Hillsborough and Human Rights – The Round-up

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Photo credit: The Guardian

In the news

The families of the 96 people who died at Hillsborough in 1989 have been vindicated at last, following a 27-year long fight for justice. An inquest jury has returned a conclusion of “unlawful killing”, in a damning indictment of South Yorkshire Police. The jury unanimously concluded that the behaviour of football supporters had in no part caused or contributed to the disaster.

Christina Lambert QC acted as lead counsel to the inquests, assisted by a team that included 1COR colleagues Matthew Hill and Paul Reynolds.

Following the conclusion a number of questions still remain, including whether former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, the match commander, will now face fresh charges of manslaughter. A private prosecution ended in 2000 after a jury failed to reach agreement. Joshua Rozenburg observes that the inquest findings are clearly prejudicial – but “juries should be trusted to put prejudicial material out of their minds”.

Legal commentator David Allen Green points out that “without the Human Rights Act and ECHR there would not have been this new Hillsborough inquest”. The effect of Article 2 ECHR (the right to life) has meant it is no longer enough for an inquest to decide the means by which a person died; the circumstances in which the death occurred must also be determined. Barrister Michael Mansfield QC further notes that “one of the unusual features of these inquests has been the way the friends and relatives of the deceased have been accorded a central status” – a requirement of the European Court of Human Rights.

It is the jurisdiction of this same Court that Theresa May has declared the UK should leave, claiming this week that “the ECHR can bind the hands of Parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity…[and] makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals”. Mark Elliott describes the argument as “legally clumsy and constitutionally naïve”, while David Allen Green suggests human rights are being used “as a token in the game of politics”. He goes on to note that examples of the positive influence of the ECHR, such as the Hillsborough Inquests, will make this more difficult in the future: “even superficial politics can lose their shine”.

 In other news:

According to a report in the Telegraph, each year up to 40,000 dying patients are having “do not resuscitate orders” imposed on them without the knowledge of their families. In many cases there is no record of any consultation with the patient. Adam Wagner suggests at RightsInfo that this might be in breach of patients’ human rights.

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice indicate a worsening crisis in the UK prison system. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of sexual assaults recorded has more than doubled from 137 incidents per year to 300. In the same period, the number of deaths in prisons has risen from 198 to 257 per year. Campaigners say that serious overcrowding and staff shortages are largely to blame. The Independent reports.

The Bar Council has warned that plans put forward by the Ministry of Justice to increase fees for those seeking justice through the Immigration and Asylum tribunal system by 500% is yet another step towards putting access to justice beyond the means of those who most need it. Further details can be found here.

The Guardian: According to a new report by charity Transform Justice, legal aid cuts have led to a sharp rise in unrepresented defendants. In one example given to the charity, an unrepresented defendant remained silent during his appearance via video link from a police station. Only after he had been sent to prison did it emerge that he was deaf.

In the courts

The applicant was a Dutch national sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a six-year-old girl. The Court found that the lack of any kind of treatment for the mental health condition suffered by the applicant meant that his requests for pardon were in practice incapable of leading to his release, since his risk of re-offending would continue to be assessed as too high. Accordingly, the Court found a violation of Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment).

 UK HRB posts

Ex-pats challenge to the EU referendum voting rules – David Hart QC

Extradition in “disarray”? – Amelia Nice

Court of Protection orders continued reporting restrictions after death – Rosalind English

Judge allows paternity test for DNA disease analysis – Rosalind English

The “up for a three way?” case: injunction set aside – Rosalind English