In Episode 189 presenters Rosalind English and Lucy McCann reprise some of the leading episodes of Law Pod UK this year, ranging from the potential impact of AI on the legal professions, to the problem of Deprivation of Liberty Orders for children in the UK, given the severe lack of regulated accommodation available for the family courts to identify.
For a reminder and a refresher of the wide spectrum of subjects we cover on this series, dive in, learn and enjoy.
Questions have been raised over the state of the British prisons system after the escape of Daniel Khalife. The 21 year-old former soldier who had been convicted for terrorist offences escaped from Wandsworth prison by hiding under a food delivery lorry, reportedly, but was later recaptured by police on a Chiswick towpath. Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has signalled that investigations are being made into the prison’s conditions. Inquiries may be made into the reason for Khalife being held in Wandsworth, a category B-security prison, rather than the high-security prison Belmarsh, where serious terrorist suspects are ordinarily kept. The incident has been used by some to demonstrate that the system has now reached breaking point, with overcrowding and understaffing enabling such incidents.
Google is facing a multi-billion pound lawsuit brought on behalf of UK consumers on claims that its search-engine stifled competition, causing prices to rise. The claim is that Google restricted competition by raising the prices for advertisers, making use of its market dominance. These costs are ultimately passed onto the consumers and are estimated at £7.3bn, at least £100 per member of the 65-million-person class of UK users over the age of 16. Google has commented that it will “vigorously dispute” this “speculative and opportunistic” suit.
This week, the Ministry of Justice has proposed new laws which would allow judges to force defendants to attend sentencing hearings. Judges can already issue an order requiring a defendant to attend court, and failing to comply can result in a prosecution under the Contempt of Court Act. The Ministry of Justice says, however, that these powers are rarely used by judges. The proposed reforms will allow custody officers to use “reasonable force” to make defendants appear in court. The reforms would also allow judges to extend a defendant’s sentence by two years if they refuse to comply. The new measures were prompted by a number of defendants convicted of murder refusing to attend sentencing hearings, including Lucy Letby who was given a life sentence for the murder of 7 babies and attempted murder of 6 others. While the victims’ families have welcomed the reforms, others have expressed concern that the policy will overburden the court system and place prison staff in unnecessarily dangerous situations.
Listen to Family law expert Richard Ager talk to Melissa Patidar about her intermediary service company, Comunicourt, which provides communication support between lawyers and witnesses in remote and face to face hearings in family court proceedings. They discuss parties with vulnerabilities, qualifications and role of an intermediary, and how lawyers should aim to work with them.
Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal overturned Andrew Malkinson’s conviction for rape and related assault offences, for which he had spent 17 years in prison. An appeal in 2006 upheld the verdict and applications to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) in 2012 and 2020 were denied. Finally, a third application last year convinced the CCRC to order fresh DNA analysis. It was this evidence as well as treatment of some previously undisclosed information to do with Malkinson’s witness identification which secured his release.
On 11 August, a piece from Professor Richard Ekins KC (Hon) set out a case for the UK denouncing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and leaving the treaty system altogether. One of the main arguments in favour of this is that it would ‘restore Parliament’s freedom, on behalf of the British people, to decide what our laws should be’. This marks one of the more recent such calls, amid a growing chorus of Ministers in the UK Government and Conservative Party MPs to leave the ECHR. Also, it should be noted that we have been here before. The constitutional aspects of such a move aside, there are particular reasons why it would impact Northern Ireland. While Northern Ireland does not feature in Professor Ekins’ 11 August piece, he has previously written about the interaction between the ECHR and the Good Friday Agreement 1998 (GFA), which underpins the modern devolution settlement in Northern Ireland and which brought an end to a brutal and deadly conflict. This interaction is the subject of this post.
The Fire Brigades Union has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Home Secretary threatening judicial review of her alleged failure to address “serious fire and operational safety concerns” aboard the Bibby Stockholm. The FBU claims that the Home Office has failed to arrange fire drills for asylum seekers or adequate risk assessments of the barge, despite more than doubling the number of planned occupants by using single rooms for double occupancy and creating rooms for four or six persons to sleep in. This, they say, creates “an apparently entirely new, and highly dangerous accommodation arrangement” which is “inherently unsafe”. The planned judicial review follows the Home Office’s refusal to meet officials to discuss fire safety concerns, which Robert Jenrick – the Immigration Minister – justified on the basis that the barge meets industry standards and that appropriate bodies, such as the National Fire Chiefs Council, have been consulted.
