Theresa May has been sworn in as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, prompting speculation about the impact her leadership will have on human rights.
The former Home Secretary has been a vocal and long-standing critic of the Human Rights Act. In a 2011 speech she insisted that the legislation “needs to go”, making controversial reference to what legal commentators argued was a “mythical example” of an immigrant who could not be deported because “he had a pet cat”. Her appointment of Liz Truss as Justice Secretary, who has previously spoken out against the HRA, suggests that the Government will continue with plans to replace the Act with a British Bill of Rights.
Nonetheless, it appears that the UK will remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, at least in the near future. During her campaign to be Prime Minister, Theresa May stated that she would not pursue pulling out of the ECHR, describing the issue as divisive and lacking majority support in Parliament. Amnesty International have said that they “warmly welcome” this commitment, and have called on the Prime Minister to “turn the corner on human rights” in the UK.
In an examination of “Theresa May’s Eight Human Rights Highs and Lows”, RightsInfo has noted that in 2012 May “came out strongly in support of the proposal to change the law so people of the same sex could marry”. Pink News charts her evolution on LGBT rights to become the “unsung hero” of equal marriage, while pointing out criticisms that conditions for LGBT asylum-seekers have worsened under her tenure as Home Secretary.
On the issue of freedom of religion, commentators have similarly looked to Teresa May’s actions as Home Secretary for an indication of her position. David Pocklington provides an overview for Law & Religion UK, noting her recent launch of an independent review into the operation of sharia law in England and Wales.
Meanwhile, the Government’s review into whether victims of trafficking have effective access to legal advice has yet to be published. Writing in the Justice Gap, Juliette Nash has called on Theresa May to deliver on her promise to tackle modern slavery and implement any recommendations of the review as soon as possible: “the spotlight is now on …the Prime Minister…to ensure that justice is done”.
In other news:
The Guardian: Lawyers acting on behalf of a British citizen are seeking to challenge the lawfulness of the Government triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union without parliamentary approval. We have posted on the “divorce” process here. The UK Constitutional Law Association Blog provides extensive academic discussion of the constitutional issues surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Law Society’s Gazette: In a report on the impact of tribunal fees published on 20 June, the House of Commons Justice Committee made a number of recommendations, including that the fees charged in the employment tribunal should be ‘substantially reduced’. In the meantime, Unison has continued to pursue its quest for judicial review of the lawfulness of the fees, with an appeal to the Supreme Court set for December 2016.
BBC: An investigation is under way following the death of 18 year-old Mzee Mohammed in police custody, who had been detained by security staff at a shopping centre. The charity Inquest has called for “the most thorough and robust scrutiny of the actions of the security guards and the police” who were in contact with Mr Mohammed before his death.
Daily Telegraph: Figures released by the CPS show that the number of prosecutions for hate crimes against disabled people has increased by 41.3% in the last year, while prosecutions for homophobic and transphobic crime have risen by 15% over the same period.
This case concerned the refusal of Italian authorities to grant a residence permit to a gay couple, on the basis that they did not constitute family members. The Court found that the restrictive interpretation of the notion of family member applied by the authorities did not take into account the fact that under Italian law the couple were unable to marry. In deciding to treat homosexual couples in the same manner as unmarried heterosexual couples, Italy was in breach of article 14 (freedom from discrimination) taken together with article 8 (right to respect for private and family life).
This case concerned the detention of a businessman for ten months, pending trial on an allegation of attempted fraud. The Court affirmed that judicial authorities were required to give relevant and sufficient reasons for detention, in addition to having a “reasonable suspicion” that the relevant individual had committed an offence. Importantly, this requirement was held to apply already at the time of the first decision ordering detention, and “promptly” after the arrest.
On the particular facts, the Court found that the reasons given for detention had been stereotyped, abstract and inconsistent. As such there had been a violation of article 5 (the right to liberty).
The absence of fixed time limits in the UK system of immigration detention does not breach Article 5 of the Convention (the right to liberty), according to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in JN v United Kingdom.
