Laura Profumo runs through the week’s human rights headlines.
In the News:
The Conservative party published its manifesto last week. The document makes for curious reading, writes academic Mark Elliott. The manifesto confirms the party’s pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act and to replace it with a British Bill of Rights, reversing the “mission creep” of current human rights law.
Yet the polarising references to “Labour’s Human rights Act” illustrate the Act’s failure to secure supra-political constitutional status, being tossed between the parties like a “political football”, writes Elliott.
With unconscious irony, the manifesto affirms continued support for “universal human rights”, in clear tension with its proposal of a distinctly British conception of human rights, removed from Strasbourg authority. UKHRB’s Adam Wagner finds its guidance “vague and muddled”, though the possibility of ECHR-withdrawal is significantly absent. Whilst a domestic bill of rights may well be envisaged, writes Elliott, it will be one still subject to the Convention regime – however “nuanced” this compliance may be.
Elsewhere, reflecting on the Conservative manifesto’s unnerving reticence on legal aid, which Dinah Rose QC sees as meaning “further legal aid cuts are in the pipeline”, legal aid defenders have responded with humour. The Legal Aid Team has compiled an animated superhero film about the cuts to legal aid, which was released on the Guardian website last week. The film depicts superhero lawyers attempting to defeat a villainous Lord Chancellor and his “evil” legal aid plan. Actors such as Simon Callow and Sally Hawkins have lent their voices to the satirical film, which aims to galvanise public awareness of the legal aid budget cuts in the run-up to the election. The Warhol Thatcher adorning Lord Chancellor Grayling’s office, his civil service lackey, and the dystopian “Lawyer-bots” are particularly enjoyable moments.
As it stands in the manifesto skirmishes, only the Green Party has promised a full reversal of the legal aid cuts.
In Other News…
- A boat carrying up to 700 migrants has capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, with hundreds feared dead. With a rescue operation under way, the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, has claimed the sinking could amount to the largest loss of life during a migrant crossing to Europe. Some 900 other migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year, the BBC reports. Human Rights Watch has called for the EU to take immediate action, their border enforcement mandate having previously hampered search and rescue efforts.
- In Viviani and Others v. Italy, the ECtHR has declared inadmissible an application by Italian nationals living near Mount Vesuvius. The applicants alleged that the Italian Government had failed in its Article 2 and Article 8 obligations by providing insufficient protection and information concerning the possible eruption of the volcano. The court found that the applicants had not exhausted the domestic remedies available to them. More can be found on the ECtHR’s position on environmental matters here.
- The Lord Janner case was brought to a abrupt close last Thursday. Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, decided the Labour peer will not stand trial, as it is “not in the public interest”. One of her predecessors, Lord Macdonald QC, claimed that the Janner decision should have been made in the “full public glare of a courtroom”. It is understood that Leicestershire Police will seek a judicial review of the decision.
- The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has admitted that the criminal justice system fails relatives of those who have died in police custody, the Guardian reports. In a letter written to two affected families, May indicated that the IPCC will be held to closer scrutiny, and that officials will look more “sympathetically” at legal aid for inquests.
In the Courts:
This was a particularly high-profile case concerning the conflict between Articles 8 and 10. The ECtHR considered whether measures taken against the French Magazine, Paris-Match, for its revelation that Prince Albert of Monaco had an illegitimate child, unjustly interfered with the publication’s freedom of expression. Whilst the Prince won his suit for invasion of privacy in the French courts, the application was referred to the ECtHR last July, where it was held that there had been a violation of Article 10, the French judgments havig failed to account for the public interest in the publication of such information. The further Grand Chamber hearing last Wednesday is expected to lead to further clarification of the standard for privacy and media reporting within Convention states.
In a welcome decision, the Court of Appeal has given further guidance on the powers to detain migrants first outlined in the Hardial Singh principles. The Court considered the meaning of a “reasonable period” for effecting return. Whilst the Home Office argued that the length of time a detainee has already spent in detention was not relevant to the definition of a “reasonable period”, the Court found it to be a determinative factor in all circumstances. The judgment, whilst timely, fails to subdue concerns on the absence of a fixed time limit for detention within UK law, in marked contrast to other EU jurisdictions. The Government’s stated policy that detention should be used “sparingly” is rarely borne out in practice, often leading to indefinite detention with “significant mental health costs for detainees”.
The time has come. The new human rights information project set up by the Blog’s founding editor Adam Wagner will be launched this Tuesday, 21st April. Sign up to the mailing list here.
- Young Legal Aid Lawyers 10 Year Anniversary
YLAL will be celebrating their 10th birthday, with the keynote speech delivered by Baroness Scotland QC, followed by a panel debate on the post-election landscape of legal aid. The event takes place this Thursday 23rd April, at 6:30pm. Further information can be found here. You can also sign Justice Alliance and the Legal Aid Team’s petition on legal aid here.
- Conference on Parliaments and the European Court of Human Rights
Middlesex University and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights are co-organising a conference on the interface between national parliaments and the European Court of Human Rights. Speakers will include academics, parliamentarians, and Council of Europe officials. The conference will be held in Warsaw, Poland, on 12th May. Register for the event here.
If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email Jim Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org