Monthly News Archives: January 2016


Heterosexual Civil Partnership Refusal Not A Human Rights Breach

31 January 2016 by Adam Wagner

Photo: BBC News

Photo credit: BBC News

Steinfeld & Anor v The Secretary of State for Education [2016] EWHC 128 (Admin) – Read judgment

The High Court has ruled in the case of Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education, a human rights challenge to the law of Civil Partnerships. Mrs Justice Andrews ruled that the current law does not breach the human rights of opposite-sex couples who cannot obtain a Civil Partnership.

The case arises from the odd state the law was left in after same-sex couples were given the legal right to marry in 2014. Since 2005, same-sex couples had been allowed to form “Civil Partnerships”  which give them essentially the same legal rights and protections as marriage without being able to actually marry. Only same-sex couples can have a civil partnership. Civil Partnerships were a kind of half-way house; the message they sent was that the (New Labour) government wanted to give same-sex couples legal protection akin to marriage but didn’t feel that society was quite ready for full marriage equality.

Once same-sex couples were given the right to marry in 2014, the law was left in a bit of a mess. Same-sex couples have dual means of recognising their partnerships (Civil Partnerships and Marriage) whereas opposite-sex couples could only marry. This is clearly an unintended consequence of the winding route to marriage equality rather than any well-thought out plan.

In 2014, it would have been open to the government to abolish civil partnerships altogether or permit everyone to enter into them. Instead, a “wait and see” approach was adopted.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keiden (full disclosure: they are friends of mine) wanted to enter into a civil partnership but were prevented because they were not of the same sex. They brought a human rights case against the government saying they were being discriminated against by the current law.

Mrs Justice Andrews rejected their case in strong terms. You can read the full judgment here. I recommend doing so – it is tightly argued and very clear.

In cases involving the right to family and private life, there are two basic stages a judge needs to consider. First, is there an interference with the right – in other words, does the thing that is being complained about interfere with family or private life as it is defined in the European Convention and court judgments. Let’s call that Gate 1. If you get through Gate 1, you then have to get through Gate 2, which is to show that the interference was not justified with reference to proportionality (did the end justify the means?) and other balancing factors which are the text of the right itself.

The claimants here didn’t get through the first gate. Mrs Justice Andrews accepted the government’s argument that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to family and private life) was not even engaged, let alone breached. Here’s a key bit of the judgment explaining why:

  1. The only obstacle to the Claimants obtaining the equivalent legal recognition of their status and the same rights and benefits as a same-sex couple is their conscience. That was the case both before and after the enactment of the 2013 Act. Whilst their views are of course to be afforded respect, it is their choice not to avail themselves of the means of state recognition that is open to them. The state has fulfilled its obligations under the Convention by making a means of formal recognition of their relationship available. The denial of a further means of formal recognition which is open to same- sex couples, does not amount to unlawful state interference with the Claimants’ right to family life or private life, any more than the denial of marriage to same-sex couples did prior to the enactment of the 2013 [Same-Sex Marriage] Act. There is no lack of respect afforded to any specific aspect of the Claimants’ private or family life on account of their orientation as a heterosexual couple. Thus the statutory restrictions complained of do not impinge upon the core values under either limb of Art 8 to the degree necessary to entitle the Claimants to rely upon Art 14. The link between the measures complained of, and their right to enjoy their family and private life, is a tenuous one.

See the powerful argument on UK Human Rights Blog (written before the judgment) about why this might be problematic.

As judges usually do, Mrs Justice Andrews went on to consider “Gate 2″ anyway, in case she was wrong about Gate 1. She accepted the government’s argument that their approach to the issue (“wait and see”) had been perfectly reasonable.

Where next? Potentially an appeal. The BBC reports the couple were given permission to appeal which means they can appeal to the Court of Appeal if they choose to do so. If they do appeal, they will have to convince the Court of Appeal that there has been an interference with the right to family life (Gate 1 – certainly arguable) but also that the interference was not justified. Gate 2 will be harder.

As things stand, the law is in a mess. Even if it is not a breach of human rights to refuse opposite sex couples the right to have civil partnerships, that doesn’t mean it is fair or right.

Continue reading →

An open or shut case?

29 January 2016 by Alasdair Henderson

Lady Hale, who delivered the court’s judgment (Photo: Guardian)

R(C) v. Secretary of State for Justice [2016] UKSC 2 – read judgment.

