In a new report on the much-delayed Counter-Extremism Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has concluded that the proposed legislation is confusing, unnecessary, and likely to be counter-productive.
Though first announced by the Government in the Queen’s Speech in May 2015, the Bill itself has yet to appear. The JCHR report is a result of what was in effect a pre-legislative scrutiny inquiry into the Government’s proposals, due to the Committee’s concerns that it would be likely to raise significant human rights concerns, specifically where Articles 9 (freedom of religion), 10 (freedom of expression) and 11 (freedom of association) are concerned.
Five key problems which the report has identified are:
No clear definition of extremism – The Counter-Extremism Strategy, launched in October 2015 (previously covered here) defines extremism as the “vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs”. This is currently too vague to be workable as a legislative definition. There is neither a consensus on the meaning of “extremism” nor “British values”. The extent to which a lack of mutual respect and tolerance towards different faiths and beliefs will be unlawful is likely to be particularly contentious.
Discrimination and religious freedom – The difficulty here is twofold. Measures which impact on those expressing religious conservatism would either operate indiscriminately against any religious conservatism which had no intention of inciting violence (including, for example, Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Evangelical Christianity), or would operate discriminately, specifically targeting Muslims and alienating the Muslim community.
The “escalator” approach – In trying to tackle extremism by placing restrictions on religious conservatism, the Government has wrongly assumed that violent jihadism necessarily follows from religious conservatism. Yet there is no proof that the two are correlated. The focus should rather be on extremism which leads to violence. Placing restrictions on religious conservatism amounts to suppressing views with which the Government disagree.
Conflicting duties on universities – Universities are under a duty to promote free speech under Section 202 of the Education Reform Act 1988, which provides that University Commissioners have a duty to ensure that academic staff have “freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions.” It is unclear how “controversial or unpopular opinions” will be differentiated from “vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values”, and therefore what will count as extremism.
The civil order regime – in the Queen’s speech in May 2016, a “new civil order regime” was mentioned, though with little detail. There is concern that ill-defined civil orders, breach of which would be a criminal offence, should not be used by the Government to avoid having to make a criminal case to a higher standard of proof, especially where a proper definition of the prohibited behaviour is lacking. It is likely that these orders may interfere with freedom of religion, expression and association.
The Committee concluded that the Government should not legislate, least of all in areas which impinge on human rights, unless there is a clear gap in the existing legal framework for terrorism and public order offences. In their view, the Government has not been able to demonstrate that such a gap exists, and there is a danger that any new legislation would be counter-productive.
Turkey has told the Council of Europe that it wants to temporarily derogate from the human rights protections under the ECHR, due to the state of emergency in the country declared by President Erdogan last week. Emma Sinclair-Webb, Senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, writes that it is unclear whether the current situation meets the required “threat to the life of the nation” criterion for derogation, provided for under Article 15. Even if this criterion is met, derogation from certain Convention rights is not permitted, including the prohibition on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3), the right to life (Article 2); prohibition on slavery (Article 4(1)). Though Turkey has pointed to France’s state of emergency powers (extended after the Nice attack) to justify its own derogation, a state of emergency imposed where there are clear signs that the government is ready to crack down more broadly is an “alarming prospect”. Amnesty International has gathered evidence that detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings, torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centres in the country. Amnesty calls on Turkish authorities to allow international monitors to visit these places of detention.
A clause in the contracts of Deliveroo workers say that they are not allowed to take their grievances to an employment tribunal, and that if they do they must indemnify the company against all costs and expenses it incurs. Michael Newman, partner at Leigh Day, has said that the clause is likely to be unenforceable as they attempt to exclude or limit established employment rights, and imposed penalties. Deliveroo say that their contracts reflect the fact that riders are allowed to work flexibly on a freelance basis. Deliveroo joins several other companies in the spotlight for their use of self-employed workers, who do not receive the same rights as employees. A group of drivers are currently taking legal action against Uber, arguing that they should be entitled to the living wage, sick pay, and pensions. Uber is arguing that drivers are “partners”, not employees. It has also recently emerged that some workers for parcel firm Hermes have claimed that they earn as little as £5.50 an hour over some periods.
