By: Adam Wagner


German court rules child’s religious circumcision can be a criminal offence – Analysis

27 June 2012 by

Updated | As has been widely reported, a regional German court has ruled that a Muslim boy’s religious circumcision was a crime and that it violated his basic constitutional rights to bodily integrity. This ruling has no direct effect on other European states, but will buoy the campaign against male circumcision.

Thanks to an admirably swift response from the Cologne Regional Court to my request, I have uploaded the appeal decision (the important one), the original decision which was under appeal and the court’s press release. All are in German. I have also uploaded a version of the appeal judgment in English (updated – I have been sent a much better English translation).

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Immigration judges ‘named and shamed’ by Sunday Telegraph [updated]

17 June 2012 by

Updated | Today the Sunday Telegraph (ST) has named and shamed the “three judges who allowed the most appeals” in cases involving the deportation of foreign criminals (Judges who allow foreign criminals to stay in Britain).

Apparently:

The investigation looked at all 184 appeals against deportation by foreign criminals in the 12 months up to June 1 which were brought under Article 8, in whole or in part, in the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber.

David Barrett (who has form on this blog for poor reporting) and Josie Ensor, who wrote the piece, do not reveal the source of the investigation. Why ever not?

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There is a democratic deficit in the courts… here’s how to fill it

17 June 2012 by

The current Government often complains about a “democratic deficit” in the courts. It seems that  “unelected judges” are making important decisions on social policy without any kind of democratic mandate, particularly in controversial human rights cases.

I agree that there is a democratic deficit in the courts. But it isn’t about elections. It is about access.

The Government seeks to solve the problem by involving Parliament more in the judicial process, the latest and most striking example being the Home Office’s attempt to codify Article 8 ECHR, the right to private and family life, in immigration cases. The Home Office wants fundamentally to alter the role of the courts, hoping that it will “shift from reviewing the proportionality of individual administrative decisions to reviewing the proportionality of the rules” (see para 39). The argument is that since judges are unaccountable, those who are accountable must be more central in the decisions they make, particularly in sensitive areas such as immigration.

This is attempt to take power away from judges. But why?
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Government has still not made case for “inherently unfair” secret trials, say Special Advocates

14 June 2012 by

Angus McCullough QC and Jeremy Johnson QC at the JCHR

The overwhelming majority of Special Advocates have responded to the Justice and Security Bill by stating that the case has still not been made by the Government for the introduction of closed material procedures  in other types of civil litigation. The full response is available here (PDF).

Fifty Special Advocates have signed the response. This represents an overwhelming consensus of those with substantial experience of the current system of secret hearings.

They accept that the new restriction to national security cases is an improvement, but retain the view expressed in their initial response to the Green Paper consultation, that:

CMPs are inherently unfair and contrary to the common law tradition; that the Government would have to show the most compelling reasons to justify their introduction; that no such reasons have been advanced; and that, in our view, none exists.

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Article 8 and a half – wider than thought, but will it work?

13 June 2012 by

The Home Office has released its Statement of Intent on Family Migration, which, amongst other things, makes the position a little clearer on its plans for Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as discussed in my earlier post (thank you to Obiter J for linking to the document in his post).

In short, the changes are much wider than initially thought. The plan is not to simply ask Parliament to approve a declaration of intent on Article 8 as some suspected, but rather to ask Parliament to approve amended Immigration Rules which will set out an extensive, codified definition of the Article 8 balancing factors, in order to:

unify consideration under the rules and Article 8, by defining the basis on which a person can enter or remain in the UK on the basis of their family or private life.

The plans, which are set out from paragraph 27 of the report, are therefore more significant than I and others had been speculating, in that they will apply not just to the deportation of foreign criminals as was the focus of the press coverage and Home Secretary Theresa May’s statement to Parliament, but to the whole of immigration law. They also set out the legal reasoning as to why this is expected to bind judges, which appears to originate from an obiter comment in paragraph 17 of the 2007 House of Lords case of Huang.
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Will the European Court force churches to perform gay marriages?

