Max Hastings greeted the new Supreme Court with the prediction that it was a “constitutional disaster in the making.” For Hastings this was Blair’s Court, Blair’s legacy; its creation just one more example of Labour’s wrecking of ancient British institutions. Of course, there was also positive coverage in the early days in papers like the Guardian and Times, but ideally the Court needed to get its own message about itself. How has it gone about doing this? And what has it been saying? What challenges has it faced in its first three years?
This blog (a shortened version of an article out this month in Public Law) looks at the Court’s innovative approach to getting the message out not only about what it is doing in cases, but also about its role in general. It is a topic covered recently by Adam Wagner, here. At the heart of the Public Law article is the idea that the Court is quietly asserting its role as a new and powerful constitutional actor. Its communication’s operation has been at the heart of this.
In a historic decision, a panel of 11 justices of the Supreme Court has held that the decision of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to prorogue Parliament for 5 weeks from 9 September to 14 October 2019 was unlawfulon the basis that it constituted an unjustified frustration of the constitutional principles of Parliamentary sovereignty and accountability.
Giving the summary of the Court’s reasons for the decision, the President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, said that
when the Royal Commissioners walked into the House of Lords it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper … Parliament has not been prorogued.
It follows, said Lady Hale, that the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords “can take immediate steps to enable each House to meet as soon as possible”.
Ibrahim and others v United Kingdom [GC], App nos. 50541/08, 50571/08, 50573/08, and 40351/09 – read the judgment here
The Grand Chamber has found a violation of Article 6(1) and 6(3)(c) in relation to one of the four applicants before it, partially overturning the earlier decision of the Chamber and providing much food for thought on the future of Article 6.
by David Scott. Many thanks to my colleagues at University of Zurich for comments on earlier drafts of this piece. Any mistakes are undoubtedly my own.
R (on the application of Philip James Woolas) and The Parliamentary Election Court  EWHC 3169 (Admin) – Read judgment / press summary
Phil Woolas has lost his appeal by way of judicial review of the decision to strip him of his election victory in Oldham East and Saddleworth in the 2010 General Election. He has said he will not appeal the decision.
Mr Woolas had to first convince the Administrative Court, which handles judicial reviews of the decisions of public bodies, that it had jurisdiction to hear the claim. He won on this point. However, once it had accepted it could hear the case, the Administrative court went on to uphold most of the decision of the Election Court.
The Christian Institute and others (Appellants) v The Lord Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland)  UKSC 51 – read judgment here
The Supreme Court has today unanimously struck down the Scottish Parliaments’s Named Persons scheme as insufficiently precise for the purposes of Article 8, overturning two previous decisions at the Court of Session (see our previous coverage here).
This post is adapted from a speech given by Judge Robert Spano of the European Court of Human Rights at Chatham House on 13 October 2014. It is reproduced here with permission and thanks.
There is currently a vigorous debate in the UK on the status and future of the European Convention on Human Rights in national law and also on the relationship between my Court, the Strasbourg Court (ECtHR), the UK Parliament and the domestic judiciary. In principle, democratic debates on such fundamental issues should always be welcome. Indeed, discussions on the role and functions of institutions of public power lie at the core of the democratic concept. It is therefore essential for the Court and its judges to engage in reasoned and informed debate about their work and its wider European implications.
How Does the ECtHR Discharge Its Mandate?
I have been asked to discuss the question of how the Strasbourg Court discharges its mandate. To give an answer, one must first respond to the fundamental question: What is the Court‘s mandate?
This piece asks whether, in the light of UK proposals for the reform of the ECtHR, and in the wake of the outcry in the UK over the Qatada decision (Othman v UK), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is taking an approach that looks like one of appeasement of certain signatory states.
Two very recent decisions will be looked at which, it will be argued, contain appeasement elements. Each can be compared with a previous counter-part decision against the same member state which adopts a more activist approach; and each is not immediately obviously reconcilable with the previous decision. Is the Court revisiting the ‘true’ scope of the ECHR in a more deferential spirit?
Understanding Standing: Post 3 of 3 of Article 263(4) TFEU
This is a final post in a series of three on standing in EU law. It will focus on whether the present position under Art 263(4) TFEU satisfies the principle of effective judicial protection.
Part I) Effective judicial remedies.
Effective judicial protection is of a long pedigree. We can trace an embryonic form of this right in the Magna Carta of 1215 which provides, in Article 29, that “no freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or disseised of his (…) liberties (…) save by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. To no-one will we sell or deny or delay right or justice” (See also Arts 11 to 13). It also emerged fairly early on in the jurisprudence of the European Union in the mid-1980s, with the CJEU starting to toy with the idea that the effectiveness of EU law could impose certain obligations at the domestic level in order to ensure that effectiveness, Case C-14/83Von Colson and more famously Case C-410/92 Johnson. The principle can now can be found enshrined in Art 47 of the Charter, as follows:
Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial
Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law of the Union are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in this Article. (…)
This Charter has equal status to the other two Treaties constituting the EU, the TEU and TFEU (see TEU, Art 6(1)) Thus, as has been stressed on many an occasion, the very applicability of EU law entails the applicability of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter. In other words, effective judicial protection is a fundamental postulate of EU law – where there is EU law there must be effective judicial protection. Continue reading →
As we recently posted, the UK Commission on a Bill of Rights has published its interim advice to Government on reform of the European Court of Human Rights. The Commission made recommendations to achieve the “effective functioning of the Court over the long term”, following which Joshua Rozenberg stated that “everybody now agrees on the need for fundamental reform. It has to happen. And it will.”
