R (on the application of ASO MOHAMMED) v CHIEF CONSTABLE OF WEST MIDLANDS  EWHC 1228 (Admin) – Read Judgment
A man who was arrested and cautioned for taking naked pictures of his girlfriend’s child has had his caution quashed and has been awarded £500 damages under the Human Rights Act. The case demonstrates that human rights claims can be successful against the police, and raises questions as to whether sex offender laws are being used overzealously.
We posted last month on the difficulty of bringing human rights claims when the police have made mistakes. This case provides an example of where human rights law can assist, and demonstrates what kinds of questions a court must ask itself before awarding damages under section 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
The Coalition Government have promised to “restore the right to non-violent protest”, but Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is bringing court proceedings to evict protesters from Parliament Square. What are the human rights implications?
During the build-up to last month’s General Election, a number of protesters erected tents and flags in Parliament Square, a green outside the Houses of Parliament. The protesters still remain and have named the site “Democracy Village”. Brian Haw, famous for his protests against the Iraq war, is amongst the protesters.
Now Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has decided that enough is enough and is to institute trespass proceedings against the protesters. The BBC quotes a spokesman for Mr Johnson, who said “The mayor respects the right to demonstrate, however the scale and impact of the protest is now doing considerable damage to the square and preventing its peaceful use by other Londoners, including those who may wish to have an authorised protest.“
The European Court of Human Rights underwent something of a revolution yesterday with the long-delayed introduction of reforms to its rules. The changes will help the court clear its enormous backlog of cases, but also give it significant new powers to punish states which fail to implement its rulings. The UK may be one of the first on the receiving end of these new powers in relation to prisoner voting rights.
The Strasbourg-based European Court, which interprets and applies the European Convention on Human Rights, celebrated its fiftieth birthday last year. But it has recently been showing its age, creaking under the weight of its backlog of cases, running to an astonishing 119,300 waiting to be heard in 2009.
We have been following the debate on whether Britain will opt to supplement the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights. In a wide-ranging article published today, Geoffrey Robertson QC, a barrister specialising in human rights, has advocated “moving on from the Euro Convention – building on it, but not abandoning it.”
Despite these inadequacies, there is ample evidence that the Human Rights Act has measurably improved the level of dignity and decency accorded by the state to its most-vulnerable citizens, and for that relief much thanks to the Blair government which enacted it with cross-party support in 1998. But it has not, as its proponents hoped, conduced to a “culture of liberty”….
We posted on Friday that the libel reform debate is hotting up now that the Coalition Government has pledged to reform the law of libel. We are following the debate because of the wide-ranging implications any significant reform will have for the law of freedom of expression, as a number of articles published over the weekend demonstrate.
Al-Saadoon and Mufdhi v. the United Kingdom(Application no. 61498/08) (2 March 2010) This was a case about two Iraqis taken prisoner by the British troops in Iraq and handed over to the Iraqi authorities against the ECtHR’s previous orders. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) as the two prisoners had been exposed to the death penalty which they would face in Iraq. This judgment is important in the context of a series of decisions and judgments on the death penalty (see paragraph. 123 of the judgment).
The Guardian reports today that prisoner voting rights will be back in the public eye this week with critical comments from Europe and increased pressure from compensation claims.
Interestingly, the article has now been amended to remove part of a quote from the Ministry of Justice, who had initially said that “Disenfranchisement is an outdated, disproportionate punishment which has no place in a modern prison system with a renewed emphasis on rehabilitation and resettlement”. This line has been replaced by a policy-neutral quote. On the face of it, it seems that government may finally act on this issue, five years after the European Court of Human Rights criticism of its ban in the case of Hirst v UK.
General Dental Council v Rimmer  EWHC 1049 (Admin) (15 April 2010) – Read judgment
A dentist has been ordered to hand over his patients’ medical records to a court in order to help his regulator prosecute him for misconduct. The case raises interesting questions of when the courts can override patient confidentiality which would otherwise be protected by the Human Rights Act.
When health professionals are being prosecuted for misconduct,their patients’ confidential records will almost invariably be disclosed to the court if requested, even without the patients’ consent. Some may find this surprising, given the fact that medical records almost invariably contain highly private and potentially embarrassing information which a person would justifiably not want disclosed in a public court. However, the situation is not as simple as it first appears, as demonstrated by the recent case of an allegedly dodgy dentist.
The recent announcement of the review of libel and privacy law by a high-profile panel has led to a flurry of conjecture, comment and proposals. The new Government has pledged to reform the law of libel, but what shape will the reforms take?
The committee, which was announced last month, is being led by Lord Neuberger, the head of the Court of Appeal, and will be composed of legal and media experts. One notable absence, as Joshua Rozenberg blogs, is Mr Justice Eady, who has been responsible for many of the more controversial “super injunctions”.
