The Weekly Round-up: Stopping Small Boats, Child Marriages, and the question of Abortion Rights in the USA
7 March 2023
In the news
Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel will see a Bill brought before Parliament this week aimed at stripping those who arrive in the UK via small boats of their right to claim asylum. Potential measures under the Bill include new powers to declare claims inadmissible and a duty on the Home Secretary to remove such asylum-seekers to Rwanda or another third country. There may also be new criminal offences created for those who arrive via small boats, building on or adopting the draft Illegal Immigration (Offences) Bill. It is not clear how these plans will comply with the UK’s international obligations given the European Court of Human Rights’ previous intervention on the issue and their granting of an interim injunction, although the High Court gave the plans the green light back in December. The move also raises questions about the government’s plans for a domestic ‘Bill of Rights’, which previously included a clause obliging the UK courts to ignore interim measures from Strasbourg.
Suella Braverman is expected to introduce an amendment to the Public Order Bill to provide protective measures for journalists following defeats in the House of Lords. The Lords voted in favour of preventing reporters from being subject to police action after Hertfordshire police had to issue an apology to various reporters and photographers were detained at a Just Stop Oil demonstration in December last year. The government has not accepted the wording of the Lords’ amendment, with their proposed version merely preventing a police constable from detaining a person for the sole purpose of observing or reporting on a protest, which begs the question what exactly the government aims to exclude in doing so.
There has been widespread outrage from the international community following numerous killings in the West Bank. Both Israel and Palestine have reported deaths, amid calls from the UN for Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has presented the UN Human Rights Council with his annual report, which details the devastating impact that the conflict and occupation is having on the lives and rights of the Palestinian people. Tensions were further stoked when Bezalel Smotrich, Israeli finance minister, called for the ‘erasure’ of a Palestinian town – remarks which PM Netanyahu has since distanced himself from following US criticism.
In other news
- The minimum age for marriage in England and Wales has risen from 16 to 18 following the coming into force last week of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022. The act raises the minimum age for both marriages and civil partnerships, creates an offence for those involved in wedding minors, and provides for the non-recognition of civil partnerships outside the jurisdiction where one or both parties were under 18 at the time.
- The government is under pressure from both the police and criminal lawyers, with the former calling for new powers for them to charge suspects and the latter threatening judicial review if legal aid rates are not increased. Chief Constables from the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and West Yorkshire say that the CPS is unable to cope with the current demand and that the current system – where the decision to charge is taken by independent lawyers – is failing. However, the risks of a partial police force taking the decision to charge are obvious and have been met with criticism. Meanwhile, the Law Society has decried the government’s decision not to implement the recommended 15% increase to legal aid as “irrational”. Lubna Shuja, the Society’s president, confirmed that proceedings had been commenced after a pre-action letter was sent in January.
- UN delegates in New York have announced the conclusion of negotiations on a historic treaty to protect two-thirds of the world’s oceans. The treaty is one of the most significant developments in climate legislation in recent years and will provide a legal framework for establishing and protecting marine protected areas (MPAs) whilst establishing a regular conference between member states to ensure accountability. However, even with 193 nations in agreement, the familiar rift between developed and developing nations emerged on the problem of how to fairly share marine genetic resources and profits, even with the EU pledging $42m for ratification and implementation of the treaty.
In the courts
- Reality TV contestant Stephen Bear has been jailed in a landmark case for the publication of sensitive private footage of his ex-partner, Georgia Harrison, on the subscription website Onlyfans. Mr Bear was sentenced to 21 months following a guilty verdict after a jury trial at Chelmsford Crown Court for voyeurism and sharing explicit content without consent.
- Anti-abortion groups in the US have brought a case in Texas asking a federal judge to overrule the decision of the FDA in 2000 to authorise one of the main drugs used in providing abortions across the country. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk will hear the case, who was appointed by Trump and has a history for conservative rulings. As a result, several human rights groups have written to the UN calling for urgent action to prevent an assault on reproductive rights across the US. The dangerous trend, which started with the overruling of Roe v Wade, risks setting dangerous precedents for a large number of social rights which have been found to be implied in the Constitution.
- A Russian man has been detained and charged with ‘discrediting the Russian army’ and his daughter has been taken into care following drawings she made in school depicting the Russian bombing of Ukraine. Had Russia not ceased to be a party to the ECHR back in September, this would have joined the five-figure waiting list of pending cases against Russia. This comes after UN Secretary-General António Guterres lamented the war in Ukraine as “the most massive violations of human rights” in the world today.
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