Updated | Here is a good example of how human rights myths spread. In October 2013 the Daily Mail and other newspapers published some totally misleading and inaccurate figures about European Court of Human Rights damages. The following month, after a complaint and a slap on the wrist from the Press Complaints Commission, the Mail corrected its figures – the full story is here.
Last year for instance figures released in the House of Commons Library showed that murderers, paedophiles and rapists had been given £4.4million of British taxpayers’ money because of rulings by the ECHR. Abu Qatada himself received £2,500 before he was deported as compensation for what was deemed his unlawful detention.
Updated | It emerged on Tuesday the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) for the first time in eight years. The theatre told UKJFF that they must reject longstanding funding from the Israeli Embassy if they wanted to use the venue. UKJFF refused and the relationship ended.
There has already been some excellent writing: see Nick Cohen, Archie Bland and Dorian Lynskey. Cohen makes a powerful case for the decision being anti-Semitic. I’m not going to go there, although as I have been saying on Twitter, in my view this is a bad move by the Tricycle. I thought it would be interesting, however, to investigate whether the Tricycle may have broken any laws.
With the May 2015 General Election looming, the battle for the future of human rights in the UK is hotting up. The Prime Minister has just sacked his long-standing Attorney General apparently because he disagreed with a mooted Tory manifesto policy which would, he rightly suggested, breach the UK’s international law obligations.
Meanwhile, over on what used to be Fleet Street,we can expect plenty of human rights misinformation and misrepresentation, as per usual. The Sun, a longterm offender, has been at it again with two recent articles. I thought it would be useful to respond in a bit of detail as they contain a number of common misrepresentations. And because they are behind a paywall, the usual army of Twitter fact checkers are left somewhat powerless.
Imagine you are on the board of large corporation. You attend the Annual General Meeting and asked the chief executive about that controversial tax avoidance scheme the company had been considering, but which the in-house legal team had advised against. The Chief Exec smiles and says that has been dealt with: “we just sacked the lawyers”.
The BBC is reporting what many suspected. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC was sacked in order to clear the path for major reform of the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. This is bad news, for the UK and potentially for the European Court of Human Rights too.
The Attorney General’s advice, which has been leaked to the BBC, was that plan to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights were “incoherent” and a “legal car crash… witha built-in time delay“. Intriguingly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson also reports that William Hague, the now-former Foreign Secretary, also raised doubts over the plans.
Lord Phillips, former Supreme Court President, gave a thoughtful speech at Kings College on whether human rights are a “force for good or a threat to democracy”. He expressed quite significant concerns over some recent Strasbourg decisions on jurisdiction, prisoner votes etc. (you know the drill – see Rosalind’s post on the other senior judges/former judges speaking their minds).
The conclusion he reaches, on balance but also with “no hesitation” is that “Europe needs the Convention and Europe needs the Court. … Strasbourg is a powerful force for good.”
I really must do a chart of the senior judiciary and ex-judiciary’s positions on Strasbourg. They are falling over themselves to express a view.
According to the Magna Carta Trust, there will be eight century beer, festivities, new books, an opera, a calypso tribute and even a new roundabout on the A308 at Runnymede. And if a new roundabout isn’t “English” enough for you, there will of course be lots of dressing up in silly costumes.
But along with celebration, there will be disagreement. It has already started. Continue reading →
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary, has given us a glimpse of what the Human Rights Act would look like under a future Labour government in a Telegraph article. Labour will “shift power back to British courts”, says the former solicitor.
The article presents a strong case for human rights as an “ancient British tradition” and ties future reforms in with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. But the only real proposal here is publishing ‘guidance’ to judges in order to
make sure it is clear to the judges what Parliament intended by Section 2 – that they’re free to disagree with Strasbourg, that it’s sometimes healthy to do so, and that they should feel confident in their judgments based on Britain’s expertise and strong human rights standing.
Section 2 of the Human Rights Act says that any judge deciding a question involving human rights “must take into account“, amongst other things, any judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. This has been a controversial provision as on its face it only requires judges to pay attention to, not follow, Strasbourg’s judgments. But the judiciary have often gone further than they a required to – see Rosalind English’s summary of the recent public spat between the judges.
Last month the UK Human Rights Blog co-hosted a fascinating panel discussion on the Future of Human Rights, held at Berwin Leighton Paisner – you can now watch the full debate on YouTube here or embedded below. More details on the panelists here and after the break.
On 28 April 2014 I debated Dr Lee Rotherham of the Taxpayers’ Alliance at NYU London. The motion was: This House believes the human rights agenda is promoting unfairness in the UK. I was against the motion (as you may have guessed).