In the Courts
Foulon and Bouvet v France – Mr Didier Foulon and his daughter Emilie were the applicants in the first case. Mr Foulon is a French National and his daughter Emilie was born in Bombay, India. In the second case the applicants were Mr Philippe Bouvet, a French National, and his twin sons Adrien and Romain Bouvet, who were also born in Bombay. In both cases the applicants were unable to obtain recognition under French law of their biological affiliation. The French authorities were refusing to transcribe birth certificates issued in India, due to their use of Gestational Surrogacy Agreements (GPA) in India, which are unlawful in France. The Court de Cassation in both cases provided reasons for the refusal to transcribe the certificates, partly on the basis of fraude à la loi (evasion of the law) due to the conclusion of the unlawful GPA agreements. A violation of Article 8 was found (right to respect for private life) with respect to Emilie Foulon and Adrien and Romain Bouvet.
Shahanov and Palfreeman v Bulgaria – This case concerned the disciplinary punishments given to prisoners for complaining to the prison authorities about prison officers. Mr Nikolay Shahanov, a Bulgarian national, and Mr Jock Palfreeman, an Australian national, are serving a life sentence and a sentence of 20 years respectively in Bulgarian prisons. Mr Shahanov had made two written complaints to the Minster of Justice, in which he accused two prison officers of favouritism towards a prisoner because they were related. Mr Palfreeman had written to the governor of the prison alleging that unnamed prison officers were rude to two journalists who had visited him in prison and had stolen other visitors’ effects from lockers during their visit. Both were found guilty of making defamatory statements and false allegations about prison officers. Mr Shahanov was placed in solitary confinement for ten days and Mr Palfreeman was not allowed to receive food parcels for three months. A violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) was found in respect of both applicants.
The Justice Select Committee has found that steep rises in court fees are damaging access to justice. The report examines the recent and proposed changes to fees for court users in the civil and family courts and tribunals, including those introduced for employment tribunals and the proposed increase to asylum and immigration fees. The Committee, chaired by former barrister Bob Neill MP, raises serious concerns about the quality of the Ministry of Justice’s research into the impact of the fees, sharing the view expressed by the senior judiciary who gave evidence that it does not provide a sufficient basis to justify the proposals. Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, described the research as “lamentable”.
The Coalition Government over the course of the 2010-15 Parliament pursued policies aimed at decreasing the net cost to the public purse of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, by introducing and increasing various fees for court users. This included introducing fees for employment tribunals, the now extinct criminal courts charge, and a range of fees for civil proceedings, including “enhanced fees”, which are set at a level greater that the costs of the proceedings themselves. The pursuit and implementation of fees has been continued in the current Parliament. Continue reading →
The criminal justice system is “close to breaking point”, according to a report released by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week, Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System. The report finds that the criminal justice system is “bedevilled by long standing poor performance” including delays and inefficiencies, where costs are shunted from one part of the system to another.
Last year there was a backlog of 51,830 cases awaiting a hearing at the Crown Court. The average wait between a case leaving the Magistrates’ Court and reaching the Crown Court is 134 days, compared with 99 days two years ago. The “disjointed” nature of the system – which is administered by different parts of government with different budgets – results in decisions taken by one part increasing inefficiencies in another area. The service received by victims and witnesses is not good enough, and there are “unacceptable variations” in the length of time victims have to wait for access to justice in different areas of the country.
The report unequivocally concludes that the Ministry of Justice has been “too slow” to recognise that the system is under stress and to do anything about it. The MoJ has exhausted the scope to cut costs without pushing the system beyond breaking point – since 2010-11, the criminal justice system has suffered a massive 26% cut. Even if courts sit on all days in their allowance, there are still not enough judges to hear all the cases. Since the criminal bar has reduced in size as a result of reductions in legal aid spending, the CPS struggle to find counsel to prosecute cases.
Though the MoJ have developed an “ambitious” reform programme which aims to address the inefficiencies in the system, partly through digitising paper records and enabling flexible digital working, the PAC were told it would take four years to see the benefits. Court users should “not have to wait this long to see real change”, they say, noting that “Government does not have a good track record of delivering projects that involve significant changes to IT”. They recommend that the MoJ do more in the meantime by better sharing the small practical improvements introduced by hard-working staff in individual courts.
The Bar Council have said in response to the report that while it sends an “important message” to the Government, the proposed digitisation reforms are not enough to address the challenges faced by the system. The “precious asset” of Justice should be ring-fenced from cuts.
