By: Adam Wagner

Lord Justice Wall lays down law on family court privacy

20 September 2011 by

Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council v Watson [2011] EWHC 2376 (Fam) (01 September 2011) – Read judgment

Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division, has suspended a nine-month prison sentence for contempt of court given to Elizabeth Watson, a “private investigator” who published online sex abuse allegations which had been rejected by a series of judges.

The case has involved many of the foot soldiers in a bitter and public battle between the family law system and campaigners who say it is corrupt and not fit for purpose. Recognised this, Lord Justice wall used the opportunity to “dispel a number of myths”. First,

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Prisoner votes and the democratic deficit

20 September 2011 by

I posted recently on the ongoing saga surrounding the UK’s implementation of the Hirst No. 2 case, in which the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The correspondence between the court and the UK Government is now available and I have reproduced it below.

In short, the UK previously had until 11 October 2011 to “introduce legislative proposals” to end the ban. But it has now been given a reprieve as a result of seeking to intervene in another case, Scoppola v Italy (No. 3(available in FrenchEnglish press release here), which is going to the court’s Grand Chamber  This is another prisoner voting case.

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Official secrets and the powerful disinfectant

19 September 2011 by

Updated x 2 |Following on from Obiter J’s guest post, when considering the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s attempt to force a Guardian journalist to disclose her source, it is worth revisiting the seminal case of Shayler, R [2002] UKHL 11. The case, which arose shortly after the Human Rights Act came into force, shows how heavily stacked the law is against those accused of causing to leak state secrets, but may also reveal some limited hope for journalists too.

Although it now appears that the case is being brought under section 9 and Schedule 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, it is still worth examining the powers which the police have under both PACE and the Official Secrets Act.

Simply, according to the House of Lords in Shayler, there is no public interest defence to the charges under sections 1 and 4 and none will be implied by the courts as a result of human rights law. However, section 5 was not considered and may still bear fruit should a prosecution be brought under it.

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War crimes arrest warrant law changes

15 September 2011 by

Welcome back

As has been long-heralded, the law on universal jurisdiction changed today. The change is contained in the new Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act and means that although anyone can initiate war crimes proceedings, the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions will be required before an arrest warrant is issued. The Justice Minister Ken Clarke said:

We are clear about our international obligations and these new changes to existing law will ensure the balance is struck between ensuring those who are accused of such heinous crimes do not escape justice and that universal jurisdiction cases are only proceeded with on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution.

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Inquiry into disability-related harassment reports

13 September 2011 by

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published Hidden in plain sight, a report into disability-related harassment and how well this is currently being addressed by public authorities.

The report, which finds a “systemic failure by public authorities to recognise the extent and impact of harassment and abuse of disabled people” can be downloaded here, the “easy read” version here and the executive summary here. I have also reposted the Executive Summary via Scribd below. The Inquiry found, amongst other things:

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Burnham Market Book Festival is back, better than ever

12 September 2011 by

This year’s festival of books and ideas, organised by my fellow blogger Rosalind English, takes place once again from 14 – 16 October in the elegant market town of Burnham Market in North Norfolk, with a great line up of speakers, and subjects ranging from the Tudor Queens to the life of Leo Tolstoy.

Sparks may fly when former brigadier Allan Mallinson challenges historian David Edgerton about his revisionist view of Britain in WWII Britain’s War Machine, and butterflies flutter with Patrick Barkham’s heroic efforts to spot all British species of Papilio in one year. On Saturday evening TV architectural historian takes attendees behind the scenes of the English Country house.

Tickets are a snip at £10 event from the Whitehouse Bookshop, 01328 730270. You can download the programme here or visiting the website here.

9/11 ten years on

11 September 2011 by

It is ten years since the terror attacks of 11 September 2001. Like many people, I have been thinking back to where I was on that day.

Bizarrely, given what followed, I spent 11 September 2001 only a few miles away from the United States military base in Guantanamo Bay. I was travelling through Cuba with friends, and we had reached the Eastern tip of the island, the seaside village of Baracoa. We had even visited Guantanamo Bay’s entrance the previous day; it was a tourist attraction which the Lonely Planet guide billed as the place where you could find Cuba’s only MacDonalds.

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Bill of Rights Commission publishes advice (and squabbles) on European Court of Human Rights reform

9 September 2011 by

At odds

Updated | The Commission on a Bill of Rights has published its interim advice to Government on reform of the European Court of Human Rights. It has also published a letter to ministers on reform of the Court.

It is already clear that the Commission has its work cut out because of the strong opposing views of its membership. After the publication of its initial consultation document, one of the Commission’s members, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky instantly said “I strongly regret the terms in which it has been presented.” Now the Commission’s chairman has had to publish a letter alongside its advice so that the views of one member (is it Pinto-Duschinsky again?), that there should be some form of “democratic override” of the court’s decisions, could be incorporated despite them not being agreed to by the other members.

