You may have heard that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) decided on Tuesday that Abu Qatada, an alleged terrorist who has been detained for the best part of the last seven years awaiting deportation to his native Jordan, cannot be deported. There would be a real risk, ruled SIAC, that he would face a flagrant denial of justice in his ensuing trial.
Jim Duffy has already commented on the case here, but I thought it would be useful to look at some of the commentary which followed the decision. A bit like the latest Israel-Gaza escalation, controversial human rights decisions now elicit an almost instant (and slightly sad) our-camp-versus-theirs reaction. Following a decision each ‘side’ trundles into action, rolling out the clichés without thinking very hard about the principles. The Prime Minister himself somewhat petulantly said he was “fed up” and “We have moved heaven and earth to try to comply with every single dot and comma of every single convention to get him out of this country.”
It is easy to moan about inaccurate coverage (I often do). But in this case, I do think the strong, almost visceral, reaction to the decision is justified. Leaving aside the slightly mad tabloid anti-Europe or effectively anti-justice coverage, it is understandable that people are uneasy and upset about this decision to keep a suspected terrorist within our borders, and then release him. But that doesn’t mean the decision is wrong.
Last month 1 Crown Office Row hosted a fascinating panel debate on the Court of Protection and the incredibly difficult issues surrounding assisted dying. The panel included Philip Havers QC, the philosopher A.C. Grayling and Leigh Day & Co.’s human rights partner Richard Stein. You can now view the video here or below. Also see here for Rosalind English’s report of the event.
I have an opinion piece in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, We should support and not condemn Human Rights Act. The “we” in the title is the Jewish community, of which I am a part, although it also amounts to a fairly broad defence of the Human Rights Act.
The article was at first intended as a direct response to an opinion piece by Jonathan Fisher QC entitled The wrongs of human rights, but because of editorial pressures at the Jewish Chronicle it could not be published until a few weeks later, and as such ended up being a more general article. I have already commented on this blog on why I thought the timing of Fisher’s article was a little odd given that the Bill of Rights Commission, on which he sits, was still consulting the public on the very issues he addressed passionately in the article. I said:
A quick note to say that the UK Jewish Film Festival is showing a fascinating new Israeli documentary (with subtitles), The Law in These Parts, this Sunday at 2:30pm at the Tricycle Cinema in Kilburn. The film will be followed by a discussion, chaired by me, between Danny Friedman of Matrix chambers and Jonathan Turner of 13 Old Square chambers. All details are here.
I have seen the film and it is excellent. It is an examination of legal proceedings in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. The documentary is made up almost entirely of interviews with former judges in Israel’s security courts, including a Supreme Court justice, which in itself of great interest. Although the legal and moral issues faced up to in the film are in one way unique to Israel, many from the UK legal community will recognise themes in relation to Northern Ireland during the Troubles, as well as broader problems which we are still grappling with involving the use of secret evidence and evidence obtained by torture.
In short, one of the best legal documentaries I have seen, and highly recommended (not just by me – Newsweek described it as “a gripping new documentary“). I hope to see you there, do come and say hello if you can make it. Book here – trailer below
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that I have added an ‘Upcoming Events’ list to the right sidebar, underneath the ‘Recommended’ and ‘Case Law’ links.
If you would like events added to this list, email me. Please only send events which (i) have their own webpage which can be linked to, and (ii) are relevant to topics covered by the blog. This is (as with everything on the blog) a free service. There are currently two exciting events featured, an audience with Mr Justice Rabinder Singh at the LSE and a JUSTICE event about online law.
Whilst I am here, if you didn’t already know, the ‘Recommended’ list of links are all links to external sources which I update a few times daily with up-to-the minute human rights news. These links, which can also all be found here (I use a service called Delicious – there have been over 3,000 since the blog launched), are then fed magically into the weekly Human Rights Roundup. The upcoming events list will now be included in the weekly update too.
The Government has until 22 November to put forth legislative proposals in order to comply with the court’s rulings on prisoner votes.
