One of the country’s most senior judges, Lord Neuberger, has given a stirring speech on the challenges of open justice in the 21st century. His ideas are progressive and practical, and amount to a manifesto for building a more open justice system, fit for the internet age.
The annual Judicial Studies Board lecture has in recent years been used by the senior judiciary to criticise the European Court of Human Rights (see Lord Judge’s and Lord Hoffmann’s 2010 and 2009 speeches), so Neuberger’s Open Justice Unbound represents a refreshing change of pace. Continue reading →
Patmalniece (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Respondent)  UKSC 11 – Read judgment / press summary
The Supreme Court has ruled that pensioners from other European Union states should not have the right to claim pension credits in the UK. Although the current ban on claiming these benefits is indirectly discriminatory, the discrimination is a justified response to the legitimate aim of protecting the public purse.
The 4-1 majority ruling (Lord Walker dissented) is likely to calm fears of “benefit tourism” and will probably be wrongly reported as a victory of sensible limits on public finances over human rights. For the record, the appeal was based squarely on EU freedom of movement law and had very little, if anything, to do with human rights.
He said (from 19:20) that the UK “takes its responsibility seriously” and that it would be seeking to reform the court when it takes on the chairmanship later this year. “In any political process” he reminded Rozenberg, “the movement of the tectonic plates is always going to be a bit rough” (please note that the programme was recorded before the Japanese earthquakes). He would not say, however, whether the government would do anything to comply with the ruling in Hirst No. 2.
The Attorney General has warned publishers that the law may be changed to prevent them revealing the names of criminal suspects before they are charged. He also blamed the “massive” and “frenzied”coverage of pre-charge suspects in part on pressure on newspapers from the blogosphere.
We seem to be living a world where because of competing interests on newspapers, perhaps in part because of the internet, because of the fact they are competing with the blogosphere where people are publishing a great deal of material, national newspapers are keen to give as much background detail to their readers as possible at early stages of criminal investigations. (09:25)
I recently compared the prisoner votes issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel. The latest twist in the saga is that the UK government is seeking to overturn the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in Hirst No. 2. This is certainly a daring tactic, given that the ruling by the Grand Chamber is not open to appeal.
To set out the very basic background (again), in the 2005 decision of Hirst (No. 2),the Grand Chamber of the European Court held the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting is in breach of the electoral right under Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ruled that the ban was a “general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on a vitally important Convention right“. Article 46 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which the UK signed up to, obliges it to “abide by the final judgment” of the European Court of Human Rights. So in theory, it should already complied with the judgment.
Lester and Kennedy are both well-known human rights experts. Howe has long-standing proponent of replacing of the Human Rights Act with a bill of rights.
According to The Sun, which says the “probe on how to tackle power-crazy Euro judges is being held up by bickering Tories and Lib Dems“, the 7-strong commission will also include another Liberal Democrat nominee (in addition to Lester), two more members appointed by the Tories and a senior Ministry of Justice civil servant. It will have to report by December 2012.
Updated | CPS -v- Mohammad Razaul Haque and Emdadur Choudhury – Read judgment
A man has been found guilty of public order offences for burning poppies and chanting “British soldiers burn in hell” on Remembrance Day. He was fined £50.
The ruling, and in particular the fine, has led to public anger. The Sun called the fine “pathetic” and asked whether Britain is now “deep in a quicksand of political correctness and hand-wringing over human rights“. The Prime Minister has said that we should be “making a stronger statement that that sort of behaviour is completely out of order and has no place in a tolerant society”
The Sun is wrong that Emdadur Choudhury’s low fine had anything to do with human rights; Chief Magistrate Riddle made clear that “invoking the criminal law to interfere with freedom of expression is proportionate“. But two important questions do arise. First, whether the conviction represents a disproportionate breach of Emdadur Choudhury’s right to freedom of speech. Secondly, if the £50 fine was adequate.
Last week the High Court convicted two newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Sun, of contempt of court for the publication on their websites of a photograph of a man toting a gun during the ongoing criminal trial of that man. They are now likely to face large fines.
It was the first such case of contempt relating to an online publication. By way of background, Alex Bailin QC has posted an excellent comment piece on the Inforrm blog. I have also already discussed the judgment, and the ominous warning by the court that “instant news requires instant and effective protection for the integrity of a criminal trial“.