The Supreme Court last week upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal in finding that British expatriates of more than 15 years are not eligible to vote in the EU referendum on 23 June. Harry Shindler, 95, who has resided in Italy for 35 years, and Jacquelyn MacLennan, 54, who has lived in Belgium since 1987, had argued unsuccessfully that the 15-year rule contained in Section 2 of the EU Referendum Act 2015 was an unjustified restriction on their freedom of movement, in that it penalised them for exercising their right to move and reside in another Member State. Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, emphasised that the relevant question was not whether the voting exclusion was justifiable as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, but rather whether European Law applied at all, since only if it did was there any possibility of attacking an Act of Parliament. Assuming for the sake of argument that it did apply, the Supreme Court decided that it was not arguable that there was an interference with the right of free movement, for the reasons given by the Court of Appeal and Divisional Court. See David Hart QC’s previous post on the Court of Appeal decision here.
An inquest has found that police unlawfully detained a 22-year-old man with mental health issues who was later found hanged. Logan Peters had been held in an unauthorised headlock and illegally strip-searched by police who stopped him on suspicion of criminal damage at a takeaway. The inquest heard that whilst in his cell Mr Peters had battered the walls with his head and tried to strangle himself, but was considered “attention-seeking” rather than suicidal. There was no plan put in place for his care following his release. The panel concluded there were “errors, omissions, failures” in the way Mr Peters was seized on the street, finding that it was “extremely likely” that the events and the “unreasonable, disproportionate and unnecessary force used… had a negative impact on Logan’s physical and psychological well-being”. This follows several high profile failings by police to look after people with mental health issues whilst in custody, such as the death Sarah Reed at Holloway prison earlier this year and Sheldon Woodford at HMP Winchester in 2015.
In the Courts
IC v Romania – the inadequacy of the investigation into a young girl’s allegation of rape was a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment). A 14-year old girl with an intellectual disability had alleged that whilst at a wake she had been grabbed by three teenage boys who took her to a man, MC, waiting in the garden of a deserted building, who then raped her. Two other men were also present. During the police investigation the six men involved claimed the girl had consented to the intercourse. The prosecutor accepted this explanation, indicting MC only for sexual intercourse with a minor. The Court held that the authorities had put undue emphasis on the lack of proof that the girl had shown resistance during the incident. The prosecutors had based their conclusions on the statements given by the alleged rapists along with the fact that the girl’s body did not show any signs of violence and she had not called for help. The Romanian authorities had failed to give particular attention to IC’s intellectual disability, in light of which her ‘consent’ to the acts should have been analysed.
Biao v Denmark – The Court held in this case that Danish legislation on family reunion is discriminatory, finding a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life). The applicant was a naturalised Danish citizen of Togolese origin who complained that he and his Ghanaian wife could not settle in Denmark. The Danish authorities had refused to grant them family reunion on the basis that they did not fulfil the “attachment” requirement that they did not have stronger ties with another country – Ghana, in this case. They complained that an amendment to the legislation which lifted the “attachment requirement” for those who had held Danish citizenship for at least 28 years resulted in difference in treatment between those born Danish nationals and those who had acquired Danish citizenship later in life. The Court held that this rule favoured Danish nationals of Danish ethnic origin, and placed those who had acquired Danish citizenship later in life at a disadvantage.
Charlotte Bellamy brings you the latest human rights news
Children in privately-run youth detention centres are being seriously injured whilst being restrained by staff, according to a redacted Ministry of Justice report released to the Director of the children’s rights charity Article 39. The report focuses on four secure training centres (STCs) and two young offender institutions (YOIs) – the worst three of which are all run by G4S.
The report lists ‘restraints-gone-wrong’, where children were injured or suffered breathing difficulties in the process. Rainsbrook SCT – where teenager Gareth Myatt died in 2004 after choking on his own vomit while being restrained – had the highest number of incidents of serious injury. One child vomited from a prolonged restraint whilst being held in a seated position similar to the one used on Myatt. Government guidelines classify vomiting during restraint as a medical emergency.
