UN Committee “seriously concerned” about the impact of austerity on human rights

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has published a damning report on the UK’s implementation of economic, social and cultural rights. The report is available here (under “Concluding Observations”).

The CESCR monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), an international treaty to which the UK is a party. State parties are required to submit regular reports to the Committee outlining the legislative, judicial, policy and other measures they have taken to implement the rights set out in the treaty. The Committee may also take into account evidence from “Civil Society Organisations” (Amnesty International and Just Fair were among those who made submissions in respect of the UK). The Committee then addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations”.

The Committee’s last report on the UK was back in 2009, so this was its first opportunity to review the austerity measures put in place since 2010.

It’s fair to say that the UK did not come off well. With regard to austerity, the Committee was:

“…seriously concerned about the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures, introduced since 2010, are having on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups.”

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One trade freedom we could do without

istock_000004682690small_cowsSupporters of Brexit and campaigners for animal welfare are not natural bedfellows. And indeed my quick poll of the intuitive reaction to Thursday’s vote revealed anxiety about a future race to the bottom in terms of welfare standards as European regulations are unpicked and new trade deals are carved out, whether with individual member states of the EU, the European Union as a whole, or under the surveillance of the WTO. (But here’s a call for action: https://action.ciwf.org.uk/ea-action/action?)ea.client.id=119&ea.campaign.id=53173&ea.tracking.id=98b15a7c&utm_campaign=transport&utm_source=ciwftw&utm_medium=twitter

Which is why it is critical at this moment to remember that the obstacle in the way of this country reviewing its participation in the trade in live animals is one of the pillars of the EU Treaty: free movement of goods. Animals are regarded as goods, and any measure adopted by a member state government interfering with the movement of livestock within the single market and beyond its borders with its trading partners has been prohibited as a “quantitative restriction” on exports. When we are eventually free of this overarching prohibition, no time should be lost in grasping the opportunity to alter our laws in recognition of humane standards in animal husbandry.

Some Background: veal crates and the port protests in the 1990s

Just at the time when the red carpet was being rolled out for the Human Rights Act, campaigners for the rights of non human animals had their eye on a much more difficult task: persuading the government that shipments of young calves to veal crates across the Channel defeated our hard-won animal welfare laws and were in breach of the EU’s own proclaimed animal protection measures. The practice of rearing veal for the popular white meat involves confining a week old calf in a box for five months until slaughter. The well respected farm animal charity Compassion in World Farming managed to convince the UK courts that they not only had standing but an arguable case that this export trade breached the domestic prohibition on the veal crate system as well as the relevant EU Convention and Recommendation. CIWF contended that the UK government had power under Community law

to restrict the export of veal calves to other Member States where the system described above was likely to be used, contrary to the standards in force in the United Kingdom and the international standards laid down by the Convention to which all the Member States and the Community had agreed to adhere….

the export of calves to face rearing contrary to the Convention is considered to be cruel and immoral by animal welfare organisations and a considerable body of public opinion, supported by authoritative scientific veterinary opinion, in the Member State from which exports occur.

In fact the EU rules merely contained stipulations as to the minimum width of veal crates and the composition of veal calves’ diets. Continue reading

Would a second EU referendum be undemocratic?

Would a second EU referendum be undemocratic?

It is only four days since the UK public narrowly voted to leave the European Union. A lot of people are now arguing for a second referendum. But would that be democratic? 

Like many people who voted to remain, I have been feeling down about the result. My social media feeds have been full of many of the states of grief, but mostly anger and denial. It is denial which, I think, is motiving the calls for a second referendum. I am therefore wary, as someone who would love for this all magically to go away, of the allure of those arguments. But, we are in uncharted waters. Millions are calling for a second referendum on the original question, and now likely Conservative leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt has called for a second referendum to decide whether the country would accept an exit deal.

