By: Adam Wagner


The biggest human rights stories of 2012 – Part 2

30 December 2012 by

UKHRB 2012 year in review2012 has been a busy year on the UK human rights front, never short of controversy, hyperbole and even some interesting points of legal principle along the way.

Here are some of the biggest stories from April to June 2012. The first part of this post, January to March, is here. Feel free to comment on my choices, and add your own if you think something is missing.


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The biggest human rights stories of 2012 – Part 1

29 December 2012 by

UKHRB 2012 year in review2012 has been a busy year on the UK human rights front, never short of controversy, hyperbole and even some interesting points of legal principle along the way.

The Human Rights Act 1998, twelve years young, has been under fairly constant attack from politicians and newspapers. Meanwhile, the HRA has been operating pretty well in the courts, with judges producing a steady stream of interesting home-grown human rights judgments. The European Court of Human Rights has produced some fascinating and controversial judgments, and has also, thanks to the UK’s presidency, signed up to some significant reforms.

Here are a few highlights from January to March – hopefully I will have time to complete the rest of the year!

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Another cracking year for the UK Human Rights Blog

27 December 2012 by

Champagne ExplosionHello all, and happy holidays! 2012 has been a cracking year for the UK Human Rights Blog. As is customary, below are the top 2012 posts by hit count, but also a few of my own highlights of 2012:

  • After just over two and a half years in operation the blog is now achieving our aim (we hope) of informing and enhancing the human rights debate, which is no less controversial and caricatured than it was in March 2010.
  • The weekly Human Rights Roundups have become one of the most popular features of the blog, thanks to our fantastic updaters Daniel Isenberg, Sam Murrant and Wessen Jazrawi who moved on to other things in 2012.
  • In our third year we smashed one million hits and are already getting close to two million. We are regularly quoted across the media and for the first time this year, in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are now getting close to 100,000 hits per month and are consistently ranked as the top legal blog on the ‘e-buzzing’ influence rankings.
  • We have over 4,000 email subscribers (just enter your email address in the box to the right to subscribe for free), over 2,000 on our Facebook fan page and 2,000+ on our @ukhumanrightsb Twitter account. You can also follow me on @adamwagner1 and my fantastic co-editors Angus McCullough QC on @amccqc and Rosalind English on @rosalindenglish.
  • Thank you to all of the fantastic contributors from 1 Crown Office Row (the barristers’ chambers which runs the blog)  as well as guest contributors from elsewhere, who have contributed to almost 1,500 individual posts. I have taken more of a back seat editorial role this year so as to get on with my day job (I am a practising barrister, honest – you can read about me here), an arrangement which has strengthened the blog.
  • Thank you also to all of those who have commented on individual posts both on the blog and on Twitter, which has been particularly vibrant in legal debates this year. Some of those debates have been fantastic and they add immeasurably to the content on the blog. As always, we welcome comments on any aspect of the blog, including the refreshed design which you may have noticed in the past few days. Thank you also to the growing army of fantastic legal bloggers (see our links section on the sidebar) who regularly link to the blog in their own post.
  • One final reminder: all of our blog posts are categorised by legal topic and article of the European Convention on Human Rights: you can access the categories by way of the drop down menu on the right sidebar (for example family law, technology, Article 8 etc) as well as by clicking categories under individual posts. Our index of European Convention Rights is here.

Without further ado, here are the top twenty posts of 2012:

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New prosecution guidance on offensive speech online: sensible, but the law is still out of date

19 December 2012 by

Twitter-Logo UK human rights blogThe Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published interim guidance on when to prosecute people for grossly offensive and obscene messages they send on social media. The guidelines are now subject to a full public consultation. Earlier this year, I took part in a series of round table discussions with the DPP over how the guidelines would look.

Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 prohibits any message sent “by means of a public electronic communications network” which is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character“.

The guidelines are sensible, to a point. They will make it less likely in future that people are prosecuted for saying stupid things online. Prosecutors are reminded that many offences will already be covered under other criminal laws such as those dealing with harassment, stalking or other violent threats. Cases which are not covered by those laws, that is the grossly offensive etc messages, are “subject to a high threshold and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest“. The CPS then seeks to define “grossly” offensive, at least in the negative, as cases which are more than:

  • Offensive, shocking or disturbing; or
  • Satirical, iconoclastic or rude comment; or
  • The expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it.

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The Bill of Rights Commission report: a modest proposal

18 December 2012 by

COMBAR

Update, 15:15: I originally referred below to there being a majority of six versus two in favour of introducing a bill of rights. This was wrong – in fact there were seven. The Commission chair, Sir Leigh Lewis, should have been included in that number.

