By: Adam Wagner


Why Stephen Lawrence killers were sentenced as juveniles and under old law

4 January 2012 by

Updated | Two of Stephen Lawrence’s killers Gary Dobson and David Norris have been sentenced to minimum life terms “at her Her Majesty’s Pleasure” of 15 years 2 months and and 14 years 3 months respectively.

There has been surprise, from the Daily Mail amongst others that Dobson and Norris, now in their mid-30s, were sentenced as juveniles. Curiously, they have also been sentenced under historic law dating back to around 1993, which means they cannot be sentenced under harsh new guidance for racially aggrevated crimes.

This may all sound a bit strange, but as readers of this blog will know, the sentencing of criminals convicted in “cold cases” which have heated up can be much more complicated than if the crime happened a short while before trial. This may upset Daily Mail readers, but the reason is partly the European Convention on Human Rights. As Alasdair Henderson posted last month, Article 7 prohibits retrospective punishment, that is punishment using law which was not applicable at the time of the crime:

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UK Human Rights Blog – 2011 in review

1 January 2012 by

Happy New Year all!

To celebrate, enjoy this flashy summary of 2011 on the UK Human Rights Blog, including the most viewed posts, active commenters and the geographical spread of our readers. I cannot take credit for the whizz-bang design of the summary… thanks to WordPress for thinking this up.

Looking forward to lots of exciting developments in 2012. No doubt, there will be an enormous about to blog about as usual, not least new terrorism powers, more secret evidence in courts, press freedom and Leveson, hate speech, the human rights political circus, European Court of Human Rights reform, more bad reporting about human rights, immigration and extradition, the Gibson Inquiry (will it finally get underway?), legal aid…

Personally, I’ll try to get back to more regular blogging, although in the past few months this has been difficult as I have been so busy with work (I actually do some occasionally). I have also built up a team of dedicated and reliable bloggers, which means I have moved into more of a commissioning editor-type role, which allows me to spend less time on the blog, but hopefully with no drop in service. Thank you to all of the blog’s contributors for their amazingly hard work, particularly my co-editor Rosalind English whose enthusiasm is unrelenting.

If you don’t already, please do follow me on Twitter where I provided a more regular update on human rights law and occasionally other legal stuff too. Also, if you are looking for very regular human rights law updates, and are not on Twitter, the “Recommended” sidebar on the right of the blog is updated a few times each day.

Here’s an excerpt from the review:

London Olympic Stadium holds 80,000 people. This blog was viewed about 650,000 times in 2011. If it were competing at London Olympic Stadium, it would take about 8 sold-out events for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Will neuroscience revolutionise the law?

13 December 2011 by

You don’t need to be a brain scientist to see that lawyers would benefit from a more sophisticated understanding of the human brain. Neuroscientists seek to determine how brain function affects human behaviour, and the system of law  regulates how those humans interact with each other. According to a new Royal Society report, lawyers and neuroscientists should work together more.

The report, Neuroscience and the law, argues that neuroscience has a lot to offer the law, for example:

might neuroscience fundamentally change concepts of legal responsibility? Or could aspects of a convicted person’s brain help to determine whether they are at an increased risk of reoffending? Will it ever be possible to use brain scans to ‘read minds’, for instance with the aim of determining whether they are telling the truth, or whether their memories are false?

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Top judge speaks! Are the judiciary becoming too outspoken?

8 December 2011 by

Top Judge yesterday

A lot of headlines begin with “Top judge” at the moment. Top Judge has variously attacked MPs who reveal injunctions, expressed fears over cameras in court, warned legal aid in family cases may disappear, protested over legal aid reforms, urged murder law reforms and said Britain can ignore Europe on human rights (he didn’t, but that’s another story).

Aside from lazy sub-editors (one of whom was me), what is causing this proliferation of Top Judges? It may be that senior judges are speaking out more, even on controversial topics which could create problems for them in the future.

Or perhaps Top Judge has always been outspoken, but fewer people were listening. In the internet age judges’ pronouncements are more quickly and widely reported. Speeches are often published instantly (sometimes, even before being made) on websites such as judiciary.gov.uk. Previously obscure Parliamentary committee hearings are broadcast live on the internet. The increased profile of the still-new Supreme Court adds to this dynamic.