I will not retrace the bizarre flip-flop which took place yesterday afternoon as the Attorney General appeared to say one thing about implementing the judgment (it’s complicated) and then the Prime Minister another (no way). Joshua Rozenberg has it right when he calls the situation “profoundly depressing”. For the full background, see my post on Scoppola No. 3, the last judgment on the issue.
I do have three thoughts on the current situation. First, it has become popular to say that there may be a way of solving the crisis which doesn’t require the UK to give any more prisoners the vote, which would be to tell the European Court of Human Rights that we already let remand prisoners and others who haven’t paid fines vote. The argument has been made variously by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, The Independent’s John Rentoul and even last night by a member of the Justice Select Committee, Nick de Bois MP – he told BBC Radio 4 (from 26:25) that “you could almost argue that there isn’t a blanket ban… for example someone on prison on remand or.. for not paying a fine doesn’t lose their right to vote” (I am interviewed immediately afterwards).
In short, unless I am missing something, this argument seems bound to fail. Continue reading →
Last month I posted on the troubling case of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old protester killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003. In August, an Israeli court ruled that the Israeli Defence Ministry bore no responsibility in civil law for her death.
I complained that the reporting of the ruling had been poor, despite a reasonably good summary in English produced by the court. One of the main problems undoubtedly was the lack of an English translation of the 73-page Hebrew ruling. Until now, that is. Through the magic of the internet – and a huge amount of work – Irène Solomon, a legal advisor at Ofgem and reader of this blog, has translated the judgment from Hebrew into English. She has taken on this mammoth task for free in her personal capacity and has given me permission to publish her work online as a UKHRB exclusive.
You can download the translation here (PDF) and it is also reproduced after the break below. I should emphasise that this is not an official translation, but it does appear to me to be a very good effort indeed.
A short post to say that I was interviewed by Joshua Rozenberg for today’s Law in Action programme on BBC Radio 4. I was debating, with Nadine Dorries MP, a recent series of criminal prosecution (see my post from last week) brought against social media users. The debate centred on the implications for freedom of speech as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The full programme can be listened to here (UK only, I think) – the social media section is from around 20 minutes in. You may have guessed from my post as well as this interview that I think the current state of the law under the Communications Act 2003 is causing very significant problems for freedom of expression.
Relatedly, I am chairing an interesting panel debate tomorrow (Wednesday) evening on this very topic. I understand the event is full but you can submit questions ahead of the event to or follow for live tweets @HumanRightsLawA ; #lawandtwittering
The panel is excellent, including Tamsin Allen (head of Media and Information Law at Bindmans solicitors), John Cooper QC (amongst many other things, counsel for Paul Chambers in the Twitter joke trial) and Gabrielle Guillemin (legal officer at Article 19). The event is free and open to all, but space is limited so if you would like to come, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Full details below or in a prettier version, here:
Updated x 2 | A 20-year-old has been sent to prison for twelve weeks for posting offensive and derogatory comments about missing five-year-old April Jones on his Facebook page. His attempts at humour were undoubtedly stupid, offensive and exhibited incredibly poor taste and timing. But is a long spell in prison really the way we should be dealing with offensive idiots? Is a law which was passed before social media existed now placing a significant chill on our freedom of expression rights?
Matthew Woods pleaded guilty to an offence under s.127 of the Communications Act 2003, which prohibits a person sending “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character“. He was sentenced at Chorley Magistrates’ Court.
Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz have lost their High Court Judicial Review challenges to their extradition to the United States to face terrorism related charges. The court refused permission to apply for Judicial Review.
Two weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights refused the men’s requests to refer their extradition appeal to its Grand Chamber for another hearing. This meant that their case, which was decided in the Government’s favour in April (see our post) became final and there were in theory no remaining barriers to their extradition to the United States to face terrorism charges [Update, 7.10.12 – they are already in the United States, so no more legal shenanigans on these shores].