The applicant was an Iranian national who was refused asylum in the UK and issued with a deportation order. He was detained in an immigration removal centre for more than four and a half years, following completion of a custodial sentence for indecent assault. The applicant complained that in the absence of fixed time limits, domestic law was unclear and did not produce foreseeable consequences for individuals.
This argument was rejected by the Court, which re-iterated that Article 5 does not lay down maximum time limits for detention pending deportation. The issue was said to be whether domestic law contained sufficient procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, and in this regard the UK did not fall short of Convention requirements. However, the Court did find that between January 2008 and September 2009 deportation of the applicant had not been pursued with “due diligence”, and his detention during this period was therefore in breach of his right to liberty.
The decision will come as a disappointment to campaigners, who point out that the UK is the only EU Member State which places no time limit on the detention of foreign nationals. According to the UNHCR, detention can have “a lasting, detrimental impact on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers”, and both a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry and a recent report of the UN Human Rights Committee have called on the UK to adopt an upper limit.
It remains open to the Government to do so. However, in light of the judgment in JN, the introduction of a statutory time limit would now appear unlikely. A spokeswoman told the Guardian that the Home Office were pleased with the outcome of the case: “We maintain that our immigration detention system is firm but fair”.
In other news
The Queen’s Speech has declared that “proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights” – wording that is near identical to last year’s commitment to ‘bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Policy Director at Liberty, Bella Sankey remarks that if this “felt like groundhog day, it was because little progress has been made” towards the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. UKHRB founder Adam Wagner provides a useful list of reactions and coverage here.
A report from the European Commission points to evidence that “the migration crisis has been exploited by criminal networks involved in trafficking in human beings”, who target the most vulnerable. According to official figures, in 2013-2014 there were 15,846 registered victims of trafficking in the EU, although the true number is considered to be “substantially higher”. The BBC reports on the findings.
The Supreme Court has upheld an interim injunction in the ‘celebrity threesome’ case, until after the full trial for invasion of privacy. The Court of Appeal had been wrong to enhance the weight attached to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR) as compared with the right to respect for privacy (article 8 ECHR) – neither article had preference over the other in the balancing exercise. David Hart QC provides an analysis of the decision for the UKHRB – a summary of the main points can be found on RightsInfo
The applicants were Hungarian nationals and members of parliament, who had been issued with fines for engaging in protests that were disruptive of parliamentary proceedings. They complained that this had violated their right to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR).
The Court observed that Parliaments were entitled to react when their members engaged in disorderly conduct disrupting the normal functioning of the legislature. However, on the present facts domestic legislation had not provided for any possibility for the MPs concerned to be involved in the relevant disciplinary procedure. The interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression was therefore not proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued, because it was not accompanied by adequate procedural safeguards. Accordingly, the Court found a violation of Article 10.
The applicant’s husband had died in circumstances where there had been a negligent failure to diagnose meningitis shortly after (successful) nasal polyp surgery, although that negligent failure was not necessarily causative. In its Chamber judgment of 15 December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention as to the right to life and, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 2.
Analysis of that decision is provided by Jeremy Hyam QC for the UK HRB. On 2 May 2016 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the Portuguese Government’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.
Those in need of some summer reading might consider: Five Ideas to Fight For, by Anthony Lester, recently published. The book describes the development of English law in relation to human rights, equality, free speech, privacy and the rule of law, explaining how our freedom is under threat and why it matters.
The families of the 96 people who died at Hillsborough in 1989 have been vindicated at last, following a 27-year long fight for justice. An inquest jury has returned a conclusion of “unlawful killing”, in a damning indictment of South Yorkshire Police. The jury unanimously concluded that the behaviour of football supporters had in no part caused or contributed to the disaster.
Following the conclusion a number of questions still remain, including whether former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, the match commander, will now face fresh charges of manslaughter. A private prosecution ended in 2000 after a jury failed to reach agreement. Joshua Rozenburg observes that the inquest findings are clearly prejudicial – but “juries should be trusted to put prejudicial material out of their minds”.