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Should more trials be held in secret?

1 December 2011 by

There is just over a month left to respond to the Government’s consultation on the Justice and Security Green Paper. Responses have to be be sent via email or post by Friday 6 January 2012.

The proposals have been little reported, save for journalist Joshua Rozenberg, channeling Dinah Rose QC, warning that they will “undermine a fundamental constitutional right:”. Perhaps legal correspondents prefer to pick over testimony from the glamorous Leveson Inquiry as opposed to complicated government proposals involving clunky  phrases – some would say fig leaves – like “Closed Material Procedure” and “Special Advocate”.

But these proposals are extremely important. If they become law, which is likely given the lack of opposition from any of the main parties, the justice system will look very different in the coming years. Many civil hearings could be held in secret, and although (as the Government argues anyway) more justice may be done, undoubtedly less will be seen to be done.

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Bratza bites back

25 November 2011 by

I had intended to entitle this post “Bratza goes ballistic” which  would, for reasons I will explain, have been unfair. However, as reported by guardian.co.uk, the new British president of the European Court of Human Rights has pushed back strongly against the “vitriolic and – I am afraid to say, xenophobic – fury” of the reaction to recent rulings by the UK government and press, which he says is “unprecedented in my experience, as someone who has been involved with the Convention system for over 40 years.”

Safe to say, if anyone in the UK Government had been expecting an easy ride from the new, British born, president of the court, they will be disappointed by Bratza’s article in the European Human Rights Law Review. However, reading beyond the incendiary first few paragraphs, Bratza ends in a more conciliatory fashion, accepting many of the criticisms of the court and indeed offering suggestions for change.

I cannot link to the full text of The relationship between the UK courts and Strasbourg as it is only available on Westlaw, but I will quote some of the choice paragraphs.

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Rights on the rocks: Some Bill of Rights Commission responses

22 November 2011 by

Updated x 3 | One way or another, by the end of this Parliament, rights protections in the UK will look very different. If you could pull yourself away from the spectacle of actor Hugh Grant giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking, the main event in yesterday’s live legal transmission bonanza was the second debate on the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Bill in the House of Lords.

Although the bill is likely to pass, it is likely to do so in slightly revised form – knowledgable tweeters were predicting that the domestic violence and clinical negligence provisions were most likely to be affected.

Meanwhile, over at the Commission on a Bill of Rights, the somewhat dysfunctional committee will be combing through responses to its recently closed consultation. I have collated some of the responses below, mainly from people who have sent them to me. What follows is an entirely unscientific summary.


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Freemen of the dangerous nonsense

15 November 2011 by

Updated x 2 | Today, guardian.co.uk’s Comment is Free (CIF) was “taken over” by the Occupy London movement. This has led to two particularly worrying articles being published. Both purport to offer legal advice which, if followed, could lead you straight to prison.

For that reason, Guardian CIF goes straight to the legal naughty step, where it can share a tent with the Occupy London movement. I understand that the Guardian’s online legal editors had nothing to do with the commissioning of the articles, and I also realise that “comment is free“. But there has to be a limit, and there is a huge difference between a controversial but plausible point of view and quackery. As C. P. Scott’s phrase continues “… comment is free but facts are sacred“.

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Leveson goes live

14 November 2011 by


Updated |Today marks a minor landmark for open justice. For the first time, a public inquiry is being  shown live over the internet.

The Leveson Inquiry into Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press has taken over Court 73 in the Royal Courts of Justice, so when Counsel to the Inquiry Robert Jay QC begins his cross examination, you could even imagine you are watching a live trial – on that note, watch this space.

The Iraq (Chilcott) Inquiry was broadcast live but it was not a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, as Leveson’s is. The Inquiry’s website has been relaunched and will be hosting the live stream of hearings on this page. My only grumbles about the new website are that the live coverage should be more prominently advertised on the main page.

