Updated The High Court has ruled that the Legal Service Commission’s legal aid tender process was “unfair, unlawful and irrational”. The decision came in a judicial review of the tender brought by the Law Society.
More documents have emerged calling into question what the UK security services knew about the alleged mistreatment of ‘War on Terror’ detainees. Until this case is resolved, it is unlikely that work will begin on the upcoming torture inquiry.
Various documents have been disclosed in the ongoing case of Al Rawi and Others v The Security Services, in which six men who were detained at various locations, including Guantanamo Bay and Bagram in Afghanistan, allege various forms of mistreatment. They say that the UK government knew or should reasonably have known that the mistreatment was happening. Although the case has not yet reached trial, it has been the subject of a number of high-profile applications for secret documents (see our posts here and here).
I attended a talk this morning given by Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear scientist who was detained for 11 years on charges of treason. He was released in July as part of the high-profile spy-swap with the United States.
Hearing Sutyagin’s description of the Russian justice system, as well as the “gulag” he was sent to for over a decade, brings into focus the enormous difference between legal systems within Europe. In the UK we can confidently expect that courts and judges will uphold the rule of law and act with impartiality. Whilst there are notable exceptions, our legal system has checks and balances in order that poor decisions can be weeded out. That system is imperfect but at least it is predictable and, on the whole, fair.
A, R (on the application of) v B  EWHC 2361 (Admin) (21 July 2010) – Read judgment
When should the police disclose a person’s private sexual practices to his employer? The high court has just ruled that a detective inspector breached a man’s human right to privacy by telling his employer that he had been taking pictures of short-skirted women in the street without their knowledge.
The case of ‘A’ raises important questions of the extent of the police’s duty to keep the peace and prevent crimes before they happen. This duty can come into conflict with the human right to respect of private and family life , which can be breached by the state in order to keep the public safe.
It should not be forgotten, however, that Sir Nicholas’ speech was to Families Need Fathers (FNF), a fathers’ rights lobby group – see the Wikipedia entry on the movement’s history.
There are two interesting articles on fathers’ rights in this morning’s Observer, the second of which comments on the speech. FNF is, according to the Observer, “at the forefront of a shift in tone in fathers’ rights – away from the notorious stunts of Fathers 4 Justice, which involved grown men dressed as superheroes unfurling banners on public monuments, towards a professional lobbying approach, deploying reasoned argument and concern for the child.”
Updated x 3 | The UK Supreme Court Blog has pointed out that the UK Supreme Court is listed as “still to be decided – options being considered” in the quango reform document which was leaked this morning.
Not a chance. The Supreme Court is the highest appeal court in the land and an integral part of the UK justice system. Whilst the name and venue are new, the court itself is almost identical to the House of Lords committee which it replaced, and most (although not all) consider its new independence from Government to be a positive step for the rule of law.
Lord McNally, the minister of state for justice, has told the Liberal Democrat Party conference that the Justice Ministry is looking at the Human Rights Act, not to “see how we can diminish it”, but so it can be “better understood and appreciated.”
There will be, he said, “no retreat” over human rights. His comments have been reported as “likely to anger” backbench Tory MPs, who have “long criticised the HRA”.
In reality the reports may cause anger, but they will come as absolutely no surprise. Whilst it is true that the Conservatives pledged in their election manifesto to repeal the act, a lot has happened since then.
Update The president of the family courts, Sir Nicholas Wall, has given a wide-ranging speech to Families Needs Fathers. In it he outlined his own vision for change and also sounded a warning that legal aid in family cases may soon be abolished.
On legal aid, he said “you do not need a crystal ball to see that legal aid for private law proceedings is likely to be further diminished if not abolished“. This may not come as a surprise to those who have been following the family legal aid tender debacle. But the practical outcome of a reduction or abolition of Legal Aid will be that when cases do come to court, more will have to be accomplished, and faster, before the money runs out. Sir Nicholas suggests some ways of achieving this.
Updated, Tue 21 Sep | It is being reported that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, is looking to end the ban on prisoners voting in elections. If the law were to change, it would represent the end of a very long road for campaigners. However, they have been waiting since 2005 and may well be waiting for longer yet.
The Times apparently reported this morning (I haven’t confirmed this as it is behind a pay wall) that the deputy prime minister is backing plans for prisoner enfranchisement.
The court held that an order for the compulsory surrender of journalistic material which contained information capable of identifying journalistic sources requires legal procedural safeguards commensurate with the importance of the principle at stake. The Dutch prosecutors in the case, which had ordered the production of a CD-ROM containing potentially incriminating photographs of participants in an illegal race, had therefore breached Article 10 (freedom of expression).
The Ministry of Justice is a step closer to introducing specialist mental health courts, which would work within the criminal justice system to identify and assess offenders with mental health issues, and ensure that offenders received appropriate intervention.
The UK Supreme Court Blog has posted an exclusive interview with Baroness Hale, the Supreme Court’s only female judge. The interview is worth reading in full but I would like to highlight a few of her comments which are relevant to human rights.
By way of background, Baroness Brenda Hale is the first and only woman who sits in the UK’s highest appeal court. She came to the bench after a career in academia and a post at the Law Commission. As she admits in the interview, he areas of interest – such as family law, human rights and equality law – are quite different from those of the other justices who mostly come from a commercial law background.
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