Strikes, private nuisance, protest Bill: The Weekly Round up
6 February 2023
In the news
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill has been voted through the House of Commons amidst historic industrial action across the UK. Workers in health, education, transport and the civil service came out on strike in disputes over pay, jobs and conditions, and members of the Fire Brigades Union have voted overwhelmingly in favour of walking out. The synchronisation of strikes across different sectors has seen levels of disruption not seen in at least decades. The government has published a memorandum on the compatibility of the Bill with the ECHR, but the issue is far from clear cut – the Labour party and trade unions have opposed the Bill, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights has put written questions to the Secretary of State. The TUC has not ruled out legal action if the Bill is passed, and February 1st saw nationwide protests on the “right to strike day”.
The Public Order Bill has also been making its way through Parliament this week, with the Bill suffering setbacks in the House of Lords. The unelected chamber voted in favour of a higher threshold for police to intervene in protests and for there to be a defence of protesting about “an issue of current debate”. On the same day, Extinction Rebellion protestors gained access to the chamber, leading to an adjournment. The “draconian” Bill has faced strong opposition from human rights groups such as Justice and Amnesty, as well as Hongkongers in the UK who have compared the situation to the ex-British colony. How long the Parliamentary ping-pong will last, and what the end Bill will look like, are yet to be seen.
Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, has admitted that government guidance regulating building safety was “faulty and ambiguous” and contributed to the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people lost their lives. He left the ultimate blame with the developers, against calls to sanction the cladding suppliers that were responsible for the use of the unsafe cladding.
In other news
- The UN’s expert group on people of African descent has written to the UK government to express “very extreme concern” about its failure to address “structural, institutional and systemic” racism against people of African descent in the UK. This comes after the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, recently rejected the recommendations of the Windrush inquiry, which you can find more on here.
- Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into the use of antipersonnel mines in Ukraine. Their use, they say, is a violation of international humanitarian law because they cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has also announced the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute crimes of Russian aggression, and Germany has claimed that there is evidence of Russian war crimes in the ‘three-digit’ range.
- The Criminal Bar Association has announced that Director of Public Prosecutions has successfully sought more money from the Treasury to increase the pay of prosecution barristers in line with their defending counterparts. The increase will be of 15% and will come into force in 8 weeks. This comes after the first ever protests by the criminal bar in previous months against a backdrop of record-high backlog in the courts.
In the courts
- In Y v France, the European Court of Human Rights held that France did not violate the Article 8 rights of the applicant – a biologically intersex person – when their request to have the word “neutral” or “intersex” entered on their birth certificate instead of “male”. While acknowledging the importance of gender identity to Article 8, the Court held that the lack of European consensus on the issue made it appropriate to defer to the French authorities on the scope of the positive obligations.
- Indonesian residents of the island of Pari have started proceedings against the cement-making company Holcim in a Swiss court. The residents say that the manufacturing giant is doing too little to cut carbon emissions and threatening the survival of their island as a result. At the same time, nearly 14,000 Nigerians have brought proceedings against Shell in the High Court for pollution of their water sources and destruction of their natural environment. This is part of a larger wave of climate litigation in recent years, with the European Court of Human Rights recently holding a procedural hearing on the management of three different climate cases against over thirty states.
- The Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery has lost its appeal to the Supreme Court on the issue of whether its visitors using its viewing platform to look into neighbouring flats constitutes private nuisance. The court held, by a majority, that while ‘mere overlooking’ is not capable of being a nuisance, the viewing platform of the Tate Gallery was an exceptional use of land and the intrusion into the resident’s flats amounted to a substantial interference with the ordinary use and enjoyment of their property. The judgement is notable for, among other things, ruling out Article 8 in the circumstances and reaching their decision solely on common law principles, and for criticising the approach to the balancing exercise taken by the trial judge.