stop short of asking for all trials to be recorded, however, recognising that the judge should have full control over what is and is not filmed. The letter is discussed further by John Plunkett in the Guardian.

Speeches from Strasbourg

At the opening of the judicial year in Strasbourg, both the President of the Court, Sir Nicholas Bratza, and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, made speeches, reported on the ECHR Blog.

The President spoke about the paramount status of human rights law, regardless of the defensive attitude of countries brought on by the current economic climate, and, diplomatically, about the need for countries who disagree with the rulings of the Court to respect them nonetheless and not attempt to undermine the Court with “emotion and exaggeration”, because respect for the rule of law also applies to international law. Hammarberg addressed the concern that ECtHR judges practice “judicial activism” in their application of the Convention, explaining that all decisions are based on sound analysis of legal precedent.

The NHS obligation to prevent suicide

It was held by the Supreme Court that the NHS had an obligation under the Article 2 right to life to protect Melanie Rabone, a voluntary patient suffering from recurrent depressive disorder who killed herself in 2005 following being diagnosed as a high suicide risk, from taking her own life. The duty owed was to take reasonable steps to preserve the life of a vulnerable patient whom the NHS had assumed responsibility for, who was at “real and immediate” risk.

The implications of this case are discussed on this blog by Matthew Hill,; the health and social care solicitors’ firm Hensons also provides commentary on this decision here.

God banned from town council meetings

The High Court ruled on Friday that the Town Council of Bideford (Devon) had exceeded their statutory powers in insisting on prayers in their formal meetings. The challenge was brought by the Secular Society (and Clive Bone as their “victim”, due to the Strasbourg requirement that someone affected by the measure bring the challenge), in their campaign to separate religion from everyday public life, and they would appear to have been successful, as far as town councils’ formal meetings are concerned, as the ruling will apply to all such bodies in England and Wales. Rosalind English comments on the case for the UK Human Rights Blog, but see also ObiterJ’s thoughtful and speculative discussion here.

In the courts

Sanade and others v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKUT 00048(IAC). The Upper Tribunal provides some guidelines on human rights-based exceptions to automatic deportation for people with dependent children or spouses who are British.

R (on the application of T) v. Greater Manchester Police & Anor [2012] EWHC 147 (Admin). A 20-year-old student fails in a human rights challenge to the law on Enhanced Criminal Records Certificate, which states that all warnings, cautions etc. must be on an ECRC. The applicant had one warning, incurred when he was 11 for theft of 2 bicycles; his behaviour afterwards was described as exemplary. For some further commentary on this case, see the Panopticon blog post by Robin Hopkins, which discusses the Article 8 issues in this case in greater detail, going into the judge’s rationale in some depth.

Othman v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSIAC B1 (6 February 2012). Abu Qatada was granted bail on “very restrictive” conditions for 3 months, after which the Secretary of State must show progress in his deportation proceedings or the deprivation of his liberty will no longer be justifiable.

AT v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWCA Civ 42 (07 February 2012). Control order of member of Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was ruled unlawful, because not enough information was provided to him about the case against him (as required by the case of A v. UK). Matthew Flinn has recently commented on this case; see his post for more in-depth commentary.

Moussaoui, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 126 (Admin) (03 February 2012). Detention of mentally ill foreign criminal pending deportation held to be unlawful, because regular reviews of his detention were not carried out. Only nominal damages (£1) were awarded, however.

UK Human Rights Blog Posts

by Sam Murrant

1 comment;

  1. Jim Zackey says:

    Perhaps for the record, the UK media could clarify a few points upfront: To this day, Abu Qatada has never been charged in the UK with any criminal offence, terrorism or otherwise irrespective of the sweeping allegations. As opposed to evidence, he has spent nine years either in maximum security detention or under house arrests or control order. Why then, the ongoing press coverage voices outrage at the decision to place a man, never charged with any offence, under 22-hours-a day house arrest?

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