From 26 December new Covid rules came into effect in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. All three nations have limited the size of public events and face coverings are compulsory in most indoor public spaces. Covid passports or proof of a negative test result is required at many venues. Nightclubs will close in Wales and Scotland from 27 December and in Northern Ireland from 26 December. People in Scotland are also advised to limit social contact to two other households and in Wales social distancing of 2 metres is required in all public and work spaces.
The only change to the current Covid guidance for England is the reduction of Covid self-isolation time from 10 to seven days, provided people have two negative test results. Face masks remain compulsory in most indoor public venues and a Covid passport or negative test result is required for nightclubs and some other venues.
A spokesman for the Taliban has said that working women must stay at home for their own safety as “a very temporary procedure” until systems are in place to ensure their safety. The spokesman also told Afghans not to go to Kabul airport and said the US should not encourage them to leave Afghanistan.
Last week, the former head of religious police for the Taliban confirmed that punishments such as execution and amputation would return to Afghanistan. Prior to the takeover of Kabul, a Taliban judge told the BBC that Sharia law was clear and included punishments of 100 lashes in public for sex out of marriage, being stoned to death for adultery, and “[f]or those who steal: if it’s proved, then his hand should be cut off.”
On Saturday it was reported that the Taliban hung the bodies of four alleged kidnappers from cranes in Herat city square, before moving them to other areas of the city for public display. An unidentified Taliban commander said the aim was “to alert all criminals that they are not safe”.
On 15 August the Taliban took control of Kabul, following the collapse of the Afghan government and its President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country. In a news conference, a Taliban spokesman said women would be allowed to work and have rights “within the framework of Islam”. The Taliban also said it wanted women to join its government, but precise laws are as yet undefined and there have been reports of women in some areas being removed from their workplaces and told their jobs will go to men. Since the takeover, however, female presenters have returned to some television channels and “most, though not all, girls’ schools have remained open or are reopening”.
The fall of Kabul came after weeks of rapidly growing Taliban control across the nation, which followed a US-Taliban peace deal in April committing to US and NATO allies, including the UK, fully withdrawing from Afghanistan by 11 September. On 13 August the UK government announced plans to evacuate British Nationals and former British staff eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP). ARAP came into effect on 1 April 2021 as a programme to relocate “current and former local staff in Afghanistan, including interpreters and their immediate families.” Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “proud to say that the UK is fulfilling its promise to those Afghan interpreters and other locally employed staff”, and that it was “our moral obligation to recognise the risks they have faced…” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the government would do its best to evacuate all people eligible but admitted with clear regret that “some people won’t get back”.
For those that that do make it out, their futures are far from certain as the Home Office is reportedly struggling to provide suitable accommodation for refugees. On 18 August a 5-year-old Afghan boy fell from a hotel window, less than a fortnight after arriving in the UK with his family under the ARAP programme. There had reportedly been some concerns about the safety of the hotel windows and the housing group Mears had left the hotel some months ago due to safety concerns.
Monday was England’s so-called ‘Freedom Day’, with the final coronavirus restrictions lifted. This means nightclubs can reopen; bars are no longer table service only; there are no more limits on attendee numbers at large events; and it is no longer mandatory to wear face coverings in public spaces, although the recommendation to do so remains. It also remains a legal obligation to self-isolate if contacted to do so by NHS Test and Trace, although it is not mandatory to download the NHS Covid-19 app, or to self-isolated if ‘pinged’ by it (i.e. alerted by the app to self-isolate). NHS Test and Trace contacts people who have been named by a positive-testing person as a close contact and are legally obliged to self-isolate or face fines from £1000 for failing to comply. By contrast, the Covid-19 app works by using Bluetooth to ‘ping’ people who may have come into close contact with a covid-positive person. A resulting ‘pingdimic’ has led to concerns about keyworker staff shortages leading to a hospital understaffing and potential supermarket food shortages. Frontline health workers can be exempt from self-isolation in exceptional circumstances, as can other keyworkers if their employers apply for and receive government authorisation specific to a named worker. From August 16th anyone who has had both vaccination doses will not need to self-isolate as a close contact.
Civil liberties organisation Liberty has expressed concerns that so-called “Freedom Day” is in fact “a moment of fear and division”. The organisation has criticised the Government for its “divisive, coercive strategies”, among which it includes “vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations”. Vaccine passports in particular are condemned as “a step towards a two-tier society”. Despite these concerns, the organisation also expresses a worry that lifting restrictions has “serious implications” for the rights of frontline workers and the clinically vulnerable”.
In other news:
On Wednesday, the government published its Judicial Review and Courts Bill following an Independent Review of Administrative Law and a government consultation. The Bill seeks to “reform the rules around Judicial Review and facilitate a number of procedural improvements across the court system”. One of the reforms proposed is to remove Cart Judicial Reviews, which are High Court reviews of an Upper Tribunal’s refusal to grant permission to appeal. An “unprecedented” coalition of over 220 organisations, including Amnesty International UK, Greenpeace, Refugee Action and Stonewall, has criticised the Bill and proposed changes to the Human Rights Act.
