The Howard League for Penal Reform has called for a review of the “unfair and unrealistic” Criminal Courts Charge, which “ penalises the poor and encourages the innocent to plead guilty”. The mandatory charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on those who admit committing minor misdemeanours, regardless of their circumstances.
The charity has compiled a list of cases where heavy financial charges have been demanded of people convicted of low-level offences. These include the case of a 38-year-old homeless man who admitted persistently begging in Oxford, and breaching an Asbo prohibiting him from sitting within 10 metres of a cash machine. He was jailed for 30 days and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge.
Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis v DSD and NBV and Alio Koraou v Chief Constable of Manchester  EWCA Civ 646 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the police have a positive duty under Article 3 ECHR to conduct investigations into alleged ill-treatment by private individuals. There is a sliding scale from deliberate torture by State officials to the consequences of negligence by non-State agents. The margin of appreciation enjoyed by the State in terms of complying with the Article 3 procedural duty widens at the bottom of the scale but narrows at the top.
This was an appeal brought by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) against the decision of Green J in the High Court that the police force were in breach of the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 ECHR. A summary of the judgment at first instance can be found here.
The claimants were two women, DSD and NBV, who had been victims of rape and sexual assault committed by John Worboys, the “black cab rapist”. Administering sedative drugs and alcohol to his passengers, Worboys was the perpetrator of more than 105 assaults on women between 2002 and 2008.
In a conjoined appeal, the claimant Alio Koraou appealed a finding against him by HHJ Platts. He had been subject to an assault in a bar and part of his ear had been bitten off.
Both of these claims alleged that the failures of which the police were accused constituted violations of a duty to investigate said to be inherent in the right guaranteed by Article 3.
The Court of Appeal rejected submissions made on behalf of the MPS that a positive duty to investigate was not part of domestic law. It held that allegations of ill-treatment of the gravity stipulated by Article 3 gave rise to a duty under that Article to conduct an official investigation. Moreover, this obligation was not limited solely to cases of ill-treatment by State agents, but could arise where crimes were committed by private actors.
The reach and nature of the investigative duty
The Court emphasised that an appreciation of the reach and nature of the investigative duty under Article 3 demanded a broader consideration of the aims of this part of the ECHR. It was important to keep in mind the Article’s overall purpose.
“The idea at the core of the Article is that of safeguarding or protection in all the myriad situations where individuals may be exposed to ill-treatment of the gravity which the Article contemplates” [para. 44].
Reference was made to a sliding scale: from deliberate torture by State officials to the consequences of negligence by non-State agents. The energy required of the State to combat or redress these ills is “no doubt variable, but the same protective principle is always at the root of it” [para. 45].
Further, the margin of appreciation enjoyed by the State as to the means of compliance with Article 3 widens at the bottom of the scale but narrows at the top. At the lower end of the scale where injury happens through the negligence of non-State agents, the State’s provision of a judicial system of civil remedies will often suffice. Serious violent crime by non-State agents is of a different order, lying higher up the scale. Such cases, which included those of the respondent women, generally require a proper criminal investigation by the State.
Were the MPS in breach of their duty?
The Court went on to consider whether the judge had placed the cases in front of him too high on the sliding scale in terms of the degree of rigour required of the police investigation. A contrast between the ECHR and common law negligence was in this regard crucial. Whereas the purpose of English private law is compensation for loss, the strategic aim of the ECHR is to secure minimum standards of human rights protection. This distinction marks important differences in practice.
“The contrast between damages as of right and compensation at the court’s discretion is one. But another, in my judgment, goes to the standard applicable to the ascertainment of breach of the Article 3 investigative duty, as compared with what might constitute breach of a common law duty of care. Because the focus of the human rights claim is not on loss to the individual, but on the maintenance of a proper standard of protection, the court is in principle concerned with the State’s overall approach to the relevant ECHR obligation” [para. 67].
“The enquiry into compliance with the Article 3 duty is first and foremost concerned, not with the effect on the claimant, but with the overall nature of the investigative steps to be taken by the State” [para. 68].
