THE ROUND UP: victims of forced labour, assisted dying and the Hillsborough law
3 April 2017
There’s a lot to cover this week, as the Round Up looks at (among other things) Strasbourg’s view on forced labour in Greece, the High Court’s latest decision on assisted dying, a mooted Hillsbrough law, Katie Hopkins’ twitter fiasco receiving short shrift in the courts and, inevitably, the triggering of Article 50.
In the Courts
Chowdhury and Others v Greece (application no.21884/15) ECHR
The ECtHR has ruled in favour of a group of Bangladeshi workers subject to forced labour in Greece.
Over a hundred Bangladeshi nationals living and working in a strawberry picking farm in Greece went on strike after having worked unpaid for several months. When they demanded their wages from their employer, an armed guard opened fire on the crowd, and seriously injured thirty workers. The two employers and the guard were variously acquitted for the charge of human trafficking; the guard and one employer were convicted of unlawful use of firearms and grievous bodily harm, but their sentences were commuted to a financial penalty, amounting to 43 euros per victim.
The applicants contended that they had been subjected to forced labour, and the State was under an obligation to prevent their being subjected to human trafficking and to punish their employers.
The Court reiterated that exploitation through labour constitutes human trafficking for the purposes of Article 4(2), the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, (see our extended discussion of Article 4 here). On the facts of the case the applicants had certainly been subject to human trafficking and forced labour, but it did not, however, amount to servitude, because as seasonal workers they could not feel that their situation was permanent and unlikely to change.
As for the obligations of the State, Greece had at least in part put some protections in place, by ratifying the Palermo Protocol and the Council of Europe Convention in Trafficking in Human Beings, but the police and the government had been aware of the applicants’ situation and seemingly failed to take action. The court considered that the measures taken had not been sufficient to prevent trafficking and protect the applicants from the treatment to which they were subjected. The State is also required to provide an effective remedy, and therefore should have conducted an investigation and provided effective judicial proceedings. As a result of the State’s failure to fulfil its positive obligations under Article 4(2) ECHR, the Court held that Greece was liable for 16,000 euros for each worker who came before the national court, and 12,000 euros each to the other applicants. At a whopping total of 588,000 euros, this is one of the largest awards of compensation that the Court has granted.
Katie Hopkins libel charge
In Monroe v Hopkins  EWCH 645 QB, Katie Hopkins has been denied permission to appeal against the court’s finding that she is liable for defamation.
Katie Hopkins confused Jack Monroe with Laurie Penny, both anti-austerity commentators, and tweeted alleging that Jack Monroe condoned damage to a war memorial. The claimant, who identifies as gender non-binary, is from an armed forces family and Mr Justice Warby found that the columnist’s tweet caused serious harm to their reputation (albeit not ‘very serious’ or ‘grave’). Hopkins’ refusal to apologise and means of conducting defence by mud-slinging were factors in the judgment, and she was ordered to pay £24,000 in damages to Monroe, as well as £107,000 towards their legal fees.
Mr Justice Warby has just refused Ms Hopkins permission to appeal the ruling, and the figure stands.
In the High Court on Thursday, Mr Noel Conway was denied permission to apply for judicial review of the ban on assisted dying, by a majority of two judges in the High Court.
Assisted dying is banned by s.2(1) of the Suicide Act 1967, and voluntary euthanasia is considered murder under English and Welsh law. Conway and his lawyers argued that the ban interferes with his right to private life, by denying him the right to choose the manner of his own death.
Previous high court cases have attempted to tread the same path. Tony Nicklinson was also denied permission to judicially review the ban in 2012: Lord Justice Toulson indicated that any such measure would be beyond the purview of the courts, and is under the responsibility of Parliament to legislate.
Conway plans to appeal the decision, supported by charity Dignity in Dying, and a crowd-funding page which has raised over £75,000 towards his legal fees.
WHAT IS IT?
Lawyers representing the Hillsborough families have drafted a bill aimed at holding public authority figures accountable for failing to act in the public interest while in office.
The proposal, read by Andy Burnham in the House of Commons on Thursday, makes lying or concealing the truth at an inquest punishable by prison term.
WHAT’S IN IT?
Characterised as “the Public Authorities Accountability Bill”, the draft Bill contains various provisions relating to the behaviour of public officials while in office. It’s available to read on their website, but here are a few of the highlights:
- Duties: It stipulates the public officials have a duty to act in the public interest, and to discharge their duties with appropriate transparency and expedition, without favour to their own position. There is also a duty to assist the court with investigations.
- Ethics: All public authorities shall create and publish a code of ethics, which among other things provides reasonable protection for whistle-blowers.
- Penalties: Public authorities or executives commit an offence where they intentionally or recklessly: fail to discharge the above duties; mislead the public; or fail to disclose a witness statement or other relevant documents.
In the news
Obviously, the big news this week is that Article 50 has been triggered. To use Lord Pannick QC’s metaphor, the bullet has been released, and is now on its way to hit the target some time in the next two years. We wonder whether this metaphor fails to capture the bureaucratic obstacles this particular bullet will have to surmount, but regardless, our friends over at Rights Info have put together the lowdown for what Article 50 means for human rights. You can read it here.
And here are some of our other highlights from the news this week:
- Lord Neuberger has said that the retirement age for judges should be lowered, in order to solve the growing problem of judicial hiring. Judges should be able to sit past the age of 70. (The Guardian)
- Royal Marine Alexander Blackman, convicted of killing a Taliban soldier and sentenced to life imprisonment, will be released in a few weeks after his sentence has been reduced to 7 years, including time served. (BBC; the case is here)
- The Law Society, in collaboration with City University, has launched a new mental capacity accreditation for lawyers working in the Court of Protection (Local Government Lawyer)
- The DPP has accused a judge of victim blaming after remarks in a sexual assault case (The Guardian)
By Sarah Jane Ewart