Radical changes are afoot in Strasbourg. Protocol No. 15, whose outlines were agreed at the Brighton Conference of 2012, is primed for ratification, while at the start of 2014, new Rules of Court will come into effect. Both have the potential to have a wide-ranging impact on applicants. Protocol 15 rewrites the Convention’s preamble, emphasising the Court’s “subsidiary” role in the protection of human rights.
It also modifies two of the admissibility criteria for petitions, pairing back the safeguard clauses initially erected around Protocol 14’s new criteria of “no significant disadvantage” and trimming the time available for applicants to lodge their cases from six months to four.
Rhubarb, rhubarb. Another defeat for the United Kingdom in Strasbourg yesterday. In James, Wells and Lee v. the United Kingdom, a chamber of the Court’s Fourth Section held that indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection infringed Article 5 of the Convention. At his first Justice Questions in the House of Commons yesterday, our fresh-minted Conservative Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, advised MPs that:
“I’m very disappointed with the ECHR decision this morning. I have to say, it is not an area where I welcome the Court, seeking to make rulings. It is something we intend to appeal.”
One wonders which areas Mr Grayling would welcome the Court’s jurisdiction, but all in all, a somewhat tepid response from a man whose appointment was greeted by the Daily Mail with the enthusiastic suggestion that Grayling…
“… unlike his predecessor Ken Clarke, will have no truck with the cardboard judges at the European Court of Human Rights.”
“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for the want of a shoe the horse was lost, for the want of a horse, the rider was lost, for the want of a rider, the message was lost, for the want of the message, the battle was lost, for the want of the battle, the kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a horse shoe nail”.
A proverbial lesson in causation, and one pressed into service by Lady Smith in the Court of Session in Scotland last week, in a judgment rejecting the judicial review petition of two Catholic midwives employed at a major Glasgow hospital.
Seeking review of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board’s rejection of their grievances, the pair contended that the conscientious objection provisions of the Abortion Act 1967 – which provides that “no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection” – was not limited to ‘direct’ participation in abortions, but entitled them to refuse to delegate to, supervise or support staff on their labour ward who were directly involved in medical terminations. Horse shoe nail.
Cameron v. Procurator Fiscal  ScotHC HCJAC_19 – Read judgment
Amongst Scots lawyers, few judicial observations are more notorious than those uttered by Lord Cranworth in the House of Lords in Bartonshill Coal Co v Reid in 1858. “If such be the law of England,” he said, “on what ground can it be argued not to be the law of Scotland?” Today, in a United Kingdom further complicated by the asymmetric devolution of the 1990s, it isn’t unusual to encounter a Cranworthy combination of perplexity and indifference amongst English lawyers when it comes to the structure and implications of devolution elsewhere in these islands.
On one level, this is perfectly understandable. Devolution is a matter for the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scots, the proposition runs. Let them get on with it. For those of us interested in the developing constitution, human rights and judicial review, weary of re-reading hand-me-down copies of Dicey, this inattention is to be regretted. The emerging body of litigation around devolution, and the powers of devolved institutions, is producing some of the most interesting “constitutional” cases in Britain today.
Marie-Bénédicte Dembour calls them ‘forgotten cases’. As Adam Wagner demonstrated in a blog post of last week, Eurosceptic newspapers have a particular interest in overlooking the European Court of Human Right’s decisions of inadmissibility, seeking to buttress claims that the Court is wildly interventionist, imposing alien “European” logics on Britain with gleeful abandon.
Both the Telegraph and Daily Mailcovered the findings of a report commissioned by backbench Tory MPs critical of the Court’s jurisdiction, both simply replicating its astonishingly misleading content. The papers contended that the UK was defeated in three in four cases brought against it, with violations of the Convention being found in 75% of human right petitions to Strasbourg.
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