Mormon Tax, Posthumous Procreation and Stephen Lawrence Spying – the Human Rights Roundup

16 March 2014 by

stephen-lawrence-new-murd-007Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular spring harvest 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 Celia Rooney.

In the human rights news this week, Theresa May answered calls for a public inquiry into undercover police officers after the publication of the independent review into spying on the family of Stephen Lawrence.  Elsewhere, Mormons take on the taxman,  the High Court considers how to interpret the law on storing embryos and gametes after death and a House of Lords Committee publishes a major report into the operation of the Mental Capacity Act.

In the News

Mental Capacity Act is failing, say Lords Committee

Vulnerable adults are being failed by the Act designed to protect and empower them, reported a House of Lords Committee established to scrutinise how the Mental Capacity Act is working in practice. The Committee made a number of recommendations, including that an independent body is given responsibility for oversight of the Act.

Evidence to the Public Bill Committee

A number of lawyers gave evidence to the Public Bill Parliamentary Committee on Thursday on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (particularly, the impact on Judicial Review), including our very own Adam Wagner.  For more information,  see the programme here and you can watch the evidence session here (from 14:56).

For more, see the full report and a summary of the findings.

Stephen Lawrence Spying Report Published

Mark Ellison QC’s independent review into the alleged spying on the family of Stephen Lawrence has been published.  The report found, amongst other things, that undercover officers had been placed amongst Lawrence’s family in order to gather information about the murdered teenager’s parents.  The Metropolitan police also faced criticism for failing to provide the MacPherson inquiry with all of the information at its disposal. Though the report did not find sufficient evidence to launch a criminal investigation, Ellison suggested that the findings bolstered suspicions of corruption.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has since announced that there will be a public inquiry into the conduct of undercover police officers.

Mormon Tax Exemption Rejected

Dismissing the appeal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,  the European Court of Human Rights found that the local council in Preston had not violated the rights of the organisation by refusing to exempt a Mormon temple from property taxes.  The organisation, which is registered as an unlimited company in the UK, had applied for the exemption on the basis that the building was a ‘place of public religious worship’.

The Strasbourg court, however, was not convinced by its suggestion that there had been a violation of Article 14 (non-discrimination), when taken in conjunction with Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion).  David Hart QC has commented on the reasoning of the decision for the UK Human Rights Blog here.

Posthumous Sperm Retention Lawful without Written Consent

In a decision last week, the High Court has held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protected a woman’s right to decide when to become a parent with her deceased husband, even where she had no written permission from him to do so.  Under statute, the law requires that certain formalities be met if someone wishes their semen to be kept for more than 10 years.  The Court, however, were willing to read the Regulations in question compatibly with the widow’s Convention rights.

Commenting on the case in a UK Human Rights blog post, Jessica Elliott has noted that the remedy ‘on the whole does not match the mischief identified’.

In Other News

  • The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, acted unlawfully by blocking the publication of a series of letters sent by Prince Charles to the government.  The AttorneyGeneral has indicated that he intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court – David Hart QC’s analysis here.
  • The High Court has given permission to two separate but linked judicial reviews on recent cuts to legal aid for prisoners.  See here for more information.
  • David Anderson QC has given a brief introduction the role of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation – a position he currently holds.  It can be found here.
  • Sir Stephen Sedley has considered the purpose of judicial review, and recent proposals in relation to standing in this regard, in a post for the UK Constitutional Law Group here.
  • The High Court has ruled that the victims of a London taxi-driver, John Worboys, are entitled to compensation on the ground that their human rights were breached by their treatment by police officers.
  • A number of posts on the Oxford Human Rights Hub have considered the Court of Appeal’s recent judgment on whole life tariff’s in R v McLouglin [2014] EWCA Crim 188.  Natasha Holcroft-Emmess has suggested that the decision of the Court of Appeal is wrong, urging us not to ‘throw away the key’ on prisoners.  The Oxford Human Rights Hub is currently seeking feedback on its blog here.

Case Comments

EM (Eritrea), R (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] UKSC 12 (19 February 2014) 

Last month, the Supreme Court overturned a decision of the Court of Appeal which had suggested that only a systemic breach of human rights by a returning country would justify not returning an asylum seeker to that place.  According to the Justices, the ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU in NS (Afghanistan) v SSHD [2013] QB 102, did not require that a systemic breach, rather than a ‘mere breach’, be proved in order to return refugees.  The European judges noted the breach, not to distinguish a certain category of cases for the purpose of return, but rather to demonstrate the knowledge that the Member State had of the problems.  The case has been considered in a post on the UK Immigration Blog here and on the UK Human Rights Blog here.

In the Courts

Camden LBC was entitled to have a policy requiring buskers to apply for a street performance licence.  Any interference with Article 10 was proportionate as busking was not akin to free speech, and there was a pressing need to regulate the nuisance it caused. 

High Court rules that a dead partner’s sperm can be kept despite a lack of written consent.  See the UK Human Rights blog post here.

European Court of Human Rights

Criminal proceedings against those accused of market manipulation did not fully satisfy fairness and impartiality requirements, but were subsequently cured by the availability of judicial review.

The conviction of two Journalists, who wrote ‘offensive’ articles about a high ranking army dignitary, was likely to have a ‘chilling’ effect on other journalists.

  • Fazil Asianer v Turkey A decision of the Supreme Court of Turkey was not compromised, in terms of impartiality, because some of the judges of the court had been involved in a decision earlier in the proceedings.


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