In the News
In a new report on the much-delayed Counter-Extremism Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has concluded that the proposed legislation is confusing, unnecessary, and likely to be counter-productive.
Though first announced by the Government in the Queen’s Speech in May 2015, the Bill itself has yet to appear. The JCHR report is a result of what was in effect a pre-legislative scrutiny inquiry into the Government’s proposals, due to the Committee’s concerns that it would be likely to raise significant human rights concerns, specifically where Articles 9 (freedom of religion), 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of association) are concerned.
Five key problems which the report has identified are:
- No clear definition of extremism – The Counter-Extremism Strategy, launched in October 2015 (previously covered here) defines extremism as the “vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs”. This is currently too vague to be workable as a legislative definition. There is neither a consensus on the meaning of “extremism” nor “British values”. The extent to which a lack of mutual respect and tolerance towards different faiths and beliefs will be unlawful is likely to be particularly contentious.
- Discrimination and religious freedom – The difficulty here is twofold. Measures which impact on those expressing religious conservatism would either operate indiscriminately against any religious conservatism which had no intention of inciting violence (including, for example, Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Evangelical Christianity), or would operate discriminately, specifically targeting Muslims and alienating the Muslim community.
- The “escalator” approach – In trying to tackle extremism by placing restrictions on religious conservatism, the Government has wrongly assumed that violent jihadism necessarily follows from religious conservatism. Yet there is no proof that the two are correlated. The focus should rather be on extremism which leads to violence. Placing restrictions on religious conservatism amounts to suppressing views with which the Government disagree.
- Conflicting duties on universities – Universities are under a duty to promote free speech under Section 202 of the Education Reform Act 1988, which provides that University Commissioners have a duty to ensure that academic staff have “freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions.” It is unclear how “controversial or unpopular opinions” will be differentiated from “vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values”, and therefore what will count as extremism.
- The civil order regime – in the Queen’s speech in May 2016, a “new civil order regime” was mentioned, though with little detail. There is concern that ill-defined civil orders, breach of which would be a criminal offence, should not be used by the Government to avoid having to make a criminal case to a higher standard of proof, especially where a proper definition of the prohibited behaviour is lacking. It is likely that these orders may interfere with freedom of religion, expression and association.
The Committee concluded that the Government should not legislate, least of all in areas which impinge on human rights, unless there is a clear gap in the existing legal framework for terrorism and public order offences. In their view, the Government has not been able to demonstrate that such a gap exists, and there is a danger that any new legislation would be counter-productive.
- Turkey has told the Council of Europe that it wants to temporarily derogate from the human rights protections under the ECHR, due to the state of emergency in the country declared by President Erdogan last week. Emma Sinclair-Webb, Senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, writes that it is unclear whether the current situation meets the required “threat to the life of the nation” criterion for derogation, provided for under Article 15. Even if this criterion is met, derogation from certain Convention rights is not permitted, including the prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3), the right to life (Article 2); prohibition on slavery (Article 4(1)). Though Turkey has pointed to France’s state of emergency powers (extended after the Nice attack) to justify its own derogation, a state of emergency imposed where there are clear signs that the government is ready to crack down more broadly is an “alarming prospect”. Amnesty International has gathered evidence that detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings, torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centres in the country. Amnesty calls on Turkish authorities to allow international monitors to visit these places of detention.
- A clause in the contracts of Deliveroo workers say that they are not allowed to take their grievances to an employment tribunal, and that if they do they must indemnify the company against all costs and expenses it incurs. Michael Newman, partner at Leigh Day, has said that the clause is likely to be unenforceable as they attempt to exclude or limit established employment rights, and imposed penalties. Deliveroo say that their contracts reflect the fact that riders are allowed to work flexibly on a freelance basis. Deliveroo joins several other companies in the spotlight for their use of self-employed workers, who do not receive the same rights as employees. A group of drivers are currently taking legal action against Uber, arguing that they should be entitled to the living wage, sick pay, and pensions. Uber is arguing that drivers are “partners”, not employees. It has also recently emerged that some workers for parcel firm Hermes have claimed that they earn as little as £5.50 an hour over some periods.
In the Courts
Foulon and Bouvet v France – Mr Didier Foulon and his daughter Emilie were the applicants in the first case. Mr Foulon is a French National and his daughter Emilie was born in Bombay, India. In the second case the applicants were Mr Philippe Bouvet, a French National, and his twin sons Adrien and Romain Bouvet, who were also born in Bombay. In both cases the applicants were unable to obtain recognition under French law of their biological affiliation. The French authorities were refusing to transcribe birth certificates issued in India, due to their use of Gestational Surrogacy Agreements (GPA) in India, which are unlawful in France. The Court de Cassation in both cases provided reasons for the refusal to transcribe the certificates, partly on the basis of fraude à la loi (evasion of the law) due to the conclusion of the unlawful GPA agreements. A violation of Article 8 was found (right to respect for private life) with respect to Emilie Foulon and Adrien and Romain Bouvet.
Shahanov and Palfreeman v Bulgaria – This case concerned the disciplinary punishments given to prisoners for complaining to the prison authorities about prison officers. Mr Nikolay Shahanov, a Bulgarian national, and Mr Jock Palfreeman, an Australian national, are serving a life sentence and a sentence of 20 years respectively in Bulgarian prisons. Mr Shahanov had made two written complaints to the Minster of Justice, in which he accused two prison officers of favouritism towards a prisoner because they were related. Mr Palfreeman had written to the governor of the prison alleging that unnamed prison officers were rude to two journalists who had visited him in prison and had stolen other visitors’ effects from lockers during their visit. Both were found guilty of making defamatory statements and false allegations about prison officers. Mr Shahanov was placed in solitary confinement for ten days and Mr Palfreeman was not allowed to receive food parcels for three months. A violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) was found in respect of both applicants.