The Round-up: 21/7 bombers in Strasbourg and other news
7 June 2015
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Alex Wessely.
In the news
Three high profile cases concerning the UK government have been granted hearings in the European Court of Human Rights grand chamber, putting the relationship between the government and the ECHR “in the spotlight“.
- Ibrahim and Others v. the United Kingdom concerns four men convicted of offences relating to the 21 July London terror plot. The men were initially interviewed by police before they were allowed to consult a lawyer (on the grounds that the urgent situation meant no delay was permissible), which they claim is a breach of their Article 6 rights (right to a fair trial).
- The second case, Hutchinson v UK, concerns the politically charged issue of whole life tariffs – prisoners who have been told they will never be released from jail. Ian Hutchinson, sentenced in 1983 for triple murder and rape, argues that this constitutes a violation of his Article 3 rights (protection against torture and inhumane and degrading treatment). This argument was rejected in February, but is now being re-heard.
- The third case is brought by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was killed by police in 2005 when they mistakenly thought he was planning a suicide attack at Stockwell station. This is covered by Inquest, the Guardian and Evening Standard.
These three highly significant cases will “test David Cameron’s mettle”, according to Joshua Rozenberg, as defeat in any will “strengthen the arguments of those who say that leaving the convention is the only way to achieve the government’s declared objectives.” See, for example, how the Daily Mail refer to the ECHR’s decision to re-open Hutchinson in particular as “a blow” to Michael Gove and causing “fury”.
Legal Highs: The proposed Psychoactive Substances Bill – a blanket ban on ‘legal highs’ – has been subjected to ridicule online. Its “farcically bad drafting” means that, according to Ian Dunt, it currently covers air fresheners, incense, flowers and eye drops – among others. The Spectator calls the bill “a waste of time”, Buzzfeed interviewed a range of professionals who criticized it, and Quackometer questions the logic of giving homeopathic remedies an exemption. Chris Snowden makes a serious point regarding a blanket ban on hitherto unknown substances – “We are moving ever further from common law towards the tyranny of Roman law in which everything is banned unless it is specifically permitted.”
- The first consumer fraud lawsuit against conversion therapy (designed to “cure” homosexuals in America) has started. The opening arguments are discussed in Pink News, the Guardian and Huffington Post. The alleged “treatments” included advising the men to spend more time naked with their dads and beat a pillow (representing their mothers) with a tennis racket.
- Vindication for Edward Snowden; the US Senate has voted to curb state spying by replacing the Patriot Act with the Freedom Act. Some (including Snowden) think the reform isn’t strong enough; the New Yorker argues it is now time to allow him to return home.
- Human Rights Watch: A leading Uzbek human rights campaigner has been subjected to a “brutal police assault”, including sedation, cavity searches and other abuse.
- The Dali Lama has “called out” Aun San Suu Kyi for not speaking out about the plight of the Rohinya minorities (see here, here or here) in her home country, Myanmar.
- Convicted criminals can be forced to pay back legal aid, a government statement has confirmed. Solicitors journal comments here.
- Is the Daily Mail hypocritical in its stance on the Human Rights Act? Brian Cathcart, Pressgate.
- Owen Jones has published a video defending the Human Right Act and ECHR; Dan Hannan MP, however, has written arguing the opposite.
In the courts
The European Court of Human Rights has told French doctors that they can switch off the life support of Vincent Lambert, a tetraplegic who has been in a coma for seven years. His parents, the applicants, argued that allowing Lambert to die would be in violation of Article 2 (right to life) and withdrawing feeding would breach Article 3 (torture and inhuman and degrading treatment). The ECHR, however, agreed with the patient’s wife and doctors, and in allowing treatment to be stopped this case may form a precedent for other situations where families and doctors are in dispute. The decision is covered by Jurist.org, BBC, Guardian and Huffington Post.
An Icelandic journalist, found liable for defamation in 2007, has successfully argued that this violated her Article 10 rights (freedom of expression). She published a story about a suspected cocaine smuggler, who was later found to be innocent and successfully sued her for the article. The ECHR found that the article was written in good faith and this “should be assessed on the basis of the knowledge and information which was available to him or her at the time of writing the item in question”.
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