When is it right to keep the names of parties to litigation a secret? That was the difficult question the Supreme Court had to grapple with in this judgment, handed down on Wednesday. The decision to allow a double-murderer to remain anonymous led to outraged headlines in the tabloids. Yet the Court reached the unanimous conclusion that this was the right approach. Why?

The Facts

C, who had a long history of severe mental illness, was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her new partner in 1998 and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 11 years before parole could be considered. The murder was described by Lady Hale as “a particularly savage killing which must have caused untold suffering to the victims and has continued to cause great grief to their families.” During his sentence C was transferred from prison to a high security psychiatric hospital. Whilst there, in 2012, C’s treating doctors applied for permission to allow him unescorted leave in the community in order to assess how well his treatment was progressing and whether he would be suitable for discharge. The Secretary of State refused to allow this.

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Wearing the veil in schools: the debate continues – Clive Sheldon QC

27 January 2016 by Guest Contributor

527355094_b1aededd8a_bLast week the Prime Minister entered into the debate on the wearing of veils by Muslim women in schools. This week, it is the turn of the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshire. The Chief Inspector has said that:

The Prime Minister and Secretary of State are right to give their backing to schools and other institutions which insist on removing face coverings when it makes sense to do so.

I am concerned that some heads and principals who are trying to restrict the wearing of the full veil in certain circumstances are coming under pressure from others to relax their policy. I want to assure these leaders that they can rely on my full backing for the stance they are taking.

I have also made clear to my inspectors that where leaders are condoning the wearing of the face veil by staff members or by pupils when this is clearly hindering communication and effective teaching, they should give consideration to judging the school as inadequate.

I am determined to ensure that discrimination, including on the grounds of gender, has no place in our classrooms. We want our schools, whether faith schools or non-faith schools, to prepare their pupils equally for life in 21st century Britain. We need to be confident our children’s education and future prospects are not being harmed in any way.

What are the legal issues for schools?
Continue reading →

Visa scheme exposes workers to abuse -the Round-up

25 January 2016 by Hannah Lynes

In the news

Domestic worker visas are leaving women vulnerable to conditions of abuse that amount to modern slavery, according to an independent review commissioned by the Home Office.

The current system ties overseas domestic workers to the foreign employer who brought them into the UK. Approximately 17,000 visas were issued under the scheme last year, with the large majority of applications coming from the Gulf States.

Workers have no legal right to change their employer, and are liable to deportation if they escape their situation. Campaigners argue that such restrictions expose women to the risk of serious ill treatment, with domestic workers being subjected to physical and sexual violence, deprivation of food and non-payment of wages.

The review of the scheme reinforces these concerns, finding “no evidence that a tie to a single employer does anything other than increase the risk of abuse and therefore increases actual abuse.” It recommends that workers be permitted to change employers and remain in the UK for up to two and a half years.

The Government has stated that it is “carefully considering the report’s recommendations” and would announce its response “in due course.”

In other news:

BBC: An independent investigation into concerns about Yarl’s Wood immigration centre has found no evidence of a “hidden or significant problem of serious misconduct” by staff at the facility. However, the report raised concerns that staffing levels had to some extent “undermined and compromised” the care of residents.

The Guardian: The Upper Tribunal has ordered the Secretary of State for the Home Department to admit to the UK four asylum seekers, currently residing in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. The Tribunal ruled that the three unaccompanied minors and the dependent adult brother of one of them should be allowed to live with their relatives already in Britain while their asylum claims are examined.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that there is now “an industry trying to profit from spurious claims” against UK military personnel which he plans to “stamp out”. However, lawyers have noted that the government has agreed to pay compensation in over 300 cases of abuse, and have urged Mr Cameron not to challenge the principle that no-one is above the law. The BBC reports here.

In a letter written to the Guardian, UK lawyers have sought to draw attention to the plight of human rights defenders in Honduras. Between 2010 and March 2015, the national commissioner of human rights recorded the targeted killings of 91 lawyers. The statement calls for greater protection by the Honduran state for those whose lives are at risk.

In the courts

Ivanovski v The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

This case concerned lustration proceedings brought against the former president of the Constitutional Court of Macedonia, which resulted in his dismissal from office.

The Court found that the proceedings, taken as a whole, had not satisfied the requirements of a fair trial. The Court attached particular importance to the open letter, published by the Prime Minister while lustration proceedings were still pending, which denounced the applicant as a collaborator of the secret police of the former regime. In view of the content and manner in which it was made, the statement was held to be incompatible with the notion of an “independent and impartial tribunal”. The Court therefore found a violation of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial).

