Tonight, in the Old Hall, Lincoln’s Inn, Judge Robert Spano will deliver the inaugural Bonavero Institute Human Rights Lecture entitled “The Democratic Virtues of Human Rights Law” in which he responds to Lord Sumption’s Reith Lectures on the BBC last year. Jonathon Sumption will be there himself to respond to Robert Spano’s observations. The event, which is moderated by Helen Mountfield QC, principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, will be recorded and filmed, and the director of the Bonavero Institute Catherine O’Regan (whom I interviewed in Episode 97 on Law Pod UK has kindly given permission for the audio recording to be republished on Law Pod UK in due course.
So, here is Robert Spano in his own words.
At the outset let me say this, I bring an external perspective, I will not be commenting on domestic political issues or developments in the British legal system. For that I am not equipped. Rather, I will begin by focussing in general on Lord Sumption’s views on the expanding role of law at the expense of politics before engaging with his third lecture, entitled ‘Human Rights and Wrongs’, and his criticism of the European Court of Human Rights. I proceed in this manner as it is difficult to disentangle the third lecture from Lord Sumption’s overall thesis. The five lectures must in other words fairly be read as a whole. When referring to his lectures, I will use the language Lord Sumption deploys in his published volume entitled Trials of the State – Law and the Decline of Politics (Profile Books, London (2019). In my intervention, I offer my personal views which should not be ascribed to the Court on which I serve.
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 career defined as much by powerful dissenting judgments as by winning oral arguments, Ruth Bader Ginsburg blazed a trail particularly for women, but also minorities and the LGBTQI+ community, to receive equal treatment under the law. This article will follow that trail, from her early women’s rights arguments in the 1970s to her powerful dissenting judgments, which earned her the affectionate title of ‘the Notorious RBG’ in later life.
To commemorate her death last Friday at 87 years of age, this extended article will look at her extraordinary professional life.
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).
In the previous post under this topic, I referred to Mr Justice Binnie’s proposal for the exercise of the standard of reasonableness review in the 2007 case of Dunsmuir v New Brunswick. This would eventually resurface in Vavilov, where the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada held that the starting point should be a presumption that the reasonableness standard applied. In the interim, there had been much academic, practitioner and judicial commentary on the lack of clarity and consistency in the application of the principles espoused by the majority in Dunsmuir in subsequent cases and on the difficulty in applying such principles in claims. Members of the Supreme Court also expressed concerns in subsequent cases, for example, Abella J in Wilson v Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd 2016 SCC 29. The majority in Vavilov explicitly refers to such criticism coming from the judiciary and academics but also from litigants before the Court and organizations representing Canadians who are affected by administrative decisions. As the Court stated,
These are not light critiques or theoretical challenges. They go to the core of the coherence of our administrative law jurisprudence and to the practical implications of this lack of coherence.
The Court also referred to concerns that the reasonableness standard was sometimes perceived as “advancing a two-tiered justice system in which those subject to administrative decisions are entitled only to an outcome somewhere between “good enough” and “not quite wrong”.
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?
This time last year I wrote that 2019 had been “perhaps the most tumultuous period in British politics for decades”. Little did I know what 2020 would have in store.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused loss, suffering and anxiety across not only the UK but almost all of the globe. At the UK Human Rights Blog, we feel deep gratitude to the doctors, nurses, carers and essential workers who have kept society going in what has been a deeply difficult year for so many of us.
In light of this, it is perhaps harder to summon the usual festive spirit that graces the approach of the holiday period — particularly as so many of us will be separated from our loved ones. And yet, perhaps it makes holding onto some spirit of joy all the more necessary.
Writing the article summing up the legal developments of the year is one of the highlights for me as commissioning editor of this blog. Let us embark together on a tour of what the courts had to say over the last 12 months. As ever, it has been a very interesting year.
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?
It is undeniable that the Human Rights Act has had a significant impact on the work of the Supreme Court. Just under a quarter (14 of 61) of cases decided during the Court’s 2018-19 term featured a determination on at least one issue relating to the Act or the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK Supreme Court is soon to begin Hilary Term 2020, and whilst the docket of cases it is set to hear this term seems to largely steer clear of controversial human rights issues we can nonetheless be confident that 2020 will feature its usual share of big human rights cases. What follows is a short preview of some of the more interesting and controversial of those cases, all of which the Court is due to hand down at some point this year.
It is well established that, under Article 3 ECHR, the United Kingdom cannot deport an individual to a country where, there is a “real risk” of them being subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. This has been extended to include situations where the deportee would be placed in circumstances which might occasion a significant deterioration of health, including where they lack access to life-saving treatment.
The question in this case is whether Article 3 prohibits deportation in AM’s situation. He is an HIV-positive individual, whose condition for many years was being managed by anti-retroviral drugs in the UK. If deported to Zimbabwe, he would be very unlikely to have access to the same treatment. Although some medical options would be available to him, they would likely be significantly less effective for the management of his condition.
Previous authorities had restricted the application of Article 3 to ‘deathbed’ cases only, where the deportee would likely die quickly following their removal from the country.
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.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.