But if there is such agreement, can the Commission’s recommendations produce any meaningful reform? Or do the proposals simply rehash old ideas?
On October 2 at 10am, the United Kingdom Supreme Court held an hour long pre-term press-briefing to mark the opening of the Court’s fifth year. This blog looks not only at what was said by the Court, and asked by the journalists on the day, but also what was then reported.
The Supreme Court’s relationship with the media is marked by the same combination of common interests and tensions which mark the media’s relationship with any other public body. Yes the Court wants media coverage; and a function of the media is to cover the Court. The media though will always want more than its subjects are looking to give up, and not only that, will often frame how the subject is presented according to each outlet’s particular agendas. Further, the Court, and its justices, will also have their own goals about what messages should be highlighted.
There probably aren’t many people who want to know what ‘goes on’ in the Court of Protection more than me; it’s what I spend much of my time trying to fathom. An outsider would be forgiven for thinking that this branch of Her Majesty’s Court Service doesn’t feel that case law in this tangled and difficult area is anybody’s business but it’s own.
The reasons for this appearance are complex though, and not necessarily the fault of any individuals working within the courts. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between different ways that greater ‘transparency’ could be achieved; some might be more helpful than others.
The High Court has dismissed an application for judicial review regarding the use of Automated Facial Recognition Technology (AFR) and its implications for privacy rights and data protection.
Haddon-Cave LJ and Swift J decided that the current legal regime is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR in a free and civilised society. The Court also held that South Wales Police’s (SWP) use to date of AFR by has been consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and data protection legislation.
Nonetheless, periodic review is likely to be necessary. This was the first time any court in the world had considered AFR. This article analyses the judgement and explores possible avenues for appeal.
A Family Court judgment was severely critical of two witnesses and the applicant local authority. In an oral “bullet point” judgment at the end of the hearing, the Judge found that the witnesses, a social worker (‘SW’) and a police officer (‘PO’), had improperly conspired to prove certain allegations regardless of the truth, or professional guidelines.
Those matters were not in issue before the court or put to those concerned. Limited amendments were subsequently made to the judgment following submissions by those criticised. Unsatisfied, they went to the Court of Appeal.
The Court considered (1) whether they were entitled to appeal at all (2) whether their appeal based on Articles 8 and 6 of the Convention succeeded and (3) the appropriate remedy.
The Court held that the appellants’ Convention rights had been breached by the manifestly unfair process in the court below, so they had a right to appeal under the Human Rights Act 1998. The defective judgment was not cured by the amendments, and the findings were struck out.
The judgment addresses some interesting procedural questions regarding appeals. This post focuses mainly on the human rights issues, but the judgment of McFarlane LJ, described as “magisterial” by Sir James Munby, merits reading in full.
Rosalind English’s excellent posts here and here provide a clear overview of the Court’s case law on and its approach to the admissibility criteria. As approximately 97 % of all UK applications to the Court are currently found to be inadmissible or are struck out (see the Court’s 2011 statisticsand Andrew Tickell’s earlier post, it is important for applicants and especially practitioners to have a clear understanding of the admissibility criteria before lodging their applications.
However, as the vast majority of inadmissible applications are declared inadmissible by a single judge in decisions which are never published, there is little information in the public domain about how these criteria are applied in practice.
Consequently, we would like to take this opportunity to supplement Rosalind’s overview by providing practitioners with some practical information on the application of the criteria to UK cases as well as other guidelines for submitting applications.
The Court’s general approach to admissibility
Many practitioners still incorrectly assume that for all applications there is an initial, “admissibility” stage of proceedings and a later “merits” stage. Instead, it is more helpful to distinguish between: (i) the procedure before an application is communicated to the respondent Government for their observations; and (ii) the procedure after communication. Continue reading →
Around 150 delegates, including representatives of all 47 Council of Europe states and two judges of the European Court of Human Rights, met in Oslo last week. Their mission? To reflect on the protracted process of reforming the European Convention system and imagine what it might look like in 2030.
Non-government organisations and academics (myself included) joined the insiders to engage in ‘blue-skies’ thinking, despite the dense fog that enveloped the hilltop venue.
The end of the beginning
The Strasbourg Court as we know it came into being in 1998 with the entry into force of Protocol 11 to the Convention. Subsequent reform was driven by two closely-linked imperatives: first, to reduce the backlog both of applications and non-executed judgments and secondly, to reinforce the subsidiary role of the Court vis-à-vis national authorities.
As regards the former, notable developments include the steps taken since 2010 under Protocol 14 to increase the efficiency of judicial decision-making; and (more controversially) the introduction of a shorter deadline, narrower admissibility criteria, and stricter conditions for applicants. The post-judgment process of implementation was also reformed to permit more intensive supervision by the Committee of Ministers (the Council of Europe’s executive arm) of urgent, complex or inter-state cases and lighter touch supervision of the rest. Continue reading →
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