Legal commentator David Allen Green points out that “without the Human Rights Act and ECHR there would not have been this new Hillsborough inquest”. The effect of Article 2 ECHR (the right to life) has meant it is no longer enough for an inquest to decide the means by which a person died; the circumstances in which the death occurred must also be determined. Barrister Michael Mansfield QC further notes that “one of the unusual features of these inquests has been the way the friends and relatives of the deceased have been accorded a central status” – a requirement of the European Court of Human Rights.
It is the jurisdiction of this same Court that Theresa May has declared the UK should leave, claiming this week that “the ECHR can bind the hands of Parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity…[and] makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals”. Mark Elliott describes the argument as “legally clumsy and constitutionally naïve”, while David Allen Green suggests human rights are being used “as a token in the game of politics”. He goes on to note that examples of the positive influence of the ECHR, such as the Hillsborough Inquests, will make this more difficult in the future: “even superficial politics can lose their shine”.
In other news:
According to a report in the Telegraph, each year up to 40,000 dying patients are having “do not resuscitate orders” imposed on them without the knowledge of their families. In many cases there is no record of any consultation with the patient. Adam Wagner suggests at RightsInfo that this might be in breach of patients’ human rights.
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice indicate a worsening crisis in the UK prison system. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of sexual assaults recorded has more than doubled from 137 incidents per year to 300. In the same period, the number of deaths in prisons has risen from 198 to 257 per year. Campaigners say that serious overcrowding and staff shortages are largely to blame. The Independent reports.
The Bar Council has warned that plans put forward by the Ministry of Justice to increase fees for those seeking justice through the Immigration and Asylum tribunal system by 500% is yet another step towards putting access to justice beyond the means of those who most need it. Further details can be found here.
The Guardian: According to a new report by charity Transform Justice, legal aid cuts have led to a sharp rise in unrepresented defendants. In one example given to the charity, an unrepresented defendant remained silent during his appearance via video link from a police station. Only after he had been sent to prison did it emerge that he was deaf.
The applicant was a Dutch national sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a six-year-old girl. The Court found that the lack of any kind of treatment for the mental health condition suffered by the applicant meant that his requests for pardon were in practice incapable of leading to his release, since his risk of re-offending would continue to be assessed as too high. Accordingly, the Court found a violation of Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment).
According to research released by the Home Office, large increases in stop and search operations have no discernible effect on crime reduction. The official study examined crime rates across 10 London boroughs in the first year of Operation Blunt 2, which led to a surge in the number of searches from 34,154 in the year before to 123,335 in 2008/2009.
The findings are likely to lend support to the position of the Home Secretary, Theresa May who in 2014 introduced new measures to curtail reliance on the powers. She has previously been critical of claims by the Metropolitan Police that a rise in knife crime in recent months is linked to a drop in the use of stop and search, warning against a “knee-jerk reaction.”
Police powers to conduct the searches have proved highly controversial, with campaigners arguing that ethnic minority groups are disproportionately targeted. An analysis by the Independent found that between December 2014 and April 2015, black people were more likely to be stopped than white people in 36 out of 39 police forces. Continue reading →
Stemming migration flows from Turkey has been set as “a priority” at the 7 March emergency summit of EU and Turkish leaders in Brussels. EU officials are seeking to persuade Turkey to enforce the ‘action plan’ signed in November, under which Ankara agreed to curb the number of refugees crossing into Greece in return for three billion euros in aid and the speeding up of its EU membership bid.
However, human rights groups have been critical of the EU focus on ensuring refugees remain in Turkey. Amnesty International warned ahead of the meeting that is was “unacceptable” to expect that responsibility should be carried by a country already hosting three million refugees.
“Using Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ is absurd. Many refugees still live in terrible conditions, some have been deported back to Syria and security forces have even shot at Syrians trying to cross the border,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia. Continue reading →
The Prime Minister has this week set out his “agenda for a revolution in the prison system”. His speech outlines plans for governors to be given greater autonomy, prisoners to be provided with better opportunities for work and education, and the making of “alternative provision” for people struggling with severe mental health problems.
Commentators have reacted with cautious optimism. David Cameron is “absolutely right to point to the waste of money, time and lives that characterises today’s prison system,” writes Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform. His speech could herald “a seismic shift in policy.”