The men each brought different judicial review claims as a final challenge to their extradition, and those claims have – quite rightly – been dealt with rapidly by the High Court, which rejected the claims outright. As the court’s summary says, these proceedings are “the latest, and if we refuse permission, the last, in a lengthy process of appeals and applications that has continued for some eight years in the case of three and 14 years in the case of two.”
When dealt with at an oral hearing, refusals by the court of permission to apply for Judicial Review are not appealable. So pending any legal shenanigans (I can’t think of anything more they can do but as Julian Assange has taught us all, anything is possible), the (this time really) final barrier to extradition looks to have been removed.
Almost a year ago, I and some other legal bloggers wrote about a phenomenon known as the Freemen on the Land movement. I called the post Freemen of the dangerous nonsense, for that is exactly what the movement is, for those desperate enough to sign up to it. Now a Canadian judge has done many judges around the world a huge favour by exploding the movement’s ideas and leaders (or “gurus”) in a carefully referenced and forensic 192-page judgment, which should be read by anyone who has ever taken a passing interest in this issue, and certainly by any judge faced by a litigant attempting the arguments in court.
The Freemen, alongside other groups with similar creeds, believe that if you change your name and deny the jurisdiction of the courts, you will be able to escape debt collectors, council tax and even criminal charges. As this member of the Occupy London movement, “commonly known as dom” wrote in guardian.co.uk (of all places) “if you don’t consent to be that “person”, you step outside the system“.
As you may have guessed, this magical technique never works in the courts, but judges are often flummoxed when faced with the arguments, which are odd and in many ways risible. But what has been lacking is an authoritative, systematic judgment explaining, in detail, why that is. Until now, that is.
Abu Hamza’s extradition has been put on hold whilst this Judicial Review claim is being dealt with this coming Tuesday [update – I understand that another issue is being dealt with on Tuesday, and that the passport point is not the one which has held up the extradition]. I think this may be a ‘permission hearing’ (the first hurdle a JR claim has to surmount) although it may well be a ‘rolled up’ hearing, which means the permission and substantive aspects will be dealt with all at once. A few points to note (nb. this is my quick summary, and is only of course of one side of the case – Abu Hamza’s):
This particular claim is very limited. He applied for and was granted a passport on 11 November 2011 and although this was sent on 20 November 2011 to Belmarsh Prison, where he was located, the passport has not yet been given to him. He has also requested photocopies, to no avail.
He claims that the failure to provide him with his passport or copies of it is contrary to Home Office Guidance Note 20, as well as potentially Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private and family life) and the EU Citizen’s Directive 2004/38/EC. For what it’s worth, this is fundamentally a legality challenge under ordinary public law principles – the human rights aspect of it is likely to be in the background. So although it would technically be correct to say he is challenging this decision on human rights grounds, that aspect is only likely to play a small part in the claim.
The British Academy have today published a very interesting new report by Colm O’Cinneide considering the workings of the UK human rights law, the relationship between the ECHR, UK courts and the Parliament and the potential effect of a bill of rights.
The report (full report / executive summary) had a prestigious steering committee, including Professor Vernon Bognodor, who knows a bit about the British constitution, and Professor Conor Gearty. The conclusions represent – at least in my experience – the mainstream view amongst legal academics, lawyers and indeed judges on the human rights system. In summary, and with apologies if this is an over-simplification of the report’s detailed findings:
The European Court of Human Rights has refused the request of Mustafa Kamal Mustafa (Abu Hamza) and four others to refer their extradition appeal to its Grand Chamber for another hearing. This means that their case, which was decided in the Government’s favour in April (see our post) is now final. There are therefore no remaining barriers to their extradition to the United States to face terrorism charges.
But why has it taken so long to decide the case? The men argued that if extradited there was a real risk that their article 3 (torture and inhumane treatment) rights would be contravened by being held at a ‘Super-max’ prison and by having to face extremely long sentences. The extradition requests were made by the United States in July 1999 (Adel Bary), May 2004 (Abu Hamza) March 2005 (Barbar Ahmad), August 2005 (Haroon Rashid Aswat) and September 2006 (Syed Tahla Ahsan). In other words, a long time ago.
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