On Friday the 2020 Summer Olympics began with an opening ceremony of dancers and acrobats performing to a near-empty stadium. Outside, protesters clashed with Tokyo police as Japanese citizens showed their anger at the games continuing to be held amidst the fourth declaration of an official state of emergency in Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic. In nine prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka, residents have been asked to go out for essential reasons only. In the week the Games began Japan saw numbers of Covid-19 cases not seen since January.
On Saturday the first ever “Reclaim Pride” march took place in London, with thousands taking to the streets to demand inclusive LGBTI+ rights. The event was organised amidst concerns that traditional Pride events (like London Pride, this year postponed to 11 September) are becoming less like protests and more like “over-commercialised parties”.
In the Courts:
Royal Mail Group Ltd v Efobi  UKSC 33 – the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed an appeal from Mr Efobi, a postman for the Respondent, Royal Mail. The Appellant’s claim in the employment tribunal for direct or indirect racial discrimination was dismissed but the decision was overturned on appeal to the EAT. The Court of Appeal then reversed the decision in favour of Royal Mail and Mr Efobi was granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Efobi argued (i) that a change in the wording of equality legislation from “where … the complainant proves facts” to “if there are facts from which the court could decide” removed the burden on the claimant to prove anything at the first stage of employment discrimination cases, and (ii) that the EAT should have drawn adverse inferences from the absence of a potential witnesses for the Respondent Royal Mail. The appeal was dismissed on the grounds that (i) the new wording simply clarifies that evidence from both parties must be considered, not only that of the claimant and (ii) tribunals are free to draw or decline to draw inferences using common sense. Furthermore, even if adverse inferences were drawn, the recruiter’s knowledge of Mr Efobi’s race was by itself insufficient evidence of racial discrimination.
Secretary of State for the Home Department v GA & Ors  EWCA Civ 1131 –the Respondent had applied for British passports for three of her children (British citizens living in Country X) from Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO), for which the Appellant is responsible. HMPO refused the applications for lack of evidence of the consent of a person with parental responsibility under the law of Country X. HMPO considered that person to be the children’s father alone. It was unsafe or impossible for the mother to obtain the father’s consent, as he had been arrested following “months of extremely serious physical and psychological abuse including torture of me.” A declaration signed by the father that he had no objection to his children travelling abroad with their mother was not accepted by HMPO as permission to grant British passports. HMPO’s passport refusal was quashed in a judicial review claim because: (i) there was no evidence to conclude that the father had to consent under the law of Country X; (ii) HMPO failed to consider the application of Article 22 of the 1996 Hague Convention; and (iii) Article 22 did apply and HMPO was entitled to refuse to apply the law of Country X. Article 22 allows the dis-application of an applicable law provision if it would be contrary to public policy, considering the best interests of the child. The Court of Appeal upheld the quashing order and refused the Appellant’s argument that HMPO was not obliged to consider, and should not have considered, Article 22. It also rejected the argument that HMPO should have asked the father alone for his consent, on the basis that the Country Profile for Country X suggested it allocates sole parental responsibility to the father. The Country Profile was insufficient evidence to conclude in this specific case that the mother had no authority to apply for British passports. Furthermore, upholding this law of Country X would be contrary to ECHR Articles 14 and 8, as it discriminates based on sex. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed and permission to appeal was refused.
The High Court has ruled in McNally v Saunders that a retired solicitor’s ‘abrasive’ and ‘frequently puerile’ blog posts are entitled to the same level of protection as mainstream journalism. Chamberlain J struck out a harassment claim brought by a local government officer as having no reasonable prospect of success and has granted summary judgment for the defendant under CPR rule 24.2. The claim was brought under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 by Dr Lisa McNally, MBC Sandwell’s director of public health and a mental health campaigner. McNally was the subject of five blog posts, criticising her decision to post a two-minute video about her own struggle with mental health and questioning her qualifications. She said the posts had caused her ‘crippling’ anxiety about attending meetings and made her worry about her ability to do her job. Given that Saunder’s posts’ were ’frequently puerile tone and style, a casual reader… might be surprised to discover that they are the work of a semi-retired former solicitor,’ the judge said. However ’none of these features disentitles them to the protections afforded by the law to journalistic expression.’ The public interest in McNally being able to continue in her role was outweighed by Saunders’ Article 10 right to free expression.
Johnson’s promise to support the LGBTQ+ community also came after the first meeting of the Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum, a group of lawyers, academics, cross-party MPs and campaigners, chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy. The group released a statement advising the government that the “best way of banning conversion therapy is by using a combination of both civil and criminal remedies” and that the legislation “must be human rights compliant”, prioritising the rights of victims and potential victims. The Forum acknowledged a ban might impact certain other rights including freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, but said the harm caused to LGBTQ+ people, which “amounts to degrading and inhuman treatment”, justified a proportionate restriction of those rights.
