The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a report which proposes that the Government must urgently consider the human rights implications of its Covid-19 measures.
The report drew attention to eight problem areas, claiming:
The Lockdown Regulations had not been made sufficiently clear to members of the public, and more care was needed to distinguish between advice, guidance and the law. People had paid fixed penalty notices of up to £10,000 in circumstances where the police “do not fully understand their powers” and there was no realistic appeal or review procedure.
Health and Care criticisms include that the allocation of PPE may have been discriminatory, the imposition of blanket “do not resuscitate” policies in care homes was unlawful, and hospital admissions policies were ageist.
Detention continues to be an area of acute concern, with blanket bans on prison visits “incompatible to the right to family life”, and a call for inspections to resume as soon as possible to avoid human rights abuses.
Contact Tracing raised ongoing privacy issues, also the Government’s decision to stop the centralised model in favour of a decentralised model was welcomed.
Children and the right to education had been impacted differently by school closures depending on socioeconomic factors and special educational needs and disabilities.
Access to justice had been limited during the pandemic, and the report called on the Government to ensure that lack of access to technology would not lead to disadvantaged persons being digitally excluded from the justice system.
An interim review into deaths from Coronavirus was recommended to discharge the UK’s procedural obligations under article 2.
Accountability and scrutiny of Government powers under the Coronavirus Act was insufficient. The report called for new provisions to be subject to parliamentary debate and approval. In addition, it stressed that major announcements should be made to Parliament rather than through news channels or other press briefings, especially when human rights were engaged.
The report’s publication comes as Covid-19 cases rise, forcing Boris Johnson to confront a bleak choice.
Opposition to new measures from Tory MPs, human rights groups and some portions of a beleaguered British public is mounting. Rishi Shunak and Alok Sharma, business secretary, have warned that another lockdown would be an economic calamity. At the same time, pressure builds from scientific advisers, including Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, and Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, urging measures now to avoid deaths and disruption later.
But the report’s concerns about government accountability under the Coronavirus Act 2020 are shared by commentators across the political spectrum. When the government tries to renew the Act on 30 September, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, will seek an amendment requiring MPs to vote on future measures to control the virus, to prevent “draconian restrictions on personal liberty and economic life [being] introduced without proper scrutiny.”
His concerns are shared by Lady Hale, former president of the supreme court, who says parliament “surrendered” its role over emergency laws restricting freedoms amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the same vein, FT columnist and lawyer David Allen Green criticised courts’ deference to the executive during emergencies for “leaving those adversely affected with no remedy.” So far, the UK has avoided a constitutional crisis, he writes. But the pandemic has revealed, more than ever, that “the constitution of the country is in a damaged and precarious condition.”
Emergency measures were viewed as necessary when the nation was first trying to survive the virus. Now, as we learn to live with it in the long-term, resistance to those measures is on the rise.
In the Courts
With the UK courts in recess, there are very few reported judgments this week. However, there are some noteworthy judgments from the European Court of Human Rights:
Kotilainen and Others v. Finland  ECHR 635: this case concerned complaints about failures by Finnish authorities to protect the lives of the ten victims of a 2008 school shooting in the town of Kauhajoki. The ECHR held, by six votes to one, that there had been a violation of article 2 (right to life) due to the authorities’ failure to observe their duty of due diligence and seize the killer’s weapon before the attack. The police had seen post online by the shooter and interviewed him prior to the attack, but decided against confiscating his weapon. Unanimously, however, there had been no violation of article 2 over the investigation after the attack. Judge Eicke expressed a dissenting opinion.
Grubnyk v. Ukraine  ECHR 636: this case concerned a Ukrainian national who was arrested and detained in connection with a series of terrorist attacks at a time of great tension in Odessa. He claimed he had been arrested without a prior court decision, without being given reasons, and without the option of bail due to the nature of his offences. The court unanimously found that there had been no violation of articles 5(2) and (3) (right to liberty and security), two violations of article 5(1), and a violation of article 6(2) because his initial pre-trial detention order stated he was guilty of a “grave offence” before he had been convicted of one. The ECHR considered that the finding of violations constituted in itself sufficient just satisfaction for any non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicant.
Aggerholm v. Denmark  ECHR 628: the applicant, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and had violent tendencies, was strapped to a restraint bed for almost twenty-three hours in a psychiatric hospital. The ECHR held that this was not strictly necessary and not respectful of his human dignity, and therefore that there had been a violation of article 3, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The applicant was awarded damages and costs.
On the UKHRB
In the latest episode of Law Pod UK, Professor Catherine Barnard of Cambridge University comments on the transition period towards Brexit since we formally left the EU.