Hunt’s argument is enticing, at first glance anyway. He begins by saying that ‘The people have spoken – and Parliament must listen“. But – but! – “we did not vote on the terms of our departure“. In short, he wants to open up “a space for a “Norway plus” option for us – full access to the single market with a sensible compromise on free movement rules”. And he thinks the best way to make that happen is to negotiate an informal deal before invoking Article 50 (therefore setting a two-year time limit) and “once again… trust the British people to decide on whether or not it is a good deal”.

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Where does the European Court of Justice go now?

BrexitWe’re quiet at the UKHRB, but working on it. In the meantime, here is a level headed prognostication of where the EU arbiter – no longer head arbiter for us, but for the time being – will need to go.

Thank you Eutopia law for permission to repost this instructive article by Professor Peter Lindseth.

“What if…?” These kinds of questions may now seem pointless in the aftermath of the victory of Leave in the EU Referendum. Instead we hear ‘What’s done is done’, ‘Leave means Leave’, ‘out is out’, etc., etc., etc.

But one question has always nagged at me ever since David Cameron brought his renegotiation deal back to the UK in February: What if it included a serious commitment to alter the role and doctrines of the European Court of Justice? Would that have tipped the balance toward the Remain side? Would we have been talking instead about a 52-48 victory for Remain? Would serious ECJ reform, both institutionally and doctrinally, have been enough to peel off the likes of Boris Johnson from the Leave camp, harnessing his energies for Remain and reform?

We will never know. But the question is still of interest, if for no other reason than the remaining Member States must now seriously consider a range of EU reforms in order to prevent further contagion of the Brexit virus. As former German Constitutional Court Judge Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff said in an interview on Verfassungsblog,

the shock over what has happened, and the fear of further disintegration, might produce an awakening effect. So I try to remain optimistic.

This post is in that spirit. Continue reading

A1P1 and public policy: compensation for not fishing?

image_update_0c98d97a769e9083_1340823275_9j-4aaqskR (Nigel Mott) v Environment Agency [2015] EWHC 314 (Admin) Read Judgment

An interesting Court of Appeal decision concerning the science of migratory salmon, and the circumstances in which compensation will be granted when an interference with Article 1 Protocol 1 is found.

For over forty years, Mr Nigel Mott has fished for salmon at Lydney on the River Severn with putcher ranks: rigs of conical baskets which trap adult salmon as they swim upstream in order to spawn.

Putchers had long enjoyed a privileged status as against other means of fishing. Owing to their designation as a “historic installation”, they were spared the controls and conditions which applied to rods and nets, and which have increasingly regulated fishing activity since the first Salmon Fisheries Acts in 1861.

Freedom to fish without restriction allowed Mr Mott to make his living from this ancient method: at £100 per salmon, his annual catch of 600 fish brought him a gross turnover of £60,000.

In 2011, new statutory powers enabled the Environment Agency (“the Agency”) to impose catch conditions on fishing licences granted in respect of historic installations “where it considers that it is necessary to do so for the protection of any fishery”.

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The Round-up: Tax on Justice

Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice

In the news

The Justice Select Committee has found that steep rises in court fees are damaging access to justice. The report examines the recent and proposed changes to fees for court users in the civil and family courts and tribunals, including those introduced for employment tribunals and the proposed increase to asylum and immigration fees. The Committee, chaired by former barrister Bob Neill MP, raises serious concerns about the quality of the Ministry of Justice’s research into the impact of the fees, sharing the view expressed by the senior judiciary who gave evidence that it does not provide a sufficient basis to justify the proposals. Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, described the research as “lamentable”.

The Coalition Government over the course of the 2010-15 Parliament pursued policies aimed at decreasing the net cost to the public purse of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, by introducing and increasing various fees for court users. This included introducing fees for employment tribunals, the now extinct criminal courts charge, and a range of fees for civil proceedings, including “enhanced fees”, which are set at a level greater that the costs of the proceedings themselves. The pursuit and implementation of fees has been continued in the current Parliament. Continue reading

UN committee rules on abortion prohibition – the Round-up

Photo credit: the Huffington Post

In the news

The UN human rights committee has found that restrictive abortion laws in Ireland had subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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