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UK may not have to give prisoners the vote after all

8 September 2011 by

The Ministry of Justice has just released its annual report to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Responding to human rights judgments.

The report is worth reading. It contains useful summaries of the 17 European Court of Human Rights judgments against the UK in 2010 and the government’s response to them.

But what is really interesting is what it says about prisoner votes, and the government’s 6-year delay in implementing the 2005 decision in Hirst (No.2) v UK.

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Telegraph wrong again on foreign deportation

8 September 2011 by

In a recent speech about the August riots, the Prime Minister bemoaned the “twisting and misrepresenting of human rights”. Unfortunately, this practice is common in the press, sometimes by accident but often by design.

One common accusation against the Human Rights Act is that it prevents the state deporting some foreign criminals. This is sometimes true; for example, the state cannot deport anyone if to do so would put them at a real risk of being tortured. But other law can be “to blame” too for preventing deportation of criminals, as was the case with Learco Chindamo, the killer of head teacher Philip Lawrence. This has not prevented the Daily Telegraph from again using his case as an example of human rights gone wrong.

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The revolution will be televised

7 September 2011 by

The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has announced that the ban on broadcasting in courts is to be lifted. Broadcasting will initially be allowed from the Court of Appeal, and the Government will “look to expand” to the Crown Court later. All changes “will be worked out in close consultation with the judiciary“.

Broadcasting in court is currently prohibited by Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and Section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. However, the rules do not apply to the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court of appeal. Since it launched in October 2009, the court has been filming hearings and making the footage available to broadcasters. And, since May of this year, the court has been streaming the footage live on the Sky News website.

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Two new legal blogs

5 September 2011 by

Two welcome additions to the legal blogosophere have just launched, both of which will be of interest to readers of this blog.

RightsNI (Twitter: @RightsNI) is a great looking human rights blog from Northern Ireland. It joins another fantastic blog from across the Irish Sea, the Human Rights in Ireland Blog. Rights NI already has a wide range of contributors including academics and human rights NGO workers. Recent posts include:

A little closer to home for the UK Human Rights Blog is EUtopia Law (Twitter: @Eutopialaw), produced by members of Matrix barristers’ chambers who also produce the fantastic UK Supreme Court Blog. The first and so far only post (fair enough; they launched yesterday) is something we have certainly touched upon on this blog:

Anti-terrorism powers for a rainy day

4 September 2011 by

Updated | Next week will mark the 10th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Despite the intervening decade, the states threatened by terrorism are still puzzling out the right balance between the powers of security services and the rights of suspected terrorists to due process.

Although terrorism is now mercifully low on the public agenda, the effects of 9/11 are still being felt across the legal system. The United Kingdom is soon to open an independent inquiry into the improper treatment of detainees by security services following the terrorist attacks. As things stand, the UK’s major human rights groups are boycotting the inquiry for fear that the government will be able to suppress evidence.

The intelligence services have now tightened up their policy towards interviewing detainees overseas, but one policy which is still in flux is the control order regime, soon to be succeeded by Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs).

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President of Family Division’s press release on paedophile allegations case

25 August 2011 by

With thanks to the Judicial Press Office, below is the full press release from the President of the Family Division in a case involving a “super injunction”, John Hemming MP, false allegations of pedophilia and some poor press reporting.

I will blog about this once the full rulings are released, but in the meantime see Lucy Reed: Bared Teeth – Grrrrr! | Pink Tape; Inforrm; News: Hemming MP’s “super injunction victim” named as sex abuse fabricator « Inforrm’s Blog, and the Fighting Monsters blog: Hemming and Haigh – The Journey of an Injunction.

Press Release from the president of the Family Division: Re X  (a child)

I am today giving two judgments, both of which will be in open court.

The first judgment will put into the public domain matters which, in care proceedings under the Children Act 1989 Parliament has decided are normally confidential to the court and to the parties. The second will explain why I have found a woman called Elizabeth Watson in contempt of court. After giving the second judgment. I will adjourn to hear any mitigation Ms Watson may wish to put forward as to why I should not send her to prison.

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Human rights on tour

24 August 2011 by

The Human Rights Act has been blamed for many things, but recent suggestions that it caused a series of riots were tenuous by any standards.

A major problem with human rights law is that there is so much disinformation in the public domain. Thankfully, the British Institute on Human Rights is going on tour to try to correct the balance. The organisation is visiting 16 venues around the UK from September to December, seeking to answer the following questions:

What’s the role of human rights in a period of cut backs to public services? What is the role of human rights in protecting the vulnerable? Do human rights offer an effective tool for people wishing to challenge the impact of service cuts or changes? How do we make sure we balance one person’s rights against the interests of society as a whole?

The full list of venues and dates here and you can book here.



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