The Weekly Round-up: Nadhim Zahawi, Windrush reforms, and accommodation for vulnerable children
29 January 2023
In the news
Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked from the Cabinet after making what he calls a “careless and not deliberate” mistake with his taxes. He reportedly paid a 30% penalty fee on top of the money owed to HMRC in connection with his use of an offshore company to hold shares in the polling company YouGov. The Prime Minister had been resisting calls to fire his Minister Without Portfolio, who also serves as Chairman of the Conservative Party, until the independent advisor tasked to investigate the issue made clear that there had been a “serious breach of the ministerial code.” Zahawi’s lawyers had been attempting to obstruct journalists exposing that he was being investigated over his tax affairs with threats of legal action.
Another investigation is being launched by the BBC into the hiring of its current chairman, Richard Sharp. The Tory donor allegedly helped Boris Johnson secure a large loan soon before being recommended by the then prime minister for the job. Sharp has denied he was involved in making the loan, claiming that he had “simply connected” people. The Labour Party has called for a parliamentary investigation into the allegations.
Suella Braverman has announced the Government is rejecting three key commitments made in response to the inquiry into the Windrush debacle. The Home Secretary announced that she would not be creating a migrants’ commissioner, increasing the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, or holding reconciliation events with those affected by the Windrush mistake, contrary to the promises made by the Government three years ago. The HM Inspector who led the inquiry, Wendy Williams, expressed her disappointment in this decision to deny its recommendations, which she hoped would have “raised the confidence of the Windrush community.”
In other news
- MPs are calling for the government to put forward legislation against threats of legal action intended to impede public interest stories. In July the government promised that courts in England and Wales were to be granted new powers to dismiss so-called SLAPPS (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), which came into the spotlight after allegations that Russian oligarchs connected to Putin were using the threat of expensive and drawn-out litigation to silence journalists and public watchdogs. Conservative MP Bob Seely is putting forward a private member’s bill in the attempt to press the Government to move forward with its legislation.
- The High Court has given permission for a group of asylum-seekers to appeal its December ruling that the Government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda is lawful.
- From next week, journalists have been granted permission to report on proceedings in the family courts of three locations in England and Wales. The Transparency Reporting Pilot scheme represents a “really big change,” according to Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, and is expected to improve accountability in an area of law traditionally kept opaque. Journalists will still need to protect the anonymity of the children but can reveal other details of the cases.
In the courts
- In Re X (Secure Accommodation: Lack of Provision), Sir Andrew McFarlane has criticised the attitude of the Department for Education towards the lack of accommodation provision for vulnerable children. He lamented the lack of political momentum regarding the crisis: “it is not the role of the courts to provide additional accommodation; all the court can do is to call the problem out and to shout as loud as it can in the hope that those in Parliament, Government and the wider media will take the issue up.” Reportedly, at any one time there are 60 or 70 children in need of secure accommodation, without which they face the risks of self-harm and sexual and criminal exploitation. The state has duties under ECHR Articles 2 and 3 to meet the needs of these children and protect them from harm, but currently this obligation is being left to the courts and local authorities, which often lack the necessary resources to fulfil it. McFarlane denied the Secretary of State’s request to absent herself from the hearing.
- In Macatė v. Lithuania (application no. 61435/19), the European Court of Human Rights found that labelling a book as harmful to children because of its LGBTI content violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention. Following the book’s 2013 publication in Lithuania, complaints were made by MPs and political groups that the collection of fairy tales intended to promote to children the concept of same-sex relationships. The Inspectorate of Journalistic Ethics found that two of the stories violated a provision in Lithuania’s ‘Minors Protection Act,’ which seeks to protect family values. The books were published with a label warning that the content might be harmful for children younger than 14. While the national court dismissed the author’s claim against the publisher, the European Court has found that the label violated the applicant’s freedom of expression and rejected the Government’s argument that book was intended to “degrade” heterosexual relationships.
- In Ukraine and the Netherlands v. Russia (applications nos. 8019/16, 43800/14 and 28525/20), the European Court of Human Rights found partly admissible the applications of Ukraine and the Netherlands to bring claims about violations of ECHR articles by Russia. The Government of Ukraine complained about ongoing administrative practices violating ECHR articles undertaken by separatists of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Lugansk People’s Republic” and members of the Russian forces. To demonstrate an administrative practice, the claimant had to show a repetition of similar acts which constituted a pattern as well as the official tolerance of those acts by the state’s higher authorities. The Dutch Government complained about ECHR violations in connection to the shooting down of the Malaysia Airways flight in 2014, which killed 298 people including 196 Dutch nationals, and the subsequent failure to investigate it. The Court held there was sufficient evidence to progress from the admissibility stage for both applicants. The ruling is an important step towards holding Russia responsible for its invasion of Ukraine. It follows last week’s vote of the EU Parliament for a Special Tribunal supported by the UN to try Russia’s political and military leadership for the crime of aggression. Acknowledging that the separatist regions of Eastern Ukraine have been in the “effective control” of Russia since 2014, the ruling effectively dismisses Russia’s framing of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine as a civil war reflective of the country’s social division and governmental mismanagement.