Why wasn’t Lucy Letby stopped sooner? This is the burning question that the families of her victims, and the public, are now asking. Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, has decided that the best means of answering it is a ‘non-statutory public inquiry’. But what is such an inquiry, and will it be better than a full-blown statutory public inquiry?
Non-statutory inquiries can be set up by anyone, at any time, to investigate anything. They proceed in private and have no legal powers to demand the disclosure of documents or to call witnesses to give evidence. But they have the twin merits of speed and informality. The former may be very valuable, particularly where urgent changes are needed. The latter can facilitate a greater degree of candour about errors that have been made, as witnesses feel less pressure than they do in the full glare of public scrutiny. But such inquiries are entirely reliant on organisations and individuals to assist them. This cannot be guaranteed, particularly where livelihoods, reputations, and even freedoms, are at stake. So they may fail where this doesn’t happen.
Non-statutory inquiries also don’t always give victims, their families, and the public, the assurances they need that the Government understands the gravity of what has happened. An example of this is non-statutory inquiry into the horrific abuse perpetrated by David Fuller – who sexually assaulted many dead bodies that were supposedly safe in a hospital mortuary. Ordered by the then Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, on 8th November 2021, its proceedings have been entirely behind closed doors and it has yet to report almost two years on.
In this two-part article, Maya Sikand KC, Tom Stoate and Ruby Peacock, explore two difficult questions arising from the inquest into the ‘harrowing circumstances’ of the death of a baby, Aisha Cleary, at HMP Bronzefield.
The first part explored whether coroners should have jurisdiction to investigate stillbirths.
This second part seeks to answer the question: should foetuses ever be protected by a ‘derivative’ right to life?
For a brief introduction to Aisha Cleary’s case, please see Part 1.
Article 2 ECHR rights in utero
Article 2, encapsulating the right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), does not provide temporal limitations on the right to life and does not define ‘everyone’ (‘toute personne’) whose life is protected by the Convention. The European Court on Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) has left it to the margin of appreciation of Convention states to decide when life begins for the purposes of Article 2. In England and Wales, ‘Coroners do not have jurisdiction to conduct an investigation concerning a foetus or a stillborn child, as where there has not been an independent life, there has not legally been a death’.
One of the candidates running in Ecuador’s upcoming presidential election has been assassinated. Fernando Villavicencio was shot dead at a campaign rally in Quito. His election platform addressed the issues of corruption and government links to organised crime. There is speculation that the powerful Los Lobos gang is behind the killing. This follows the news two weeks ago of the fatal shooting of Agustín Intriago, a popular city mayor. Formerly hailed as one of the safest countries in South America, Ecuador has been overrun in recent years by organised crime and international drug cartels, while democratic rights of protest have been rolled back by the political establishment.
British water companies are facing lawsuits valued at £800 million for failing to report pollution. Class actions claims are being brought against six water companies on behalf of the public. The claimants allege that the companies’ failure to report the discharge of raw sewage into the supply is a breach of competition law and should have lowered the consumer price. Carolyn Roberts, the environmental and water consultant bringing the claims at the competition tribunal, contends that customers have been overcharged as a result of the water companies abusing their power as privatised monopolies.
A group of asylum seekers which refused to board the Bibby Stockholm barge was warned on Monday that government support would be withdrawn if they did not move onto the accommodation. The Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk, commented that the illegality of the proposal was “something that the courts would have to consider” but that it was “unlikely” to be illegal, also remarking that the asylum accommodation was “sparse and […] a bit austere but, frankly, that is not unreasonable.” The charity Care4Calais have criticised the scheme as likely to cause vulnerable people emotional distress. On Thursday, however, all migrants were removed from the vessel after it was discovered that Legionella bacteria had entered the water supply.
In this two-part article, Maya Sikand KC, Tom Stoate, and Ruby Peacock, explore two difficult questions arising from the inquest into the ‘harrowing circumstances’ of the death of a baby, Aisha Cleary, at HMP Bronzefield.