Carolyne Willow, Director of Article 39, has been engaged in legal proceedings against the MoJ for access to an unredacted version of the manual ‘Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint’, published in 2012, which details the restraint techniques used in STCs and YOIs. However, the Upper Tribunal recently dismissed her appeal in Willow v Information Commissioner & Ministry of Justice , holding that disclosure of the information would threaten the good order and security of prisons, as inmates might develop countermeasures to the techniques. Willow had argued – unsuccessfully – that Article 3(1) of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child required a greater emphasis to be placed on the child’s interests when balancing them against the public interest (see the Panopticon Blog for further analysis).
It came to light last week that Medway SCT – the subject of a BBC Panorama exposé aired in January this year which showed G4S staff appearing to use excessive force on children – is to be taken over by the Ministry of Justice. Four members of staff had been arrested on charges of child neglect in relation to the allegations, following which G4S announced in February it was selling off the contracts to run Medway, Oakhill SCT, and 13 local authority children’s homes.
Andrew Neilson of the Howard League for Penal Reform had called at the time for SCTs to be shut down completely, calling them a “failed model”. The Ministry of Justice is due to announce the findings of the Independent Improvement Board set up by Michael Gove in response to the Medway allegations, which will detail the future of the centre.
A wider review is currently being conducted into youth justice by Charlie Taylor, former head teacher and child behavioural expert, the final report of which is expected in July. The interim findings (available here) recommend an overhaul of the youth custodial estate, replacing youth prisons with smaller secure schools focusing on education.
In addition to the polling day problems in Barnet, it seems that thousands of women living in safe houses and refuges after fleeing domestic violence may have been disenfranchised. Mehala Osborne, a mother-of-one living in a refuge in Bristol, found it impossible to register anonymously as she could not adduce the required evidence to prove her safety would be at risk if her name and address appeared on the register. She estimates that 70% of women in refuges in Bristol and possibly across the country could be in the same situation. The evidence required for Anonymous Voter Registration is a court order or the attestation of an “authorised person” – a Police Superintendent, a Director of Adult Social Services, or the Director General of the Security Services or National Crime Agency. For many in Osborne’s situation, who have fled their homes quickly, there is no time to source such authorisation. The right to vote is protected by Article 3 Protocol 1 ECHR which states that the UK will “hold free elections … under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”. Osborne suggests that refuge and safe house management staff ought to be included in the definition of an “authorised person”.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi last week told a US delegation that human rights in Egypt should not be viewed from a “Western perspective”. Though reportedly keen to emphasise his commitment to democracy, he explained that “differences in domestic and regional conditions” make it difficult to apply the same standards. 237 human rights protestors were arrested last week during a peaceful demonstration in Cairo against the el-Sisi regime, including two journalists – Mahmoud al-Sakka and Amr Badr, who work for the opposition website Bawabet Yanayer – for “spreading false news and endangering national security”. Amnesty International have described el-Sisi’s remarks as “deeply troubling”, saying that “he should stop making excuses … There’s nothing remotely ‘Western’ about basic human rights like the right not to suffer torture or to be able to speak freely without fear of arrest or imprisonment”.
Arthur Scargill, the former miners’ union president, has called for an inquiry into the conduct of the South Yorkshire Police at the 1984 ‘Battle of Orgreave’. Thousands of minors clashed with the South Yorkshire police at the coking plant near Rotherham during the year long minors’ strike of 1984-5. A redacted version of the Independent Police Complaints Commission report into Orgreave was released last year, but the Yorkshire Post has now reported that the redacted sections proved the same senior police officers were involved in the aftermath of Orgreave as Hillsborough. Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham recently said that the full truth of policing at Hillsborough would not be known until there is transparency over Orgreave.
An Italian court has ruled that the theft of a piece of cheese and a wurstel sausage by a homeless man was not a crime because he acted in “desperate and immediate need of nourishment”. Roman Ostriakov had been sentenced by a lower court in Genoa to six months in jail and €100 fine after being arrested for slipping the sausage and cheese into his pocket when buying breadsticks in the supermarket. The Court of Cassation finally found in his favour, after a three-part trial to determine whether the theft of the food (worth about £3.70) amounted to a crime or not, prompting some commentators to lambaste the country’s notoriously inefficient legal system. Others, however, have lauded the judgment as establishing a “sacrosanct principle” that a small theft out of hunger is not comparable to an act of delinquency, and as an act of humanity which showed that in Italy the right to survive trumps property rights – something which would be “blasphemy in America”.
