Retailer Marks & Spencer is in the news again, and not this time for its Christmas advert. The ad was, incidentally, filmed in Temple – perhaps M&S bigwigs were on their way to getting some advice on how to deal with Muslim employees who didn’t want to serve pork and alcohol?
Anyway, the retailer has allowed Muslim employees to opt out of the requirement to serve pork and alcohol, both of which their religion prohibits – although it is not clear whether they are also prohibited from serving the products to other Muslims/non-Muslims. If Islam is anything like Judaism, which I am more familiar with, I imagine the practice may vary according to communities.
On 6 July 2010, in the first innocent days of the Coalition Government, former appeal judge Sir Peter Gibson was asked by the Prime Minister to enquire into “whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11.” Almost 3 1/2 years later, the Detainee Inquiry has produced a report (it was originally presented to the Government on 27 June 2012 but there have been heavy negotiations about sensitive material in the public version).
The report makes clear at the outset that it “does not, and cannot, make findings as to what happened”. Why so? Because the Inquiry was scrapped before it heard evidence from any witnesses, so it couldn’t test any conclusions reached purely on the basis of documentary evidence. The reason given at the time by Sir Peter was that “it is not practical for the Inquiry to continue for an indefinite period to wait for the conclusion of the police investigations“. The “investigations” are those into claims of collusion by the intelligence services with torture in Libya (see this Q&A for more).
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill today published its report – you can read it in full here (PDF/HTML/conclusions). I gave evidence to the committee a few weeks ago – you can watch again here.
The report strongly recommends enacting legislation so that ” all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less should be entitled to vote in all UK parliamentary, local and European elections”. The recommendation could not be more emphatic, with the committee concluding, amongst other things:
I don’t usually post about court procedure, but as any lawyer knows, a failure to comply with what may seem like boring court rules can lead to a case being struck out before it even begins – this is what we in the trade call a “bad outcome”. In the UK context, see this terrifying recent Court of Appeal judgment.
Well, the European Court of Human Rights will from 1 January 2014 be toughening up its procedure rules with a new Rule 47 of the Rules of Court. Essentially, if you don’t get the forms right and provide the required information, your case will be rejected outright. This is part of the strategy to minimise the court’s enormous caseload. The changes are summed up in this handy press release – key extracts below:
Updated x 2 | Journalist Christopher Booker reported in Saturday’s Telegraph that an Italian woman was forced by Essex County Council social services to have a cesarean section, and then had her baby taken away from her – all sanctioned by the Court of Protection.
The story has become international news. I was going to write in detail on this, but family law barrister Lucy Reed has done a much better job than I would have been able to do. Her blog is here. Essex County Council have also released a statement of facts, which is here. I also recommend Elizabeth Prochaska and Suesspicious Minds.
I will keep this very simple. It was pretty obvious, based on Christopher Booker and John Hemming’s form (see my blog from 2011), that we were only getting a partial view of the story.
The Daily Mail has belatedly “corrected” its front page story on human rights damages, over a month after it appeared on 7 October 2013. Early last month I blogged on the original bogus article, which was so poor it generated a response from the ordinarily placid Council of Europe.
I have quote-pincered “corrected” as despite the newspaper’s actions, the damage is already done. A month has passed, which in social media time might as well be million years. People have moved on. Another human rights myth is implanted in the collective consciousness, and no sad little correction is going to dislodge a front page headline.
And to make things worse, the story was amplified by a whole host of other newspapers which picked it up without bothering to check the facts, including the Telegraph (corrected) and Daily Star (as yet uncorrected).
What really rankles about this story is how wrong it was.
The Ministry of Justice is calling for evidence on the Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union, specifically relating to fundamental rights. The consultation document is here and main website here.
The deadline for responses is 13 January 2014, but if you want to take part in one of the four discussion groups (three in London, one in Edinburgh), you need to email by tomorrow – all details below.
And don’t let the obscure-sounding title put you off. This review is potentially very important. Just look how broad question 1 is: Continue reading →
TV cameras are recording Court of Appeal hearings from today. The BBC, ITN, Sky News and the Press Association are cooperating on the project, and have hired an in-court video-journalist who will recommend the most interesting cases.
This is great news. Let in the light. The more that the public can see what is going on in their courts, the better. The courts are a bewildering place for the uninitiated and especially for those who cannot afford to pay someone to explain what is going on. This is still a relatively small advance – only appealswill be broadcast, not trials, so the public is unlikely to see any cross examination of witnesses. But hopefully it will be enough to increase public understanding of and interest in the courts.