In other news:
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and the Constitution released a report on its independent inquiry into whether the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were respected in the policing of the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard on 13 March and the “Kill the Bill” protests in Bristol from 26-29 March. The report, published 1 July, found that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the Avon and Somerset Constabulary (A&SC) “failed to understand the nature of the right to protest and how it must be applied in practice” and that their use of power “exacerbated tensions and increased the risk of violence”. The APPG recommended a new statutory code for the right to protest and policing of protests; removing clauses 55-61 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill; and a consultation on the creation of an Independent Protest Commission.
People aged 42 and over are now able to book their Covid-19 vaccines, joining the more than 33.8 million people in the UK who have received their first dose. The news comes as the Joint Committee on Human Rights called for a review of all fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for lockdown breaches and called the system “muddled, discriminatory and unfair”. The committee chair, Harriet Harman MP, said the “lack of legal clarity” meant an unfair system which “disproportionately hits the less well-off and criminalises the poor over the better off”. The report highlighted concerns about FPN validity, an inadequate review and appeals process, the size of penalties and the criminalisation of those unable to pay. A CPS review found that 27% of coronavirus-related prosecutions that reached open court in February were incorrectly charged. The lack of an adequate means to seek review of an FPN, other than through criminal prosecution, significantly increases the risk that human rights breaches will not be remedied, according to the committee. The importance of ECHR Articles 7 and 8 (no punishment without law and right to family and private life, respectively) was highlighted in particular.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International released its 2020/21 report on the state of the world’s human rights. Amnesty’s UK director, Kate Allen, also called for an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic and said “the government is now shamefully trying to strip away our right to lawfully challenge its decisions, no matter how poor they are.” The report highlighted human rights concerns related to the government’s response to COVID-19, including health, immigration, domestic abuse and housing. There were also concerns around police conduct around racial discrimination and excessive use of force against protesters; during the first national lockdown in May, 10,000 of 43,644 recorded stop and searches conducted against young black men. Several legal developments were criticised for falling short of human rights standards, including the Immigration Act, the Gender Recognition Act, the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which would create a “presumption against prosecution” for members of the British Army accused of overseas crimes, including torture, committed more than five years earlier.
On Monday the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 came into force, allowing the Attorney General, Suella Braverman QC, to be the first minister to take maternity leave. The Act grants cabinet ministers six months’ maternity leave whilst retaining their government post, whereas in the past MPs would have to resign to take time off to give birth. The Act is not without its critics, including those saying it should apply to MPs outside the Cabinet, and include provisions for paternity, adoption and shared parental leave. There was also heated debate in the Lords on the gender-neutral phrasing of the original Bill, with the Lords voting to replace ‘person’ with ‘mother’ in the final Act, despite its potential exclusion of trans and non-binary people.
A new offence of non-fatal strangulation has been included in the Domestic Abuse Bill following a campaign by the Centre for Women’s Justice, other organisations and the Victims’ and Domestic Abuse Commissioners. The Bill is passing through the House of Lords and now includes the offence of intentionally strangling another person or otherwise affecting their ability to breathe. Currently perpetrators are usually charged with common assault, with a maximum of just six months in jail. The Bill also includes amendments strengthening the laws on ‘revenge porn’, making it an offence to threaten to share intimate images of a person with the intention to cause distress, and extends the coercive control offence to situations where perpetrators and victims do not live together. The Victims’ and Domestic Abuse Commissioners welcomed the amendments but urged the Government to go further in creating a defence for people who commit offences due to domestic abuse.
On Friday the Women and Equalities Committee published the Government’s response to its report on the impact of coronavirus on BAME people, in relation to inequalities in health, employment, universal credit, housing, and the no recourse to public funds policy. The Committee’s inquiry found that comorbidities in BAME people place them at risk of experiencing coronavirus more severely and with graver health outcomes. Specific risks to BAME people include difficulty in accessing Government guidance, the disproportionate impact on BAME people of zero-hour contracts and being denied furlough, difficulties in applying for Universal Credit, and overcrowded housing due to housing inequality.
The Department of Health and Social Care on Friday published new guidance for care homes and visitors, to take effect on 8 March. This is not a change in the law, as visits to care homes have never been unlawful, but the new guidance sets out the government’s advice on safe visiting practices. This is that:
The week began with the first Opposition Day of 2021, with Labour choosing to put council tax and employment rights centre of the Parliamentary stage. This followed an admission last week by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng that the government was reviewing certain workers’ rights which had been saved post-Brexit as retained EU employment law. Responding to allegations that the government planned to scrap the 48-hour maximum work week and change the rules around rest breaks and holiday pay calculation, he tweeted ‘[w]e are not going to lower the standards of workers’ rights’. During the Opposition Day Debate Mr Kwarteng confirmed the review was no longer happening and that the government would not row back on the 48-hour work week, annual leave entitlement or rest breaks at work.
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