UK HRB blog posts

Court of Session: Murderer’s prison conditions fair – Thomas Raine

UK Government tells High Court: Same-sex couples may be shut out of Article 14 – Professor Robert Wintemute

Stop Powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 incompatible with Article 10 – David Scott

Events

UCL will be hosting a lecture by Professor George Letsas – The Moral Dimension of Proportionality. The event will take place at 18.00 on the 17 March 2016. More information can be found here.

Hannah Lynes

Litvinenko – When real life is more fantastic than fiction

25 January 2016 by Dominic Ruck Keene

LitvinenkoNeil Garnham QC (now Mr Justice Garnham) and Robert Wastell of 1COR acted for the Secretary of State for the Home Department at the Litvinenko Inquiry. David Evans QC and Alasdair Henderson acted for AWE Plc. None was involved in preparing this post.

The publication on Thursday of the long awaited report by Sir Robert Owen into the circumstances of the death of Alexander Litivenko from polonium poisoning on 23 November 2006 has (unsurprisingly) resulted in bitter criticism by the Russian Government of the Inquiry’s conclusions that the poisoning was probably directed by the Russian Federal Security Service, and probably approved by President Putin. The report is long (246 pages not including Appendices), but in page after page of readable and measured prose Sir Robert Owen tells the extraordinary story of Alexander Litvinenko’s death and the subsequent 9 year investigation into it.
Continue reading →

UK Government tells High Court: Same-sex couples may be shut out of Article 14

22 January 2016 by Guest Contributor

Special Guest Post by Professor Robert Wintemute

Professor-Robert-WintemuteOn 19-20 January, the England and Wales High Court (Mrs. Justice Andrews) heard the judicial review of the ban on different-sex civil partnerships brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan. It was argued on behalf of the supposedly LGBTI-friendly UK Government (represented by Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities) that the High Court should follow two anti-LGBTI decisions from 2006.
Continue reading →

Stop Powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 incompatible with Article 10

21 January 2016 by David Scott

David MirandaDavid Miranda -v- Secretary of State for the Home Department  [2016] EWCA Civ 6 – read judgment.

On Tuesday the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment on David Miranda’s detention under the Terrorism Act 2000 and, while upholding the lawfulness of the detention in the immediate case, ruled that the stop powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act lack sufficient legal safeguards to be in line with Article 10.

by David Scott

See RightsInfo’s coverage here. For our coverage of the High Court’s previous decision see here, and on his original detention here and here.

The Case

Mr Miranda, the spouse of then-Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was stopped and detained by the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport on 18 August 2013 under paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He was questioned and items in his possession were taken by police, including encrypted material provided by Edward Snowden. Mr Miranda was detained for nine hours, the maximum period permitted at the time (since reduced to six hours).
Continue reading →

The Round-Up: Human Rights and the Trade Union Bill

18 January 2016 by Charlotte Bellamy

 

trade union 1

Charlotte Bellamy contemplates the latest human rights happenings  

Until recently the Tolpuddle Martyrs peered down from a banner in Westminster Hall in an exhibition celebrating the journey of rights in democratic society over the last 800 years.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were taken down last month. Meanwhile, the Trade Union Bill has passed through its second reading in the House of Lords. Just before the reading, the Equality and Human Rights Commission released a report on the human rights implications for the Bill, the thrust of which is that its ‘regressive nature’ may cause the UK to fall short of its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights.
Continue reading →

Surveillance of Internet usage in the workplace

14 January 2016 by Kate Richmond

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Barbulescu v Romania, 12 January 2016 – read judgment

In December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, by 6 votes to 1, dismissed a Romanian national’s appeal against his employer’s decision to terminate his contract for using a professional Yahoo Messenger account to send personal messages to his fiancé and brother.

Mr Barbulescu contended that his employer had breached his Article 8 right to respect for his private life and correspondence, and that the domestic courts had failed to protect his right. The Court found that there had been no such violation because the monitoring of the account by his employer had been limited and proportionate.

