The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry.
In the history of American jurisprudence, there are a handful of cases which are so significant that they will be known to all US law students, much of the domestic population at large, and even large segments of the international community. Brown v Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in schools, is one example. Roe v Wade, which upheld the right of women to access abortion serves, is another. To that list may now be added the case of Obergefell v Hodges.
[UPDATE: on 31 July 2023 the Court of Appeal allowed Dartmoor National Park Authority’s appeal against the judgment considered in this post. It is interesting to note the similarities between the line of reasoning followed by Sir Geoffrey Vos MR at §55-§57 of that judgment and some of the arguments made below. This is a welcome development and it is hoped that the attention brought to the issue of public access to the countryside by this case will result in future reforms in this area.]
“The principal issue in this case is whether section 10(1) of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 (“the 1985 Act”) confers on the public a right not only to walk or ride a horse on the commons but also to camp there overnight.”
That Friday the 13th was indeed unlucky for the wild camping community, if not wider society. For with the handing down of that judgment, the last remaining rights to wild camp without the permission of the landowner in England and Wales were extinguished.
This case, therefore, represents more than just a landowner seeking to prevent campers using their land without permission. Rather it is a further step in the seemingly inexorable privatisation of the English Countryside for the benefit of the few, to the detriment to the many, and with the full-throated support of the law.
In considering this unfortunate development, I will first set out the background to thecase, then examine the reasoning underpinning the judgment. I will then situate this case in the wider context of public access to the countryside, and ask whether and how this public good can be reconciled with the private property rights of landowners in England and Wales.
The Queen (on the application of Newhaven Port and Properties Limited) v East Sussex County Council and Newhaven Town Council  SC 7 25 February 2015- read judgment
Late February is not necessarily the best time of year for a bit of UK sea swimming. But the Supreme Court has just come out with interesting judgments about whether there is a right to go to the beach and swim from it. For reasons I shall explain, they were anxious not to decide the point, but there are some strong hints, particularly in the judgment of Lord Carnwath as to what the right answer is, though some hesitation as to how to arrive at that answer.
It arose in a most curious setting – East Sussex’s desire to register West Beach, Newhaven as a village green under the Commons Act 2006. But a beach cannot be a village green, you may say. But it is, said the Court of Appeal (see Rosalind English’s post here), and the Supreme Court did not hear argument on that point.
Parrillo v Italy (application no. 46470/11) Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights,  ECHR 755 (27 August 2015) – read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court has ruled that the Italian ban on the donation of embryos obtained by IVF procedures to scientific research was within Italy’s margin of appreciation and therefore not in breach of the applicant’s right of private life and autonomy, even though she was willing to give the embryos to scientific research, since she no longer wanted to proceed with pregnancy after her partner was killed covering the war in Iraq. By donating these cryopreserved embryos to research she would, she argued, make an important contribution to research into medical therapies and cures.
A strong dissent to the majority judgment is worth pointing up at the outset. The Hungarian judge, Andras Sajó, found Italy’s general ban quite out of order. Not only did it disregard the applicant’s right to self-determination with respect to an important private decision, it did so in an absolute and unforeseeable manner.
The law contains no transitional rules which would have enabled the proper authority to take into consideration the specific situation of the applicant, whose embryos obtained from the IVF treatment were placed in cryopreservation in 2002 and whose husband passed away in 2003, three months before the law entered into force.
In this guest post, Dr Ilaria Bertini, Research Fellow at Bios Centre, examines the recent decision of a Chamber of the Third Section of the European Court of Human Rights in Mortier v. Belgium, which examined Belgian law relating to euthanasia.
The case concerns an adult Belgian citizen who underwent a euthanasia procedure at a time when she was suffering from severe depression, without her son or daughter being properly informed. Hence her son, Tom Mortier, claimed that the government failed to protect both her right to life (art. 2 ECHR) and her right to respect for private and family life (art. 8 ECHR).
According to the Belgian Act on Euthanasia (28th May 2002) it is legal for a physician to perform euthanasia if the following three criteria are met: the patient is legally competent and conscious at the time of the request, the request is made autonomously without external pressure, and the patient is suffering from a “medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident.” An independent second opinion might be needed to assess the patient’s willingness to die. Once the euthanasia is approved, there is a cooling off period of one month before the act takes place. Afterwards a Commission of 16 persons seeks to check all the reports to make sure that the procedure has complied with the law.
