By: Adam Wagner


A grown-up speech on human rights reform

25 October 2011 by

At around the same time that 79 Conservative Party MPs were rebelling over a European referendum, the Conservative Attorney General was giving a very interesting speech entitled European Convention on Human Rights – Current Challenges.

In a month in which the Justice Secretary called part of the Home Secretary’s speech on human rights “laughable” and “childlike”, Dominic Grieve presented a refreshingly grown-up argument on human rights reform.

The speech is worth reading in full. Grieve presented the Government’s arguments, most of them already well-known, on why the Human Rights Act needs to be replaced by a Bill of Rights. There were no big surprises; his central theme, subsidiarity, that is the European Court giving member states more space to set their local social policy, is something which the Justice Secretary has spoken about – see my post on his evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee.

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Two great UK Bill of Rights events

24 October 2011 by

The Commission on a Bill of Rights consultation is closing on 11 November 2011, which is two weeks on Friday. If you trying to decide what you think about the consultation paper (the paper itself is unlikely to help much, as it doesn’t provide any options), then there are two excellent events coming up which may help.  

The UCL Institute for Human Rights Debate, Does Britain Need a Bill of Rights? 

Free event, this Wednesday 26 October: Book here , Registration from 6:30pm, Event starts at 7pm, featuring

  • Chris Bryant MP – Shadow Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform,
  • Aileen Kavanagh – University of Oxford,
  • Colm O’Cinneide – UCL,
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia – UCL Institute for Human Rights. Chaired by
  • Joshua Rozenberg, Presenter of the BBC’s Law in Action

A Bill of Rights for the UK? – Human Rights Lawyers Association

Free event, Wednesday 2nd November 2011, 6pm – 7.30pm, BPP Law Centre, 68-70 Red Lion Street, London WC1R 4NY – info here

  • Chair Madeleine Colvin, Immigration Judge, Human Rights Consultant, Doughty Street Chambers
  • Speaker: Professor Colin Harvey, Head of the Law School, Queen’s University Belfast and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissioner 2005-2011
  • Discussant Jonathan Cooper, HRLA Chair

Can Britain “ignore Europe on human rights”?

23 October 2011 by

Headlines are important. They catch the eye and can be the only reason a person decides to read an article or, in the case of a front page headline, buy a newspaper. On Thursday The Times’ front page headline was “Britain can ignore Europe on human rights: top judge”.

But can it? And did Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, really say that?

To paraphrase another blog, no and no. The headline, which I am fairly sure was not written by Frances Gibb, the Times’ excellent legal correspondent and writer of the article itself, bears no relation to Lord Judge’s comments to the House of Lords Constitution Committee (see from 10:25). It is also based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into UK law.

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More secret justice on the horizon

19 October 2011 by

The Cabinet Office has released its long awaited (by this blog at least) Justice and Security Green Paper, addressing the difficult question of to what extent the state must reveal secret information in court proceedings. A consultation has been launched on the proposals; responses can be sent via email by Friday 6 January 2012.

The review was announced shortly after the Coalition Government came to power, on the same day that Sir Peter Gibson’s Detainee Inquiry was launched. In summary, the Government has recommended that controversial Closed Material Procedures and Special Advocates are used more frequently, particularly in civil proceedings. The courts have been reluctant to take this step themselves as any expansion of secret procedures will have significant effects on open justice and the right to a fair trial.

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Extradition review backs status quo, leaves some completely baffled

19 October 2011 by

A review of the UK’s extradition laws by a former Court of Appeal judge has found that existing arrangements between the UK and USA are balanced but the Home Secretary’s discretion to intervene in human rights cases should be removed.

The review by Sir Scott Baker was commissioned shortly after the Coalition Government came to power, fulfilling the pledge in its programme for government to ”review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed”. In my September 2010 post I said that the review marked a victory for campaigners against certain extradition agreements, most notably the supporters of alleged Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon (pictured).

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2-day seminar on economic and social rights in the age of austerity

14 October 2011 by

A quick note to highlight an excellent 2-day seminar on Economic and Social Rights in the Age of Austerity at The Law Society’s annual human rights symposium. It is on 21-22 October. All details are here.

For more on economic and social rights – which are a newish frontier in the human rights world and very controversial – see Rosalind English’s posts here and here.

A host of high profile speakers will lead discussion at the event, which is to be held at the Law Society’s headquarters on Chancery Lane, London. Here are some of the speakers

  • Andy Slaughter MP (Labour MP and Shadow Justice Minister),
  • Justice Albie Sachs – former Justice of the South African Constitutional Court
  • Lady Justice Arden – Lady Justice of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales
  • Kate Green MP – Labour MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty and member of the Work and Pensions Committee
  • Professor Francesca Klug OBE – director, Human Rights Futures Project, LSE
  • Baroness Walmsley – patron, CRAE, co-chair Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee on Education, Families and Young People and sponsor of the 2009 ROCK Children’s Rights Bill
  • Professor Emeritus Richard Wilkinson – director, Equality Trust and author of The Spirit Level Background
There are good discounts for public sector organisations and students. I may be speaking in one of the “breakout” sessions on human rights in the media, depending on another commitment. But don’t let that put you off! Sign up now.

Gay marriage on the way… but not quite yet

10 October 2011 by

In his Conservative Party Conference speech the Prime Minister David Cameron signalled his strong support for the legalisation of gay marriage. He said:

Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.

We have covered the slow progress towards legalised gay marriage in a number of posts since this blog launched in March 2010: see the links below. Where are we up to now?