Christopher Stacey in the Justice Gap welcomes in particular the Prime Minister’s expression of support for the ‘Ban the Box’ campaign, which calls on employers to remove the tick box from application forms and ask about criminal convictions later in the recruitment process. The policy would give people with convictions “a chance to enter work – significantly reducing their likelihood of re-offending”.
Sentencing reform was, however, “notably absent” from the speech. Ellie Butt in the Huffington Post contends that this seriously undermines Cameron’s policy proposals. With the current prison population standing at 85,634, it is “a nonsense to believe we can really make prisons places of education, hard work and rehabilitation without tackling the sheer number of people inside them.”
Legal blogger Jack of Kent is in agreement that “the most significant thing about the speech was that the Prime Minister was giving it”. Yet he suggests that a move in right wing thought against custodial sentences as the default punishment for crime “may be having an influence on Michael Gove.” If such a speech is indeed “the political price Michael Gove has extracted from David Cameron for support on the EU referendum issue”, then it is “a good bargain”.
In other news
A police regulator has found that UK police forces continue to disobey rules to prevent the abuse of stop and search powers. Home Secretary Teresa May has described the failings as ‘unacceptable’, and has taken action to suspend 13 of the worst offending forces from the scheme. The Guardian reports.
Law Society Gazette: The Attorney General has suggested that in disputes over freedom of information, politicians may sometimes be better placed than the courts to make decisions on matters of public interest. The speech can be read in full here.
The Guardian: Police should no longer operate on a presumption that alleged victims of sexual assault are to be believed, according to Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. Investigators should instead test the evidence “with an open mind, supporting the complainant through the process”.
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia at the weekend marks the end of an era for the United States Supreme Court. It also creates the potential for something of a constitutional crisis in America, coming only eleven months before the end of the Obama presidency and prompting calls from some Republicans for his replacement to be selected by the next Commander-in-Chief. Scalia’s visit to the UK last summer featured plenty of the examples of the acerbic turns of phrase the world had come to expect from the Court’s most divisive figure. You can read Jim Duffy’s account of Justice Scalia’s appearance at the Federalist Society here.
The applicant in this case had been found guilty of contempt of court for conducting Internet research while serving on a jury. A complaint was brought under article 7 ECHR (no punishment without law) that the common law offence of contempt of court had not been sufficiently clear.
The Court held that the judgment rendered in the applicant’s case could be considered, at most, a step in the gradual clarification of the rules of criminal liability for contempt of court through judicial interpretation. The law was both accessible and foreseeable. There had accordingly been no violation of article 7 of the Convention.
The current system ties overseas domestic workers to the foreign employer who brought them into the UK. Approximately 17,000 visas were issued under the scheme last year, with the large majority of applications coming from the Gulf States.
Workers have no legal right to change their employer, and are liable to deportation if they escape their situation. Campaigners argue that such restrictions expose women to the risk of serious ill treatment, with domestic workers being subjected to physical and sexual violence, deprivation of food and non-payment of wages.
The review of the scheme reinforces these concerns, finding “no evidence that a tie to a single employer does anything other than increase the risk of abuse and therefore increases actual abuse.” It recommends that workers be permitted to change employers and remain in the UK for up to two and a half years.
The Government has stated that it is “carefully considering the report’s recommendations” and would announce its response “in due course.”
In other news:
BBC: An independent investigation into concerns about Yarl’s Wood immigration centre has found no evidence of a “hidden or significant problem of serious misconduct” by staff at the facility. However, the report raised concerns that staffing levels had to some extent “undermined and compromised” the care of residents.
The Guardian: The Upper Tribunal has ordered the Secretary of State for the Home Department to admit to the UK four asylum seekers, currently residing in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. The Tribunal ruled that the three unaccompanied minors and the dependent adult brother of one of them should be allowed to live with their relatives already in Britain while their asylum claims are examined.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said that there is now “an industry trying to profit from spurious claims” against UK military personnel which he plans to “stamp out”. However, lawyers have noted that the government has agreed to pay compensation in over 300 cases of abuse, and have urged Mr Cameron not to challenge the principle that no-one is above the law. The BBC reports here.