Euan Lynch focuses on the Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian’s comments in a recent case, which cast doubt on the existence of a common law right to privacy in Scotland.
Dr Sean Molloy criticises the UK Government’s decision to propose the controversial UK Internal Market Bill, and sets out a number of reasons why it ought not flout international law.
David Hart QC outlines proceedings recently started in the ECHR by six Portuguese citizens against 33 Council of Europe countries for failing to address climate change.
Rafe Jennings summarises the CJEU’s ruling, in a first for the regulation, that zero tariff contracts contravene net neutrality regulations.
On 30 July 2020, the Crown Prosecution Service published its performance statistics on sexual violence cases for the year 2019-20, which vindicate long-held concerns about the “damning” number of cases being lost amid “under-resourced” investigations.
In a recent report entitled “It Still Happens Here”, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and the anti-slavery charity Justice and Care have found a rise in incidents of domestic slavery, and warned that the problem is likely to intensify in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.
Together with anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to dominate the news. Two recently published reports have highlighted flaws in the government’s response in relation to the provision of social security and domestic abuse support during the crisis.
This afternoon, health secretary Matt Hancock made a statement in the Commons updating the house on the government’s response to the crisis.
The health secretary announced that anyone in the UK aged five and over who has coronavirus symptoms will be eligible for a test. From today, recognised symptoms include the loss of smell and taste, as well a persistent cough and a high temperature. Hancock confirmed for the first time that the government has recruited over 21,000 contact tracers, including 7,500 health care professionals, to manually trace and get in contact with anyone who has tested positive.
In addition, he offered a degree of clarification in relation to the government’s new contact tracing app. The function of the app is to alert people of the need to self-isolate if they have come into proximity with an individual who reported coronavirus symptoms.
Two jury trials will resume at the Old Bailey this week in the first steps toward Crown court cases restarting around the country. It has been almost two months since jury trials were suspended on 23 March amid coronavirus lockdown measures.
In his announcement, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, began by affirming that “the practice of trial by jury sits at the heart of our criminal justice system.” In contrast, the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, began his statement with a more equivocal comment about a well-functioning justice system being the hallmark of a healthy democracy.
In the past week, Covid-19 has once again dominated the news, effectively occluding all other topics. Given that Monday evening saw leaders including Emmanuel Macron, Michel Barnier, Donald Trump and Sir Keir Starmer expressing their hopes for Boris Johnson’s swift recovery after his sudden removal to intensive care, this dominance does not seem disproportionate.
Faced with mounting criticism of his reluctance to impose restrictions on British society in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, this evening Boris Johnson ratcheted up Britain’s response by announcing a strict lockdown across the country. His address to the nation is available in full here.
The intersection between technology and human rights is growing exponentially. In places, the growth is immensely productive. The internet has become integral to how we communicate in moments of historic crisis and transformation. Social networks have played a complex and contradictory role in pivotal episodes from the Arab Spring to #MeToo. For more than three billion people, the internet directly facilitates access to news and information, religion and politics, markets and trade, and even justice. In this country, half the population gets their news from social media. In 2016, a report from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the internet to be a basic human right. This blog post is itself both byproduct and contributor to the phenomenon.
Civil liberties groups have responded with opprobrium to the Metropolitan Police’s plan to begin using live facial recognition (LFR) cameras on London’s streets as of next month. Purportedly, the Met’s technology compares the structure of faces to those recorded in a database of suspects, and alerts officers on the scene if a match is found. If no alert is generated, the image is deleted. The Met has claimed that the system is 70% effective at spotting wanted suspects and only produced a false identification in one in a thousand cases. In addition, it claimed 80% of people surveyed backed the move.
A year of disruption, disappointment, contention and uncertainty is finally drawing to a close. On 19 December, with Christmas around the corner, the country got a hint of what 2020 might bring. The Queen’s Speech, in which the new Conservative government laid out its legislative priorities for the year to come, included more than 30 bills the government hopes to turn into law.
The debate about the proper role of judges in our democracy has taken on the shape of the political landscape in which we find ourselves: pitched between two distant poles. Lord Sumption’s Reith lectures put forward the thesis that the courts have been getting more powerful while politics has been getting less powerful; he criticises this perceived shift, holding that while ‘law has its own competing claim to legitimacy … it is no substitute for politics’. Lady Hale’s recent response rejected ‘the suggestion that judicial processes are not also democratic processes,’ proffering instead the view that the courts have been, and must go on, ‘doing their job — the job which Parliament has given them or which the common law has expected of them for centuries’. Brexit, the polarising problem which has been pushing judges into the public eye recently, seems also to have pushed them into expressing starkly opposite points of view.
