By: Adam Wagner


Burnham Market Book Festival: 1 – 3 October 2010

1 September 2010 by

I hope you will excuse a brief promotional interlude, but my fellow Blogista, Rosalind English, is organising the second annual Burnham Market Book Festival which runs from 1st to 3rd October 2010 in Burnham Market, Norfolk.

The festival will feature plenty of fascinating speakers, including Simon Jenkins, Sara Wheeler, ‘Nicci French’, General Sir Richard Dannatt (former British Army Chief of General Staff) , Ben Macintyre and Jane Fearnley Whittingstall. Interviewers include Erica Wagner, literary editor of The Times and Francine Stock, radio and TV presenter.

Do foreign policy and human rights mix?

31 August 2010 by

The Foreign Secretary William Hague has sought in today’s Daily Telegraph to re-emphasise the “centrality of human rights in the core values” of UK foreign policy. On the face of it, this is a laudable aim. But does it really mean anything? And may it in fact amount to an unrealisable promise?

The editorial evokes Mr Hague’s early commitment to put human rights at the “irreducible core” of UK foreign policy. This pledge has been questioned recently due to the potential reduction in scope of the Foreign Office’s annual human rights report. Mr Hague addresses this directly, although with little new detail:

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Increasing prison numbers could save money, says report

31 August 2010 by

A new report from the think-tank Civitas argues that increasing community sentences and cutting prison numbers will lead to more crime and add to costs too.

This is contrary to the the view of the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, who has argued recently that there is no link between the rising level of imprisonment and falling crime.

The report, Prison, Community Sentencing and Crime, is by Ken Pease, a professor at the Manchester Business School and a former Home Office criminologist. It does not present any significant new research; rather, it seeks to put the other side of the debate on prison numbers, in light of the “apparently concerted attempt to justify an increasing use of community sanctions in place of custody for convicted criminals”.

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Widow of 7/7 bomber refused legal aid for inquest

27 August 2010 by

Patel, R (on the application of) v Lord Chancellor [2010] EWHC 2220 (Admin) (27 August 2010) – Read judgment

The wife of the purported ringleader of the ‘7/7’ London bombings has failed in her judicial review of the Lord Chancellor’s decision to refuse her funding for legal representation at the inquest into the bombings.

Ms Sumaiya Patel, the former wife of Mohammed Sidique Khan, had her initial application for funding to the Lord Chancellor refused. She sought a ruling from the High Court to quash that decision.

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Human Rights news roundup

27 August 2010 by

Hoovering up the latest human rights news

We recently started adding links to interesting new articles and case-law on the right the sidebar under the heading “Selected news sources”.

These articles now appear on our Twitter feed (@ukhumanrightsb) and Facebook fan page too. Below is a quick rundown of some of the most recent stories. The full list of links can be found here.

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High Court judge says legal aid tender was a “dreadful decision”

26 August 2010 by

Updated 27 Aug  (17:15)  | A High Court judge has branded the Legal Service Commission’s recent and highly controversial tender for legal aid work as a “dreadful” and potentially irrational decision.

The comments of Mr Justice Collins came in a permission hearing (i.e., only the first stage of a two-part process) on the application by the Community Law Partnership to judicially review the LSC’s recent tender, and specifically the rejection of CLP’s own application. It appears from a Law Society Gazette article that the hearing was adjourned, with the judge warning the LSC to consider its position carefully, and that if it fights and loses the decision could set a dangerous precedent. The hearing is to resume in around a week and a half.

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Germany HIV popstar conviction: what would happen in the UK?

26 August 2010 by

Updated, 1 Sep | The high-profile criminal trial of a German popstar who caused her former partner to be infected with HIV has resulted in a 2-year suspended sentence. In other words, she has been convicted but escaped jail. What would happen in similar circumstances in the UK?

The facts of Nadja Benaissa’s case were relatively simple. She had been infected with HIV since the age of 16 and is 28 years old now. She had sex with three people without telling them she was infected, and as a result one of them became infected himself. She claimed that she did not intend to infect him, and that she had been told by doctors the risk of passing on the disease were “practically zero”.

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Goodbye to the public sector equality duty?

26 August 2010 by

The government is moving away from the wide-ranging public sector equality duty which was due to come into force in April 2011.

The Equalities Office has announced a consultation on the public sector equality duty imposed by the Equality Act 2010. Reading the consultation document, it is clear that the government intends to delegate the equalities duty to the general public, rather than imposing top-down standards from Whitehall:

We do not intend to prescribe how public bodies go about their business, but we will ensure that we put in place the right framework which empowers citizens to scrutinise the data and evidence on how their public services perform.

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The invention of human rights

25 August 2010 by

In a fascinating new essay, Samuel Moyn, a history professor at Columbia University, examines the history of human rights. He concentrates on the concept of international human rights from a U.S. perspective, but many of his observations are highly relevant to those with an interest in UK human rights. As is often the case, examining the movement’s history provides interesting clues as to its future.

