Last week, the European Court of Human Rights decided in the case of Haas v. Switzerland (judgment in French only) that the right to private life is not violated when a state refuses to help a person who wishes to commit suicide by enabling that person to obtain a lethal substance.
The applicant in the case, Ernst Haas, had for two decades been suffering from a serious bipolar affective disorder (more commonly known as manic depression). During that time he attempted to commit suicide twice. Later, he tried to obtain a medical prescription for a small amount of sodium pentobarbital, which would have allowed him to end his life without ain or suffering. Not a single psychiatrist, of the around 170 (sic!) he approached, was willing to give him such a prescription. This would have been necessary, under Swiss law, which allowed for assisted suicide if it was not done for selfish motives (in the opposite case, the person assisting could be prosecuted under the criminal code).
Over the past month, the Court of Human Rights has handed down judgment in six Article 10 cases. We have already posted about the most recent, MGN v United Kingdom. Of the other five, two involved civil defamation claims in domestic cases. In both civil defamation cases it was held that the State had infringed the right to freedom of expression but there was no finding of violation in any of the other cases. The reasoning is not straightforward in any of these cases and there are continuing doubts about the quality of the Court’s Article 10 case law.
The only “media case” amongh the five was Novaya Gazeta V Voronezhe v. Russia( ECHR 2104) in which a unanimous First Section found a violation of Article 10 as a result of a domestic defamation award of RUB 25,000 (£525) and an order for the publication of an apology. The applicant newspaper had published an article which concerned abuses and irregularities allegedly committed by the mayor of Novovoronezh and other municipal officials. It also made references to services supplied by a local businessman. The article relied on and quoted from a town administration audit report. The domestic court allowed the plaintiffs’ action, holding in particular that the article implied the embezzlement of funds by the mayor and the businessman, of which the newspaper had failed to adduce any proof. It pointed out that no criminal proceedings against the plaintiffs in connection with the audit of some of the financial matters in question had been opened and that the article thus lacked a factual basis.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ECtHR has upheld the conclusion of the HoL (Baroness Hale dissenting in part) that no violation of the A2P1 right to education occurred. However, in certain significant respects the reasoning of the ECtHR diverges from that of the HoL. In particular, it provides important guidance on: (i) the circumstances in which school exclusions are compatible with A2P1 rights; and (ii) the content of the right to education.
This week 18 defendants were sentenced after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass. Guest blogger Eleanor Cooombs of Wild Law reports.
Their crime was to attempt the shut-down of Ratcliffe-on-Soar, the UK’s third largest coal-fired power station. Yet, they argue that they are not criminals but defenders of the very future of the planet.
Their defence raised the argument of necessity which makes it excusable to commit an act which would otherwise be a crime, in order to prevent death and serious injury. A classic example is that it would be legal to break the window of a burning house in order to save the life of a child who was inside it. The defendants posited that they were acting to prevent the greater crimes of death and serious injury caused by climate change. They hoped their actions would prevent around 150 thousand tonnes of carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere and would draw attention to the ‘failures of our present political system’ -the perceived lack of government action towards meeting its legal duty to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.
While the point in issue was whether Slough could rely on a defence of qualified privilege against Mrs Clift’s claim, I think the decision has wider implications and is therefore relevant to housing practice. The court’s reasoning on Article 8 of the ECHR should be familiar to housing lawyers. In the court’s view, the publication of damaging allegations about Mrs Clift interfered with her rights under Article 8(1) and the council was therefore bound not to pass those allegations on unless in doing so Article 8(2) was satisfied – which it manifestly was not in Mrs Clift’s case. Via some relatively complex reasoning related to the ways in which qualified privilege has been analysed by the courts, this meant the council could not raise the defence and so their appeal was lost.
We didn’t win! But we did lose out to an excellent organisation: Bail for Immigration Detainees, an independent charity which challenges immigration detention in the UK, working with asylum seekers and migrants in removal centres and prisons to secure their release from detention.
The Human Rights Awards have been held each December since 2001 to commemorate Human Rights Day, which is today.
The Supreme Court yesterday handed down judgment in the case of Joseph v Spiller ( UKSC 53), the first time it has considered a libel case since its inception. The panel consisted of Lords Phillips, Rodger, Walker and Brown and Sir John Dyson. There is the usual useful press summary. The background to the case has already been covered in a previous case preview on this blog and the background facts and the case history are not repeated in this post.
Despite branding the underlying dispute between the Motown Tribute Band “the Gillettes” and their entertainment booking service a “considerable … storm in a tea-cup”, the Supreme Court have broadened the scope and application of the defence of fair comment. The Supreme Court did so by reducing the burden formerly placed on defendants to identify facts they are commenting on with ‘sufficient particularity’. Lord Phillips also re-named the defence as “honest comment” (as opposed to Court of Appeal in BCA v Singh  EWCA Civ 350, which favoured “honest opinion” ) and called on the Law Commission to consider and review the present state of the defence.
Also shortlisted are Reprieve and Bail for Immigration Detainees. The Human Rights Awards have been held each December since 2001 to commemorate Human Rights Day. As described by JUSTICE, the awards aim to recognise and encourage individuals and organisations whose work is dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of others. Last year’s winner was the Gurkhas Justice Campaign. A full list of previous winners can be found here.
The following is a guest post by Tom Blackmore, the grandson of David Maxwell Fyfe, a politician, lawyer and judge who was instrumental in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights, which has just celebrated its 60th anniversary (see our post). For those who argue that human rights are an invention of continental Europe, this article should provide food for thought:
In 1914 Rupert Brooke wrote:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Updated | On 5 November 2010 judgment was handed down in JIH v News Group Newspapers ( EWHC 2818 (QB)) – Read judgment.
Update, 18 November 2010: The case has returned to the High Court after the Daily Telegraph reported a key detail relating to JIH’s identity. This was contrary – said JIH – to the court order. Mr Justice Tugendhat refused the application by JIH that his/her identity not be disclosed. However, he did sound a warning that “editors and publishers have regard to the “duties and responsibilities” referred to in Art 10(2) itself. These duties and responsibilities include a requirement that they comply with orders of the court, and that they take all necessary steps to ensure that journalists understand this necessity.” If they ignore that warning, warned the judge, they may be found in contempt of court.
This post by Mark Thomson first appeared on the media law blog Inforrm, and is reproduced with permission and thanks
Updated x 2 Today marks ten years since the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, on 2 October 2000. The act brought UK citizens under the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights. For ten years, it has been unlawful for a public authority to breach those rights.
We at the UK Human Rights Blog wish the oft-maligned act a very happy birthday. We, along with our sister-site the Human Rights Update Service, have been covering human rights case-law since 2000.
To celebrate our six-month birthday, and following the Inforrm Blog’s lead, here are our 10 most popular posts of all time.
We launched the UK Human Rights Blog on 31 March 2010 and since then have had 86,070 page views, with over 20,000 coming this month alone. So thank you to all of our readers, and enjoy the top 10! As always we welcome your comments on any aspect of the blog.
Regular readers may have noticed that in the past few weeks we have the opened up reader comments on the UK Human Rights Blog. This took a few months to get going for practical reasons, but comments are now enabled for every new post.
Please use the comments section on this post to let us know if there are any new features which you would like to see appear on the blog.
We are approaching 6 months since launch, and we want to thank all of our readers for supporting the blog. The response has been fantastic. We have had around 80,000 page views since launch, and next week will have had around 20,000 during September alone. We also have over 1,000 subscribers on email, Facebook, RSS and Twitter. If you have not subscribed for free, then click here to find out how.
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.