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.
With allegations that ministers may have misled parliamentarians on the scope of their prized Bill, the picture of political game-playing might be apt. However, this is the last chance for parliament to consider the government’s case for the expansion of “closed material procedures” (CMP), where a party to proceedings and his lawyers (together with the public and the press) are excluded – and his interests represented by a publicly appointed security vetted lawyer, known as a Special Advocate. An analogy more serious than Boris’ “wiff-waff” might be needed for tonight’s debate. Some commentators have suggested the Lords will play “ping-pong with grenades”.
In May 2012, the Home Secretary announced a review of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which came into force a year earlier in April 2011, as an outcome of the Red Tape Challenge. The review is focusing in particular on levels of understanding of the PSED and guidance, the costs and benefits of the duty, how organisations are managing legal risk and ensuring compliance with the duty and what changes, if any, would secure better equality outcomes. It is being overseen by a steering group, appointed by Government Ministers, largely drawn from public authorities.
The Review has recently launched a call for evidence, with a closing date of 12th April 2013. The call is particularly interested in ‘equalities paperwork and policies related to PSED (particularly in relation to public sector procurement processes) and the collection, retention and use of diversity data by public bodies, for example, in relation to goods, facilities and services.’
Rapid expansion of human rights obligations at the European and international levels arguably undermines the system of International Human Rights Law. Countries like the UK, which place strong emphasis on the need to protect individuals from abuses, are faced with ever more obligations stemming from rights inflation. One crucial way in which this occurs is through rights replication.
No-one can legitimately argue that women, children, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, human rights defenders and other vulnerable groups do not need protecting from human rights abuses. Where those groups require additional rights then of course it makes sense for them to be enshrined within treaties. Yet the many treaties, resolutions and declarations about those groups almost always focus on rights that already exist for all individuals. Often these are civil and political rights, which can be found within international and regional treaties. Replicating these rights, rather than creating new additional ones, weakens and undermines the human rights system.
This post by Roger Smith was originally the text of a speech to the Working Men’s College and is reproduced here with permission and thanks.
Human rights will be a politically live issue at the next election. Leading on the issue will by the Conservative Party, urged on by elements in the media such as the Daily Mail with a commercial interest in resistance to any law on privacy deriving from human rights.So, the Working Men’s College has done well to identify this topic for exploration. This evening is a celebration of the college’s stated aim to ‘engage positively with the past, while finding new ways to pursue its founders’ aims into the 21st century.’
The pace on human rights is being forced by Theresa May, seen by some as the Tory leader in waiting. She made it clear at the weekend that both the HRA and the European Convention which it introduces into domestic law are under fire:
Today, the Scottish Government have introduced the “paving Bill” to Holyrood which will finally settle the franchise for the independence referendum in 2014. If passed, it will finally extinguish the hopes of expats, diaspora Scots and those living furth of Scotland who wanted to vote in the poll.
Much of the attention has zoomed in on the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds, which ministers hope to affect by establishing a Register of Young Voters alongside the local government register. It is envisaged that this young voters roll will not be published.
In a rare public intervention Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court, has flagged three important issues that should be of concern to us all.
Firstly, Lord Neuberger has quite rightly criticised the cuts to the Legal Aid budget. Denying litigants a chance to go to court will create ‘frustration and a lack of confidence in the system’, or people will be tempted to ‘take the law into their own hands.’ Lord Neuberger observed that “as one of the three remaining articles of the Magna Carta (1297) says “to no man shall we deny justice”, nowadays “to no man and no woman shall we deny justice”, and we are at risk of going back on that.’
While the press (and the rest of us) were preoccupied by the debate on equal marriage and the public dissection of the Huhne marriage, the Justice and Security Bill completed its next stage of passage through the Parliamentary process. Largely unwatched, a slim majority of Conservative members supported by Ian Paisley Jr., reversed each change made to the Bill by the House of Lords restoring the Government’s original vision: a brave new world where secret pleadings, hearings and judgments become the norm when a Minister claims national security may be harmed in civil litigation.