I am delighted to announce that the UK Human Rights Blog in association with Hurst Publishers and Berwin Leighton Paisner are organising a fascinating panel debate, chaired by me, on Wed 21 May 2014. The panel is stellar.
It is a free event but places are strictly limited so you have to register here if you want to secure your place.
‘The Future of Human Rights’ on the occasion of the publication of Failing to Protect: the UN and the Politicisation of Human Rights by Dr Rosa Freedman
Wednesday 21 May 2014
6.30pm for 7.00pm
The Auditorium, Adelaide House, London Bridge, London EC4R 9HA (map)
Hurst Publishers, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP and the UK Human Rights Blog are delighted to invite you to a panel discussion on ‘The Future of Human Rights’ on the occasion of the publication of Failing to Protect: the UN and the Politicisation of Human Rights by Dr Rosa Freedman.Chair
Adam Wagner – Barrister, 1 Crown Office Row and editor of the UK Human Rights Blog
Philippe Sands – Professor of International Law, University College London
Jane Connors – Chief of Special Procedures Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Marc Limon – Executive Director, Universal Rights Group
Professor Fiona de Londras, Durham University
Drinks will be served before and after the debate.
Please let us know if you will be attending the panel discussion by clicking here.
I will be giving evidence along with Nicola Mackintosh, Nick Armstrong and Michael Fordham QC, on the potential impact of the Bill on Judicial Review. The session should be available to view online live here. The full programme, which should be very interesting, is listed here.
For more on the Bill, see this recent post by JUSTICE’s Angela Patrick and this one by David Hart QC.
Sometimes, especially with Government consultations, a kite is raised in order to distract from what is really happening on the ground. As with the last phase of JR reform, the rhetoric is more extreme than the reality.
Without wanting to say “I told you so” (oops), don’t be fooled by the seeming concessions. There is still a lot to be concerned about in what remains, as there was in the last round of changes – as Dr Mark Elliott points out, JR, like the NHS (and Communist Russia), now seems to be in a state of perpetual reform. I do not intend here to analyse the proposals in detail, but I will point you towards some excellent early articles.
Two barristers have advised a Parliamentary committee that some mass surveillance allegedly undertaken by the UK’s security services is probably illegal. Jemima Stratford QC and Tim Johnston’s advice (PDF) was commissioned by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones.
You may ask why an Parliamentary group on drones is getting involved in the GCHQ surveillance debate, itself kickstarted by the revelations by Edward Snowden (pictured). The slightly tangential answer is that the committee is concerned about the legality of data being passed to the United States for use in drone strikes.
What a year! As the UK Human Rights Blog approaches 2,000 posts and three million hits since its launch in March 2010, below is a link to a summary of the year in stats. No great surprises as to the most popular posts, which track the most controversial issues in human rights.
The main thing to report is that the blog remains extremely popular, with almost 1.2 million hits in 2013 alone, as well as tens of thousands of regular readers and subscribers. Thank you to the contribution of all of our bloggers, both from 1 Crown Office Row (particularly the indefatigable Rosalind English and David Hart QC) and elsewhere, to our wonderful rounder uppers (Daniel Isenberg, Sarina Kidd and Celia Rooney) and to our fantastic commenters who keep us on our toes all over social media.
This year has been the toughest yet for me in keeping the blog ticking along at the pace you are all used to (I have another full time job – being a barrister), but thankfully I have just about managed it. Unfortunately, this has meant I haven’t been able to post as much as I like but I continue to be very proud of the blog’s achievements and influence.
In light of the Conservative Party’s impending plans for human rights reform (which, as was pointed out by Neil Crowther on Twitter, looked to be tracking Dominic Raab’s 2010 blueprint and 2012 bill pretty closely), 2014 is likely to be another interesting year. As always, thanks to our still rather shiny Human Rights Act, there will be plenty of fascinating decisions from our courts too.
The headline was “Ministers to block ‘right to marry’ in EU backlash“. Apparently the Government has “vowed to block a fresh push to introduce new EU human rights, such as the right to marry and the right to collective bargaining, into Britain“. And as the Times’ political editor Francis Elliot (not to be confused with the generally sound legal correspondent Frances Gibb) reported:
The charter enshrines a host of rights not found in other declarations, including personal, work and family relations. One of them is a proposed “right to marry and found a family”.
The only problem is that… the right to “marry and found a family” already exists in the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s in Article 12. It has been there since the UK signed up to the ECHR in 1953. Here it is:
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