In law, time can be everything. Every lawyer will have experienced waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat at the realisation that a time limit has been missed. Courts often have the discretion to extend litigation time limits, such as under rule 3.1 of the Civil Procedure Rules, but simple mistakes by lawyers rarely generate sympathy from judges. Even scarier, judges sometimes do not even have the power to extend time at all, however unfair the circumstances. The idea is to encourage certainty and predictability in the legal system.
The lesson of principle is that lawyers should never take risks on time limits. The practical reality is that this is a very easy to say in retrospect. And so we reach the difficult case of Abu Qatada, in which 5 European Court of Human Rights judges are to decide next Wednesday 9 May whether an appeal by the preacher will be heard in full by the court’s Grand Chamber. Whoever you think was right, Abu Qatada’s lawyers or Home Secretary Theresa May, this controversy has demonstrated that rules designed to provide certainty can have exactly the opposite effect in practice.
In its short two-year life, the UK Human Rights Blog has forged a prominent role at the forefront of comment and opinion on all aspects of Human Rights law, and as I blogged recently, we have now surpassed 1,000,000 hits.
To celebrate this success we are holding a seminar on the evening of Wednesday 25 April 2012. I will be analysing the impact of the Brighton Conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights and there will be presentations from other 1 Crown Office Row barristers providing an update on Immigration Law and assessing whether the Strasbourg Courts have gone too far in relation to Article 8.
CPD has been applied for and debate, drinks and snacks will of course follow.
There are still a few places remaining to attend this event. If you are currently practising within the field of human rights law and would like to attend please contact Charlotte Barrow, Marketing Executive at 1 Crown Office Row on email@example.com stating your name and organisation. Places will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.
3. The most important document is the draft Declaration which you are being asked to approve. The document has been the subject of frantic negotiations and you will no doubt receive an up to date version. In the meantime, here is a slightly out-of-date version which even has useful track changes to show what has changed since the UK’s first draft. The somewhat ugly buzz-word for the Conference will be subsidiarity.
Ahmad’s case cuts across a number of different rights controversies. The BBC challenged the Ministry of Justice’s initial refusal to allow an interview with the terrorist suspect, who is currently held at a maximum security jail, and won – see our post. Ahmad is also currently the longest serving prisoner who has not been charged with a criminal offence; he has been detained for nearly 8 years.
As you can probably guess, we are (and I am) thrilled at the response to UKHRB. When we launched, our aim was to provide a new voice in the always colourful but often shrill arena of human rights commentary. We felt that there was a gap in the market (as it were – the blog has been and remains free to access) for a non-ideological legal human rights update service which would be accessible to the lawyers and lay persons alike.
The Government has begun its consultation on whether the ban on marriage between people of the same sex should be removed. As suggested by the consultation’s title – Equal civil marriage consultation – the Government is only proposing to remove the ban on civil gay marriage.
The consultation document makes clear that it is “limited to consideration of civil marriage and makes no proposals to change the way that religious marriages are solemnised“. In other words, religious institutions will not be forced to allow same-sex marriages on their premises. And moreover, perhaps in order to dodge some of the controversy which has erupted in recent weeks, there are no plans to allow same-sex marriage to take place on religious premises at all. So even religious denominations which support same-sex marriage in principle will not be allowed to conduct the ceremonies on religious premises.
Pinto-Duschinsky explains that because he and his family escaped the Nazis, he has a special perspective on human rights:
I know what the abuse of human rights really means. It is certainly not the kind of nonsense we hear so much about today – parents smacking children, the eviction of travellers from illegal encampments or the deportation of foreign criminals in breach of their supposed ‘right to a family life’.
I argued last week that the Commission should open up more, but leaked internal emails were not exactly what I had in mind.
The resignation is hardly a surprise. Pinto-Duschinsky’s relationship with the other Commissioners has been rocky from the start, and he has been unabashed about complaining publicly when he has felt his views were being ignored. When the Commission published its initial consultation document he instantly told the Daily Mail that he ”strongly regret[ed] the terms in which it has been presented.” He was concerned that the document ignored the extent to which the European Convention had undermined Parliamentary Sovereignty. However strong Pinto-Duschinsky’s views, this public airing of Commission laundry must have made very difficult to hold reasoned debates behind closed doors.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, a statutory body which monitors UK human rights and equalities protections, has today published a major review of human rights protections in the UK. It provides a timely reminder of the enormous amount of work which public authorities have had to put in since the Human Rights Act came into law to ensure that their everyday activities comply with protections granted by the European Convention on Human Rights.
I took part in a very interesting panel discussion at today’s launch event – the video can be seen here. The review is worth reading. It provides a thorough examination of the effect of the Human Rights Act 1998, 12 years after it came into law. This is timely, given that the operation of the HRA is currently being reviewed by the Commission on a Bill of Rights. It is helpful to have a detailed and thoughtful review to contrast with the often shrill media reporting of the “hated” (The Sun’s preferred prefix) Human Rights Act.
Links to the report’s various sections are below the page break.
There has been limited action on the Commission’s website, with publication of relatively illuminating minutes from the 15 November and 14 December meetings. The website has also published a list of all responses to the recent consultation. Apparently there were over 900 responses to the somewhat scanty discussion paper which was published last year.
Two suggestions. First, in my view, all of the responses should be published on the Commission’s website, not just a list of the respondees. I asked the Commission by email they would be doing so, and they responded:
As has been predicted for a number of months, the proposals will bring a limited number of clinical negligence claims and claims arising as a result of domestic violence back within the scope of legal aid. The clinical negligence exception only relates to claims arising whilst a person was still in their mother’s womb, or 8 weeks after their birth. If the baby is born before 37 weeks gestation, the legal aid clock will begin to tick from the date they would have been 37 weeks gestation. The victim must also be “severely disabled” as a result.
As to domestic violence, the amendments are to provide legal aid for civil claims where:
(10) Does/Can blogging act as a check on bad journalism?
Yes. The primary reason UKHRB was set up was to act as a corrective to bad journalism about human rights, and in under two years it has become a trusted source of information for journalists, politicians, those in government and members of the public.
UKHRB operates alongside a number of other excellent legal blogs, run by lawyers, students and enthusiasts for free, which provide a similar service in respect of other areas of law. I would highlight, for example:
The extent to which you consider what ethics can and should play a role in the blogosphere, and what you consider ‘ethics’ to mean in this context.
The definition of “blogging” is now extremely wide, so much so that the term “blog” has become in essence meaningless.
A blog can be a “web log” within the original meaning of the word, that is a “personal journey published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries (“posts”)” (Wikipedia), but it can also be a news and comment website such as UKHRB, a photo-sharing website, a website promoting a business – practically any website can call itself a blog. Mainstream newspapers now produce “blogs” online and as such the boundary between traditional journalism and blogging has also become unclear.
The Trade Union Congress have sent me the full letter (download here) which Education Secretary Michael Gove sent to its leader Brendan Barber in relation to a complaint about seemingly homophobic booklets distributed to Roman Catholic schools in Lancashire. The letter which Mr Barber sent to Mr Gove is here.
I complained in this post that the excerpt of the response published by The Observer appeared to misunderstand the provisions of the Equality Act which apply to schools. I also said that the quote in the article could have been out of context. In short, it was. Here is the full paragraph, which presents a much fairer representation of the law:
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.