12 June 2012 by

The Government’s Consultation on Equal Civil Marriage ends on Thursday 14 June: you can fill in the brief online survey here if you haven’t already. In the meantime, the Church of England is on the front pages this morning with its own response, which amongst other things, warns 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”

The Church’s argument is set out on pages 10 to 13 of its response. It is interesting, and there might be something in it. However, it is clear from the rest of the document that the Church is, in its introduction, inflating the likelihood of a successful court challenge. This has of course made its way into the press coverage, where it is being suggested that a challenge would “probably” succeed. But even the Church’s own response, reading a little further, does not go this far.

Let’s consider the argument. The Church puts a number of propositions. First,

It remains the case that member states of the Council of Europe are not obliged to make legal provision for same-sex marriage.

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Article 8 and a half

10 June 2012 by

Tomorrow, the Home Secretary will announce to Parliament plans to give judges guidance on how to interpret Article 8 ECHR (the right to private and family life) in foreign criminal deportation cases. There has been already significant speculation as to whether the long-heralded changes will make much or even any difference.

It is not yet clear whether the Home Secretary intends to restrict the use of Article 8 in foreign deportation cases completely, as suggested here, or rather attempt to tweak the way it is applied by judges. The latter is more likely.

We will report in full when the proposals are revealed. But in the meantime, a quick comment on the slightly odd coverage of the story in the press. For example, the BBC reports:

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Criticisms remain as dust settles on secret trials bill

5 June 2012 by

Updated | In stark contrast to the pageantry surrounding the Royal Jubilee, here is a somewhat sombre update on the Justice and Security Bill, which was published on 28 May 2012 and is currently receiving its second reading in the House of Lords. The Bill aims to introduce Close Material Procedures, that is secret hearings, into civil trials.

Three key documents were published shortly after the Bill, presenting the Government’s case in response to the forceful criticism which the initial proposals generated. First is the Government’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ scathing report on the proposals. Secondly, the Government’s response to the 90 submissions received in response to the Justice and Security Green Paper consultation. Thirdly, a summary of European Convention on Human Rights issues relating to the Bill, also published by the Government.

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Key Justice and Security Bill resources

29 May 2012 by

The Justice and Security Bill, which proposes to introduce secret ‘Closed Material Procedure’ (CMP) hearings into civil trials, has been published. Here are some useful resources for picking your way through the controversy:

  • The Ministry of Justice’s page on the Bill, including some ‘myth-busting’ (including ‘This is undermining the centuries old legal tradition’) is here.
  • 84 responses to the Green Paper which led to this bill can be found here, and the Government’s response of 29 May is here.
  • The Joint Committee on Human Rights’ highly critical report on the proposals is here.
  • You can access all of the UK Human Rights Blog coverage of the secret trials proposals here, including our exclusive on the Special Advocates’ opposition to the proposals, which became the most damaging aspect of the case against the Green Paper.

More to come on the proposals soon…

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Why no public appointment hearings for UK’s new European Court of Human Rights judge?

23 May 2012 by

Bratza is off

The Guardian reported yesterday that “MPs aiming to claw back powers from Europe have secretly interviewed candidates to become Britain’s next judge at the European court of human rights”. Oliver Heald MP said that a group of MPs from the three main political parties met the 3 candidates, Raquel Agnello QC, Paul Mahoney and Ben Emmerson QC. The aim is “to improve democratic accountability”.

What would really improve democratic accountability is to hold such meetings in public, and broadcast them online. Currently, the UK public  knows frighteningly little about how the Strasbourg Court works in practice. This is hardly surprising given that it is regularly misrepresented in the popular press, for example the Daily Mail and Telegraph’s recent uncritical coverage of a report which wrongly stated the UK loses 3 out of 4 cases there (the real figure is about 1 in 50).

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European Court of Human Rights retreats but doesn’t surrender on prisoner votes

22 May 2012 by

CASE OF SCOPPOLA v. ITALY (No. 3)(Application no. 126/05) – Read judgment / press release / press release on UK implications

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that states must allow for at least some prisoners to vote, but that states have a wide discretion as to deciding which prisoners. This amounts to a retreat on prisoner votes, but certainly no surrender. As I predicted, the court reaffirmed the principles set out in Hirst No. 2, that an automatic and indiscriminate bans breach the European Convention on Human Rights, but also reaffirmed that it was up to states to decide how to remove those indiscriminate bans.

I have compared the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel. Today’s ruling means that the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table.