Drawing on the account of Green J, the Court noted the judge’s findings that there were systematic and operational failures in the cases of both claimants. Applying the above legal principles to the facts, the Court held it to be “inescapable” that Green J was right to find a violation of Article 3.
In the second of the conjoined appeals, the Court affirmed the approach of HHJ Platts: a finding that there were clear failings in the police investigation would not lead in every case to liability under Article 3.
It had been noted by the judge that this was not the most serious of cases and that the allegations made by the Claimant were of questionable reliability. In his judgment it was not, therefore, a case where it would have been reasonable to require that the investigation left no stone unturned. Account had to be taken of the fact that police resources were limited. Further, this was not a case where the police did nothing.
The Court concluded that HHJ Platts had weighed the proved deficiencies of the investigation, its difficulties as he found them to be, and the gravity of the case. His decision to dismiss the claim could not sensibly be faulted.
In his first major speech as Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove this week set out his vision for ‘one nation justice’. At present a two-tier system provides the “gold-standard” of British justice to the wealthy and a “creaking, outdated system to everyone else”. The emphasis was on making use of technological developments, closing under-used courts and requiring the “most successful in the legal profession” to help “protect access to justice for all”. Continue reading →
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch is vocal in his support for the HRA
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Hannah Lynes
In the news
Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed the introduction of a British Bill of Rights, the Queen’s Speech containing only proposals for consultation. Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti has welcomed the development:
“It is heartening that a Conservative Government committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act has at least paused for thought in its first Queen’s speech. There is a long struggle ahead but time is the friend of freedom.”
Debate surrounding the proposed Bill of Rights continues in full force. Proponents of the HRA draw attention to perceived misconceptions advanced by the opposing side. Lord Leveson points out that UK courts are not ‘bound’ by the decisions of Strasbourg (“the legislation only requires us to take them into account”), whilst Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog questions the accuracy of claims that the HRA prevents us from deporting serious foreign criminals. Dr Ed Bates argues in the Constitutional Law blog that the domestic judiciary is more supportive of the ECHR than certain politicians would have us believe. Useful coverage of the views expressed by senior judges is provided here.
Housing: Leading housing charities last month issued a report claiming that the present ‘crisis’ in housing has put the UK in breach of its UN obligations to provide adequate homes. Housing campaigners fear government proposals set to reduce housing benefit for 18-21 year olds will serve to exacerbate the problem. The measures could “spell disaster for thousands of young people who…could be facing homelessness and the terrifying prospect of roughing it on the streets”, warns Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes.
Surveillance: Prominent legal academics have signed a letter calling on the Government to ensure that any changes in surveillance law “are fully and transparently vetted by parliament, and open to consultation from the public and all relevant stakeholders”. The Guardian reports here.
Police: Hampshire Constabulary has admitted a failure to properly investigate the complaint of a victim of rape, who had been accused of lying by the force. An out-of-court settlement was reached with the young woman following commencement of proceedings under the Human Rights Act.
Discrimination: A woman turned down for a job because she observed Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, was successful in her claim for indirect discrimination. The Telegraph reports on the decision.
Gender: An interview with barrister Roy Brown in Halsbury’s Law Exchange examines the significance of recent High Court decisions in JK and Carpenter for transgender rights in the UK.
This case concerned the question of legal representation in complex family proceedings. The Court of Appeal held that whilst it may be inappropriate for an unrepresented litigant to conduct cross-examination of his alleged victim, a judge is not entitled to order the Courts Service (HMCTS) to pay for a legally trained advocate to do so on the litigant’s behalf. A court is not permitted to circumvent the detailed provisions for legal aid eligibility set out in LASPO. Further, the result does not amount to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial), since the court has available to it other alternatives. These include the possibility of the judge himself conducting the questioning.
‘The Conservative Party has won a majority and can implement its manifesto. The Human Rights Act will be scrapped,’ writes Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog. Such an outcome might not be a foregone conclusion, but Professor Mark Elliott is clear that ‘repeal of the HRA, the adoption of a British Bill of Rights and perhaps even withdrawal from the ECHR are now less unthinkable’.
