The decisions by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda, handed down last Thursday, have generally been hailed as leap forward for human rights protection. We have already provided a summary of the decisions and pointed to some of the commentary here.
However, it is worth considering the core parts of these rulings a little more carefully. Without wishing to put too much of a dampener on the initial excitement from human rights campaigners about the outcome, the Court’s reasoning is perhaps not quite the radical breakthrough it first appeared to be. In fact, as Judge Bonello pointed out in his concurring opinion (which has drawn a lot of attention for his comments about ‘human rights imperialism’), the principles governing jurisdiction under Article 1 of the ECHR are not that much clearer following these decisions.
Al-Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence  EWCA Civ 811, 9 September 2016 – read judgment
This is an extremely important judgment from the Court of Appeal on the reach of the ECHR into war zones, in this case Iraq. The CA, with the only judgment given by Lloyd Jones LJ, disagreed in part with Leggatt J – for whose judgment see Dominic Ruck Keene’s post here.
3 main points arose on appeal.
The first was the jurisdictional question under Art.1 of the Convention – were Iraqi civilians killed or injured by British servicemen covered by the ECHR?
The second is the extent to which the UK is under a duty to investigate ECHR violations alleged by Iraqis, under Arts 3 (torture) and 5 (unlawful detention).
And the third is the question of whether the UN Torture Convention could be relied upon in domestic law proceedings.
I shall cover the first point in this post. The blog will cover the other points shortly. The points arose by way of preliminary legal issues in various test cases drawn from the 2,000 or so Iraqi claimants.
Sandiford, R(on the application of) v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs  168 (Admin) – read judgment
In this highly publicised case, the Administrative Court has come up with some firm criteria for the scope of the Convention’s protective reach for UK citizens abroad. The judgment is also something of a body blow for those who are looking to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms for a wider human rights umbrella.
Lindsay Sandiford, the 56 year old claimant, was arrested for drug smuggling in Indonesia and sentenced to death. She issued judicial review proceedings seeking an order requiring the FCO to provide and fund an “adequate lawyer” on the basis that she had not had proper representation in Indonesia. The broad basis of this claim was that the UK government should back up its opposition to the death penalty by putting its money where its mouth is. Continue reading →
Updated | The legal blogs have been busy reporting on this morning’s important decisions of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda – see my post.
There has been coverage already from PHD Studies in Human Rights, the Human Rights in Ireland Blog (update – see also EJIL: Talk: “Let me put this as strongly as I can: this is as close as we’ve ever come to the European Court overruling Bankovic. And good riddance – except, as we will see, the Court’s disavowal of Bankovic is only half-hearted at best.”). The Guardian has also published an article on the case in which Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers claims that the decisions will reopen the case for a wider public inquiry into alleged detainee mistreatment in Iraq; the firm recently failed in a judicial review of a decision not to hold a public inquiry on behalf of 127 Iraqis.
Many thanks to Antoine Buyse of the ECHR Blog for highlighting the lyrical and eminently quotable concurring opinion of Maltese Judge Giovanni Bonello, who since writing the judgment has retired from the court. Bonello said that he would have applied a slightly different “functional jurisdiction” test to decide whether the applicants fell within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.
R (on the application of Zagorski and Baze) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Archimedes Pharma UK Ltd – read judgment
The Administrative Court has put down a marker on the potential applicability of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights about the morality of certain trade with the United States. The case concerned the export of Sodium Thiopental, an anaesthetic drug that is used as a preliminary to the lethal injection for prisoners on death row. This is the first time a domestic court has made a definitive ruling on the potential role of the EU Charter in domestic law. Earlier this year the Court of Appeal referred a question on the Charter to the ECJ for determination on its relevance to asylum proceedings: see R (S) v Home Secretary & (1) Amnesty International & AIRE Centre (2) UNHCR and our post on the subject.
Al-Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 715 – read judgment
The High Court has ruled that the ECHR applies to situations where Iraqi civilians were shot during security operations conducted by British soldiers. When taken together with the parallel cases being brought against the MOD for breach of its Article 2 obligations towards its own soldiers, it appears increasingly likely that any operation undertaken by the British Army in the future will lead to legal challenges being brought against almost every aspect of its actions pre, during and post any use of military force.
Mr Justice Leggatt was asked to consider the scope of the UK’s duty under the ECHR to investigation allegations of wrongdoing by British Forces in Iraq. The Secretary of State accepted that anyone taken into custody by British Forces did have certain rights under the ECHR, in particular the right to life and the right not to be tortured. However, the one of two key areas of controversy were whether non detainee civilians who were killed outside the period when the UK was an ‘occupying power’ (1 May 2003 – 28 June 2004), were within the jurisdiction of the UK for the purposes of Article 1 of the ECHR. Continue reading →
The Human Rights Act applies in the UK. That much is clear. Whether it applies outside of UK territory is a whole other question, and one for which we may have a new answer when the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights gives judgment in the case of Al-Skeini and others v. the United Kingdom & Al-Jedda v. the United Kingdom next week.
