10 cases that defined 2017
22 December 2017
2017 has been a dramatic year in global politics and no less in the world of human rights law.
It has been a fascinating time to be editor of the UK Human Rights Blog. As just a taster, decisions have ranged across issues of the best interests of a seriously ill child, the conduct of British soldiers in Iraq and whether a transgender father should be allowed access to his children in an ultra-religious community. But there is much, much more.
So pour yourself a large measure of whatever you fancy, unwrap that mince pie waiting for you in the larder, and let me take you by the hand as we embark on a whirlwind tour of 10 of the biggest human rights cases of the year:
- The Brexit case
Following the vote by the British public to leave the European Union on 23rd June 2016, the Government set about the business of Brexit. The first step was to give a notice to the EU of Britain’s intention to leave under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Government said it could do this using its executive powers, but others believed that a vote in Parliament was required.
On 24th January the Supreme Court gave its decision. By an 8-3 majority, it ruled against the Government, holding that the authority of Parliament was needed to begin a process which would result in the removal of rights which had been conferred by Parliament.
The Blog covered this case here: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/01/24/the-brexit-judgment-the-law-of-the-realm-cannot-be-changed-but-by-parliament/
In-depth analysis can be found regarding the issues surrounding this case here:
- The Vaccination case
On 30th January, the Family Court ruled that a seven month baby should receive the Haemophilus Influenza Type b (Hib) and pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) vaccinations despite the fact that this went against the wishes of the parents. As the alleged risks were significantly outweighed by the benefits of immunisation, the court ruled that the best interests of the child were clear.
The Blog covered this case here: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/02/08/should-courts-order-vaccination-against-parents-wishes/
- The Charlie Gard case
One of the saddest cases of the year was the Charlie Gard case. The litigation was about whether a nine month old baby in intensive care with a rare mitochondrial disease which caused life threatening brain damage should be allowed to receive treatment in the USA known as ‘nucleoside therapy’, despite the fact that it has not been clinically trialled or proven in animal tests. It was finally decided that it would not be in Charlie’s best interests for him to have the treatment.
The Blog covered this case in a number of articles:
- Court of Appeal decision: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/06/07/alternative-treatment-for-seriously-ill-child-not-in-his-best-interests/
- Supreme Court decision: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/06/09/charlie-gard-supreme-court-turns-down-appeal-now-all-depends-on-strasbourg/
- European Court of Human Rights decision: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/06/20/charlie-gard-strasbourg-court-imposes-another-stay-on-supreme-court-ruling-to-consider-parents-arguments/
- Deportation of foreign criminals
The deportation of foreign criminals has always been a priority for the Government. However, on 14th June the Supreme Court ruled that a flagship scheme to deport first and hear appeals later from outside the UK was incompatible with a pair of appellants’ rights to respect for their private and family life.
The Blog covered the case here: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/06/15/foreign-criminals-deportation-scheme-ruled-unlawful/
- The transgender father case
The tensions present in a pluralist democracy were laid bare in a fascinating case regarding whether a transgender father from an ultra-orthodox Jewish community could have access to his children. Just two days ago, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the High Court that access should not be permitted and the matter has been sent back to the Family Court for reconsideration.
The Blog covered the case here:
- Court of Appeal decision: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/12/22/high-court-decision-refusing-ultra-orthodox-transgender-father-access-to-children-is-quashed-paul-erdunast/
- High Court decision: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/06/27/transgender-father-to-appeal-for-greater-contact-with-ultra-orthodox-children/
- The duty to inform of the risk of hereditary disease
A genetic diagnosis reaches beyond the individual, into the past and future of the family. In this case, a father was found to be suffering from Huntington’s disease, a mutation which has a 50% chance of appearing in the next generation. The Court of Appeal had to decide whether his doctors were under a duty to override doctor-patient confidentiality and inform his daughter of the diagnosis. In a decision likely to have significant consequences on the new field of genetic medicine, the court found that there was indeed such a duty.
The Blog covered this case here: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/09/03/duty-of-care-in-genomic-medicine-who-is-liable/
- Liability of local authorities for abuse by foster parents
The tectonic plates of vicarious liability continued to shift in 2017. On 18th October, the Supreme Court decided the case of a claimant who had been physically and sexually abused by foster parents with whom she was placed by the local authority. It was accepted by both sides that the local authority was not in any way negligent, but it was held that it was vicariously liable for the abuse suffered.
The Blog covered this case here: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/10/23/lucy-eastwood-a-law-on-the-move-are-local-authorities-vicariously-liable-for-abuse-committed-by-foster-parents-against-children-in-their-care/
- The criminals of the Bosnian War
The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s involved a number of conflicts which saw some of the most appalling acts committed on European soil since the Second World War. In November, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague delivered its judgment on some of the most notorious individuals involved in the Bosnia War of 1992-95.
Judgment was first given on Ratko Mladić, Commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, and then on six Croatian military and political leaders from the same period. The judgments cannot, of course, bring the many victims back, but it is nevertheless extremely important that these men were brought to justice in their own lifetimes.
The Blog covered the cases here:
- Ratko Mladić: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/12/01/the-long-shadow-of-the-balkans-war-part-1-ratko-mladic/
- The Croatian leaders: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/12/01/the-long-shadow-of-the-yugoslav-wars-part-2-the-rulers-of-the-croatian-republic-of-herzeg-bosnia/
- The ‘rough sleepers’ case
December is a particularly cruel and inhospitable month for homeless people who have to sleep rough. This month, the High Court ruled that the Government’s policy guidance on when rough sleeping would be treated as an abuse of EU rights was unlawful. This means thatsleeping rough should not be used as a reason to deport an EU citizen from the UK.
The Blog covered the case here: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/12/15/high-court-quashes-guidance-on-deporting-eea-nationals-who-are-sleeping-rough/
- The Iraq abuse case
There has been a lot of press coverage about claims brought by Iraqis who alleged that their human rights were breached by British soldiers during the Iraq War. This month, the High Court ruled that damages should be paid to certain individuals, in a test case likely to result in numerous more claims being brought. The case does not concern whether or not the Iraq War was right or lawful, but the conduct of British soldiers in Iraq during that war.
The Blog covered the case here: https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2017/12/18/mod-to-compensate-iraqis-for-ill-treatment/
On behalf of everyone at the Blog, I would like to wish you all the very best over the festive period, and here’s to an equally fascinating 2018!
Jonathan Metzer, 22nd December 2017