Given the vast, intricate, all-consuming issue that gave rise to the debate, it is interesting that both Lord Sumption and Lady Hale begin by centring their arguments on an acutely intimate issue. Lord Sumption singles out the case of Charlie Gard as an example of ‘law’s expanding empire’. He argues that the High Court’s intervention into the baby’s treatment illustrates an increasing tendency of the law to limit individual autonomy, even in cases where the exercise of that autonomy does no harm to others, and there is no consensus as to its morality. After making it clear that she will not be addressing the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the prorogation of Parliament, Lady Hale tackles this argument at once. Citing the decision of the High Court in the case of Tafida Raqeeb earlier this month, she argues that far from judicial over-reach, these cases simply illustrate the courts doing their job well: ‘resolving disputes according to clear legal standards in the light of all the available evidence’. The distinction between the cases of Charlie Gard, Alfie Evans and Isaiah Haastrup, in which doctors were allowed to withdraw life support, and Tafida’s case, in which her parents were permitted to transfer the child to Italy for treatment, was that the evidence as to her prognosis, awareness and pain level was less clear cut. Mr Justice MacDonald acknowledged that the decision as to her medical best interests was made on ‘a fine balance’.
The verdict is in. The Supreme Court has unanimously held that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament until October 14 was ‘unlawful, void and of no effect’, since it had the effect of frustrating Parliament. As such, the prorogation was itself void.
Rumours of a coming parliamentary coup to avoid a no-deal outcome rumble on, prompting the usual range of responses.
Speaking at the G7 summit in Biarritz on Sunday, Boris Johnson stated that Britain can ‘easily cope’ with a no-deal Brexit. The Prime Minister ascribed sole responsibility for whether or not Britain crashed out of the European Union on 31 October to ‘our EU friends and partners’, while Brussels officials asserted that it was ‘squarely and firmly’ up to Britain to find a solution to the Irish border issue. His comments come after a week in which Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron indicated their unwillingness to countenance reopening the withdrawal agreement, while Donald Trump promised a ‘very big trade deal’ between the United Kingdom and the United States once the country had freed itself from the ‘anchor’ of the EU.
Writing in the Times, Cambridge historian Robert Tombs argues that those who consider parliamentary resistance a legitimate expression of its sovereignty would ‘do untold damage to the institution they claim to defend’ by preventing the government from ‘[carrying] out a policy approved by the electorate’. In the Guardian, Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason covered the opposing view, outlining the key points in the six-page document prepared for Jeremy Corbyn by the shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti. The advice includes an assertion that Boris Johnson would be committing the ‘gravest abuse of power and attack on UK constitutional principle in living memory’ if he shuts down parliament to help force through a no-deal Brexit.
Earlier this week, the archbishop of Canterbury sparked criticism by Brexiteers, including former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, for reportedly meeting MPs with a view to chairing citizens’ assemblies to stop a no-deal departure from the EU. Today, Jeremy Corbyn met with the leaders of the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Green party and the Independent Group for Change and issued a joint statement agreeing to work together to avoid ‘a disastrous no-deal exit’.
A number of reports and warnings on working conditions for junior judges, the criminal justice system’s treatment of victims of sexual violence, and prison sentencing for individuals with mental health issues have been published this week.
The Criminal Bar Association has warned that junior judges are being put on what are in effect zero-hours contracts, as their working days have been slashed and requests are being made for them to sit at the bench at impossibly short notice. The Guardian’s legal affair correspondent Owen Bowcott attributes the worsening working conditions to ‘a fresh round of austerity’, noting that the Ministry of Justice has suffered deeper cuts than any other Whitehall department since 2010. Conversely, the MoJ insists that the reason for the change is that the number of cases going to court has fallen and therefore fewer recorders are required. Caroline Goodwin QC, vice-chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said: ‘Exactly how recorders are to fulfil their sitting obligations and maintain any real career progression simply beggars belief.’
Baroness Newlove, the outgoing victim’s commissioner for England and Wales, has warned in her annual report that there has been a ‘breakdown in confidence between victims of sexual violence and the criminal justice system’. She cited recent data that suggests fewer than 2% of victims of sexual assault will see their perpetrator convicted in the courts. Arguing that the criminal justice system had become a ‘hostile environment’ for victims, Newlove called for them to be offered free legal advice before consenting to handing over their phones or personal records, expressed concern over defence barristers cross-examining victims on their previous sexual history, and echoed Sir John Gillen’s call for a ‘large-scale publicity campaign and training for juries’ to counteract rape myths and stereotyping.