In a letter written to the Guardian, UK lawyers have sought to draw attention to the plight of human rights defenders in Honduras. Between 2010 and March 2015, the national commissioner of human rights recorded the targeted killings of 91 lawyers. The statement calls for greater protection by the Honduran state for those whose lives are at risk.
This case concerned lustration proceedings brought against the former president of the Constitutional Court of Macedonia, which resulted in his dismissal from office.
The Court found that the proceedings, taken as a whole, had not satisfied the requirements of a fair trial. The Court attached particular importance to the open letter, published by the Prime Minister while lustration proceedings were still pending, which denounced the applicant as a collaborator of the secret police of the former regime. In view of the content and manner in which it was made, the statement was held to be incompatible with the notion of an “independent and impartial tribunal”. The Court therefore found a violation of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial).
The first round=up of 2016 is brought to you by Hannah Lynes.
In the news
The interior ministry of Saudi Arabia has confirmed this week that it has executed 47 people in a single day. Included among those put to death was prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had been a vocal supporter of the 2011 anti-government protests in the country’s Eastern Province.
The execution of Sheikh Nimr has provoked demonstrations across Iran, Bahrain, Iraq and Shia-majority areas in Saudi Arabia. A spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry has said that the Saudi Government would pay “a heavy price” for its actions, while the US state department has expressed concern that the execution “risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.”
International human rights organisation Reprieve has noted with alarm that “the Saudi Government is continuing to target those who have called for domestic reform in the kingdom”, with at least four of those executed having been convicted of offences related to political protest. The organisation said it had “real concerns” that protestors Ali al-Nimr (Sheikh Nimr’s nephew), Dawoud al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher, sentenced to death as children, would be “next in line”.
A statement released by the UK foreign office has emphasised that “the UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country.” But despite the much-criticised record of Saudi Arabia on human rights, it recently emerged that Britain had entered into a vote-trading deal with the kingdom to ensure the election of both states to the UN human rights council.
The UK Government has also come under pressure to discontinue its supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia, in circumstances where its bombing campaign in Yemen has led to thousands of civilian deaths. In a legal opinion commissioned by Amnesty International, lawyers from Matrix Chambers concluded that authorisation of the transfer of weapons to the state would “constitute a breach by the UK of its obligations under domestic, European and international law.”
In other news:
The Guardian: A gay British man has avoided extradition to Dubai on charges of theft. A judge at Westminster magistrates court ruled that the UAE had failed to provide adequate assurances that the trial and treatment of Mr Halliday, given his circumstances, would meet the required human rights standards.
The Telegraph: Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC has expressed concern that the Government is undermining freedom of information laws, and is “obsessively secretive”about things that should be in the public domain. The latest releases by the National Archives included only 14 files for the years 1987 and 1988, whereas last year more than 500 files were released.
The Law Society and the Bar Council have issued a joint call for legally privileged communications data to be protected by express provisions in the investigatory powers bill. Current proposals have been criticised as threatening a common law right traceable back to the 16th Century. The Law Society Gazette reports.
The Independent: Senior civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood is understood to be opposed to the implementation of any major reforms to the Freedom of Information Act. A Government commission is considering proposals to introduce charges for information requests and stricter rules for the obtaining of information.
This case concerned an allegation of inconsistent case-law amounting to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial). The applicants complained about the rejection of their civil claims against Serbia by domestic courts, and the simultaneous acceptance by the same courts of other claims which were based on similar facts and concerned identical legal issues.
The Court reiterated the principle that an assessment of whether conflicting decisions of different domestic courts were in breach of Article 6 consisted in establishing whether “profound and long-standing differences” existed in the relevant case-law. The Serbian judiciary had, generally speaking, harmonised their case-law on the matter, and the rejection of the applicants’ cases was exceptional. The possibility of conflicting court decisions was an inherent trait of any judicial system based on a network of trial and appeal courts with authority over a certain area. That in itself, however, could not be considered to be in breach of the Convention. The Court therefore found no violation of Article 6.
