The Conservative Party Conference began today. As has been the case in past years, human rights policy will have a prominent role to play, but much of which is said will be bluster. The Prime Minister has already said that all options are on the table, including withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Expect more tomorrow when Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling and Home Secretary Theresa May step up to the podium from 2:30pm to 4pm.
Judging from the Prime Minister’s comments as well as Chris Grayling’s in the Spectator, it appears likely that this party conference will be similar to previous ones. Government ministers will promise that a majority Conservative government will replace “Labour’s” Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights – a longstanding Tory policy which also featured in the party’s 2010 manifesto (at p.79). The promise was scuppered after the 2010 election due to demands from coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. And, the Tories will continue to make vague threats that “people want to see the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom being in the United Kingdom and not in Strasbourg” (Grayling, a self-described “staunch Eurosceptic”) and that ECHR withdrawal “may be… where we end up” (Cameron).
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular airport departure board of human rights news and views. The full list of links can be found here. You can find previous roundups here. Post by Sarina Kidd, edited and links compiled by Adam Wagner.
This week the Conservative Party Conference is likely to generate human rights headlines. Meanwhile, previous controversies still bubble away. Chris Grayling, taking a break from legal aid cuts, offered his opinion on the Europe debate. Meanwhile, others considered the role of transparency, demeanour, religious freedom and niqabs in the courts, and, with the proposed smoking ban in prisons, smokers may have found another reason not to break the law.
Commission v. UK, Opinion of Advocate-General Kokott, 12 September 2013 read opinion here
I did an initial post here summarising this opinion from the A-G to the CJEU saying that the UK was in breach of two EU Directives about environmental assessment and pollution control – the breaches concerned our system for litigation costs. It struck me that there was a lot in the opinion, and after some re-reads, I continue to think so. So I will deal in this post with one aspect, namely the finding that the UK is in breach, in requiring an undertaking as to damages by the claimant to back up the claimant’s interim injunction – in the jargon, a cross-undertaking.
We are back on the well-trodden path of the UN-ECE Aarhus Convention to which the EU has subscribed. Article 9(4) requires that there be review procedures in environmental cases which shall provide “adequate and effective remedies including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, timely and not prohibitively expensive.” And a requirement for a cross-undertaking, the A-G concluded, infringed that provision.
Robert Kellar appeared for D in these proceedings
D, R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council  EWHC 2839 (Admin) – Read judgment
The High Court has strongly affirmed the prohibition against the pursuit of long delayed complaints against doctors in regulatory proceedings. The prohibition arose from the General Medical Council’s own procedural rules. It applied even where the allegations were of the most serious kind, including sexual misconduct, and could only be waived in exceptional circumstances and where the public interest demanded. The burden was upon the GMC to establish a sufficiently compelling public interest where allegations had already been thoroughly investigated by the competent authorities such as the police and social services.
Although the Court’s robust approach is to be welcomed, an opportunity to clarify the relevance of Article 6 ECHR in this context was not taken. The author suggests that Article 6 ECHR has an important part to play in protecting the rights of practitioners facing long delayed complaints.
M (Children)  EWCA Civ 1147, 20 September 2013 – read judgement
The Court of Appeal has taken the unusual step of reversing a denial of contact order, by reviewing the question of the proportionality of the order in relation to the children’s right to family life under Article 8.
The appellant father appealed against the refusal of his application for contact with his three young sons. He had a history of violence and previous criminal convictions all but one of which, though distant in time, related to violent behaviour, including causing grievous bodily harm with intent. Following repeated episodes of abuse, which was often witnessed by the boys, the mother had left the family home with the children and had taken up accommodation in a women’s refuge. She voiced fears of their abduction out of the jurisdiction and her own personal safety to the extent of “honour based” violence and death at the hands or instigation of the father. When he applied for contact Cushing J found that the father had minimised his behaviour and blamed the mother as the victim of his violence. She concluded that he had failed to show any lasting benefit from therapy and his behaviour was likely to destabilise the children’s home and security, which was provided by the mother. Continue reading
J.D. Heydon: Are Bills of Rights necessary in common law systems? – read lecture
Former Australian High Court Justice Heydon’s thought-provoking speech questioning the efficacy and indeed the very merits of the Human Rights Act deserves reading in full, but the following summary highlights its main features and should encourage readers to immerse themselves in the lecture.
Proponents of human rights instruments urge their necessity on society because they gesture toward a morality more capacious than the morality of our tribe, or association, or nationality. The forum of human rights is one in which our allegiances are not to persons or to wished-for outcomes but to abstract norms that are indifferent to those outcomes. That is why the Human Rights Act has around it what Heydon calls an “aura of virtue” that would make its repeal extremely difficult from a political point of view, even though it is legally and practically possible. Continue reading
Cherkley Campaign Ltd, (R o.t.a ) v. Longshot Cherkley Court Ltd, Haddon-Cave J, 22 August 2013 read judgment
This is a successful judicial review of the grant of planning permission to a proposed new golf club in leafy Surrey – where one central issue was whether, in planning policy terms, there was a “need” for the club. The local planning officers had advised the council against the proposal, but the members voted in favour of it (just), hence this challenge. It succeeded on grounds including perversity, which is pretty rare, especially in the planning context, but, when one looks at the judgment, you can readily see why the judge concluded as he did.
The judgment contains some pungently expressed reminders that the planning system is not just about facilitating “business” but requires a proper assessment of the public interest. And dressing up the provision of very very expensive golf to a few very very rich people as “need” does not wash.