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A blueprint for a simpler, fairer justice system

11 November 2011 by

The Civil Justice Council (CJC) has just released a major new report: Access to Justice for Litigants in Person (or self-represented litigants). The report attacks head-on the prospect of thousands more people having to represent themselves in court once civl legal aid is mostly taken away.

The 94-page report, written by a group including a QC and a High Court judge, is a major and ambitious attempt to make the justice system fairer and simpler for people who go to court without a lawyer. A huge amount of research and thought has gone into it, building on the process begun by Lord Woolf in 1997 with the Civil Procedure Act. The CJC was itself a creation of the 1997 Act, its function being to figure out how to make the civil justice system more accessible, fair and efficient.

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3 days to say whether you want a UK Bill of Rights

8 November 2011 by

The Commission on a Bill of Rights consultation on whether we need one (a bill, not the Commission) closes this Friday 11 November. 

The consultation document is here: Do we need a UK Bill of Rights. You can respond by email or to the Commission’s address. Our posts on the commission are here and listed below for background – you can also read our existing Bill of Rights, from 1689, here, the Magna Carta here and the Human Rights Act here.

I intend to collate responses and summarise them once the deadline passes, so please feel free to email your responses (ideally as an MS Word document or PDF) to 1crownofficerow@gmail.com .


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Be careful what you wish for? UK takes over in Strasbourg

7 November 2011 by

King of the hill... for a bit

After months of wrangling over the influence of Europe on our human rights law, today the United Kingdom begins its 6-month chairmanship of the Council of Europe (CoE)’s Committee of Ministers. Amongst other things, the CoE supervises compliance with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

The CoE, not to be confused with the European Council, European Union, European Commission, Court of Justice of the European Union or European Parliament, is an international organisation with 47 member states comprising over 800 million citizens – see its Wikipedia entry for more on its many functions. The UK was one of the CoE’s founding members when it joined on 5 May 1949.

Coincidentally, the court’s new British president, Sir Nicholas Bratza, began his presidency on Friday; only the third British judge to do so (see my post from July). So there is a genuinely British feel to the organisation, at least for the next 6 months.

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Snooping councils, phone hacking, CCTV… time to reform surveillance laws?

4 November 2011 by

JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organisation, has today published a significant and wide-ranging critique of state surveillance powers contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

The report – Freedom from Suspicion – Surveillance Reform for a Digital Ageis by Eric Metcalfe, former director of JUSTICE and recently returned to practise as a barrister. It reveals some pretty stunning statistics:  for example, in total, there have been close to three million decisions taken by public bodies under RIPA in the last decade.

The report is highly critical of the legislation, which it argues is “neither forward-looking nor human rights compliant“. Its “poor drafting has allowed councils to snoop, phone hacking to flourish, privileged conversations to be illegally recorded, and CCTV to spread.” Metcalfe recommends, unsurprisingly, “root-and-branch” reform.

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Major family justice review published

3 November 2011 by

A major review by David Norgrove into the family justice system has been published today. You can find the report here or reposted below via Scribd.

The 225-page Family Justice Review was commissioned jointly by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education, and the Welsh Assembly Government. It aims to “improve the system so that it is quicker, simpler, more cost-effective and fairer whilst continuing to protect children and vulnerable adults from risk of harm.” The full terms of reference can be found here.

The report has already been widely reported:

  • Professor Richard Moorhead points out that the report makes “measured but telling criticisms of the legal aid proposals” which might be “sophisticated civil servant speak for, “There’s a fast train coming…. better get us off them tracks.””
  • The BBC highlights the report’s criticism of family justice delays and recommendation that all childcare decisions should be made within six months.
  • The Guardian, amongst others, picks out the lack of a recommendation (contrary the interim report – see para 108) for fathers to be granted a legal right to guarantee that their child has “a meaningful relationship with both parents”.

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Julian Assange loses High Court appeal against extradition

2 November 2011 by

Julian Assange -v- Swedish Prosecution Authority – Read judgment / summary

Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, has lost his High Court appeal against extradition to Sweden. He lost on all four grounds of appeal.

Unless he is granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 32 of the Extradition Act 2003, he must now face charges of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. Appeals to the Supreme Court will only be allowed in cases where there is a “point of law of general public importance involved in the decision”.

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