Ethics on the bench and in the witness box: The Round-up
16 March 2016
This week’s round up comes from Alex Wessely.
In the news
A highly experienced magistrate – Richard Page – has been sacked for airing views opposing same-sex couples being allowed to adopt. In a statement the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office said his views – which he had expressed in an BBC interview in 2015 – constituted “serious misconduct which brought the magistracy into disrepute”. Alice Arnold in the Guardian agrees with the decision to sack him (“the law is clear… magistrates must respect it”), whereas the Christian Legal Centre say this represents a “new political orthodoxy” and “modern day madness”. In a subsequent development, Mr Page is now planning to sue Michael Gove, citing religious discrimination.
Dr Waney Squier, a leading researcher on so-called “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and an established expert witness, has been judged by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service to have deliberately misled the court and misrepresented academic literature. Dr Squier – who was represented by Clodagh Bradley QC – is one of a minority group of experts who contend that “the triad” of injuries (brain swelling, intra-cranial bleeding and retinal bleeding) which the majority state are self-evident of SBS can actually have non-criminal/accidental causes. Dr Squier has submitted this opinion in around 200 criminal and civil cases since the 1990s. The controversy around SBS is not new. Clive Stafford Smith – founder of Reprieve – writes that Dr Squier’s conviction, which will likely lead to severe punishments for her, is “akin to the trial of Galileo” and “a very dark day for science [and] justice”, pointing out that only one member of the panel had any “meaningful” medical qualifications (a retired psychiatrist).
In other news
- 200 senior lawyers have signed an open letter to the Guardian stating that the Investigatory Powers Bill is not fit for purpose and “may be illegal”.
- Saudi Arabia is “poised to break last year’s record execution rate”. Seventy people have already been executed in 2016, and a further set of executions (of teenagers, convicted of ‘offences’ including anti-government protest) are scheduled imminently. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian officials have defended their county’s rights record to the UN, saying they “fight torture” and “promote human rights”. HRW disagree.
- The South Sudanese government has been accused of sanctioning mass killings and allowing the rape of civilians as “rewards” to soldiers. A UN report contains vivid accounts of systematic sexual abuse of civilians, with the government accused of a “scorched earth policy”
- Over 4,000 former South African gold miners have won a “landmark settlement” against Anglo American South Africa Ltd and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd, for dust-related lung diseases they contracted due to working in unsafe conditions in the mines. The case is covered by the Guardian here; for a detailed account of the current state of South Africa’s gold industry, look here.
- Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act have been delayed until after the EU referendum, according to The Sun (and covered by Politics Home here). In other HRA news: The British Institute of Human Rights has released this informative eBook about the Act. However, two stories are likely to fuel anti-ECHR sentiments, as notorious killers Anders Breivik and Joanne Dennehy – are said to be relying on human rights arguments to challenge their respective jail conditions.
- The Cycling Silk Martin Porter has brought – and lost – the first private prosecution against dangerous driving endangering a cyclist.
- Luciana Berger – shadow mental health minister – has shared her experiences of online anti-Semitism before a conference in Berlin on that subject.
- Open Rights Group have appointed renowned obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman as their new legal director.
- Human Rights Watch are protesting an Egyptian court’s decision to sentence three teenagers to five years in prison for blasphemy over a video “mocking ISIS”.
In the courts
The ECHR has found that the conviction of two Turkish Labour Party members, who were fined for leafleting without prior authorisation, was a violation of the Article 10 right to freedom of expression. They also found a further violation of Article 6 (right to a fair trial) as they were convicted without a public hearing.
The UK Supreme Court has handed down two judgements concerning changes to the law on vicarious liability, effectively extending the circumstances where vicarious liability (the liability of an employer for the actions of their employees) is found to exist. Kate Richmond explains the significance of these cases here in UKHRB.
The “Hatton Garden Robbers” have been sentenced to a total of 34 years. The sentencing remarks point to the “careful, detailed and intense planning” that went in to the heist; the offenders are said to have thanked the judge afterwards for his apparent leniency.
1COR’s Jim Duffy and Michael Deacon will be speaking at an event this Thursday (17th) at 18:00 entitled “So you want to be… a Judicial Assistant at the UK Supreme Court?” The free event is taking place at Parliament Hall in Edinburgh, and is being organised by the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association. Details here.