Laura Profumo considers the latest human rights headlines.
In the News
The High Court in Belfast today ruled that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHCR) brought the case to extend abortion to cases of serious foetal malformation, rape and incest.
The Abortion Act 1967 does not extend to Northern Ireland: abortion is only allowed there if a woman’s life is at risk, or if there is a permanent risk to her mental or physical health. In this judicial review, it was held that the grounds for abortion should be extended, though it is still to be determined whether new legislation will be required to give effect to the ruling.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing” (Darth Vader)
Digital Cinema Media (DCM), the media agency that supplies adverts to 80% of UK cinemas caused consternation last week when it announced its refusal to show a 60-second advert by the Church of England encouraging people to pray. The ad would have been guaranteed a sizable audience had it been permitted to air as planned before the upcoming Star Wars: the Force Awakens, advance ticket sales for which have broken all known records.
DCM said the decision was based on concerns that the ad risked upsetting or offending audiences and ran contrary to their policy not to show ads that in “the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute Political or Religious Advertising.”
David Cameron, Richard Dawkins, Carrie Fisher and Stephen Fry were among the chorus of voices to lambast the decision. Jim Shannon, Democratic Unionist MP put down an early day motion for debate in the House of Commons urging for “the ban be reconsidered and overturned”. The motion is currently supported by the signatures of 14 MPs. Continue reading
R (on the application of Keyu) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs  UKSC 69 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has ruled that the United Kingdom was not obliged to hold a public inquiry into the shooting in December 1948 during the Malayan Emergency by British troops of 24 unarmed civilians at Batang Kali. The Court held that (1) the lapse of time meant that there was no Article 2 requirement to hold an inquiry; (2) a duty to hold an inquiry could not be implied into common law under the principles of customary international law; and (3) the decision not to hold an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 was not open to challenge on ordinary judicial review principles. However, the Supreme Court did hold that the deaths were within the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction for the purposes of the application of the ECHR.
The shootings had originally been described by the Army in 1948 as resulting from an attempted mass escape by ‘bandits.’ Limited contemporaneous investigations were conducted following a growing public outcry in Malaya into the deaths of the unarmed men at Batang Kali. Their approach and conclusions was summed up in a written answer to a Parliamentary Question about the incident given by the then Colonial Secretary in January 1949. This stated:
The Chinese in question were detained for interrogation under powers conferred by the Emergency Regulations. An inquiry into this incident was made by the civil authorities and, after careful consideration of the evidence and a personal visit to the place concerned, the Attorney General was satisfied that, had the Security Forces not opened fire, the suspect Chinese would have made good an attempt at escape which had been obviously pre-arranged.
After newspaper interviews in 1970 were given by some of the soldiers involved in which the shootings were described as cold blooded murder, the Metropolitan Police was ordered by the DPP to investigate the incident. Four soldiers stated under caution that they had been ordered to shoot the men, who had not been attempting to escape, as suspected bandits or sympathisers. However, the Police inquiry was terminated by the DPP before it had been able to make any investigations in Malaysia, on the basis that it was unlikely that sufficient evidence would be obtained to support a prosecution. Continue reading
In celebration of UN Human Rights Day on 10 December, Professor David Carpenter will be giving a lecture at Queen Mary University London.
David Carpenter is a Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London and author of ‘Magna Carta’, published by Penguin Classics.
Magna Carta, forced on King John in 1215 by rebellion, is one of the most famous documents in world history. It asserts a fundamental principle: that the ruler is subject to the law. David Carpenter’s commentary draws on new discoveries to give an entirely fresh account of Magna Carta’s text, origins, survival and enforcement, showing how it quickly gained a central place in English political life. Continue reading
In the news
LGBT campaigners have called for an urgent reform of the law, following the death of 21 year-old transgender woman Vicky Thompson in an all-male prison. Ms Thompson had previously said that she would take her own life if she were placed in a prison for men.
