In the midst of all the coverage of the phone hacking scandal and the mounting woes of News Corporation an interesting piece of human rights news from the past week got lost: the announcement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) that it is applying to intervene in four cases before the European Court of Human Rights being brought by Christians who claim their Article 9 rights are not being sufficiently protected in UK law.
The applicants are Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, each of whom has lost claims of workplace discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief in the UK courts over the past couple of years (see our general comment pieces here and here). The EHRC has now said that in its view “Judges have interpreted the law too narrowly in religion or belief discrimination claims” and that “the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.”
The decisions by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda, handed down last Thursday, have generally been hailed as leap forward for human rights protection. We have already provided a summary of the decisions and pointed to some of the commentary here.
However, it is worth considering the core parts of these rulings a little more carefully. Without wishing to put too much of a dampener on the initial excitement from human rights campaigners about the outcome, the Court’s reasoning is perhaps not quite the radical breakthrough it first appeared to be. In fact, as Judge Bonello pointed out in his concurring opinion (which has drawn a lot of attention for his comments about ‘human rights imperialism’), the principles governing jurisdiction under Article 1 of the ECHR are not that much clearer following these decisions.
London Borough of Hillingdon v. Steven Neary  EWHC 1377 (COP) – read judgment here.
The Court of Protection (“COP”) emphatically ruled last week that a local authority unlawfully detained a young man with autism and learning difficulties for almost an entire year, breaching his right to respect for family life as a result.
R (Imran Bashir) v. The Independent Adjudicator, HMP Ryehill and the Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 1108 – read judgment here.
1 Crown Office Row’s John Joliffe appeared for the Secretary of State for Justice in this case. He is not the writer of this post.
The High Court held last week that disciplining a Muslim prisoner for failing to give a urine sample in a drugs test when he was in the midst of a voluntary fast was a breach of his right to manifest his religious beliefs.
Recent claims or defences on the basis of Article 9, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, have mostly been unsuccessful – see our comments on the Catholic adoption agencies, fostering and Cornish hotel cases, as well as Aidan O’Neill’s feature article. However, in this case His Honour Judge (HHJ) Pelling QC held that the failure to even consider a prisoner’s Article 9 rights meant that the decision to discipline him was fatally flawed.
W v. M, S, an NHS PCT and Times Newspapers Ltd.  EQHC 1197 (COP) – read judgment. In the midst of all the fuss over the last two weeks about ‘superinjunctions’ and the law on privacy (see our coverage here, here, here and here) the Court of Protection (“CoP”) has just granted an injunction imposing extensive reporting restrictions on the media in a case involving potentially controversial end-of-life issues.
The press has picked up on the decision mainly because the injunction is the first in the UK courts (and perhaps anywhere in the world) to specifically prohibit publishing restricted information on any “social network or media including Twitter or Facebook“. This is noteworthy given the recent furore about an anonymous Twitter user ‘outing’ a number of UK celebrities who had obtained injunctions (although given that Twitter is a US-based website, it is difficult to see how the order will be enforced). But the decision by Baker J is far more interesting for the way he described how the media’s free speech rights should be balanced against the parties’ privacy rights in the kind of sensitive cases dealt with by the CoP, and how he expressly distinguished it from the approach taken in celebrity cases.
The Mayor of London v. Brian Haw & others  EWHC 585 (QB) – read judgment.
The High Court has ruled that it would not be a breach of Articles 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of assembly and association) to grant a possession order in respect of Parliament Square Gardens (“PSG”) and an injunction compelling protesters to dismantle and remove all tents and other structures erected on PSG. The potential effect of this might be to remove Brian Haw, the peace campaigner who has been protesting almost non-stop outside Parliament for the best part of a decade.
This is the latest in a long-running series of cases exploring the extent of the freedom to protest. We have analysed the previous court decisions about the Parliament Square protesters here and here. The issue of restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression has been a hot topic in recent months more generally, having also come up recently in the contexts of the student protests last year, political asylum seekers and hate speech.
R (BB) v. Special Immigration Appeals Commission and Home Secretary – Read judgment.
The Divisional Court has ruled that bail proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (“SIAC”) are subject to the same procedural standard under Article 5(4) of the European Convention (the right to liberty) whether they take place before or after the substantive judgment. That standard is that the applicant must be given sufficient information about the allegations against him to enable him to give effective instructions in relation to those allegations, as set out in A v United Kingdom and R (Cart) v. SIAC.