This first part seeks to answer the question: should coroners have jurisdiction to investigate stillbirths?
The second part will examine whether foetuses should enjoy Article 2 rights which do not conflict with the rights of the mother.
Rianna Cleary, who was 18 years old at the time, gave birth to Aisha Cleary alone in her cell in HMP Bronzefield, on the night of 26 September 2019, without medical or any other assistance. Ms Cleary’s two calls for help via the prison emergency intercom system in her cell were first ignored, then unanswered – despite there being a 24-hour nursing station on her wing in the prison. Terrified and in pain, without knowing what to do, Ms Cleary felt compelled to bite through her umbilical cord. Aisha’s birth was not discovered by prison staff until the next morning – after other prisoners raised their concerns – at which time Aisha was ‘not moving,had a tinge of blue on her lips, butwasstill warm’. Unsuccessful resuscitation attempts were made, with an adult oxygen mask in the absence of any paediatric or neo-natal mask. Less than an hour later, paramedics confirmed that Aisha had died. The Senior Coroner for Surrey, Richard Travers, stated that Aisha ‘arrived into the world in the most harrowing of circumstances’.
Following a month-long inquest, involving ten interested persons (‘IPs’) and more than 50 witnesses, including three expert witnesses, Mr Travers concluded that numerous causative failings contributed to Aisha’s death.
In the early hours of 24 March 1922, a group of men, of whom most were in police uniform, broke into the North Belfast home of prominent Catholic businessman Owen McMahon and shot him dead, along with four of his sons and a male employee. Between 1920 and 1922, hundreds of people were killed, and thousands forced out of their homes, particularly in Belfast and the surrounding townlands. These grizzly events marked the birth of Northern Ireland.
Alexei Navalny – a vocal critic of Putin’s government and prominent opposition figure in Russia – has been sentenced to a further 19 years in prison. Navalny is already serving an 11-year sentence for various charges. The hearing for this most recent conviction was held behind closed doors, at a penal colony in Nelekhovo (to the east of Moscow). The opposition leader was found guilty on six counts, including a charge for inciting and financing extremism. As part of this most recent conviction, Navalny will be moved to a “special regime colony”, where his access to visitors (including family members and his legal team) will be reduced. Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for Navalny’s release and denounced the “repressive crackdown on freedom of expression and political opposition in Russia”.
In a similar piece of news, the UK Government imposed sanctions on 6 individuals in connection with the conviction of Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent critic of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Mr Kara-Murza is a dual Russian and British national, who was sentenced earlier this year to 25 years in a penal colony for treason and spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian armed forces. Mr Kara-Murza’s appeal was dismissed this week, prompting the UK Government to initiate fresh sanctions against the three judges, two prosecutors and “expert witness” involved in Kara-Murza’s appeal. The UK Government says the conviction is “politically motivated targeting” and Mr Kara-Murza is being persecuted for his anti-war stance. The sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans against the individuals concerned.
Two thinktanks – Civil Exchange and the Sheila McKechnie Foundation – have issued a damning report on the state of freedom of expression and democratic discourse in the UK, condemning the “political attack” on democratic spaces by government ministers. The report, titled “Defending our Democratic Spaces”, laments the attempts by Conservative ministers to portray judges, lawyers, charities, campaigners and parts of the media as a “block to democracy rather than key components of it”. Other key issues highlighted in the report include the increasingly authoritarian anti-protest laws being passed, new ID restrictions on the right to vote, reduced access to judicial review, and the creation by ministers of an “intemperate environment” as part of ongoing culture wars. The result, it is feared, is a “chilling effect” on public campaigning and further polarisation of UK politics. The political attacks on freedom are not just affecting those on the left – we also recently saw the closure of Nigel Farage’s bank account with Coutts on the basis of his political beliefs and the subsequent resignation of Natwest’s CEO.
On the face of it, the issue decided by the Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber, Charity) on 6 July 2023 was a narrow one: whether Mermaids was entitled to challenge the Charity Commission’s decision to register the LGB Alliance as a charity. But its ruling – that Mermaids could not – was highly significant as a robust affirmation of the value of debate in a democratic society.
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