The Bill will return to the Commons for its crucial final stages on Monday. In anticipation of the debate, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has published a third damning critique of the Government’s proposals. The cross-party Committee was unimpressed by the Government rewrite of the Lords amendments. Most of Westminster was busy in Eastleigh and few political commentators flinched.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, is no stranger to ill-founded outbursts concerning the evils of human rights. Against that background, her recent article in the Mail on Sunday(to which Adam Wager has already drawn attention) does not disappoint. May’s ire is drawn by certain recent judicial decisions in which the deportation of foreign criminals has been ruled unlawful on the ground that it would breach their right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Some of these judgments, May contends, flout instructions issued to judges by Parliament about how such cases should be decided.
Those instructions consist of new provisions inserted last year into the Immigration Rules, the intended effect of which was to make it much harder for foreign criminals to resist deportation on Article 8 grounds. The Rules – made by the executive and endorsed by Parliament, but not contained in primary legislation – provide that, where certain criteria are met, “it will only be in exceptional circumstances that the public interest in deportation will be outweighed by other factors”. The assumption appeared to be that this would prevent judges – absent exceptional circumstances – from performing their normal function of determining whether deportation would be a disproportionate interference with the Article 8 right.
The European Court of Justice’s Grand Chamber has ruled that the Charter of Fundamental Rights does not allow refusal to execute a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) on the basis that the person was not heard by the issuing authority.
With reform of the EAW at the centre of the debate concerning the UK’s big 2014 opt-out decision, all eyes were on the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) when it gave judgment in this case widely seen as an opportunity for it to address some key issues in the operation of the EAW system. There is some disappointment at the outcome.
Hundreds of people have died; others have been starved, dehydrated and left in appalling conditions of indignity, witnessed by their loved ones. Surely this is what Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary, had in mind when he recently cautioned to need to “concentrate on real human rights”?
As Mr Francis makes clear, what happened at Staffordshire Hospital was a breach of basic rights to dignity and respect, and what is needed now are stronger lines of accountability and culture change which places patients at the heart of healthcare. Human rights speak to the fundamental standards that the Report says are needed to achieve this transformation in care.
The Times (amongstothers) today deserves a spell on the legal naughty step. Its headline announces that a judge’s decision “opens way to divorces by Sharia“. One might expect therefore to find that the judgment giving rise to the headline – the decision of Baker J in the Family Court in AI v MT – was about Sharia law, or otherwise had something to do with it. In fact the judgment concerned a Jewish divorce under the auspices of the Beth Din, and had nothing to do with Sharia at all.
The judge approved a final order in matrimonial proceedings by consent. That consent order had arisen from the Beth Din. It did not elevate the Beth Din to the status of the High Court. To the contrary, the judge stated that the following legal principles applied (paras -):
The government’s Justice and Security Bill has this week entered a new phase of debate in the House of Commons as it is considered in detail by a 19-member Public Bill Committee over the next month. The critics of this Bill – and there are many – argue that it will make “secret justice” a standard part of our legal process. The latest set of amendments proposed by the government were revealed yesterday and within them lies a crucial and unjustifiable secrecy provision. The significance of the amendments becomes apparent when one looks at how the Bill has progressed so far.
In its original form the Bill said that a court “must” use closed material proceedings if there would be a disclosure of information that would harm national security interests. It would not matter how small the damage, it would not matter whether there were other public interests in disclosure of the material, and the court had no discretion.
Now that the idea of a new UK Bill of Rights appears to be buried, choices re-emerge. The predicted outcome of the London-based Commission’s work was finally confirmed in December. Where now for human rights?
Thinking beyond the European Convention on Human Rights was never confined to this generation or any one process. The limitations of the Convention are well known, and critical material is not lacking. Talk of next steps circles around ‘going beyond’ and ‘building on’ existing achievements in several senses. The feeling that it is possible to improve; that the world of human rights captures more than the HRA or the ECHR. The more ill-defined talk of ‘ownership’ that resembles constitutional patriotism in desperate defence of a union in transition, and the disguised nationalist/unionist positions that occasionally surface.
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