This decision forms the latest in a string of cases considering the extent to which the Government can rely on secret or ‘closed’ evidence in defending appeals by individuals challenging decisions made against them. A judgment by the Supreme Court is imminently expected in the conjoined cases of Al-Rawi v. Security Service and Tariq v. Home Office (see helpful summary here and our analysis of the broader issue of open justice here), which consider this issue in relation to civil damages claims and employment law claims. However, BB is the High Court’s most recent pronouncement on the position in the fraught area of immigration and national security.
BA (Demonstrators in Britain – risk on return) Iran CG  UKUT 36 (IAC) – read judgment – and SA (Iranian Arabs-no general risk) Iran CG  UKUT 41(IAC) – read judgment.
The Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) last week allowed two asylum appeals by Iranian political activists, and laid down guidance on the factors the Home Office and immigration tribunals should take into account when deciding asylum applications and appeals based on political activities here in the UK.
In the midst of all the excitement over the events in Tunisia and Egypt, it is important to remember that most countries in the wider Middle East are still under the control of authoritarian regimes which give scant regard to basic human rights. In particular, the success of the recent protests in removing Presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak from office are a reminder of the very similar, but unsuccessful, protests in Iran following the re-election of President Ahmadinejad in June 2009. The Iranian regime brutally suppressed the protesters in 2009, and there has been a crack-down on opposition activists since. The same reaction by the regime has been evident at renewed protests yesterday and today. The Upper Tribunal had to consider the ongoing situation in Iran in two recent decisions.
The new ‘gang injunctions’, or “gangbos”, which can be sought in the county courts against adults suspected of gang involvement, function in a similar way to ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders), although they aim to target people involved in shootings, knife crime and other serious violence rather than low-level anti-social behaviour. But will they be a helpful measure to curb gang violence, or an unnecessary restriction on liberty?
R (Ali Zaki Mousa) v. Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 3304 (Admin) (21 December 2010) – read judgment
The High Court has dismissed a challenge to the government’s decision to ‘wait and see’ if another public inquiry into abuse of Iraqi detainees is necessary, pending the outcome of internal Ministry of Defence investigations. The court looked in detail at the obligation on states under Article 3 to conduct an independent and effective investigation into allegations of torture, before concluding that what is required by Article 3 essentially depends on the facts of any given case.
The judicial review application was brought on behalf of some 127 Iraqis who claimed that they were tortured and ill-treated by members of the British Armed Forces while being held in detention in Iraq. They demanded that the Secretary of State order an immediate public inquiry, and said that only a public inquiry would effectively investigate both their individual allegations and any wider systemic issues arising out of the individual claims (the background to the claim and a short summary of the permission stage can be found here).
Today MPs will vote on whether to increase the maximum amount universities can charge to £9,000. Contrary to many commentators’ predictions, the student protests against the increase on 10 November have not been an isolated occurrence, but the beginning of a settled campaign. But would the students be able to rely on human rights arguments to resist eviction?
The campaign has been quite literally settled in many cases, as students at (amongst other universities) UCL, SOAS, Oxford, Sheffield, Manchester Met and Newcastle have staged occupations and sit-ins. Some have moved out, but others have occupied lecture theatres since around 24 November and don’t seem to be moving anywhere any time soon. That is, unless the police or university authorities force them out.
The right to protest is covered by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that:
As we reported recently, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has ruled that Abu Hamza, the extremist Muslim cleric, cannot be stripped of his British citizenship since this would have the effect of making him stateless.
This is the latest in a string of decisions by various courts in a long-running legal saga surrounding the British government’s attempts to remove Abu Hamza from the UK. Hamza is also facing extradition to the United States, but this has been stayed pending the substantive decision of the European Court of Human Rights as to whether the prospect of serving a life sentence in a ‘supermax’ US prison would breach his Article 3 rights (our analysis of the admissibility decision can be found here).
However, whereas the New Labour government came under intense criticism for its anti-terrorism policies, the Coalition’s response to last weekend’s events has (so far) been comparatively restrained. The measures announced yesterday were mainly focused on cargo originating from Yemen and other potentially dangerous parts of the world. The government has also said that it will conduct a review of air freight policies and procedures, and consult with the air freight industry on improving security.
A (a minor) and B (a minor) v. A Health and Social Services Trust,  NIQB 108 – Read judgment
In a fascinating case involving IVF treatment, the High Court in Northern Ireland has held that no duty of care is owed to human cells and that having a skin colour different to that intended cannot be considered legally recognisable loss and damage.
Professor Robert Edwards, the British scientist who pioneered in vitro fertilisation, was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. But while Professor Edwards’ achievements have changed the lives of millions of infertile couples around the world, they have also given rise to a whole host of thorny ethical and legal questions. A recent decision by Mr Justice Gillen in an extremely unusual case has attempted to wrestle with some of these issues, and in particular with the rights (if any) of human cells.
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