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The Ministry of Justice has signalled an interest in the potential of specialist courts for cases of domestic abuse. It has been considering a report published last week by the Centre for Justice Innovation, which recommends an integrated approach whereby criminal, family and civil matters would be heard under a ‘one judge, one family’ model.
The report highlights evidence from the United States, Australia and New Zealand that integrated courts increase convictions and witness participation, lower re-offending, enforce protection orders more effectively and reduce case processing time. Victims would no longer find themselves “jumping from forum to forum” to resolve matters that are “all facets of the same underlying issue.”
Specialist domestic abuse courts could moreover use post-sentence judicial monitoring of perpetrators, and place a greater emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders. In a speech to the Magistrates’ Association, justice secretary Michael Gove said he had been “impressed” by the potential of problem-solving courts during a recent visit to the US, and was “keen to look more” at what could be done in this area.
However, the proposals under examination are unlikely to allay fears that government cuts are putting women at risk. Under the ECHR, domestic authorities have a duty to “establish and apply effectively a system by which all forms of domestic violence [can] be punished,” and ensure “sufficient safeguards” are provided for the victims [Opuz v Turkey].
Yet current safeguards are under considerable strain, with domestic abuse incidents reported to the police having increased by 34% since 2007/2008. Campaigners warn that austerity measures, which have led to Portsmouth City Council recently announcing a “sizeable reduction” of £180,000 to its domestic abuse service, are likely to put further pressure on authorities already at breaking point.
Daily Telegraph: The Government has announced plans to establish an improved help-line for victims of modern slavery, which will be set up with a £1 million contribution from Google. The service will be modelled on a similar helpline in the US, which provides advice to people who have been subjected to forced labour or servitude, and collates data to combat human trafficking.
The Guardian: Health inspectors from the Care Quality Commission have issued a report critical of the wide variations of treatment received by people detained under the Mental Health Act. The inspectors found no evidence of patients’ views being considered in a quarter of the care plans examined, which Deputy Chief Inspector Dr Paul Lelliott said could “hinder their recovery, and lead to potential breaches in meeting their human rights.”
BBC: A High Court judge has ruled Lord Janner unfit to plead, with the result that the former politician will not stand trial over allegations of indecent assault and sexual abuse. Mr Justice Openshaw found that the 87-year-old peer had “advanced and disabling dementia that has deteriorated and is irreversible”. A “trial of the facts” is scheduled to take place next April.
Civic institutions, laws and practices need to better reflect the UK’s less religious, more diverse society, according to a report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. The Commission, led by former High Court judge, Baroness Butler-Sloss, has suggested that schools should no longer face a legal requirement to provide daily acts of worship of a Christian character, and has pointed to a number of “negative practical consequences” of selection by religion in faith schools. The Guardian reports.
The case concerned the complaints of seven Lithuanian nationals that the conditions of their detention in various correctional facilities had fallen short of standards compatible with article 3 of the Convention. In particular, it was submitted that they were held in overcrowded dormitory-type rooms. Some of the applicants further maintained that they were detained in conditions that violated basic hygiene requirements, and that they lacked access to appropriate sanitary facilities.
The Court found that the compensatory remedies made available by the Lithuanian authorities had been insufficient. It held that there had been a violation of article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of four of the applicants, and made awards of pecuniary compensation accordingly.
This case concerned the asylum applications of two Afghan nationals who married in a religious ceremony in Iran when ZH had been 14-years old. The Swiss authorities did not deem the couple to be legally married, and considered their applications separately, resulting in the removal of RH to Italy after the rejection of his appeal. The applicants alleged that the expulsion of RH amounted to a breach of article 8 ECHR (the right to family life).
The Court held that article 8 of the Convention could not be interpreted as imposing on a member state an obligation to recognise a marriage contracted by a child, in view of article 12 (right to marry) which expressly provided for regulation of marriage by national law. At the time of the removal of RH to Italy, the Swiss authorities had been justified in considering that the applicants were not married. The Court therefore found no violation of article 8.
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LGBT campaigners have called for an urgent reform of the law, following the death of 21 year-old transgender woman Vicky Thompson in an all-male prison. Ms Thompson had previously said that she would take her own life if she were placed in a prison for men.