In the Courts
Cerf v Turkey – The Court found a violation of the duty to conduct an effective investigation under the procedural aspect of Article 2 (right to life) into the suspicious death of the applicant’s husband. The applicant’s husband, Serf Cerf, a local politician, was shot outside a café in the town of Yüreğir in 1994 and died on the spot. In 2000, the authorities arrested a man (in the course of operations carried out against Hizbullah, an outlawed organisation in Turkey) who confessed to killing Mr Cerf. Despite criminal proceedings being initiated against him and four others in 2000, they were not concluded until 2009 and 2013. The Court considered the delays to be excessive and incompatible with the State’s obligation under Article 2, which requires proceedings to be initiated promptly and to proceed with reasonable expedition. The delays entailed the conclusion that the investigation had been ineffective.
Abdi Mahamud v Malta – violations of Article 3 and 5. This case concerned a female Somalian asylum seeker detained for more than 16 months in overcrowded conditions, with little privacy and limited access to outdoor exercise. All the care of detained women was carried out by male staff. Ms Mahamud had been detained in May 2012. A decision on her asylum application was not made until December 2012 (when it was rejected). In the meantime she had been frequently hospitalised due several medical conditions. She was interviewed for release on the grounds of ill-health in December 2012, but was not actually released until September 2013. The cumulative effect of the detention conditions was found by the Court to be a violation of Article 3 (degrading treatment); a violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) § 1 was found in respect of the length of both periods of detention (seven months pending the asylum decision and the rest pending her removal). The lack of available measure to challenge the lawfulness of her detention was a violation of Article 5 § 4.
Last week marked the beginning of the ten-week run-in to the EU referendum. With it came the Government’s obligation to publish a statutory report informing the electorate of precisely what rights and obligations arise for the UK as a result of EU membership – and this report appeared on Thursday. Continue reading →
Radovan Karadžić, the former Bosnian Serb leader, has been sentenced to 40 years in jail for genocide and war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Balkans war, including the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo, during which 13,952 people were killed. Despite the 70-year-old former leader’s insistence that his actions were aimed at protecting Serbs during the conflict, he was found guilty of 10 out of the 11 charges he faced, in a verdict delivered 18 months after the end of his five-year trial.
Karadžić had been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) which was established by the UN in 1993. He was on the run for the next 13 years, during which time he assumed the identity of ‘Dr Dragon Dabic’, a bearded health guru who lived openly in the Serbian capital. He was finally arrested in 2008 and handed over to the Hague by the Serbian government. Continue reading →
Amnesty describes the NCP as “totally failing in numerous ways”, with its complaint handling procedure being “inconsistent, unreliable and biased towards businesses” resulting in companies being let “off the hook”. The failures to investigate include allegations of serious abuse, such as claims that Vodafone, BT and others allowed GCHQ to access its networks for the mass interception of phone calls, emails and Facebook posts, which it shared with the US authorities under the Tempora program.
The all-party foreign affairs select committee is currently investigating whether the Foreign Office has downgraded its commitment to defending human rights in favour of trade. MPs on the committee decided to hold an enquiry after the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Simon McDonald, commented that human rights no longer had the same profile within his department that they had in the past.
A BIS spokesperson has said in response that their review process meets all the obligations under the OECD guidelines for trading and that there should be no suggestion the government is not committed to human rights.
Last week also saw David Cameron describe UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia as “brilliant” – on the same day that the European Parliament voted for an arms embargo on the country for its aerial bombings on Yemen.
Last week a seven-judge Supreme Court heard a case on whether the minimum-income visa requirements for UK nationals to bring over a non-EU spouse are in contravention of the right to respect for private and family life under Article 8, the Guardian reports. Under the Family Migration Rules, which changed in July 2012, UK nationals must have available funds equivalent to a minimum gross income of £18,600 to bring over a non-EU spouse, rising to £22,400 if they have a child of non-British citizenship. Two of the appellants, Abdul Majid and Shabana Javed, are British and married to Pakistani nationals; another, MM, is a Lebanese refugee; and the fourth, AF (also MM’s nephew) is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The appellant counsel described the threshold as “completely unachievable” for many. Judgment is expected within six months.
Proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights have been “put on ice”. Though it is claimed that the legislation is finished and “sitting on a desk inside No.10”, Downing Street is refusing to publish it, allegedly due to Gove’s decision to “defect to the Out camp” in the referendum. An unsurprised David Allen Green comments that the Human Rights Act is not likely to be repealed in this Parliament, saying that the hurdles to doing so still remain (such as the Good Friday Agreement), and suggests that the Conservatives may have begun to realise that its repeal and replacement “is not worth the time and effort”.
In the Courts
Civek v Turkey – The Court held unanimously that the Turkish authorities had violated Article 2 (right to life) by failing to protect the life of a woman who had been seriously threatened by her husband, HC. Ms Civek had made continued complaints of harassment to the Turkish authorities yet they had failed to take measures reasonably available to them to avoid her murder. Ms Civek had been subjected to sustained abuse from her husband culminating in 2010 in his remand in custody and a court order to refrain from being violent towards his wife. After his release in November 2010 (under judicial supervision), Ms Civek had complained that he was threatening to kill her. Again in December 2010 Ms Civek lodged a complaint, which led to HC being charged with threatening to kill her – but the State Prosecutor took no practical action, even though the husband could have been legitimately arrested for non-compliance with court orders. The Court found the authorities should have acted to protect Ms Civek’s life, and through their failure, her husband had been able to murder her on a street in January 2011, stabbing her 22 times.
Société de Conception de Presse et d’Édition v. France – An order by the French domestic courts that an unauthorised photograph published by Choc magazine be blacked out was not a violation of freedom of expression under article 10. Choc magazine, published by the applicant company, had published photos of a young man, IH, taken whilst he was in captivity, wearing shackles, and showing visible signs of torture. He had later died from his injuries. The Court found that the photograph had never been intended for public viewing, permission had not been obtained from IH’s relatives, and that its publication showed a grave disregard for the grief of his family. It was therefore a serious interference with the private life of IH’s relatives. The Paris Court of Appeal had ordered that the photograph in question be blacked out in all magazines put on sale, rather than withdrawn completely. The European Court of Human Rights found that such a restriction on freedom of expression was proportionate, as the text of the report remained unchanged, and that in the circumstances the penalty imposed would not have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.
Nasr and Ghali v Italy – This case concerned the CIA abduction and extraordinary rendition (the transfer of a person without legal process to another country for interrogation where there is a risk they might be tortured) with the cooperation of the Italian authorities, of the Egyptian imam Abu Omar (also known as Osama Nasr), who had been granted political asylum in Italy. He was held in secret in Egypt for several months in cramped and unhygienic cells where he was periodically interrogated and tortured. An investigation into Mr Nasr’s disappearance had been carried out by the national authorities but this had been ineffective due to the executive’s invocation of ‘State secrecy’ – which resulted in those responsible being granted impunity.
The Court found in respect of Mr Nasr violations of Article 3 prohibition on torture (in previous cases the Court had already held that the treatment of detainees under the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme amounted to torture), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) – due to the unlawful nature of the detention; Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 13 (right to effective remedy) read together with Articles 3, 5 and 8. The Court also found in respect of Ms Ghali, Mr Nasr’s wife, violations of Article 3 (because she had suffered significant non-pecuniary damage as a result of her husband’s sudden disappearance), Article 8 and Article 13.
The UN working group on arbitrary detention have concluded that the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” by Britain and Sweden in the Ecuadorian Embassy for the last three and a half years. In particular, the working group considered that Mr Assange had not been guaranteed a fair trial, in violation of Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Articles 9, 10 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They have called on Britain and Sweden to end Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation – which all seems rather steep for someone who has in effect used the Embassy “as a safe haven to avoid arrest” – in the words of the dissenting member of the working group, Ukrainian lawyer Vladimir Tochilovsky.
Julian Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 after the UK Supreme Court rejected his appeal against a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Swedish prosecution authority for rape and sexual assault allegations. He has remained there since, now claiming the UN opinion marks a “sweet victory” – but which the UK and Sweden have flatly rejected, on the basis that only one detaining Assange there is Assange himself.
Joshua Rozenberg answers the question on everyone’s minds – how did the UN get it so wrong? The definition the panel gave for Assange’s “arbitrary detention” was that “non observance … of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial … is of such gravity as to give the detention an arbitrary character”. Of course, such a definition of arbitrary detention presumes detention in the first place – which in this case, was self-confinement in the Embassy.