Background facts

Mr Barbulescu’s employers asked him to create a Yahoo Messenger account for responding to client enquiries and informed him that these communications had been monitored. The records showed that he had used the Internet for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations. The employer’s regulations explicitly prohibited all personal use of company facilities, including computers and Internet access. The employer had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it had contained professional messages.
Continue reading →

Jeremy Hyam: Mere negligence may breach Art 2 in NHS hospital cases

12 January 2016 by Guest Contributor

In the Chamber Judgment (currently available only in French) in the case of Lopes de Sousa Fernandes v. Portugal (App. No. 56080/13) decided just before Christmas, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that there was both a substantive (by 5 votes to 2) and a procedural (unanimous) violation of Article 2 in the case of the death of the Applicant’s husband in circumstances where there was a negligent failure to diagnose meningitis shortly after (successful) nasal polyp surgery, even though that negligent failure was not necessarily causative. This very surprising outcome is important, and may be seen as a radical departure from the established case law of the Court on the necessary threshold for establishing an Article 2 violation in State (i.e. NHS) hospital cases. It also underlines the increased importance of informed consent in clinical negligence cases when viewed from a human rights perspective.
Continue reading →

Saudi execution of political prisoners sparks protest – the Round-up

4 January 2016 by Hannah Lynes

The first round=up of 2016 is brought to you by Hannah Lynes.

In the news

The interior ministry of Saudi Arabia has confirmed this week that it has executed 47 people in a single day. Included among those put to death was prominent Shia  cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had been a vocal supporter of the 2011 anti-government protests in the country’s Eastern Province.

The execution of Sheikh Nimr has provoked demonstrations across Iran, Bahrain, Iraq and Shia-majority areas in Saudi Arabia. A spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry has said that the Saudi Government would pay “a heavy price” for its actions, while the US state department has expressed concern that the execution “risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.”

International human rights organisation Reprieve has noted with alarm that “the Saudi Government is continuing to target those who have called for domestic reform in the kingdom”, with at least four of those executed having been convicted of offences related to political protest. The organisation said it had “real concerns” that protestors Ali al-Nimr (Sheikh Nimr’s nephew), Dawoud al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, sentenced to death as children, would be “next in line”.

A statement released by the UK foreign office has emphasised that “the UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country.” But despite the much-criticised record of Saudi Arabia on human rights, it recently emerged that Britain had entered into a vote-trading deal with the kingdom to ensure the election of both states to the UN human rights council.

The UK Government has also come under pressure to discontinue its supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia, in circumstances where its bombing campaign in Yemen has led to thousands of civilian deaths. In a legal opinion commissioned by Amnesty International, lawyers from Matrix Chambers concluded that authorisation of the transfer of weapons to the state would “constitute a breach by the UK of its obligations under domestic, European and international law.”

In other news:

The Guardian: A gay British man has avoided extradition to Dubai on charges of theft. A judge at Westminster magistrates court ruled that the UAE had failed to provide adequate assurances that the trial and treatment of Mr Halliday, given his circumstances, would meet the required human rights standards.

The Telegraph: Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC has expressed concern that the Government is undermining freedom of information laws, and is “obsessively secretive”about things that should be in the public domain. The latest  releases by the National Archives included only 14 files for the years 1987 and 1988, whereas last year more than 500 files were released.

The Law Society and the Bar Council have issued a joint call for legally privileged communications data to be protected by express provisions in the investigatory powers bill. Current proposals have been criticised as threatening a common law right traceable back to the 16th Century. The Law Society Gazette reports.

The Independent: Senior civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood is understood to be opposed to the implementation of any major reforms to the Freedom of Information Act. A Government commission is considering proposals to introduce charges for information requests and stricter rules for the obtaining of information.

In the Courts:

This case concerned an allegation of inconsistent case-law amounting to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial). The applicants complained about the rejection of their civil claims against Serbia by domestic courts, and the simultaneous acceptance by the same courts of other claims which were based on similar facts and concerned identical legal issues.

The Court reiterated the principle that an assessment of whether conflicting decisions of different domestic courts were in breach of Article 6 consisted in establishing whether “profound and long-standing differences” existed in the relevant case-law. The Serbian judiciary had, generally speaking, harmonised their case-law on the matter, and the rejection of the applicants’ cases was exceptional. The possibility of conflicting court decisions was an inherent trait of any judicial system based on a network of trial and appeal courts with authority over a certain area. That in itself, however, could not be considered to be in breach of the Convention. The Court therefore found no violation of Article 6.

Events

If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email Jim Duffy at jim.duffy@1cor.com

 

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