But a word of warning. This initiative will only succeed if it is implemented in the right way. And, there are important lessons here from the Supreme Court’s ongoing broadcasting experiment.
It was an interesting experience. There is clearly a range of views on the committee, to say the least. It will be fascinating to see what happens next – it is already almost a year since the draft bill was published and, as Joshua Rozenberg said, it seems quite possible that this issue will not be resolved one way or the other before the 2015 General Election, which is only 18 months away.
Just a quick post to tell you about three things I have coming up which you might be interested in:
1. This Wednesday 30 October from 10:30am I am giving evidence to the Joint Select Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill, along with Joshua Rozenberg – full details here. The hearing will be broadcast live online. I will be talking about how media reporting and public perceptions of the European Court of Human Rights has affected the prisoner voting debate.
2. Then, also on Wed 30 Oct, in the evening, I’m taking part in a panel debate with BPP Fresh Perspectives on Law, which will explore the aftermath of the revelations about the NSA and GCHQ’s communications surveillance programmes. Also speaking: Paul Bernal, Lecturer in Internet and Media Law, University of East Angli; Ben Hayes, Statewatch and Alex Lawson, Lecturer, BPP Law School. Places are free but you have to sign up here.
3. Finally, on Wednesday 20 November I am joining lots of excellent lawyers in a charity mentoring event, raising money for Anna Verrico’s cancer treatment. Tickets are £10, a great cause, all details here.
The piece is about the case of Sabure Malik, a British investment banker who was stopped by police in 2010 at Heathrow on his way back from an organised package tour to undertake the Hajj. Full details of his case, which is supported by Liberty, are in the Euoprean Court of Human Rights’ admissibility decision here. It was granted permission to proceed in May 2013, well before the David Miranda controversy which took place in August.
R (on the application of Chester) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Justice (Respondent), McGeoch (AP) (Appellant) v The Lord President of the Council and another (Respondents) (Scotland)  UKSC 63 – read judgment / press summary
The Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling recently told The Spectator that he wants “to see our Supreme Court being supreme again“. In light of his respect for the court, he should read today’s judgment on prisoner votes very carefully indeed, as should David Cameron who has already endorsed the decision as a “great victory for common sense”.
The Supreme Court dismissed two claims by prisoners who argued their European Convention (Chester) and European Union (McGeogh) rights were being breached because they weren’t allowed to vote in various elections. I won’t summarise the detail of their arguments, which can be found in our previous posts on the Court of Appeal and Scottish Outer House Court of Session decisions.
We will aim to cover the substance of the decisions in due course. But what I find really interesting was the Justices’ views on the European Court’s various decisions on prisoner votes, which the Government argued were poorly reasoned.
“Human Right to Make a Killing”, screamed the Daily Mail last week, publishing details from a “damning dossier” which showed “Judges in Strasbourg paid out £4.4m to some of Britain’s worst criminals”.
The figures were taken from the response to a Parliamentary question put by Conservative MP Philip Davies. You can hear me debating him about the issue on BBC Radio 5 Live by clicking here – from 1:41:15 – watch out for the ‘human rights gravy train’ steaming into the debate around half way through.
Judging from the Prime Minister’s comments as well as Chris Grayling’s in the Spectator, it appears likely that this party conference will be similar to previous ones. Government ministers will promise that a majority Conservative government will replace “Labour’s” Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights – a longstanding Tory policy which also featured in the party’s 2010 manifesto (at p.79). The promise was scuppered after the 2010 election due to demands from coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. And, the Tories will continue to make vague threats that “people want to see the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom being in the United Kingdom and not in Strasbourg” (Grayling, a self-described “staunch Eurosceptic”) and that ECHR withdrawal “may be… where we end up” (Cameron).
Yesterday, before His Honour Judge Peter Murphy ruled that a female Muslim defendant in a criminal trial must remove her face-covering veil (niqaab) whilst giving evidence, Home Office Minister Jeremy Brown said he was “instinctively uneasy” about restricting religious freedoms, but that there should be a national debate over banning the burka.
Many of us have a gut reaction to the niqaab, which poses particular problems for our mostly liberal, secular society. Arguably, it also prompts less laudable instincts originating in fear of the ‘other’. But trusting in our instincts is never a good way of solving complex problems. As I have suggested before, when politicians appeal to their gut they are often just avoiding making an intellectually sound case for their position.
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