The Commission on a Bill of Rights has reported, just in time for its end-of-2012 deadline. The documents are here: News release ; Volume 1 ; Volume 2.

I have read the introduction, which sets out the main proposals. A few things that jumped out:

  • As predicted by most people since the beginning, there are areas of agreement but also some significant disagreements. Only seven out of the nine Commissioners believe there should be a bill of rights. Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands disagree. Even the title is equivocal: “A UK Bill of Rights? The choice before us“.
  • This is not a unified document, but rather a running, almost Socratic, dialectic between the nine members. It is difficult to follow who agrees with which bit, even in individual paragraphs which are often qualified by “a majority believes”. Bizarrely, and going beyond even my pessimistic expectations of strife, there are eight (eight!) separate papers written by individuals and groups of individuals included in the report, including one by Lord Faulks and Jonathan Fisher on the European Court and why it is going beyond its original remit, one by Sands and Kennedy on why they don’t think there should be a bill of rights, a personal explanatory note by Lord Lester… it goes on. That is one of the reasons this is such a long document.

Commission on a Bill of Rights BINGO!

17 December 2012 by

As promised on Twitter, in readiness for tomorrow’s Commission on a Bill of Rights report (for more, see my post about grasshoppers), here is BILL OF RIGHTS COMMISSION BINGO!

You can click on the picture below or click here to download the PDF.. Diagonal lines count! And the centre square is a free square so you can cross through that too. Enjoy playing – the rules are in the PDF. Hopefully some serious coverage tomorrow as well. (Update – the Commission report is out, my initial analysis is here).

Bill of Rights Commission Bingo

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Run for the hills! Here come the noisy grasshoppers

17 December 2012 by

5629_grasshopper-121114-b-gettyThe Commission on a Bill of Rights is rumoured to be publishing its report tomorrow, just in time for its end-of-2012 deadline. It is also widely being reported, unsurprisingly, that the Commission may not produce a unified report at all. Unsurprising because the Commission was set an almost impossible task from the start.

Four Conservatives and four Liberal Democrats told to “sort out” UK human rights (the terms of reference were a little less vague, but that’s basically it), whilst also being limited to proposing a Bill of Rights that “incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights“. In other words, the could do very little at all except fiddle with our already existing, and actually quite elegant, Human Rights Act 1998. I have compared any new Bill of Rights arising from the Commission a bit like an updated Ford Fiesta; a new look and a few new features, but essentially the same car.

There will be plenty of analysis once the report is released. I wanted to concentrate here on the likely reaction. Matthew Parris got it right in Saturday’s Times (£) when he quoted Edmund Burke:

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Quicker, costlier and less appealing: plans for Judicial Review reform revealed

13 December 2012 by

great_dictator

Don’t mention the war

The Government has revealed its plans to reform Judicial Review, and has opened a public consultation which closes on 24 January 2013.

Last month the Prime Minister promised business leaders that he would “get a grip” on people forcing unnecessary delays to Government policy by cracking down on the “massive growth industry” of Judicial Review (JR), the means by which individuals and organisations can challenge poor decisions by public authorities in the courts. He even, in a new twist on Goodwin’s Law, compared cutting down on court challenges to beating Hitler.

The consultation document is detailed and is worth reading. It certainly does not reflect the bombast of the Prime Minister’s statement that “We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ – and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race“. What is proposed is a fairly significant reform of the Judicial Review system, and nothing as dramatic as winning World War II. There are, however, some problems with the Government’s analysis which I will come to later.

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Allowing religious gay marriages will avoid human rights challenges

7 December 2012 by

gay_marriage_cake_300The Prime Minister has announced his support for gay marriage in religious institutions. Having already said, memorably, that “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative”, he has now gone a step further and argued that gay couples should be able to marry on religious premises. But, he also made clear, “if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn’t want to have a gay marriage it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it“.

The announcement is important in the context of a legal debate which has been taking place since the Government signalled that marriage law reform was on its agenda: namely, whether religious institutions would be forced, as a result of equalities and human rights legislation, to carry out gay marriage ceremonies whether or not they wanted to. In June, when the Government was consulting over the “equal civil marriage” plans, Church of England sounded the alarm that “it must be very doubtful whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious forms and ceremonies could withstand a challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights

What is really interesting about the Prime Minister’s announcement is that the Government is now going beyond  its original proposals as set out in the June consultation. At that point, the Government was careful to state that the proposals related only to civil (that is, non-religious) marriage and, indeed said:

Mail finds new love for Human Rights Act

2 December 2012 by

Just fancy that!You know those films where a couple spend the first two acts hating each other until, possibly at night when it is raining, they realise they have been in love all along? It seems that following the Leveson Inquiry report, a winter romance is developing between the Mail on Sunday and the Human Rights Act.

