Four former Members of Parliament have failed in their appeal of a Crown Court ruling preventing them from claiming parliamentary privilege in criminal proceedings arising from the parliamentary expenses scandal.
The appeal was of Mr Justice Saunders’ ruling in the Southwark Crown Court that the parliamentary privilege enshrined in the 1688 Bill of Rights does not extend to protecting the four ex-MPs, Elliott Morley, David Chaytor, James Devine and Lord Hanningfield, from prosecutions for claiming inflated expenses. He had said that he could “see no logical, practical or moral justification for a claim for expenses being covered by privilege; and I can see no legal justification for it either.”
The Lord Chief Justice gave the judgment of the court, and made clear that Parliamentary privilege was simply not designed to protect these four men from the allegations currently against them:
Tchenguiz & Ors v Imerman  EWCA Civ 908 (29 July 2010) – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that secretly obtained documents can no longer copied and then used in divorce proceedings, overturning a rule dating back almost twenty years. The case will have a significant impact for divorcing couples, but has the court left itself open to a Supreme Court reversal on human rights grounds?
The appeal related to the divorce proceedings between Vivian and Elizabeth Imerman, in which Mrs Imerman’s brothers brothers had downloaded documents from Mr Imerman’s office computer in order to prove that he had more assets than he had disclosed to the court. Mr Justice Moylan ruled in the High Court that seven files of documents should be handed back to Mr Imerman for the purpose of enabling him to remove any material for which he claimed privilege. Mr Imerman appealed against the decision that he would then have to give the documents back, and Mrs Imerman argued that she should be given more control over the privilege process.
The Supreme Court has narrowly held that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) can keep nearly all of a £349,216 donation despite the donor not being a permissible donor at the time of receipt, contrary to party funding rules under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
The Supreme Court upheld an order originally made at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court to the effect that the party only had to give back a small proportion of the money. UKIP will now only have to forfeit £14,481, rather than the full amount. According to the BBC, this will save the party from financial ruin. We will have more detail on the decision, which was by a narrow 4-3 majority, soon. In the meantime, the Supreme Court press summary can be found here, and is reproduced below.
AN v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 869 (28 July 2010) – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has held that control orders of three men suspected of terrorism revoked by the Government should in fact be quashed altogether. The decision opens the door for the men to claim compensation, and deals another blow to the controversial control order scheme.
This is the latest in a long and tortuous series of court judgments which have chipped away at the controversial control order scheme. This latest decision arises from a 2009 House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) decision that it was a breach of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) to hold someone under a control order without sufficient information about the allegations against him, even where the case against the “controlee” was based on closed materials, the disclosure of which would compromise the country’s national security (see our summary).
R (on the application of ZO (Somalia) and others) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Appellant)  UKSC 36 – Read judgment
The Supreme Court has ruled that the UK must provide minimum standards to asylum seekers, including the right to work, whether or not their first asylum application has failed. Asylum seekers will now be able to work if they have been waiting for over a year for a decision.
The ruling is the latest in a line of court defeats for the Government on its asylum policy, including the recent High Court ruling that part of the fast-track deportation system is unlawful, as well as the Supreme Court’s rejection of the policy of sending gay asylum seekers back to countries where they may face persecution for their sexuality.
The proposed change to the rules for bringing on who can apply for international war crimes arrest warrants has predictably generated some strong reactions
The changes will make it necessary to get the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be granted. The Ministry of Justice say they are changing the rules in order to prevent arrests happening after the presentation of “flimsy” evidence. Those who fear arrest under the current system range from Israeli ministers to the Pope.
The Electoral Commission has released its full report into the events surrounding the May 2010 election during which thousands of voters were barred from polling stations due to administrative problems.
The Commission, whose report can be downloaded here, has used the fiasco as a chance to emphasise and bring forward its reform program. The watchdog reports that the Election was generally well run, but that:
Queues formed at several polling stations on polling day (6 May), and some people in those queues were unable to vote when the polls closed at 10pm. Just over 1,200 people were affected at 27 polling places in 16 constituencies. The main contributory factors were poor planning, the use of unsuitable buildings, inadequate staffing arrangements and the failure of contingency plans.
Medical Justice, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1925 (Admin) (26 July 2010) – Read judgment
The High Court has ruled that a fast-track scheme for the removal of failed asylum seekers with little or no notice is unlawful as it does not provide sufficient access to justice.
Permission to appeal has been granted but the decision could put a stop to the policy being implemented for the time being.
The challenge was brought by Medical Justice, a charity which advises asylum seekers, represented by the Public Law Project, a legal charity which aims to improve access to public law remedies (see their press release here). The policy being challenged came into effect in January 2010, and gives individuals who fall into certain specified categories and who have made unsuccessful claims to enter or to remain in the United Kingdom, little or sometimes no notice of their removal directions.