The court is to give its long-awaited ruling at 10am (Strasbourg time) on Thursday 7 July. In short, the 7 applicants in the case were killed, allegedly killed or detained (Al-Jedda) by British forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. Both of the claims reached the House of Lords in the UK (now the Supreme Court), and in all but one case, which involved a death in a military detention centre, the court found that the Human Rights Act did not apply in Basra at the time, and therefore the UK military had no obligation to observe the requirements under the European Convention on Human Rights, and in particular article 2 (the right to life) and article 5 (right to liberty).
How is a Member State of the ECHR supposed to react when the UN Security Council tells it to do one thing and the Convention requires it to do another? That is the interesting and important question which the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was presented with, and dodged, in its recent decision in Nada v. Switzerland.
Mr Nada is an 82-year-old Italian-Egyptian financier and businessman, who in November 2001 found himself in the unfortunate position of having his name added to the international list of suspected funders and supporters of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which is maintained by the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council. Mr Nada has consistently denied that he has any connection to al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group, and in 2005 the Swiss Government closed an investigation after finding that the accusations against him were unsubstantiated. However, despite this Mr Nada remained on the list until September 2009. During the intervening 8 years the impact on Mr Nada’s health and his private and family life was severe, so he brought a claim against Switzerland for breach of his Article 8 rights, as well as breaches of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), Article 3 (right not to be subjected to ill-treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty) and Article 9 (right to freedom of religion).
Smith and Others (Appellants) v The Ministry of Defence (Respondent) and other appeals – read judgment and our previous post for summary of the facts
So, the Supreme Court has refused to allow these claims to be struck out on the principle of combat immunity. It has also asserted that jurisdiction for the purpose of an Article 2 right to life claim can extend to non-Convention countries, and that the state can owe a positive duty to protect life, even in a situation of armed combat.
This ruling deserves close attention not least because it takes common law negligence and Article 2 into an area which is very largely uncharted by previous authority. Lord Mance does not mince his words in his dissent, predicting that yesterday’s ruling will lead, inevitably, to the “judicialisation of war”. Lord Carnwath is similarly minded; in this case, he says, the Court is being asked to authorise an extension of the law of negligence (as indeed of Article 2), into a new field, without guidance from “any authority in the higher courts, in this country or any comparable jurisdiction, in which the state has been held liable for injuries sustained by its own soldiers in the course of active hostilities.” Lord Wilson also dissented on this point. Continue reading →
Abid Naseer, Ahmad Faraz Khan, Shoaib Khan, Abdul Khan and Tariq Ur Rehman (Appellants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent), Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 18 May 2010 – Read judgment
Two men suspected of attempting to mount a mass casualty attack can stay in the UK because they risked ill treatment if they were to be sent back to Pakistan. Rosalind English examines whether the extra territoriality reach of Article 3 makes a mockery of the core protections provided by European Convention on Human Rights.
Risk of torture
The alleged operatives appealed against deportation orders/refusals of re-entry on the grounds that they risked ill treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights at the hands of the Pakistani security services. Appeals against deportation were upheld because the reassurances as to the safety of their return was based on evidence that could not be disclosed in open court.
Serdar Mohammed and Others v Secretary of State for Defence  EWCA Civ 843 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has held that UK armed forces breached both Afghan law and Article 5 of the ECHR by detaining a suspected Taliban commander for longer than the 96 hours permitted by ISAF policy.
The MOD was therefore potentially liable at both public and private law for the failures to make arrangements for extended detention and to put in place such procedural safeguards as were required by international human rights law. Moreover, the defence of ‘act of state’ was not available against either the public or private law claims. Continue reading →
Dr Zakir Naik and The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Entry Clearance Officer, Mumbai India  EWHC 2825 (Admin) – read judgment
As we reported last week, the High Court has approved the exclusion of Dr Zakir Naik, a popular Indian television Islamic preacher, from the UK on the grounds that his presence would not be conducive to the public good.
Despite the High Court finding that the initial decision to exclude Dr Naik was procedurally unfair and that Article 10 ECHR (the right to freedom of expression) was engaged in relation to his supporters, his challenge to the exclusion was rejected. This case focuses the spotlight once more on the somewhat limited territorial reach of the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Convention, as well as the wide discretion of the Home Office to exclude radicals which it considers have displayed ‘unacceptable behaviours’.
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