The Weekly Round-Up: The Queen’s Speech and Gendered Violence

18 May 2021 by

In the News:

In the Queen’s Speech last week, the government presented its legislative programme for the next session of parliament, including a number of bills with important human rights implications. The speech was of particular interest because of the extent to which Brexit and COVID-19 have dominated the prime minister’s time in office so far.

Last Tuesday’s to-do list includes an enormous 31 bills, listed in full here and set out in greater detail here. Two bills with key implications are addressed below.

First, the Queen announced that the government will “strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution” with an Electoral Integrity Bill. The government plans to introduce mandatory voter identification at the next election, as well as tightening “protection on postal and proxy voting.” In defence of the proposal, the prime minister’s spokesperson said it was “a reasonable approach to combat the inexcusable potential for voter fraud.” A writer for The Times has pointed out that the policy is one which “Northern Ireland has had for two decades”.

However, the proposal has been met with opposition from Labour and SNP MPs and human rights campaign organisations on the basis that it amounts to voter suppression and impinges on voters’ Protocol 1, Article 3 rights. It’s also criticised for being an expensive solution to a minor problem: out of 44.6 million votes cast in the 2017 general election, only one person was convicted of voter fraud. The plan faces a potential obstacle in the courts: a 68-year-old man with no photo ID, backed by groups including the LGBT Foundation and Stonewall,  has been granted permission to take his case to the Supreme Court.

Second, the Speech included a government proposal for a new judicial review bill designed to “restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts”. Reforms to judicial review have been on the agenda for many Conservative MPs since the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that prime minister Boris Johnson had acted unlawfully by proroguing parliament for five weeks. The Bar Council’s response to the Ministry of Justice’s Judicial Review Reform consultation raised concerns that it was inadequate “not only because of its shortness but also, and more importantly, because of a lack of analysis of how the proposals would actually work.” A number of other prominent legal bodies have published similarly damning responses. In the media, the FT’s editorial board has been particularly critical of the proposals.

Other controversial measures include the Policing Bill and an online safety bill which has already come under fire from right-leaning commentators for its £2.1 billion price tag and potential to “massively erode online freedoms”, and by human rights campaigners calling it a “recipe for censorship”.

The Queen’s Speech did not include some long-promised measures: a timetabled social care reform plan, an employment bill aimed at  upholding gender equality in the workplace, or a renters’ reform bill.  

In Other News:

The murder of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard has brought gender-based violence and harassment to heightened public attention in recent weeks.

  • A huge influx of mostly anonymous testimonies of abuse and misogyny published through the Everyone’s Invited website prompted the government to  order an Ofsted review into safeguarding policies and practices in schools. The review has already come under criticism from the head of the largest teaching union and Labour MPs, who say the education watchdog is unable to conduct an impartial review.  
  • Labour has published a detailed Green Paper aiming to end violence against women and girls. Proposals include making misogyny a hate crime, toughening existing sentences for perpetrators of rape and stalking, and creating new specific offences. The cross-party women and equalities select committee is also calling for the criminalisation of street harassment and stricter limits on the use of sexual history in rape trials.
  • propose new offences to protect women

In the Courts:

  • London Borough of Barnet v The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Affairs [2021] EWHC 1253 (Fam): the Family Division of the High Court dismissed a local authority’s application seeking a declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998, contending that that certain provisions of the Vienna Convention were incompatible with Articles 3 and 6 of the ECHR. The provisions prevented a court from hearing or deciding an application for protective measures to be taken in respect of children of members of a diplomatic mission. The court found that “Parliament could not remedy the position on its own, except by breaching international law” and moreover that “jurisdiction over the protection of children of diplomats is much more obviously for the sending state to exercise” [paragraph 139].   
  • London Borough of Barking and Dagenham & Ors v Persons Unknown & Ors [2021] EWHC 1201 (QB): the High Court ruled that final injunctions cannot be brought against unidentified “newcomers”, in a collection of  38 cases from around England, including action brought by 16 London boroughs. The injunctions were being used to prevent Gypsies and Travellers stopping on certain pieces of land. Marc Williers QC, who acted for the three Interveners, commented that the judgment “recognises the right of Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers to respect for their cultural traditions, including their enshrined right to travel.”

On the UKHRB:

  • Rosalind English sets out a decision of the District Court in Amsterdam to order the reinstatement of Uber drivers dismissed by an algorithm in the UK.

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