The Round-Up: Lawyers lament UK’s refugee response

imgres-7This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Hannah Lynes.

In the news

  • Call from legal community for urgent action on refugee crisis

More than 300 lawyers have signed a statement denouncing the Government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis as “deeply inadequate”.

The document, whose signatories include former President of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, three former Law Lords and over 100 Queen’s Counsel, describes Prime Minister David Cameron’s offer to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over 5 years as “too low, too slow and too narrow.”

Supporters of the legal initiative call for the Government to take a fair and proportionate share of refugees, the establishment of safe and legal routes to both the UK and the EU, and the suspension of the “Dubin” system.

Commenting in the Guardian, former judge of the Upper Tribunal, Catriona Jarvis said:

“When history considers how our country has behaved in this moment of serious crisis, do we want to be judged as having wrung our hands while standing back in the face of immense suffering?

We have a legal and moral responsibility to provide protection that is not beyond our capabilities and should not be beyond our will.”

  • Justice Secretary addresses Conservative Party Conference

Justice Secretary Michael Gove has pledged to bring “reforming zeal” to the prison system, calling for an unremitting emphasis on “rehabilitation and redemption”. In an address to the Conservative Party Conference, Mr Gove argued that prisoners should not be treated as “society’s liabilities”, but instead should be seen “as potential assets – people who can contribute to society and put something back”.

This approach has been welcomed by columnist Martin Kettle:

“To state so boldly that prisons have failed makes this the most reformist speech by a senior Tory minister – and possibly by any minister – on penal policy for decades”.

But bringing about substantive change is likely to prove a challenge. Mr Gove’s remarks come within weeks of findings by the Chief Inspector of Prisons that work, training and education outcomes were only good or reasonably good in 25% of adult male prisons.

Plans to reduce rates of re-offending include giving governors new powers over budgets, education and systems of reward for good behaviour. An emphasis on prison education was signalled earlier this year with an announcement that inmates were no longer to be limited to a maximum of twelve books in their cell.

Noticeably absent from the Justice Secretary’s speech was any mention of repeal of the Human Rights Act, described recently by one legal commentator as “the Godot of repeals”. Controversy surrounding the Conservative Party proposals continues nonetheless. In a thoughtful intervention on the debate, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has said that a move to “scrap” the Act would be “profoundly regrettable; damaging for victims and human rights protection; and contrary to this country’s commendable history of global and regional engagement.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously indicated that a Bill of Rights was to be at the top of the Lord Chancellor’s agenda. In putting the focus not on human rights legislation, but on progressive reform of Britain’s criminal justice system, it might be that Mr Gove has in mind quite a different legacy.

In other news:

  • The High Court has agreed with District Judge Margot Coleman that to extradite fugitive Roger Giese, wanted in California to stand trial for the alleged sexual abuse of a child, would be inconsistent with his rights under the ECHR. US authorities have been given a deadline to provide satisfactory assurance that if convicted, Mr Giese would not be made subject of a civil commitment order – a form of indeterminate confinement. The Guardian reports.
  • President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby has issued guidance on radicalisation cases in the family courts. The full document can be found here.
  • BBC: An asylum-seeker unlawfully detained for thirty-seven days is entitled to damages from the government, a High Court has ruled. Detention of the 42-year-old woman, when there was strong evidence she had fled rape and torture in Sudan, was described by the judge as “unreasonable and truly disgraceful.”
  • The Guardian: In a speech to the Legal Research Foundation, the Lord Chief Justice has said that the scale of court fees together with the cost of legal assistance was “putting access to justice out of the reach of most, imperilling a core principle of Magna Carta.” The speech can be read in full here.

In the courts

The case concerned a defamation action brought against Mr Kharlamov, a university professor, by his employer, Orel State Technical University. Mr Kharlamov had expressed the view that elections to the academic senate were not in accordance with regulations, and that the body was therefore illegitimate.

In a unanimous judgment, the ECtHR held that the domestic courts, in their decisions against the applicant, had violated his Article 10 right to freedom of expression. The courts had failed to take into account the specific features of academic relations. In particular, protection of a University’s reputation was an institutional interest not necessarily of the same strength as that of an individual. There was, moreover, no evidence that the domestic courts had performed the necessary balancing exercise between the need to protect the University’s reputation and the applicant’s right to express his opinion on the organisation of academic life.

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