GCHQ Surveillance, Tory Bill of Rights and Anti-Semitism – the Human Rights Roundup

2 February 2014 by

GCHQ at Cheltenham, GloucestershireWelcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza of human rights news and views.  The full list of links can be found here.  You can find previous roundups here.  Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Sarina Kidd. 

This week, a group of MPs investigating drones were advised that large amounts of GCHQ surveillance is likely to be illegal, and the Conservatives continued their push for a Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights argued that anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe.

In the News

GCHQ and Legal Loopholes

This week, two barristers, Jemima Stratford QC and Tim Johnston (both of Brick Court Chambers) warned MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones that GCHQ is ‘using gaps in regulation to commit serious crimes with impunity’.

The advice explains that Britain’s main surveillance statutory framework is vague with too many gaps. This is being interpreted, they say, in a way that bypasses certain surveillance and privacy safeguards detailed in the ECHR.

The advice describes how the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) has not kept up with technological advances. Further, it looks into all the ways in which the surveillance activities are illegal. For example, leaving the decision to ministers of whether data can be shared with agencies can interfere with Article 8 rights. To transfer an individual’s private data must be proportionate.

For Adam Wagner’s discussion, see here.

Immigration Bill Human Rights Amendment Fails

A bid by rebel Tory MPs to stop foreign criminal using certain European Convention rights to avoid deportation has failed due to opposition from Labour and Lib Dem MPs.  Downing Street has stated that whilst Cameron’s views were in line with the rebels, he feared that such a move would be considered illegal.

Adam Wagner was interviewed by BBC Radio 5 Live on the amendment here (from from 2 h 26 mins).

Tory Bill of Rights

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister is expected to put reforming Britain’s relations with the ECtHR at the forefront of the Tory campaign for the European Parliament elections in May. Proposed plans involve scaling back Strasbourg’s power, with one source stating, echoing Chris Grayling’s earlier comments, ‘We want to make the Supreme Court supreme’. The Tories will introduce a Bill of Rights, which the principles of the ECHR will be written into. Notably, the passage in the Human Rights Act requiring courts to abide by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights will be repealed. However, there are no immediate plans, it would appear, to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

New Justice Minister Simon Hughes has defended the 1998 Human Rights Act as ‘a measured piece of legislation when understood and used properly’. A barrister by training, he also stated that, ‘human rights are not about bowing down to frivolous demands. They are about commonsense decisions affecting people’s rights when coming into contact with the power of the state’. Hughes has previously criticised the proposed Bill of Rights, and this time noted that it is unwise to discuss such a bill whilst the Scottish independence question remains unresolved.

Institutional Failure

The Human Rights Europe blog discusses the Grand Chamber judgment, O’Keeffe v Ireland (application no.35810/09). The case concerned the sexual abuse of a schoolgirl in the 1970s and whether the primary education system failed to protect her. It was ruled that there was a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

Anti-semitism alive and well

Inforrm considers Nil Mulzniek’s recent comment titled ‘Europe still haunted by antisemitism’. Mulzniek, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, details how there has been an increase in anti-semitism in Europe and that it is imperative that national political leaders openly condemn it. Inforrm explains, however, that a glaring omission in his comment is the failure to consider freedom of expression for, ‘the balance between freedom of expression and the proper protection of the rights of minority or oppressed groups is a particularly difficult one to strike.’

Charter Horizontality

The recent decision of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union in C-176/12, Association de mediation sociale v Union locale des syndicates CGT, examines whether the Charter can apply to horizontal situations. That is, between two private parties, and whether an obligation can be imposed on an individual which would not otherwise be present if not for EU law. The case concerned Article 27 of the Charter.

Alison Young examines this and explains that ‘what is important is what is not said – it did not say that the provisions of the Charter, like Directives, cannot have horizontal effect.’ Therefore, it is possible that there will be future horizontal application to Charter provisions, and a disapplication of national laws in private party disputes.

Meanwhile, Krommendijk at Eutopia Law, argues that the decision concluded that Article 27 of the Charter ‘does not have horizontal effect and can thus not be invoked in a dispute between private parties’. He explains that the decision stands in sharp contrast to the Opinion of the Advocate General Cruz Villalon, in which he discussed whether the Article was a principle or right and concluded that it may have horizontal effect.

He also notes that whilst the preamble claims that all Charter rights are equally important, there seems to be a dichotomy between enforceable and justiciable civil and political rights, and so called economic, social and cultural rights.

 In other news

  • A new report from the European Committee of Social Rights lays down the failings of the UK’s social welfare provision. The 2013 survey of its adherence to the Council of Europe’s Social Charter demonstrated that, ‘the minimum levels of short term and long term incapacity benefit is manifestly inadequate’.
  • The European Courts blog discusses the O’Keeffe v Ireland case mentioned above, along with Camekan v Turkey, concerning Article 2 (right to life) in which Turkey was held responsible for delaying criminal proceedings and for the authorities failing to fulfil their obligations.
  • The ECtHR president, Judge Spielmann, has announced that pending cases in the court have dropped by more than 60,000 in just over two years. The annual table of violations for each country shows that states with the highest number of judgments finding at least one violation are Russia (119 judgments), Turkey (118), Romania (83), Ukraine (65), Hungary (40), Italy (34) and Greece.

In the Courts

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UK Human Rights Blog Posts


  1. Theo Hopkins says:


    Are we not always telling the Sun and the Daily Mail that the ECtHR is nothing to do with the EU? :-)

  2. Anne Palmer says:

    Surveillance, as the Government is already aware, would be in breach of Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. And as we are still-for now-in the EU Article 8 still applies. The people in this Country ALSO still indeed have a Bill of Rights 1689 which appartely also, still has work to do, for the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has very recently allegedly tried to alter a part of it to be in keeping of the EU’s Equality Act, re, The Succession to the Crown Act. However, as two codicils protect our Bill of Rights from being altered, it is doubtful-that it could be changed especially -without the people’s agreement-it therefore remains in full, for the people have never been asked if it may be altered. However, I doubt the people would agree to have it altered for any outside organisation especially as such as the now European Union. PLUS, there are indeed Treason Acts in place to protect our Constitution and thus it remain in full, -even though certain acts were alleged repealed-they remain. Many subjects of the British Crown gave their lives to keep each and every part of our long standing Common Law Constitution (And this is exactly WHY it is longstanding)- To fight to protect our Constitution RATHER THAN HAVE ANY FOREIGNER IMPOSE THEIR CONSTITUTION ON THE PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY.


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