The system of locating transgender people within the prison estate has recently come into criticism after transgender woman Tara Hudson was placed at HMP Bristol, an all-male establishment. Ms Hudson spoke of being sexually harassed by other prisoners, before a petition signed by more than 150,000 people led to her eventual transfer to a women’s prison. Statistics from the US suggest that transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely than the general prison population to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated.
Under the current rules, in most cases prisoners must be located “according to their gender as recognised under UK law”, although the guidance allows discretion where the individual is “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process.” But the case of Vicky Thompson has been said to show that “the law is simply not working. For people living for years as women to be sent to serve sentences in prisons for men is inviting disaster.”
Responding to a question on the issue, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous has stated that the government intends to implement “revised policy guidance… in due course.”
In other news:
The Guardian: The Metropolitan Police has issued an unreserved apology and paid substantial compensation to women who were deceived into forming long-term intimate sexual relationships with undercover police officers. The police force acknowledged that the relationships had been “a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma.”
BBC: Members of the public and journalists will be permitted to attend the majority of hearings in the Court of Protection, where issues affecting sick or vulnerable people are heard. The new pilot scheme is intended to provide greater transparency, whilst safeguarding the privacy of the people involved.
MPs on the justice select committee have called for the scrapping of the criminal courts charge, voicing “grave misgivings” about whether it is “compatible with the principles of justice.” The charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on convicted criminals, and is not means-tested. In its report, the parliamentary committee expressed concern that the charge, which is higher for those convicted after pleading not guilty, was creating “perverse incentives” affecting defendant behaviour. The BBC reports here.
The Legal Voice: The Ministry of Justice has announced that the introduction of duty provider contracts will be postponed until 1 April 2016. A number of legal proceedings have been issued, challenging the legitimacy of the procurement process. The decision has been welcomed by the Bar Council, which has consistently opposed measures it claims would “damage access to justice and the provision of high quality advocacy services.”
BBC: A couple from north west London have been found guilty of keeping a man enslaved in their home for 24 years, in “a shocking case of modern slavery.” The couple had “total psychological control” over their victim, threatening that if he left the house he would be arrested by police as an illegal immigrant.
The Court found that a family of asylum seekers evicted from an accommodation centre had been exposed to degrading treatment, in violation of their rights under article 3 ECHR. The family had been left in conditions of extreme poverty, without basic means of subsistence for a period of four weeks. The Belgian authorities had not paid due consideration to the vulnerability of the applicants, who had small children including a seriously disabled daughter.
Following almost fourteen years of detention without trial, the last British resident to be held in Guantanamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, has been released. Amnesty International has described Aamer’s plight as “one of the worst of all the detainees at Guantanamo,” given the time involved, the lengthy spells in solitary confinement and the torture he was allegedly subjected to.
“The case against the US authorities that perpetrated this travesty of justice, and British ministers and security personnel who allegedly colluded with them, should now be vigorously pursued”, writes the Observer. Long-standing questions remain surrounding claims of UK complicity in human rights abuses: in the 2009 civil case of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, the High Court pointedly noted that the UK’s relationship with US authorities went “far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.” Continue reading →
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Hannah Lynes.
In the news
Call from legal community for urgent action on refugee crisis
More than 300 lawyers have signed a statement denouncing the Government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis as “deeply inadequate”.
The document, whose signatories include former President of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, three former Law Lords and over 100 Queen’s Counsel, describes Prime Minister David Cameron’s offer to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over 5 years as “too low, too slow and too narrow.” Continue reading →
The controversial Trade Union Bill this week passed its second reading in the House of Commons by a majority of 33 MPs. The bill contains plans to impose a minimum 50% turnout in industrial action ballots, whilst public sector strikes will require the backing of at least 40% of all eligible voters. It further includes proposals to:
Increase the period of notice given by unions before a strike can be held from seven to 14 days;
Permit the employment of agency workers to replace permanent staff during strike action; and
Introduce fines of up to £20,000 on unions if pickets do not wear an official armband.
