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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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, 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.