My post generated comments from concerned bloggers and tweeters asking what this meant for contempt and online publishing going forward. This is a hard question to answer as it mostly depends on which cases the Attorney General choses to prosecute. But, although the following is not legal advice, reviewing the case-law on contempt provides some indication of may be to come, and common-sense ways in which publishers, including tweeters and bloggers, can avoid being prosecuted.
Attorney General v Associated Newspapers Ltd & Anor  EWHC 418 (Admin) – Read judgment
For the first time a court in England has convicted two newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Sun, of contempt of court in breach of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, for the publication of a photograph relating to an ongoing criminal trial on their websites.
The judgment contains an important warning for bloggers, tweeters and journalists who use instant news to report on criminal trials: “instant news requires instant and effective protection for the integrity of a criminal trial“.
Snyder v. Phelps (09-751), United States Supreme Court – Read judgment
A recent decision of the United States Supreme Court, in which it upheld the rights of a radical anti-gay Christian group to protest at military funerals, provides a useful opportunity to compare free speech protections here to those provided over the pond.
By way of comparison, five men recently failed in a challenge to their public order criminal convictions for protesting with similar signs at a homecoming parade for British soldiers. What does this say about our respective free speech protections?
The bill will have significant implications for civil liberties, although some of the changes, such as those relating to the retention of DNA, the reduction of child protection police checks, and police stop and search, have arisen from court rulings rather than a proactive attempt to roll back the state.
The Parliamentary debate can be watched here (it begins at around 17:38 with a statement by Home Secretary Teresa May) and the transcript is here. To whet your appetites, this is part of May’s opening speech:
Today we have a rare opportunity. The Bill gives us a chance to roll back the creeping intrusion of the state into our everyday lives, and to return individual freedoms to the heart of our legislation. Under the last Government, we saw a steady erosion of traditional British liberties and a slow march towards authoritarian government. They presented us with a false choice between our future security and our historic liberties, disregarding any notion of balance between the two.
Proposals for much-criticised powers which would have given ministers broad powers to alter statutes with little or no debate are to be dropped.
The proposed changes were dubbed “Henry VIII” powers as they would have given the executive powers similar to those of the 16th century tyrant. Lord Taylor of Holbeach told the House of Lords:
I can confirm to the House that the government have accepted the arguments that bodies and offices should be listed in the schedules of this Bill only where Parliament has given its consent in primary legislation.
Updated | Association belge des Consommateurs Test-Achats ASBL, Yann van Vugt, Charles Basselier v Conseil des ministres, Case C‑236/09 – Read judgment / press release
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that from December 2012, insurers will be prevented from charging different premiums on the basis of an insured person’s gender. A partner at a leading commercial law firm called September’s preemptive preliminary opinion “completely bonkers”. Can the same be said about the latest decision?
Coverage of the decision has already been largely negative. As well as involving Europe’s increasingly unpopular and possibly unelected judges, the ruling affects an interest group – insurance companies – with deep pockets and who are capable of sophisticated lobbying. And nobody wants to see their insurance premiums go up, if that is indeed to be the outcome of this ruling, something which is by no means clear. So expect to see plenty of critical articles. The Telegraph website is already sporting an unchallenged article/press release from Esure, including a video interview which begins with an advert for ESure’s “Sheila’s Wheels”.
It is important to understand the basis on which individuals can challenge decisions that affect them, why unelected judges have the power to alter decisions of elected officials, and how public authorities can avoid being vulnerable to successful challenges in future. The key is accountability.
Ahmed & Anor v R  EWCA Crim 184 (25 February 2011) – Read judgment
“Torture is wrong”. The court of appeal made this simple and it would be hoped obvious statement in the appeal of two men convicted of terrorism and being active members of Al Qaeda. But, it turns out, the position on torture is not as clear as those three simple words.
Rangzieb Ahmed and Habib Ahmed were British citizens, born in Lancashire. They were jailed in 2008 for being members of Al Qeaeda and planning mass murder. During the trial, Rangzieb applied to the judge to stop the prosecution, on the basis that it would be an abuse of process to try him. He claimed that he was tortured whilst he was in custody in Pakistan. He said that amongst other things, he had been beaten and had his fingernails removed. He also claimed that British officers questioned him on one day of his captivity.
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.