Grenfell, Prisons, and the Inability to Appeal – Round Up
4 November 2019
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
In the News:
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry released its first report into the disaster. Its findings included:
- The refurbishment of Grenfell tower broke building regulations because it used a mixture of combustible cladding. This was the main reason the fire spread.
- Firefighters were let down by poor training, leadership, equipment and plans. Junior firefighters arriving at the scene were “faced with a situation for which they had not been properly prepared”.
- The ‘stay put’ advice used by the London Fire Brigade was wrong, and cost lives.
The report recommends that national guidelines for evacuating high-rise flats are created. It also seeks for a programme of regular inspections of high-rise flats and lifts
The Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton, attracted particular criticism from the media. Ms Cotton had said that although she was saddened by the loss of life, there was nothing she would have done differently. Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the Chair of the Inquiry, described her as showing “remarkable insensitivity” and suggested this showed an inability to learn from the tragedy.
Some have called for Ms Cotton to resign and to give up her £2 million pension. Ms Cotton has since stated that she regrets causing offence and, in light of the report, would have changed her approach. Ms Cotton has also confirmed that some senior officers from the London fire brigade have been interviewed under caution by the police.
The second phrase of the inquiry starts in January, with hearings expected to last 18 months.
In Other News….
- In a move that may have significant consequences for free speech and democracy, Twitter announced that it will ban all political advertising on its platform. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, argued that messages “should be earned, not bought”. The decision put pressure on Facebook to make a similar move, but it announced that it will not be following Twitter’s example. Facebook argues private companies should not censor private individuals. The manager of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign described the ban as “yet another attempt by the left to silence Trump and conservatives”. Implementing Mr Dorsey’s decision may be difficult, however, because of the problems in defining what is a ‘political issue’. More from the Guardian here.
- Fracking has been banned indefinitely in the UK. Fracking is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into rocks, splitting them and releasing natural gas. A report published by the Oil and Gas Authority found that it was not possible to predict the ‘probability or size’ of tremors caused by fracking. Fracking has been banned since August because it caused an earthquake occurred in Lancashire. However, some have pointed out that the ban is not permanent. The Independent reports here.
- A general election will be held on the 12th December. Labour had tabled an amendment which would have lowered the voting age to 16 and given EU citizens living in the UK the right to vote. However, the Deputy Speaker rejected the amendment. He ruled that the amendment would cost money, meaning a ‘money resolution’ was required and the matter was outside the scope of the bill. A number of MPs have announced they will be standing down, with many citing abuse as the reason for their decision. More from the BBC here.
In the Courts:
- O’Brien, R (On the Application Of) v Independent Adjudicator: The Defendant was an Independent Adjudicator (“IA”). An IA is a District Judge to whom Prisoner Governors can refer disputes. A prisoner judicially reviewed an IA’s decision to refer disciplinary charges to the police, instead of deciding them for herself. The court agreed that the Defendant had behaved unlawfully. Independent Adjudicators have neither an express nor implied power to report matters to the police, except in exceptional circumstances. IA’s deal with sensitive personal data, which they possess for one purpose only: to enable them to inquire into a charge. If an IA believes that the police should be informed about a particular incident, they ought to relay their concerns to the relevant Prison Governor. It would then be for the governor to decide what action to take, such as contacting the police.
- Kearney v Hampshire Police: The appellant sought to challenge a Chief Constable’s refusal to disclose CCTV footage which was allegedly relevant to his murder conviction. The main issue was whether the Court of Appeal possessed the jurisdiction to hear the appeal. This was because a High Court judge had previously ruled that Mr Kearney’s application for judicial review was completely without merit. The Court of Appeal ruled it that it did not have jurisdiction. Section 18(1) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 states “No appeal shall lie to the Court of Appeal … from any judgment of the High Court in any criminal cause or matter”. The court found that s.18 prevented an appeal of the decision to mark the appellant’s application as ‘totally without merit’. Mr Kearney had tried to draw a distinction between ‘judgment’ and a ‘decision’, but the court found this argument was not supported by legislative history or case law. The terms are used interchangeably. This view was supported by the binding House of Lords decision of Government of the United States of America v Montgomery and another. Application dismissed.
- RS (Sri Lanka) v Secretary of State for the Home Department: RS is a Sri Lankan citizen who was refused asylum in the UK. RS’s appeals to the First-Tier and Upper-Tier Tribunals failed. This case concerned whether both tribunals had made a material error of law in failing to give weight to the fact that RS had escaped from detention in Sri Lanka. The Court of Appeal judged that they had. RS given a credible account of having escaped from detention. The fact RS had escaped made it likely that the authorities would seek to recapture him and do so by issuing an arrest warrant. This view was confirmed by the case of GJ and others (post-civil war returnees) Sri Lanka. In GJ the Upper Tribunal issued guidance that, based on the extensive evidence it had considered, suspected Tamil activists that escaped would normally be recaptured, thereby placing them at risk of ill-treatment. The court decided not to remit the matter back to the tribunal. Instead, it found the only conclusion that could be drawn was that RS had a well-founded fear of serious harm if returned to Sri Lanka.
On the UKHRB
- I published the penultimate article in a series exploring the ALBA Conference 2019. It focuses on a number of practical points, including cost capping.
- Rosalind English released her second article describing a ban of pet shock collars.
- Daniel McKaveney considered a critical report on police and prison facilities in Scotland.
- Law Pod’s latest episode features Kate O’Regan, former judge in the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
- Women, Reproductive Rights and the Law: LSE, 6th November, with the UK Association of Women Judges. More information here.
- What if state law no longer sexed us?, King’s College London, 8th November. More here.
- Code and Conduct: the future of legal professions, LSE, 13th November. More here.
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