20 May 2019
By a narrow 4-3 majority, the Supreme Court has ruled in R (Privacy International) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal  UKSC 22 that the extent of GCHQ’s powers to hack into internet services should be subject to judicial review, despite a powerfully-drawn ‘ouster clause’ which sought to prevent the decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal from being questioned by a court.
Lord Carnwarth, who delivered the majority judgement, noted the ‘obvious parallel’ with the seminal case of Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission  2 AC 147. Turning to the ouster clause in the present case, he considered that ‘a more explicit formulation’ might have ousted the jurisdiction of the High Court to consider a challenge to a decision by the IPT, but that, such as it was, the clause was not sufficiently clear to do so.
Lord Carnwarth also stated that: ‘It is ultimately for the courts, not the legislature, to determine the limits set by the rule of law to the power to exclude review.’ Although it was not necessary to decide on the general lawfulness of ouster clauses, he saw ‘a strong case for holding that, consistently with the rule of law, binding effect cannot be given to a clause which purports wholly to exclude the supervisory jurisdiction of the High Court to review a decision of an inferior court or tribunal, whether for excess or abuse of jurisdiction, or error of law.’ Lord Lloyd-Jones, another of the Judges in the majority, remained neutral on this statement.
Lord Carnwarth’s ‘rule of law’ argument was echoed by Caroline Wilson Palow, Privacy International’s general counsel, and Simon Creighton, of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, which acted for Privacy International. Megan Goulding, a lawyer at Liberty, which supported Privacy International, stated that the ouster clause was ‘not just undemocratic, but a sinister attempt to reduce the safeguards that protect our rights.’
In contrast, Professor Richard Ekins, a Tutorial Fellow in constitutional law at Oxford University, has stated that the ruling ‘violated the sovereignty of parliament.’ Ekins credited the three dissenting judges for their willingness to ‘[give] effect to parliament’s authoritative choice’ to limit judicial review by creating a specialist tribunal to consider complaints against the intelligence services.
In the News
- The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has appointed Rita French, formerly his principal private secretary, to a post as the UK’s first human rights ambassador. Hunt put the appointment implicitly in the context of Brexit, stating that ‘as the UK enters a new chapter in its history’ he will ensure human rights are not forgotten in the rush to secure desperately needed free trade deals. Shami Chakrabarti, shadow attorney general, made her skepticism clear: ‘Rita French’s task will be an uphill struggle in a party that has consistently campaigned to scrap human rights instruments and cosied up to every despot in the pursuit of trade.’
- The appointment came shortly after Human Rights Watch published a 115-page report condemning the UK government for breaching its duty to protect citizens from hunger by pursuing ‘cruel and harmful policies’ with little regard for children living in poverty. While a government spokesperson dismissed the findings, school staff and food bank volunteers confirmed that the report tallied with their experiences.
- On Wednesday, the defence secretary, Penny Mordaunt, announced ‘a statutory presumption against prosecution’ for alleged offences committed in the course of duty more than ten years ago, covering wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following the announcement, Mordaunt went further, stating that she would like to see the proposed exemption extended to period of the Troubles in Ireland. Mordaunt’s comments were quickly met with criticism from human rights groups, a string of Conservative MPs, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney, and Sinn Féinn’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill. An editorial in The Independent argued that the move would set human rights back by decades, allowing ‘the UK [to] opt in and out of the ECHR, depending on whether it is at war,’ while Amnesty UK’s campaign manager for Northern Ireland argues that the move undermines victims’ ‘fundamental rights to justice.’
In Other News
- Ukraine responded angrily after ministers of the Council of Europe voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing Russia to ‘participate on an equal basis’ in the council’s committee of ministers and parliamentary assembly, five years after the country was stripped of its voting rights over the seizure of Crimea. Ukraine’s envoy to the Council stated that the decision was not ‘diplomacy’ but rather ‘a surrender’.
- US President Donald Trump has outlined his ‘strongly pro-life’ views on abortion days after Alabama passed a law banning abortion in almost all cases. In a series of tweets, Mr Trump stated that he was against abortion except in cases of rape, incest or ‘protecting the life of the mother’. While Republicans eager to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling welcome the ban and Trump’s approbation of it, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren characterised the prohibition as ‘dangerous and exceptionally cruel’, and Human Rights Watch described the legislation as ‘a shocking abdication of responsibility by Alabama law makers’.
- In the Washington Times, Neil Bush called for the release of Marsha Lazareva, a prominent Russian businesswoman imprisoned in Kuwait since May 2018 after being found guilty of embezzling 17 million dinars from the Kuwaiti Port Authority. Her latest hearing has been delayed until 9 June, after the judge recused himself unexpectedly. The manner in which Lazareva was tried and sentenced has been criticised by a number of human rights groups and diplomatic figures, including the former US Representative Ed Royce. Louis Freeh, a former judge and Director of the FBI, expressed concern for Lazareva’s health and wellbeing, and called the refusal of the Kuwaiti authorities to release her on a $33 million cash bail something he had ‘never heard of’ in his years as a judge and advocate. Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, senior counsel for Lazareva, has said that the ‘expert auditor’ on whose testimony much of the evidence relied has since been charged with the forgery of the three documents on which he depended during the case.
In the Courts
- R (DA & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; R (DS & Ors) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  UKSC 21: The Supreme Court considered whether the revised benefit cap, introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, s8, to lone parents with children under two years old (i) unlawfully discriminates against parents and/or their children, contrary to ECHR Articles 14 and 8 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 3, and/or (ii) is irrelevant. The court concluded, by a majority of 5-2, that the rule engaged ECHR Article 8, but could be justified because it was not manifestly without reasonable foundation. Lady Hale and Lord Kerr, dissenting, considered that a fair balance had not been struck.
- Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 818: The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal for wrongful dismissal by a nursing sister employed by the Trust. The sister was a ‘committed Christian’ fired for breaching an undertaking not to have inappropriate religious discussion with patients. One of the patients who lodged a complain was told by Mrs Kuteh that if he prayed to God he would have a better chance of surviving a major surgery for bowel cancer which he was about to undergo. ‘Even having regard to the importance of the right to freedom of religion,’ the court concluded that the Employment Tribunal’s decision was ‘plainly correct’, and the Trust’s decision to dismiss Ms Kuteh for misconduct ‘fell within the reasonable band of responses’ in this case.
On the UKHRB
- Dominic Ruck Keene summarises and discusses R (Maughan) v Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire v The Chief Coroner for England Wales  EWCA Civ 809, in which the Court of Appeal conclusively held that the standard for proof for conclusions concerned suicide was the civil balance of probabilities, rather than the criminal beyond reasonable doubt test.
- Jonathan Metzer assesses the Supreme Court’s ruling in R (Privacy International) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal  UKSC 22 that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s decisions are amenable to judicial review, despite the existence of a powerfully-drawn ‘ouster clause’.
- Episode 78 of Law Pod UK explores the implications of the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market for the music industry.