The Weekly Round-up: Misleading Parliament, unrest in France, and the Met review
29 March 2023
In the news
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson gave oral evidence to the Privileges Committee as part of an ongoing inquiry into whether the ex-Prime Minister misled Parliament over lockdown parties in No 10. If the Commons was misled, the Committee will determine whether that constituted a contempt of Parliament – a finding which could result in Mr Johnson’s suspension from the Commons. In his evidence, Mr Johnson accepted he mislead MPs, but that he had not done so “intentionally or recklessly”. He claimed his statements were based upon honest belief, and were made in ‘good faith’ and in reliance on ‘trusted advisers’. The outcome of the inquiry will largely rest on whether Mr Johnson inadvertently, deliberately, or recklessly mislead Parliament – with the most severe sanctions arising if he is found to have deliberately made false statements to MPs. The committee’s report is expected later in the year.
Baroness Casey’s final report on the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service was published this week. The review was commissioned following the death of Sarah Everard at the hands of a serving Met officer. The report describes a culture in the Met of ‘defensiveness and denial’, which lacks integrity, fails to take complainants seriously and has discrimination ‘baked into it’. In Baroness Casey’s own words: ‘we have found institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia in the Met’. This report, alongside tragic events like Ms Everard’s death and the recent conviction of long-serving Met officer David Carrick, highlight a loss of public confidence in the police force.
In France on Thursday, protesters gathered across the country to demonstrate their opposition to President Macron’s pension reform bill, which proposes raising the age of retirement from 62 to 64. The protests began in January, but escalated this week when President Macron forced the proposed bill through parliament without a vote in the National Assembly. It is estimated that approximately one million people took part in the demonstrations. In Bordeaux, the front door of the city’s town hall was set on fire and police have been accused of using excessive force against protesters. Before the bill becomes legislation, it must pass a review by the Constitutional Council.
In other news
This week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) heard a case from 2013 about a woman in El Salvador who was refused an abortion by the Supreme Court, despite being seriously ill and the likelihood that the foetus would not survive birth. In El Salvador, abortion is illegal – women face up to 8 years in prison for seeking an abortion and medical professionals can be jailed for helping women access the service. Human rights activists hope the case will prompt a review of El Salvador’s strict anti-abortion laws. A final decision is expected by the end of the year.
The World Athletics Council has banned transgender women who have gone through male puberty from competing in the female category at international events. The guidelines will apply to competitions from the 31 March 2023. Previous rules required transgender women to reduce their blood testosterone to a maximum of 5nmol/L for 12 months before a competition. The Athletics Council said there was ‘little support’ amongst stakeholders for regulations which restrict the levels of testosterone permitted in athletes. The decision to exclude transgender women altogether has been widely criticised. The Council has established a working group to consider the issue of transgender inclusion in athletics and has promised to keep the decision under review.
Meanwhile, Uganda has introduced new legislation which promises to further entrench the criminalisation of same-sex conduct. The 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill confirms life imprisonment for homosexual acts and introduces the same sentence for the ‘recruitment, promotion and funding’ of same-sex activities. In a particularly shocking provision, the bill introduces an offence of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ which is punishable by death. The bill outlaws the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, making it virtually impossible for LGBTQ+ issues to be discussed or rights groups to operate. Other ancillary acts, such as failing to report same-sex relations, or providing accommodation that facilitates the ‘offence of homosexuality’ have also been criminalised. The bill has been heavily criticised by activists for curtailing the fundamental rights of Ugandan citizens.
In the courts
New reforms to the family justice system proposed this week will require mandatory mediation in all low-level family court cases. Separating couples will be required to attempt to agree a separating arrangement (including child custody and financial arrangements) through a qualified mediator before they are allowed to go to court. The reforms aim to protect children from the damaging impact of courtroom battles. Further, the government hopes that resolving disputes through mediation will ease the pressure on family courts. Compulsory mediation will not apply to cases where, for example, there have been allegations of domestic abuse or there are child protection concerns.
A prominent Nigerian politician, his wife, and a doctor have been convicted of conspiring to exploit a 21-year-old Nigerian man for his kidney. Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Beatrice Ekweremadu, and Dr Obinna Obeta were found guilty at the Old Bailey on Friday. The Ekweremadus, assisted by Dr Obeta, flew the victim to the United Kingdom under false pretences; promising him work and a new life in England. They pretended the victim was a relative to convince doctors at the Royal Free Hospital to perform the surgery. The victim escaped before any procedure took place, and reported the Ekweremadus to the police. All three have been convicted of breaking modern slavery laws. The Human Tissue Authority has said it has referred other similar cases to the police in recent years.
In Telek and Others v. Türkiye, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the removal of the three applicants’ passports by the Turkish government constituted a violation of their right to respect for private life. For two of the applicants, the Court also held there had been a violation of their right to education. The applicants – all employees of Turkish universities – were signatories of a petition entitled “We will not be accomplices to this crime,” created by a group called “Academics for peace.” Following the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and dismissed civil servants who were believed to have connections with terrorist organisations or groups deemed to be detrimental to national security. Under these powers, the applicant’s passports were cancelled. The Court found that the removal of the passports had a significant impact on the applicant’s professional and personal lives. The powers used by the government in the state of emergency had been undefined and unconditional. The interference, therefore, had not been proportional or in accordance with the law as required by Article 8.