The Lord Chief Justice has emphasised in two Court of Appeal judgments that the jury-less trials must be a last resort and take place only in truly extreme cases. His comments are clearly aimed at putting the breakers on an accelerating trend of requests for jury-less trials in prosecutions of serious crime, following the ground-breaking but controversial ‘Heathrow heist’ trial.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 limited for the first time the right to trial by jury in the Crown Court, where trials for serious crimes take place. Section 44 provides for the option of judge-only trials if there is a “real and present danger” of jury tampering.
We recently started adding links to interesting new articles and case-law the sidebar under the heading “Selected news sources”. Below is a quick rundown of the most recent links. The full list of links can be found here.
23 July | Government delays Bribery Act – again: Siobhain Butterworth writes in the Guardian “This week the Ministry of Justice proudly announced that the long-awaited Bribery Act will become law in 2011. “The act will ensure the UK is at the forefront of the battle against bribery,” it said on Tuesday. The legislation follows a long-term Guardian investigation into allegations of corruption against BAE (vigorously denied), and some costly plea bargaining with the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic on the part of the arms company…. Hang on a minute. Wasn’t the act supposed to come into force in 2010? It received royal assent in April, nearly 18 months after the law commission’s “final report” on bribery recommended the introduction of the new corporate offences. Why the delay?”
22 July | Ian Tomlinson death: lawyers challenge CPS over decision not to prosecute: Ian Tomlinson was caught up in the G20 protests in April 2009. A short while after being hit by a policeman with a baton, he collapsed and died. The CPS have decided not to prosecute the policeman involved, as they consider there is an irreconcilable difference of opinion between medical experts as to the cause of death, which would mean it would be highly unlikely that the officer would be convicted beyond reasonable doubt. Expect plenty of debate and acrimony over this issue, as the family accuse the police of a cover-up.
The Ministry of Justice is proposing to change the rules on who can apply for international arrest warrants for suspected war crimes. The changes will make it necessary to get the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be granted.
The present system means that the threshold for an arrest for war crimes is low, and as such visiting ex-ministers can be arrested if only limited (or “flimsy” as the MoJ puts it) proof of the alleged crime is presented to a magistrate. The highest profile cases have been those involving ex-ministers from Israel, and in particular Tsipi Livni. As a result of the threat of arrest warrants, Israeli ex-ministers have largely stayed away from the UK.
As the MoJ statement says, war crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, and a small number of other grave offences, are subject to universal jurisdiction. This enables prosecution to take place here even though the offence was committed outside the United Kingdom, and irrespective of nationality.
A (A Child) v The Chief Constable of Dorset Police  EWHC 1748 (Admin) (16 July 2010) – Read judgment
The High Court has ruled that the gist of sensitive evidence in a case involving a child being picked up for being spotted with an “inappropriate adult” must be disclosed in order that the child can bring a claim against the police.
The case is probably the first to follow the significant restriction of the use of secret evidence resulting from the Al Rawi decision (see our previous post), in which the Court of Appeal rejected a request by the Government that evidence in a torture compensation claim be kept secret from the public, and emphasised that the interests of open justice would be seriously compromised if this kind of request were ever granted in a civil case, even in very limited circumstances.
The fall-out from last week’s Court of Appeal judgment in Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd continues as the Times’ long-standing in-house lawyer parts company with the newspaper, and commentators remain unsure as to whether the case marks a significant blow for press freedom.
We posted last week on the Flood case, in which a police officer accused of taking bribes won his battle to prevent the Times relying on the Reynolds defence, which allows allegations to be reported even if they turn out to be wrong. The well-known and much used defence arises from the 1999 case of Reynolds v Times Newspapersin which the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) extended the defence of qualified privilege to cover the media. Lord Nichols also provided 10 criteria which should be taken into account when deciding whether the defence applies (see the end of his judgment). Since 1999, the defence has been an important weapon in the press’ armoury in libel cases, and has undoubtedly led to greater press freedom.
Simon Hoggart has written an entertaining sketch in the Guardian, suggesting that the new Ministry of Justice is in fact a “nest of liberals”, and may end up being a fifth column inside the Coalition Government.
We posted earlier this week on the mixed reactions which have been inspired by the government’s early civil liberties agenda, although the majority opinion seems fairly positive. Hoggart suggests that in fact a dose of liberalism is sorely needed in the current government:
The Ministry of Justice turns out to be a nest of liberals in the coalition government. They need a few – the current Lib Dems are roughly as liberal as combination of Ayn Rand and Hanging Judge Jeffreys.
The United States-based Onlinedegrees.net has published a list of the top 50 best blogs for following human rights news.
The list can be found here. It is very useful, particularly for international sites. We are at number 19 and top of the “Location Specific” list. We have now placed a permanent link to the list in the “Links” list below and to the right.
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.