In Bombshell by Leveson’s own adviser: His law to gag press is illegal as it breaches Human Rights Act, the Mail reveals an interview with Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights advocacy organisation Liberty and also advisor to the Leveson Inquiry, in which she argues that any new law that made the government quango Ofcom the ‘backstop regulator’ with sweeping powers to punish newspapers would violate Article 10 of the European Convention On Human Right, which protects free speech (Update: for more, see this post by Hugh Tomlinson QC – he disagrees with Chakrabarti, although also points out she has been misrepresented).

It only seems like a few months ago (actually, it was only a few months ago) that a Mail editorial thundered: Human rights is a charter for criminals and parasites our anger is no longer enough. As Private Eye might say… just fancy that!

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The Leveson Report is here!

29 November 2012 by

The Leveson Report into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press has been published. The full report (in four parts) is here. The Executive Summary is here. Thankfully, unlike the artist’s impression which accompanies this post, it is not written in early Hebrew script [Update – this post originally, wrongly, identified the text as Greek. That will teach me for trying to be clever…].

My statement to the Inquiry is here. 1 Crown Office Row barristers represented the Metropolitan Police (Neil Garnham QC and Alasdair Henderson) and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC) (Peter Skelton).

Hugely important report due imminently… no, not that one

28 November 2012 by

Remember the Commission on a Bill of Rights? You know, the one set up by the Government in the early days of the Coalition to sort out the Human Rights Act? No, not the Leveson Inquiry; that’s about the media (you may have heard that it is reporting tomorrow). CBOR is the one with the eight lawyers, four selected by each of the Coalition partners, a bit like a legal Brady Bunch.

Some accused the Government of kicking the rights issue into the long grass by assigning it to a commission with a far away reporting date – the end of 2012. It seemed so far away, back in the halcyon summer of 2010. Remember David Cameron and Nick Clegg’ romance in the Rose Garden?

Well, the long grass has now grown and CBOR is due to report in just over a month. As I posted in July, the Commission has consulted the public for a second time. The responses have now been published, categorised into Individual responsesRespondent organisations and bodies and Postcard responses. In case you were wondering about the ‘postcard responses’ these resulted from campaigns organised by the British Institute of Human Rights and the Human Rights Consortium.

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A £1,000 prisoner vote signing on bonus? [Updated x 2]

22 November 2012 by

Update | The Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Draft Bill has been released. It will not be put straight before Parliament for a vote; rather, it will be put to a Committee of both Houses for full Parliamentary scrutiny which could propose amendments, then back to the Government which will “reflect on its recommendations” and subsequently introduce a bill. There is no timetable set out for this process, but I imagine the Council of Europe may want a timetable imposed.

The bill sets out three options:

  1. A ban for prisoners sentenced to 4 years or more.
  2. A ban for prisoners sentenced to more than 6 months.
  3. A ban for all convicted prisoners – a restatement of the existing ban.

One interesting point on a quick read through is that option three “would re-enact the current general ban on prisoner voting, with some minor changes.” The language is indeed different to that used to enact the current ban, which is contained in section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

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A war on Judicial Review? [updated]

19 November 2012 by

The Prime Minister is to “get a grip” on people forcing unnecessary delays to Government policy by cracking down on the “massive growth industry” of Judicial Review. David Cameron told business leaders today:

“When this country was at war in the 40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution. … everything was thrown at ‘the overriding purpose’ of beating Hitler. … this country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ – and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.”

The detail of the changes is yet to be revealed (update – more detail is now available on the Ministry of Justice website, including the promise of a public consultation), but the PM plans to ” reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews – so people think twice about time-wasting.”

Clearly some of the PM’s Dunkirk spirit rhetoric is aimed at cheering up business leaders, who need a lot of that at the moment. But putting the rhetoric aside, there is cause for concern here.

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“No-one should be under any doubt – prisoners are not getting the vote under this government”

18 November 2012 by

It is being reported that Parliament will, after all, get the opportunity to decide whether the blanket ban on convicted prisoners being able to vote will be lifted. MPs could get three options to choose from, including removing the ban for prisoners serving six months or less and those serving four years or less. A third option will be to maintain the status quo, with no convicted prisoners being able to vote.

The crucial question is: will this be enough to satisfy the Council of Europe, which monitors compliance with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights? The Government appears to think so. For my part, I am not so sure. To explain why, it is important to get a few of the facts right first.

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