The civil rights organisation Liberty has warned that the bill will infringe the right to join a trade union, protected by Article 11 of the ECHR. Director Shami Chakrabarti has described the measures as a “spiteful and ideological attack” on freedoms that “must have one-nation Tories like Disraeli and Churchill spinning in their graves.”
Aspects of the bill have moreover come into criticism from senior members of the Conservative party. David Davis MP made clear his opposition to the requirement that organisers of picket lines register their details with the police, suggesting that the proposed reform was reminiscent of the Spanish dictatorship of General Franco.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid has, however, defended the measures, insisting that the reforms would “stop the ‘endless’ threat of strike action” and ensure that the right to strike was “fairly balanced with the right of people to be able to go about their daily lives and work.”
A coroner has concluded that the suicide of 60-year-old Michael O’Sullivan was a direct result of his assessment by a DWP doctor as being fit for work. Mr O’Sullivan, who suffered from severe mental illness, hanged himself after his disability benefits were removed. The Independent reports.
Proposals announced by the Ministry of Justice to further increase court fees have been criticised by the Bar Council, which has warned that higher costs would give wealthy individuals and big business an unfair advantage over weaker parties in court proceedings. The Bar Council press release can be read in full here.
The Guardian: Cuts to legal aid have led to an increase in demand for free legal representation and advice, placing considerable strain on the resources of charities and lawyers engaged in pro bono work.
Local Government Lawyer: Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has launched a review of the youth justice system, which is to be led by Charlie Taylor, former chief executive of the National College of Teaching. Mr Gove noted in a statement to Parliament that 67% of young people leaving custody reoffend within a year, and emphasised that the rehabilitation of young offenders had to be a government priority.
Immigration Minister James Brokenshire has announced proposals to make Britain “tougher on those with no right to be here’. The new measures are to be included in an Immigration Bill due this Autumn. Working illegally in England and Wales is set to be an offence punishable by a sentence of up to six months in prison and an unlimited fine. In addition, businesses suspected of failing to comply with immigration rules could face closure for up to 48 hours.
Policy Director at Focus on Labour Exploitation, Caroline Robinson, is critical of plans for a “labour market enforcement agency”. Far from preventing illegal working, “policies and practices putting immigration control above all else will result in increased forced labour and modern-day slavery in the UK”. Forthcoming research by the organisation highlights the dangers of blurring lines between immigration enforcement and labour inspection, with victims of labour exploitation more likely to avoid inspectors where they fear being reported to immigration officials.
The current system of immigration detention in the UK has also come under close scrutiny this week. Writing for Halsbury’s Law Exchange, Mark Lilley-Tams and Stewart MacLachlan identify potential opportunities for reform. Noting that the UK is unique within Europe in that an individual may be detained under the Immigration Acts for an indefinite period, the authors suggest a review of current government policy “to avoid unnecessary suffering to those being detained, and unnecessary use of public resources where detention is being used”.
Law Society Gazette: A Home Office report has highlighted ‘significant shortcomings’ in the provision of appropriate adults for vulnerable people in custody, putting them at risk of miscarriages of justice and lengthening custody times. Solicitors have called for urgent action to be made on the report’s recommendations.
A leading disability charity has been notified that the UN will be conducting an investigation into whether the UK government’s welfare reforms have caused “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights. Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that between 2011 and 2014, 2,380 people have died within six weeks of being found ‘fit to work’. The Independent reports.
The Guardian: The newly appointed UN special rapporteur on privacy, Joseph Cannataci, has called for a universal law on internet surveillance. Cannataci has singled out the oversight mechanism in the UK as being one of the weakest in the western world, describing it as “a rather bad joke at its citizens’ expense”.
Local Government Lawyer: The Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal brought by Unison against rulings of the Divisional Court that the Government’s introduction of employment tribunal fees had not been unlawful. The union has applied for permission to take its legal challenge to the Supreme Court.
Sir John Chilcot is facing legal action to compel publication of his long-delayed report into the Iraq war. A statement by Sir John has attributed the delay in part to the ‘Maxwellisation’ process, in which individuals are given the opportunity to respond to criticism made against them. The BBC reports here.
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