Jailing jokers, killing burglars and homophobic prisons – the Human Rights Roundup
15 October 2012
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly buffet 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.
Many of the articles in the blogosphere this week have concerned the conviction and jailing of Matthew Woods for offensive jokes made about the abducted five year old April Jones which came in the same week as a man was jailed for wearing an offensive t-shirt about police deaths. Lawyers, comedians and others have expressed their concern about the sentence and its implications for freedom of expression in this country. The other key news of the week is the statement by our new Minister for Justice, Chris Grayling, that householders will be allowed more leeway in the force used against burglars in their home. Meanwhile, the Attorney-General has come out in support of the European Convention of Human Rights.
by Wessen Jazrawi
In the news
Jailed for a joke
In a decision that casts a shadow on freedom of expression in this country, Matthew Woods was this week sentenced to 12 weeks in jail for offensive jokes made in connection with the abduction and alleged murder of April Jones. A number of blogs have posted on this, all of which were critical of the conviction and the sentence. Adam Wagner has written a piece on UKHRB, setting out the issues with the judgment and noting the lack of consistency in his treatment compared to comedian Frankie Boyle, which also made a similarly distasteful joke on Twitter (also, listen out for Adam debating the topic on tomorrow’s Law in Action). Eloise de Santo has posted on the Inforrm blog noting that despite the successful appeal in the Chambers v DPP case, the approach the courts should take to communications sent via social media is still far from clear. Obiter J has also written a post on this that is well worth reading.
In the first of four posts on the subject in the Guardian, Joshua Rozenberg gives us an insight into the rationale of Keir Starmer, the Director for Public Prosecutions, who discussed with a group of journalists this week whether people like Woods should face charges at all. John Kampfner gives us a rundown of similar cases and the fates of the individuals involved, such as that involving the student who tweeted offensive and racist comments in response to the on-pitch collapse of the Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba and that of Paul Chambers who joked, via a tweet, that he would blow Robin Hood airport sky high.
In the third of four articles, Charlie Skelton writes a piece that focuses on the case from the perspective of comedians, noting that it was part of those working in comedy to scratch about on the fringes of bad taste, and that it was no wonder comedians were getting nervous. Finally, the Guardian editorial also notes the inconsistency and suggests that the law may have to be rewritten or even repealed.
[Update] Benjamin Ward, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, writes in the New Statesman:
It must be puzzling and discouraging to people in less democratic countries who look to the UK as a model to see people here being sent to jail for speaking their minds. But with the right approach, Britain could do the same for speech on the internet as Speaker’s Corner did for speech on the streets.
HRLA seminar on Twittering
The HRLA is holding a timely seminar on whether it is possible to strike a balance between the right to free speech and the regulation of social media. It will be chaired by Adam Wagner and is due to take place on Wednesday 17 October at Article 19. For the speaker list and other information, see here.
Burglars and disproportionate force
In his speech to the Tory party conference, Chris Grayling, our new Justice Minster, announced that “householders who act instinctively and honestly in self defence are victims of crime and should be treated that way. We need to dispel doubts in this area once and for all.” In an article by Owen Boycott on the Guardian, it was noted that the current law already allows householders to use reasonable force. The Ministry of Justice website explains the change: householders will be permitted to use force that they believed was reasonable in the circumstances but was actually disproportionate when viewed with the benefit of hindsight.
John Hyde on the Law Gazette describes Grayling’ political opportunism and points out that if there is a problem with the current wording of the laws, then it is Cameron’s fault as the current law was set by his own government just a few months ago when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force. He warns that Grayling’s law will turn an ordinary person into a killer.
Attorney-General sticks up for the ECHR
The Telegraph reports that Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General, has warned if the UK left the ECHR it would become a “pariah state,” and that the only European country not bound by the ECHR is Belarus, which has a poor human rights record. He was responding to Chris Grayling, the new Justice Secretary, who refused to rule out leaving the convention following a radical review of Britain’s human rights laws. Grieve may be feeling somewhat lonely in his view now that ECHR fan Ken Clarke has been sent to a land far, far away.
Religion and the courts
James Wilson on the A(nother) Lawyer Writes blog has blogged on the recent interesting case where a court was forced to choose between the alternate education plans by a Hasidic mother and father. The father was a strict adherent of the Chareidi or Hasidic community while the mother – although still considering herself an Orthodox Jew – no longer followed some of the more strict practices of the community. This difference was reflected in the schools they had chosen for their children. The court noted that, as a “judicial parent”, the judge had to be “cautious about approving a regime which may have the effect of foreclosing or unduly limiting the child’s ability to make such decisions in future” – it went with the mother’s choice on the basis that the schooling she preferred would give the children more opportunities than the more restrictive religious education preferred by the father – see Karwan Eskerie’s post on UKHRB.
Homophobic treatment in prisons condemned
The European Court of Human Rights has, for the first time in its existence, found that a complaint related to sexual orientation discrimination constituted a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The judgment of X. v. Turkey concerns the homophobic treatment of an individual in a Turkish prison. This has been posted on by the ECHR blog here and by Paul Johnson on the Jurist who comments that this judgment is a significant step in the right direction.
In the courts
R (on the application of MA) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 2683 (Admin). Refusal or application for family reunion & asylum without payment of a fee was lawful and no breach of article 8.
R (on the application of Sunderland City Council) v South Tyneside Council  EWCA Civ 1232. Court of Appeal gives guidance on deciding which local authority responsible for aftercare of person detained under Mental Health Act.
Re KH (A child),  EWHC B18 (Fam) (05 October 2012). High Court rules it is in the best interests of 3-yr-old with severe brain damage to withhold treatment in the event of a serious deterioration in his condition.
Wilkinson, R (On the Application Of) v HM Coroner for the Greater Manchester South District (Rev 1)  EWHC 2755 (Admin). Judicial Review of a coroner’s decision: death by dangerous/careless driving cannot be “unlawful killing” within meaning of the Coroners Act so question should not have been left to jury.
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- Why we allow dissent – by our judges October 14, 2012 by David Hart QC
- Dignity, Death and Deprivation of Liberty: Human Rights in the Court of Protection October 12, 2012 Rosalind English
- In the name of God: ultra-orthodox Jewish education not in children’s best interest, rules Court of Appeal. October 11, 2012 Karwan Eskerie
- Autonomy and the role of the Official Solicitor – whose interests are really being represented? October 10, 2012 Rosalind English
- Are Facebook and Twitter making criminals of us all? – Free panel debate, Wed 17 Oct October 10, 2012 Adam Wagner
- Twelve weeks in prison for sick jokes on Facebook? Really? October 9, 2012 Adam Wagner
- Back in the spotlight: the detention of mentally ill asylum seekers October 9, 2012 Lois Williams
- South African Constitutional Court flexes its muscles on prior restraint October 8, 2012 Rosalind English