In the Guardian, Fern Champion, a survivor of sexual violence who is campaigning to ensure access to specialist counselling services, observed that rape crisis centres and services are being forced to turn thousands of women away because high demand and long-term underfunding have resulted in waiting lists as long as 14 months. She expressed concern that the Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt demonstrate ‘clear inability to understand’ the extent and severity of the crisis. In the same paper, Emily Reynolds called for a duty to be imposed on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Ten years since the publication of the landmark Bradley Report, a new report by the Centre for Mental Health has recommended further change to ensure that people who suffer from mental ill-health and addictions are not sent to prison when alternatives are more effective. The report finds too many people are sentenced to short prison sentences without any pre-sentence report on their needs, and recommends that Liaison and Diversion services should be resourced to enable effective screening of all those who come into police custody or attend voluntarily.
In Other News
China, North Korea and Hong Kong have been in the headlines this week for a number of diplomatic developments which engage human rights issues.
At the G20, President Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to restart trade talks, with the US president saying he would not impose threatened tariffs on Chinese goods, and indicating his readiness to lift a ban on American companies selling components to Huawei. Writing in the Times, Philip Sherwell observed that the American president ‘seemed most at ease among authoritarians’ and deflected questions about human rights abuses in Russia and Saudi Arabia.
An impromptu early morning tweet at the G20 led to President Trump becoming the first United States leader to enter North Korea, during a hastily arranged meeting with Kim Jong-un at the border with South Korea. The two men then crossed the border to greet the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. Four months after the failure of Trump and Kim’s last summit in Vietnam, the three leaders talked for just under an hour before announcing that teams of North Korean and US diplomats will resume negotiations on denuclearisation. Kim stated that the meeting indicates an intention to ‘bring an end to the unpleasant past and build a new future’, while Trump said it would ‘start a process and we will see what happens’, and Moon characterised it as ‘a significant milestone in the peace process on the Korean peninsula’.
Responses have been mixed. Professor Robert Kelly of South Korea’s Pusan National University derided the meeting as a ‘photo op for the 2020 election’ driven by Trump’s ‘lust for optics and drama rather than substance’. Taking a similar tone, Victor Cha, a former American negotiator with North Korea, said ‘theatrics are no substitute for denuclearisation’. In contrast, Pope Francis praised the meeting as a ‘good example of the culture of encounter’.
In the Times, Richard Lloyd Parry observed that the ‘gaping divide’ between the ideology of the two sides could render ‘Mr Trump’s hop across the border’ meaningless: ’Kim does not want western style capitalism, because of the danger that it would unlock unrest in his cowed and isolated population’. As with Trump and Kim’s February summit, there was no discussion of North Korea’s woeful record of ‘systemic, widespread and grave human rights violations’, in the words of a 2014 UN Report into conditions in the country.
In Hong Kong, around two million people marched to demand the resignation of leader Carrie Lam a day after she pulled back from a bitterly unpopular proposed law that would allow extradition to China. Lam’s apologises and offers to ‘postpone’ the measure did little to settle public outcry against the bill, which could allow China to exert more influence in Hong Kong to silence critics, undermine civic discourse, and erode the independence of the judiciary.
In the Courts
In Z & Aanor, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Hackney & Anor  EWCA Civ 1099, the Court of Appeal unanimously rejected an appeal against a Divisional Court ruling that the Agudas Israel Housing Association’s arrangements for the allocation of social housing, which are currently allocated only to members of the Orthodox Jewish community, were lawful. In his judgement, Lord Justice Lewison pointed with approval to Hackney’s evidence that ‘AIHA’s allocation arrangements are valuable for the purpose of alleviating high levels of child poverty in the Orthodox Jewish community’.
In Lawson, Mottram and Hopton, Re (appointment of personal welfare deputies) (Rev 1)  EWCOP 22 Mr Justice Hayden identified a number of principles determining whether permission should be granted in applications for the appointment of personal welfare deputies. The three young people on whose behalf the applications were a non-verbal 24-year-old man with autism, epilepsy and severe learning difficulties; a 24-year-old woman with Down’s Syndrome and a learning disability; and a 20-year-old man with severe autism, requiring constant supervision. In his judgement, Mr Justice Hayden emphasised that the ‘defining principle’ of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 was the ‘recognition of the importance of human autonomy’ in the presumption set out at Section 1(2) that ‘a person person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity’.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.