Public Interest Environmental Litigation and the European Court of Human Rights: No love at first sight, by Riccardo Pavoni – read article
Thanks to this link on the ECHR blog, a fascinating account of the twists and turns of Strasbourg environmental case law from Professor Pavoni, of the University of Siena. It is 30 closely-argued pages, so I shall try and give a flavour of the debates Pavoni covers, as well as chucking in my own penn’orth.
The starting point, as I see it, is that public interest environmental litigation is a square peg in the round hole of Strasbourg case law. The Convention and the case law are concerned with victims of human rights abuses. Environmental degradation affects everyone, but not necessarily in a way which makes them a a Strasbourg victim. Take loss of biodiversity, say the decline in UK songbirds, or the peace of a remote moorland affected by 150m high wind turbines. Who is the potential victim in those cases when judged by human rights? Pavoni argues that if the Strasbourg Court were to assert jurisdiction over environmental cases as a common good, alongside adverse impacts on private victims, this would not result in a major overhaul of the Court’s current principles – not too much expansion of the hole needed to fit the square peg in snugly. How does he reach that position?
Pimlico Plumbers Ltd & Anor v Smith  UKSC 29 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed Pimlico Plumbers Ltd’s appeal and upheld the Employment Tribunal’s ruling that the Respondent – Mr Smith – a plumbing and heating engineer had been:
(a) a “worker” within the meaning of section 230(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996;
(b) a “worker” within the meaning of regulation 2(1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833)
(c) in Pimlico’s “employment” within the meaning of section 83(2)(a) of the Equality Act.
Questions concerning the true employment status of individuals who are presented to the paying customer as being an integral part of the business in question are increasingly common. Despite being presented to the end customer as such, the purported legal reality is that the individual is self-employed for both tax and employment law purposes. This is partly what is described by such arrangements being part of the so-called “gig economy”. Continue reading →
This article was first published on the UK Labour Law Blog ( @labour_blog). We repost it with the kind permission of Dr Philippa Collins (@DrPMCollins at Exeter University)and the editors of the Labour Law Blog
One of the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic upon the world of work is likely to be a move away from the traditional workplace. In some sectors, such as academia, IT, and administration, remote work or home working is an established working pattern, although a rare one given national statistics from 2019 which indicated only 5% of the workforce worked mainly from home. The need to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through contact in the workplace precipitated a rapid and widespread move to homeworking. In an ONS survey in early May, 44% of adults surveyed were working from home. As some businesses begin to transition back into their previous working patterns, several high-profile companies have announced that they will not expect their staff to return to the workplace and will support homeworking as a permanent option in the future.
The European Convention 1950 guarantees the right to a fair trial. Everyone knows that. At article 6.1 the Convention says:
Right to a fair trial
1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law….
What everyone does not know is what is a ‘civil right’. And in the present context – namely divorce of civil partnership dissolution – do you have a right to query the assertion of your spouse or civil partner that your marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down?
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 simplifies the divorce and civil partnership dissolution process by changing the law to make irretrievable breakdown – as now – the only ground for divorce or dissolution. But to prove that, there was no longer any need to establish one or more facts: adultery (marriage only), unreasonable behaviour or living apart for varying periods. One, or both, parties can file a statement of irretrievable breakdown. The procedure for this is likely – no commencement date has been confirmed – to be in force from 6 April 2022. All so far so civilised.
One of the most contentious proposals in the Consultation Paper on the transforming legal aid is the removal of client choice in criminal cases. Under the proposals contracts for the provision of legal aid will be awarded to a limited number of firms in an area. The areas are similar to the existing CPS areas. The Green Paper anticipates that there will be four or five such providers in each area. Thus the county of Kent, for example, will have four or five providers in an area currently served by fifty or so legal aid firms. Each area will have a limited number providers that will offer it is argued economies of scale.
In order to ensure that this arrangement is viable the providers will be effectively guaranteed work by stripping the citizen of the right to choose a legal aid lawyer in criminal cases. Under the new scheme every time a person needs advice they will be allocated mechanically by the Legal Aid Agency to one of the new providers. It may not be the same firm the person has used before. The citizen will therefore not be able to build up a relationship with a solicitor. From a human rights perspective this, of course, begs the question would the removal of choice be compatible with the ECHR?