The new Coalition Government have pledged to “reform libel laws to protect freedom of speech“. Cases involving libel, defamation and super-injunctions have seen two competing European Convention rights fighting it out; Article 8 (right to privacy) versus Article 10 (freedom of expression).
AC v Berkshire West Primary Care Trust  EWHC 1162 (Admin) (25 May 2010) – Read Judgment
An NHS Trust acted rationally in refusing to provide breast enlargement surgery to a transsexual, the High Court has ruled, even though there was credible medical evidence that the surgery would have been beneficial. The case raises issues as to when treatment can truly be said to be “necessary” in light of increasingly tight purse strings, and whether NHS policy could be discriminatory towards transsexuals.
The Claimant, AC, had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID). As part of its GID treatment program the PCT had been prepared to provide genital reassignment surgery, which AC had refused.
As part of her treatment, AC was given hormone therapy but was disappointed with her subsequent breast development. Her GP wrote in 2006 that AC had found that her lack of breasts made it “much more difficult for her to feel feminine. It tends to get her down although she does not have a history of significant depression… Whilst we can offer her what support we can with this, this is never clearly going to be as effective as a surgical solution.” Continue reading →
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, is in trouble for offering to sell her influence for cash. She proposed to sell access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew, a “trade envoy”, for £500,000 to an undercover reporter from the News of the World. The circumstances of the sting raise interesting issues in respect of the right to privacy under the Human Rights Act.
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence“. The right is not absolute, and can be breached by a public authority “in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society”, that is, if the breach is in the public interest. Only public authorities need to keep within these rules.
it seems to us that there is a proper justification for the publication of the story. What the Duchess was offering was “access to a public official”, for a payment which appears to be wholly disproportionate to the “monetary value” of the service offered… The fact that neither the Duchess nor the businessman had any specific wrongdoing in mind does not matter. The whole transaction was “tainted” and its exposure was, we suggest, justified for that reason. Continue reading →
The Coalition Government has presented its legislative agenda for the coming year in the Queen’s Speech. Below are links to some of our previous posts which address some of the proposed policies.
The full line-up of bills announced can be found on the Number 10 website, or you can also read the full transcript. Our analysis of the Coalition’s human rights policies is here. The list will probably not be exhaustive, as some of the promises made in the Programme for Government may be instituted via secondary legislation or attached to other related Acts of Parliament.
One notable absence is any mention of reform to extradition policy (see our post from yesterday). The Programme for Government included the promise to “review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed.” Liberty, the human rights organisation, had already welcomed the change in a statement on Monday. The family of Gary McKinnon would have also been waiting for this, as Mr McKinnon is currently awaiting a decision from the new Home Secretary as to whether he will be extradited to the United States on computer hacking charges. That being said, a change to the extradition arrangements may be included in another bill, although this seems unlikely.
Human rights challenges to deportation and extradition seem to be constantly in the public eye. Gary McKinnon’s battle against extradition has caught the public, as has the now notorious “Pathway Students” terrorist deportation case. An examination of three recent decisions highlights the various ways in which the courts approach the human rights arguments in such cases.
There have been a steady stream of high-profile deportation and extradition decisions in the past few weeks, none more controversial than the “Pathway students” case, where two suspected terrorists were saved from deportation to Pakistan as they were thought to be at risk of torture or death upon their return. The Daily Telegraph reports that the Human Rights Act is being invoked in a growing number of asylum and immigration case, although it does not say whether the number of successful uses of the Act has increased.
The Economist has provided a useful analysis of the Coalition Government’s proposed policies on civil liberties.
The article highlights the fact that the policies detailed may not represent the transformative change which Nick Clegg suggested in his reform speech, but rather “uncontroversial quick wins” which will be dwarfed in policy terms by the incoming government’s policing and immigration policies:
The disagreements can probably be haggled away, with the Lib Dems getting their way (eventually) on human rights in return for agreeing to control orders. Coalition government is such a novel and interesting thing that almost any fudge or u-turn can be passed off as a natural product of the “new politics”, at least for now. Continue reading →
The Coalition Government has pledgedto “protect” the right to trial by jury. It is often assumed that the a jury is needed to ensure a fair trial, but Sir Louis Blom-Cooper argues in an interesting article in the Guardian that juries may not always be essential, particularly in cases involving serious organised crime.
Blom-Cooper, an academic and barrister, argues that jury-less trials need not always be illiberal. He says “The experience in Northern Ireland over three decades suggests that serious organised crimes can effectively and efficiently be tried before a professional court ‑ a single judge or perhaps three judges.” He also suggests that defendants ought to be able to waive their right to trial by jury as is the case in many other jurisdictions. Continue reading →
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