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What the first #catgate appeal judgment actually says

6 October 2011 by

Updated |I have been sent the first appeal judgment in the political frenzy which has been termed “Catgate”. I had promised myself not to do any more Catgate posts or use any more cute pictures of kittens, but I have now broken that promise.

Having read the short, 6-page judgment dated 9 October 2008 by Immigration Judge JR Devittie – reproduced here by Full Fact – I will quote from it at length (apologies for any transcribing errors) and say the following

First, on any reading, the judgment does not support the proposition the Home Secretary made in her speech: “The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat.” For similar reasons, it does not support the Daily Mail’s headline from this morning: Truth about Tory catfight: Judge DID rule migrant’s pet was a reason he shouldn’t be deported. Back on to the legal naughty step, Daily Mail.

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The lessons of shaggy dogs and Catgate

5 October 2011 by

Updated x 2 | What can we learn from yesterday’s gaff by the Home Secretary Theresa May involving Maya the cat?

First, when referring to a legal judgment in a speech make sure you get the outcome right. Particularly when prefaced by “I am not making this up”. Secondly, if said speech is being broadcast live, there are plenty of lawyers on Twitter who will enjoy nothing more than tracking down the judgment, reading it and exposing the fact that you have got it wrong.

These lessons are important. But they relate to any amusing but forgettable political gaff. There is, however, a third lesson. There has been for a number of years a trend of wilfully or recklessly misreporting human rights cases. This trend is not just mischievous; it threatens to do real damage to our legal system.

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Cat had nothing to do with failure to deport man

4 October 2011 by

Updated | Today the Home Secretary Theresa May gave a speech to the Conservative Party Conference in which she announced new immigration rules which would make it easier to deport foreign criminals.

May also gave three examples in support of the view that the Human Rights Act “has to go”:

We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter – for whom he pays no maintenance – lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend. The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had pet a cat.

The most startling of those examples is of course the final one, that an illegal immigrant could not be deported because he “had a pet cat”. As regular readers of this blog will know, there are plenty of mythical examples regularly peddled in order to criticise human rights law. Is the cat deportation one of them?

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Seminar today – Strasbourg and the UK: Dialogue or Conflict?

3 October 2011 by

A quick note to highlight this very interesting looking seminar entitled Strasbourg and the UK: Dialogue or Conflict? It is tonight (Tuesday 4 October) at Inner Temple Hall 17:45-19:15.

The stellar speakers will be Lord Justice Laws, Lord Pannick QC and Professor Philip Leach. The event is open to all, no pre-registration required.

The seminar is jointly hosted by the Constitutional and Administrative Bar Association (ALBA) and the new Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. 1.5 CPD points have been applied for.

For those who cannot make it, we will of course be posting on the event. I will try to live tweet too – hashtag #ALBAevent

Reports of the Human Rights Act’s death have been greatly exaggerated

2 October 2011 by

The Home Secretary Theresa May’s has told the Sunday Telegraph that she would “like to see the Human Rights Act go“.

There is plenty of nonsense out there about the Human Rights Act. For example Emma McClarkin – a member of the European Parliament no less – said on BBC’s Politics Show (at 5:15) that we are “hamstrung by the European Charter of Human Rights”; a charter which does not exist.

There will more of this before the Conservative party conference is over, so let’s go back to basics with a few questions and answers about the Human Rights Act.

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Don’t throw the BAILII out with the bath water

26 September 2011 by

The Guardian published an editorial today arguing that court judgments should be opened up to the public. The editorial challenges the fact that BAILII, the charity which currently publishes most judgments online, is not searchable on Google.

Broadly speaking, it is good to see The Guardian taking up this somewhat esoteric but important topic. As I have argued on a number of occasions (see e.g. Making Law Accessible to the Public) the Ministry of Justice needs to do more to make “raw” law, that is judgments and legislation, accessible online. But it is important to focus on the right issues.

Case law should, ideally, be searchable on Google. BAILII explains the reason for not making it so:

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Misrepresenting the law on squatting

26 September 2011 by

Today, an open letter from 158 lawyers and academics has been published in The Guardian claiming that the law on squatting, on which the Government has proposed reforms, has been misrepresented by politicians and the media.

I am one of the letter’s signatories. Amongst other things, it states that:

a significant number of recent media reports have stated that squatters who refuse to leave someone’s home are not committing a criminal offence and that a change in the law – such as that proposed by the government – is needed to rectify this situation.

The accompanying article is here. One interesting aspect of this campaign is that it was organised in part by one of the longest standing and best legal blogs, Nearly Legal. Nearly Legal have used social media, which an ever increasing number of lawyers follow, to gather many of the signatures. Their response is here and some of their previous posts on the topic here and here.

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Liberty recruiting human rights advice line volunteers

21 September 2011 by

Liberty, the human rights advocacy organisation, is currently recruiting for trainees, pupils, solicitors and barristers to volunteer on its evening Advice Line.

The Advice Line runs on Mondays and Thursday 6:30pm – 8:30pm and gives advice to members of the public on human rights and civil liberties (members of the public can call on 0845 123 2307 or 020 3145 0461).

For further information contact Laura Milne (LauraM@liberty-human-rights.org.uk). I volunteered at the Advice Line for a year during my pupillage (training) and it was a great experience. It is a perfect way to learn more about human rights law, meet lawyers of all levels of seniority and help people with interesting problems for whom Liberty is usually the last resort. You will also get to see Liberty’s flash new offices!


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