Although Scoppola is a case which arose in Italy, the decision is of critical important to the UK for two reasons. First, the Court has made clear to the UK Government that it now has six months from today to bring forth legislative proposals which will end the blanket disenfranchisement of prisoners – see the Court’s helpful press release which explains the effect on the UK. Secondly, the Grand Chamber has now clarified the basic outline of how it expects states to comply with the original prisoner votes ruling, also of the Grand Chamber, in Hirst No. 2. For the full background, see my post from last week or Joshua Rozenberg’s excellent article on Guardian.co.uk.


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A secret justice climb down? Perhaps not

21 May 2012 by

Angus McCullough QC and Jeremy Johnson QC, Special Advocates at the JCHR

It appears that the Government has climbed down, in part, from some of its controversial secret justice proposals.  According to the Telegraph, the Justice and Security Bill, which will be published this week, will include a provision whereby judges, not the Government, has the final say on whether a Closed Material Procedure (CMP) is used. Moreover, CMPs will be restricted to “national security cases” rather than any case “in the public interest”. 

It “remains uncertain”, however, “whether Mr Clarke will exclude inquests from being subject to the secret hearings.” Junior Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly caused a stir last week when he appeared prematurely to announce that particular concession in Parliament, but quickly stepped back from his statement.  In view of the likely legislative bartering which will occur as the bill progresses through Parliament, perhaps this is a concession which was meant to be left until later in the process.

We will analyse the bill when it is published later this week. But as this important debate resurfaces and the manoeuvring continues, it is important to keep two things in mind.

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European Court Grand Chamber to rule on prisoner votes next Tuesday

15 May 2012 by

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is to deliver its latest, hotly anticipated, decision on prisoner votes next Tuesday 22 May. The case is Scoppola v. Italy (n° 3). The Court’s press release is here.

The UK intervened in the case, with the Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC himself travelling to Strasbourg to explain the UK’s views (including, classily, some submissions in French). As a result, the UK was granted an extension of time to comply with the decision in the original prisoner votes case, Hirst No. 2 and the more recent Greens and MTThe UK will therefore have 6 months from 22 May 2012 to introduce a Bill to Parliament (see this correspondence between the UK and the Court) to make the UK voting system compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. Which is to say, it will have until 22 November 2012. Or is it 23 November?

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Abu Qatada appeal was in time but will not be heard by Grand Chamber

9 May 2012 by

So now we know. Sort of. Five judges of the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that Abu Qatada’s case will not be heard on appeal by the court’s Grand Chamber, despite the appeal application being lodged on time.

The Court’s somewhat scanty press release reveals little:

The Panel found that the request had been submitted within the three month time-limit for such requests. However, it considered that the request should be refused.

The post-match report is as follows. Joshua Rozenberg got it right in The Guardian, Carl Gardner won the day with his excellent series of posts (although his prediction that the GC would want to hear the case was wrong) and I hedged my bets on the timing point in my latest post so I would have got it right – and wrong – either way. Those who saw me interviewed on the BBC News earlier today will not have seen the part they edited out, which was me wrongly predicting, for similar reasons to Carl Gardner, that the Grand Chamber would want to hear the appeal if the time limit issue was overcome.

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Greek far right win is a reminder of why we need European human rights standards

8 May 2012 by

Remember the far right? They are back. The ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party has just won 7% in the Greek elections. Although it rejects “neo-Nazi” labels, its symbolism and style clearly channel fascist parties of the past. It has a Swastika-like logo and inflammatory anti-immigration policies. And for those who thought ultra-nationalism was confined to the history books, this YouTube video of leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos‘s victory speech will be particularly unsettling. To members of the audience who stayed after a black-shirted thug screamed at them to stand up for the leader’s entrance, Mr Michaloliakos made the ominous promise that “a “new golden dawn of Hellenism is rising” and for those “who betray this homeland the time has come to fear”. 

The recent successes of far right parties in Europe, which have benefited from recession protest votes and anti-immigration populism, is indeed something to fear. But it also presents an opportunity to reflect on the importance of international human rights standards.

In the ongoing debate over the role of a European system of human rights law, lip service is often paid to the origins of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in post-war Europe. The rise of Fascism had killed tens of millions. The Nuremberg trials, an early experiment for international justice, had been a success. A Europe-wide system of rights protection seemed sensible. It still does.


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