Jude and others (Respondents) v Her Majesty’s Advocate (Scotand)  UKSC 55 – read judgment; McGowan (Procurator Fiscal, Edinburgh) (Appellant) v B (Respondent)  UKSC 54 – read judgment
In these two cases the Supreme Court has considered whether the failure to take up on legal representation during police interview amounted to a waiver of the right of access to legal advice for the purposes of determining whether the trial had been fair.
Both cases involved detention of individuals which had taken place prior to the decision of this Court in Cadder v Her Majesty’s Advocate  UKSC 43 (see our post) and they did not have access to legal advice either before or during their police interviews. In the course of their interviews, they each made statements which were later relied on by the Crown at their trials. Continue reading →
Lambert and Others v. France (application no. 46043/14) – read judgment
In an important step away from Pretty v UK, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court has upheld the right of to die with dignity by ruling that there would be no violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights if artificial nutrition and hydration were to be withdrawn from a patient in a persistent vegetative state.
Although the facts were very different, it is heartening to see Strasbourg at last allowing the argument that the state’s obligation to protect life also involves a duty to respect people’s rights to exit life with dignity. The importance of this ruling cannot be underestimated, as can be seen in the ferocity of dissent set out in the Separate Opinion annexed to the judgment (discussed at the end of this post.)
The case involved a challenge by some of the patient’s family members to a judgment delivered on 24 June 2014 by the Conseil d’État which authorised this step. The following summary of the facts and judgment is based on the Court’s press release.
Vincent Lambert sustained serious head injuries in a road-traffic accident on 29 September 2008, which left him tetraplegic and in a state of complete dependency. At the time of this hearing he was in the care of a hospital which specialises in patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.In 2011 his condition was characterised as minimally conscious and in 2014 as vegetative. He receives artificial nutrition and hydration which is administered enterally, through a gastric tube. Continue reading →
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 LG) (Appellant) v Independent Appeal Panel for Tom Hood School (Respondent) & Secretary of State for the Department for Children, Schools and Families (Interested Party)  EWCA Civ 142
CA (Civ Div) (Rix LJ, Wilson LJ, Sir Scott Baker) February 26 2010
An exclusion hearing by a school does not engage the pupil’s Article 6 of the Convention since there is no “civil right” to education recognized as such either by the Convention or by domestic law.
The appellant pupil (VG) had been involved in a fight at the school. He was accused of having a knife, which he denied. The school permanently excluded VG and he appealed. The panel, in accordance with the Education (Pupil Exclusions and Appeals) (Maintained Schools) (England) Regulations 2002 reg.7A, found on the balance of probabilities that he had carried a knife, and upheld his exclusion. VG appealed against a decision ((2009) EWHC 369 (Admin), (2009) BLGR 691) to refuse his application for judicial review of the decision of the respondent panel to uphold a decision to permanently exclude him from a school. He argued that his right to a fair hearing under Article 6 was engaged, either on the basis that the panel had determined his civil right not to be excluded from the school without good reason, or on the basis that the panel had determined a criminal charge against him, and that right had been infringed by the decision to exclude him having been based on allegations established against him on the balance of probabilities rather than on the criminal standard of proof. He also contended that regulation 7A(c), although purportedly made pursuant to the Education Act 2002 s.52, was ultra vires in that a rule about standard of proof was one of evidence and not procedure as permitted by s.52(3)(d).
A short examination of whether the policy endorsed by the Labour Party as part of its pledge to support social justice can be justified in law or is a flagrant contravention of human rights. This article was first published in Counsel magazine.
It didn’t take long for some rather well-known lawyers to point out there may be a flaw in this plan. Lord Lester QC of Herne Hill in a letter to the Times that weekend pithily explained that as long ago as 1982, he and David Pannick had advised the school governing bodies that ‘Labour’s plan would violate the European Convention on Human Rights and its first protocol. Our opinion was published. No one disputed our advice and the policy was dropped.’ He expressed surprise about the plan being reignited and continued to be of the view that the plan would violate the European Convention on Human Rights (‘the Convention’).
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.