The system of locating transgender people within the prison estate has recently come into criticism after transgender woman Tara Hudson was placed at HMP Bristol, an all-male establishment. Ms Hudson spoke of being sexually harassed by other prisoners, before a petition signed by more than 150,000 people led to her eventual transfer to a women’s prison. Statistics from the US suggest that transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely than the general prison population to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated.
Under the current rules, in most cases prisoners must be located “according to their gender as recognised under UK law”, although the guidance allows discretion where the individual is “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process.” But the case of Vicky Thompson has been said to show that “the law is simply not working. For people living for years as women to be sent to serve sentences in prisons for men is inviting disaster.”
Responding to a question on the issue, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous has stated that the government intends to implement “revised policy guidance… in due course.”
In other news:
- The Guardian: The Metropolitan Police has issued an unreserved apology and paid substantial compensation to women who were deceived into forming long-term intimate sexual relationships with undercover police officers. The police force acknowledged that the relationships had been “a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma.”
- BBC: Members of the public and journalists will be permitted to attend the majority of hearings in the Court of Protection, where issues affecting sick or vulnerable people are heard. The new pilot scheme is intended to provide greater transparency, whilst safeguarding the privacy of the people involved.
- MPs on the justice select committee have called for the scrapping of the criminal courts charge, voicing “grave misgivings” about whether it is “compatible with the principles of justice.” The charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on convicted criminals, and is not means-tested. In its report, the parliamentary committee expressed concern that the charge, which is higher for those convicted after pleading not guilty, was creating “perverse incentives” affecting defendant behaviour. The BBC reports here.
- The Legal Voice: The Ministry of Justice has announced that the introduction of duty provider contracts will be postponed until 1 April 2016. A number of legal proceedings have been issued, challenging the legitimacy of the procurement process. The decision has been welcomed by the Bar Council, which has consistently opposed measures it claims would “damage access to justice and the provision of high quality advocacy services.”
- BBC: A couple from north west London have been found guilty of keeping a man enslaved in their home for 24 years, in “a shocking case of modern slavery.” The couple had “total psychological control” over their victim, threatening that if he left the house he would be arrested by police as an illegal immigrant.
In the courts
The Court found that a family of asylum seekers evicted from an accommodation centre had been exposed to degrading treatment, in violation of their rights under article 3 ECHR. The family had been left in conditions of extreme poverty, without basic means of subsistence for a period of four weeks. The Belgian authorities had not paid due consideration to the vulnerability of the applicants, who had small children including a seriously disabled daughter.
UK HRB posts
Best interests, hard choices: The Baby C case – Leanne Woods
If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the details to Jim Duffy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judgments in best interests cases involving children often make for heart-wrenching reading. And so it was in Bolton NHS Foundation Trust v C (by her Children’s Guardian)  EWHC 2920 (Fam), a case which considered Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health guidance, affirming its approach was in conformity with Article 2 and Article 3 ECHR. It also described, in the clearest terms, the terrible challenges facing C’s treating clinicians and her parents. Continue reading
Charlotte Bellamy brings you the latest human rights news
In the News
The Home Office has confirmed that it is rejecting the call of Lord Carlile, the UK Government’s former independent reviewer of terror legislation, to rush the government’s internet surveillance bill through Parliament following the devastating attacks in Paris carried out by IS on Friday, Andrew Sparrow reports [at 12.18].
In Lord Carlile’s view the bill could pass through Parliament in the next three to four weeks, and the “necessary powers need to be on the statute book as quickly as that”. Though the draft bill was published on 4 November, it has not yet been scrutinised by the intended joint committee of both houses of Parliament. Despite Lord Carlile’s belief that “we don’t have time to wait” and the content of the draft bill is “for the most part perfectly reasonable”, the Home Office appears to be sticking to their original timetable that the final version be published in Spring next year, having had due regard to pre-legislative scrutiny, with a view to it becoming law before the end of 2016. Continue reading