The Round Up: Recent Reports in England and Wales; Human Rights Issues in Asia

30 June 2019 by

US President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un

In the News

A number of reports and warnings on working conditions for junior judges, the criminal justice system’s treatment of victims of sexual violence, and prison sentencing for individuals with mental health issues have been published this week. 

The Criminal Bar Association has warned that junior judges are being put on what are in effect zero-hours contracts, as their working days have been slashed and requests are being made for them to sit at the bench at impossibly short notice. The Guardian’s legal affair correspondent Owen Bowcott attributes the worsening working conditions to ‘a fresh round of austerity’, noting that the Ministry of Justice has suffered deeper cuts than any other Whitehall department since 2010. Conversely, the MoJ insists that the reason for the change is that the number of cases going to court has fallen and therefore fewer recorders are required. Caroline Goodwin QC, vice-chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: ‘Exactly how recorders are to fulfil their sitting obligations and maintain any real career progression simply beggars belief.’

Baroness Newlove, the outgoing victim’s commissioner for England and Wales, has warned in her annual report that there has been a ‘breakdown in confidence between victims of sexual violence and the criminal justice system’. She cited recent data that suggests fewer than 2% of victims of sexual assault will see their perpetrator convicted in the courts. Arguing that the criminal justice system had become a ‘hostile environment’ for victims, Newlove called for them to be offered free legal advice before consenting to handing over their phones or personal records, expressed concern over defence barristers cross-examining victims on their previous sexual history, and echoed Sir John Gillen’s call for a ‘large-scale publicity campaign and training for juries’ to counteract rape myths and stereotyping. 

In the Guardian, Fern Champion, a survivor of sexual violence who is campaigning to ensure access to specialist counselling services, observed that rape crisis centres and services are being forced to turn thousands of women away because high demand and long-term underfunding have resulted in waiting lists as long as 14 months. She expressed concern that the Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt demonstrate ‘clear inability to understand’ the extent and severity of the crisis. In the same paper, Emily Reynolds called for a duty to be imposed on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.  

Ten years since the publication of the landmark Bradley Report, a new report by the Centre for Mental Health has recommended further change to ensure that people who suffer from mental ill-health and addictions are not sent to prison when alternatives are more effective. The report finds too many people are sentenced to short prison sentences without any pre-sentence report on their needs, and recommends that Liaison and Diversion services should be resourced to enable effective screening of all those who come into police custody or attend voluntarily. 

In Other News

China, North Korea and Hong Kong have been in the headlines this week for a number of diplomatic developments which engage human rights issues. 

At the G20, President Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to restart trade talks, with the US president saying he would not impose threatened tariffs on Chinese goods, and indicating his readiness to lift a ban on American companies selling components to Huawei. Writing in the Times, Philip Sherwell observed that the American president ‘seemed most at ease among authoritarians’ and deflected questions about human rights abuses in Russia and Saudi Arabia. 

An impromptu early morning tweet at the G20 led to President Trump becoming the first United States leader to enter North Korea, during a hastily arranged meeting with Kim Jong-un at the border with South Korea. The two men then crossed the border to greet the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. Four months after the failure of Trump and Kim’s last summit in Vietnam, the three leaders talked for just under an hour before announcing that teams of North Korean and US diplomats will resume negotiations on denuclearisation. Kim stated that the meeting indicates an intention to ‘bring an end to the unpleasant past and build a new future’, while Trump said it would ‘start a process and we will see what happens’, and Moon characterised it as ‘a significant milestone in the peace process on the Korean peninsula’. 

Responses have been mixed. Professor Robert Kelly of South Korea’s Pusan National University derided the meeting as a ‘photo op for the 2020 election’ driven by Trump’s ‘lust for optics and drama rather than substance’. Taking a similar tone, Victor Cha, a former American negotiator with North Korea, said ‘theatrics are no substitute for denuclearisation’. In contrast, Pope Francis praised the meeting as a ‘good example of the culture of encounter’. 

In the Times, Richard Lloyd Parry observed that the ‘gaping divide’ between the ideology of the two sides could render ‘Mr Trump’s hop across the border’ meaningless: ’Kim does not want western style capitalism, because of the danger that it would unlock unrest in his cowed and isolated population’. As with Trump and Kim’s February summit, there was no discussion of North Korea’s woeful record of ‘systemic, widespread and grave human rights violations’, in the words of a 2014 UN Report into conditions in the country. 

In Hong Kong, around two million people marched to demand the resignation of leader Carrie Lam a day after she pulled back from a bitterly unpopular proposed law that would allow extradition to China. Lam’s apologises and offers to ‘postpone’ the measure did little to settle public outcry against the bill, which could allow China to exert more influence in Hong Kong to silence critics, undermine civic discourse, and erode the independence of the judiciary. 

In the Courts

  • In Z & Aanor, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Hackney & Anor [2019] EWCA Civ 1099, the Court of Appeal unanimously rejected an appeal against a Divisional Court ruling that the Agudas Israel Housing Association’s arrangements for the allocation of social housing, which are currently allocated only to members of the Orthodox Jewish community, were lawful. In his judgement, Lord Justice Lewison pointed with approval to Hackney’s evidence that ‘AIHA’s allocation arrangements are valuable for the purpose of alleviating high levels of child poverty in the Orthodox Jewish community’.
  • In Lawson, Mottram and Hopton, Re (appointment of personal welfare deputies) (Rev 1) [2019] EWCOP 22 Mr Justice Hayden identified a number of principles determining whether permission should be granted in applications for the appointment of personal welfare deputies. The three young people on whose behalf the applications were a non-verbal 24-year-old man with autism, epilepsy and severe learning difficulties; a 24-year-old woman with Down’s Syndrome and a learning disability; and a 20-year-old man with severe autism, requiring constant supervision. In his judgement, Mr Justice Hayden emphasised that the ‘defining principle’ of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 was the ‘recognition of the importance of human autonomy’ in the presumption set out at Section 1(2) that ‘a person person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity’.
  • In three applications brought against Serbia and the Ukraine, the European Court of Human Rights declared that the applications were admissible and disclosed a breach of Articles 6 and 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms due to the excessive length of administrative proceedings: Case of Milosavljević v Serbia [2019] ECHR 496; Case of Yeryomina and Others v Ukraine  [2019] ECHR 507; Case of Tseboyev and Others v Russia [2019] ECHR 505.

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