The Weekly Round-up: The Illegal Migration Bill, Sanctions against gender-based violence, and Legal Aid eligibility
14 March 2023
In the news
The Illegal Migration Bill has been presented in parliament and published. The bill has sparked extensive legal discussion over potential issues of compatibility with the European Convention of Human Rights. Indeed, the government stated their wish to proceed with the bill in the absence of being able to make a statement of convention rights compatibility under s.19(1)(a) Human Rights Act 1998. This in conjunction with Suella Braverman’s widely quoted statement that this “does not mean the provisions in the bill are incompatible with convention rights, only that there is a more than 50 per cent chance that they may not be”, has been less than reassuring and many anticipate future challenges under the ECHR. Human Rights Watch have gone as far as to state that the bill is “unworkable”.
The Home Office and Department for Education have been threatened with legal action if they fail to stop housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels on the basis that this fails to ensure crucial protection and scrutiny over children’s welfare. Meanwhile, 21 London borough councils have signed a letter to the home secretary regarding the treatment of asylum seekers and urging the government to overturn their hotel policy and establish alternative placement options.
In other news
Sanctions are increasingly being used by the UK and EU to tackle international gender-based violence. As part of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s Women and Girl’s strategy, and on International Women’s Day, the UK announced sanctions against 1 entity and 4 individuals including military figures and government institutions. This adds to a previous set of designations announced in December 2022, as well as similar sanctions imposed by the EU to target perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence.
The Data Protection and Digital Information (No 2) Bill was also introduced to parliament this week. It includes changes to definitions of personal data as well as proposing a broader definition of “scientific research purposes” which could expand the contexts in which personal data can be processed. A useful analysis of the bill can be found here.
In the courts
The High Court has found in favour of a mother who brought proceedings against the Ministry of Justice over a legal aid dispute. She had been refused legal aid funding when trying to enforce a child custody agreement because her abusive ex-partner had limited her access to her son. The legal aid agency had denied funding on the basis that her son was not living with her and therefore not a dependant. The court held that the Ministry of Justice’s guidance stipulating that a child could only be a member of one household was unlawful. This decision requires the Ministry of Justice to adjust their guidance to expand the scope of legal aid funding.
Climate activists who protested as part of an Insulate Britain campaign have recently been imprisoned for contempt of court. This was due to having explained their motivation for protesting to the juries, contrary to the judge’s direction. The court’s restrictive approach on expressing such motivation has sparked discussion about the limits of freedom of expression.
In a separate context, freedom of speech issues are raised following a decision by the Leeds Magistrates Court to quash preacher Mr McConnell’s conviction for causing harassment, alarm or distress by publicly misgendering a transgender woman. Mr McConnell defended his statements on the basis that he had “stayed true to God and true to [his] beliefs.” The judge declared that free speech “is important and vital” and that the court were not there “to opine on whether or not the appellant’s views on the Bible are correct or misplaced.”
The European Court of Human Rights have held that there was a violation of the right to respect private and family life (Article 8, ECHR) as well as violation of the limitation on the use of restrictions of rights (Article 18, ECHR) in the case of Kogan and Others v Russia. The case concerned a Government procedure for revoking a residence permit that had been issued to a US-national human-rights activist. It was held that this revocation was aimed at punishing human-rights activities and therefore unlawful.