Tochilovsky, the lone dissent on the panel, was the only one to make the point that “fugitives are often self-confined within the places they evade arrest and detention” and “self-confinement cannot be considered places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the working group”. Continue reading →
Charlotte Bellamy contemplates the latest human rights happenings
Until recently the Tolpuddle Martyrs peered down from a banner in Westminster Hall in an exhibition celebrating the journey of rights in democratic society over the last 800 years.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs were taken down last month. Meanwhile, the Trade Union Bill has passed through its second reading in the House of Lords. Just before the reading, the Equality and Human Rights Commission released a report on the human rights implications for the Bill, the thrust of which is that its ‘regressive nature’ may cause the UK to fall short of its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights. Continue reading →
Criticised as a “tax on justice” which encouraged defendants to plead guilty, the charges ranged from £150 (for a guilty plea to a summary only offence) to £1,200 (conviction at trial for indictment). The charge did not take into account the means of the defendant, leading to a plethora of desperate situations including one homeless shoplifter ordered to pay £900 despite “not being able to afford to feed himself” and a £150 levy imposed on another for stealing a can of Redbull worth 99p.
The decision was announced by Gove at the annual meeting of the Magistrates Association last week, where he described the policy as “falling short of its honourable intentions”. His Ministerial Statement suggests he is standing by its “underlying principle”, that “those who break the law should make a contribution towards seeing justice done”. The courts charge came in addition to fines, victim surcharges, compensation orders and prosecution costs, a system Gove concedes is “complex and confusing”, and the whole panoply of which he has now announced a full review.
The Chair of the Justice Committee Bob Neill MP welcomed the change which was so swiftly made after the unequivocally damning report produced by the Committee in November. The Howard League for Penal Reform, who led an uncompromising campaign against the charge, has described Gove’s announcement as a “victory for justice”.
Is the “underlying principle” of which Gove speaks about making “those who break the law” contribute towards seeing justice done? One legal commentator writing in the Solicitors Journal suggests that the abolition of the charge is in fact a Trojan Horse disguising a trade-off for plans to impose in its place a 1 per cent levy on the turnover of the top 100 corporate City law firms – an idea first floated by Gove at a speech to the Legatum Institute in June – the ultimate aim of which is perhaps to remove the criminal justice system from the ambit of public funding completely, with lawyers themselves footing the bill. Continue reading →
Charlotte Bellamy brings you the latest human rights news
In the News
The Home Office has confirmed that it is rejecting the call of Lord Carlile, the UK Government’s former independent reviewer of terror legislation, to rush the government’s internet surveillance bill through Parliament following the devastating attacks in Paris carried out by IS on Friday, Andrew Sparrow reports [at 12.18].
In Lord Carlile’s view the bill could pass through Parliament in the next three to four weeks, and the “necessary powers need to be on the statute book as quickly as that”. Though the draft bill was published on 4 November, it has not yet been scrutinised by the intended joint committee of both houses of Parliament. Despite Lord Carlile’s belief that “we don’t have time to wait” and the content of the draft bill is “for the most part perfectly reasonable”, the Home Office appears to be sticking to their original timetable that the final version be published in Spring next year, having had due regard to pre-legislative scrutiny, with a view to it becoming law before the end of 2016. Continue reading →
“This is, at its heart, a battle of ideas. On one side sit the extremists, with a deliberate strategy to infect public debate, divide our communities and advance their warped worldview,” announced David Cameron last Monday, when the government unveiled their new Counter Extremism Strategy. “On the other side,” he said, “must sit everyone else”.
The question is, how is ‘everyone else who sits on the other side’ to be protected under the proposals? Not without cost, it seems – although laudable in motive, the methods suggested with which to fight this ‘battle of ideas’ run the risk of infringing individuals’ right to freedom of expression. Joshua Rozenberg has called for careful attention to one section of the paper in particular which outlines new proposed powers to “ban extremist organisations”, “restrict harmful activites” and “restrict access to premises that are repeatedly used to support extremism”. The plan to ban extremists from mosques has drawn criticism from the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK’s largest Muslim group, who detected “McCarthyist undertones” in the proposal to compile blacklists. Would restricting access to premises used for extremist purposes restrict extremism itself? As Rozenberg wonders, “What would be the point of closing a hall? It’s not the hall’s fault. People would simply go elsewhere.” Continue reading →
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