Questions surrounding the content of the proposed Bill of Rights have therefore assumed increased urgency. A press release issued in October 2014 spoke of limiting the rights of illegal immigrants, travellers, victims of British military abuse and foreigners who commit crimes in the UK. Yet as UKHRB founder Adam Wagner notes, ‘only foreign criminals were mentioned in the manifesto, so it is all to play for.’
The HRA has failed to secure resilience in domestic politics. Benedict Douglas for the UK Constitutional Law blog attributes this failure to an absence in the Act of a ‘justification for rights possession in dignity or any other foundational human characteristic’. Mark Elliott points to the manner of its introduction: little effort was made ‘to engage the general public in what was perceived to be a political and legal elite’s pet project’.
Current discussions could thus present an opportunity, argues Adam Wagner for RightsInfo. A ‘Bill of Rights, done properly with real public involvement might help convince people that human rights are for all of us.’
For those looking to read more about human rights reform:
The Human Rights Act and a Question of Legitimacy – Barrister Austen Morgan considers the advantages of a British Bill of Rights for The Justice Gap.
What does a Conservative Government Mean for the Future of Human Rights in the UK? – Professor Mark Elliot puts together a useful list of recent posts he has written on Conservative plans for reform.
Michael Gove has been appointed Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor in the post-election Cabinet. The Telegraph reports here.
BBC: Two Syrian asylum seekers imprisoned for failing to provide passports have been successful in appealing their convictions.
The High Court has ruled that a child should be brought up by her genetic father and his male partner, despite objections from the surrogate mother. The Guardian reports.
The Justice Gap: The Uk Supreme Court has launched an on-demand video catch-up.
Legal Voice: More than 8,000 lawyers are set to join the London Legal Walk to raise funds for the legal not-for-profit sector
Mark Freedland and Jeremias Prassl express concerns over the impact and regulation of ‘zero-hours contracts’ for the Oxford Human Rights Hub.
The case concerned the imposition of administrative fines on individuals who had been acquitted by the criminal courts of the same offence. The ECtHR found a violation of the right to a presumption of innocence (contra. Article 6 ECHR) and also the right not to be tried or punished twice (Article 4 of Protocol No.7).
‘In Conversation with Sir Stephen Sedley’ – As part of LSE’s Legal Biography Project, Sir Ross Cranston will interview Sir Stephen Sedley on his life and career in the law. The event will be held on 19 May in the Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building. More information can be found here.
If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email Jim Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org
The drowning of several hundred migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has dominated headlines in recent weeks, prompting a special meeting of the European Council on 23 April. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for ‘a robust search-and-rescue operation in the Central Mediterranean, not only a border patrol’.
Under the ECHR, migrants rescued at sea cannot be returned if there is a ‘real risk’ of treatment that is incompatible with the absolute provisions of the Convention. Jacques Hartmann and Irini Papanicolopulu consider claims that human rights law therefore creates a perverse incentive for EU Member States not to conduct operations proactively.
Ms Apata with her partner, Happiness Agboro. Photo credit: The Independent
Hannah Lynes brings us the latest edition of the Human Rights Round-up
In the news
A challenge brought against a Home Office decision to deport LGBT activist Aderonke Apata was this week rejected by the High Court. Ms Apata fears a return to Nigeria would mean “imprisonment and death because of her sexuality”, reports the Independent.
Ms Apata claimed to be engaged to a long-term partner and the paper reports that she was “so desperate to convince the Government she was gay that she submitted a private DVD and photographs of her sex life as evidence.”
After a brief hiatus, the Human Rights Round-up is back. Our new team of expert summarisers – Hannah Lynes, Alex Wessely and Laura Profumo – is installed and ready to administer your regular dose of UK human rights news.
This week, Hannah reports on the Global Law Summit, access to justice, and what’s happening in the courts.
In the News
‘If you wrap yourself in the Magna Carta…you are inevitably going to look ridiculous if you then throw cold water on an important part of its legacy.’ Lord Pannick QC was not alone last week (23-28th February) in suggesting that there was some irony in Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling evoking the spirit of the Magna Carta at his launch of the three-day Global Law Summit.
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.