Moyn begins by recalling US President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inaugural speech, when he said that “Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere... Our commitment to human rights must be absolute.” Our own Foreign Secretary made a similar commitment after the May 2010 election. But whereas now the concept is well known, in 1977, Moyn says, many people had never heard of “human rights”, and no previous president had mentioned the concept in any substantive way. Interestingly, the current US president Barak Obama has barely mentioned human rights during his time in office, and this may well be a reaction to his predecessor George Bush’s invocation of human rights to justify the invasion of Iraq.

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Catholic Care gay adoption rejection boosts equality protection

19 August 2010 by

Tenets of belief not enough

The Charity Commission has rejected a bid by a Catholic organisation to amend its charitable objects in order to restrict its adoption services to heterosexuals. The case highlights the significant protections which have been put in place by recent equality law, and the policing role which the Charity Commission is required to play from a human rights perspective.

The Commission was ordered by the High Court in March to look at its initial decision again in light of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The law behind the case is quite convoluted, but is worth looking at again as it is likely to have significant implications for gay couples looking to adopt as well as for religious charities in general.

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Terror law reviewers seeking consultation [updated]

19 August 2010 by

The new government is currently undertaking a review of anti-terrorism legislation, and Liberty, the human rights organisation, have been asked to contribute.

Update: The full Liberty response, ‘From War to Law’ can be downloaded here.

The response is predictable, which is unsurprising given how much time and effort the organisation has put into speaking out against New Labour’s more controversial anti-terror policies. Control orders, 28 day detention without charge, the use of wide stop and search powers (currently suspended anyway) and surveillance powers are all mentioned.

More interesting are the organisation’s comments on proposals to ban non-violent groups promoting hatred. This would, say Liberty, be a step too far and would risk “including innumerable organisations, potentially including political and religious bodies.”


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Human rights news and case-law roundup

17 August 2010 by

Hoovering up the latest human rights news

We recently started adding links to interesting new articles and case-law on the right the sidebar under the heading “Selected news sources”.

As of last week, these articles now appear on our Twitter feed (@ukhumanrightsb) and Facebook fan page too. Below is a quick rundown of some of the most recent stories. The full list of links can be found here.

17 Aug | Privacy law to stop rise in gagging orders by judges – Telegraph: We have posted on the coming libel reform and super-injunctions; Lord Neuberger is leading a review which may, according to the Telegraph, lead to a statutory law of privacy. The Head of Legal Blog queries whether this would be any different from Article 8 of the ECHR in any case.

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Age matters in asylum cases

16 August 2010 by

Updated 12/9/10 | PM, R (on the application of) v Hertfordshire County Council [2010] EWHC 2056 (Admin) (04 August 2010) – Read judgment

Some people get to a certain age and stop counting. For them, the exposure of their true age to friends or colleagues might cause embarrassment. But for asylum seekers, proving their true age can alter the direction of their lives.

The recent High Court case of an Afghan asylum-seeker has highlighted the different, and often better, treatment which child asylum seekers received compared to their adult equivalents. It has also brought into focus the importance of a court’s initial, and often difficult, assessment of an asylum-seeker’s age, and the duty on local authorities to make up their own minds.

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More on the DNA home-testing moral maze

13 August 2010 by

DNA home-testing is likely to be an increasingly high-profile and controversial issue in the coming years, both from a moral and legal perspective.

I posted last week on the moral maze which surrounds DNA home testing, in light of new guidance for direct-to-consumer genetic tests published by the Human Genetics Commission.

The guidance has been greeted with mixed reactions. GeneWatch UK, a not-for-profit organisation which investigates how genetic science and technologies impact on society, have condemned the guidelines, lamenting that there will be “no independent scrutiny of companies’ performance or the claims they make about people’s risk of developing diseases in the future” . The focus of their criticisms are that the HGC represents the interests of the genetic testing companies over those of the general public.

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Inquest reforms delay leaves relatives of the dead in legal limbo

13 August 2010 by

David Kelly

It has long been accepted that the coroners’ courts, which investigate tens of thousands of deaths per year, are in urgent need of reform. But long-awaited changes are now under threat from Ministry of Justice budget cuts, leaving relatives of the dead with an inconsistent system of varying quality. This arguably places the state in breach of is obligations under human rights law.

A death is referred to a coroner when there is reasonable cause to suspect that it was violent or unnatural, or if the cause is unknown. In 2009, just under half of around 460,000 deaths were reported to the coroner, and 31,000 inquests were then opened. Inquests are rarely out of the news; for example, today calls were renewed for an inquest into the death of David Kelly. In the absence of obvious negligence or suspicious circumstances triggering a criminal investigation or compensation claim, inquests are often the only chance for relatives to get to the bottom of how a person died.

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