SS (Congo) v Entry Clearance Officer, Nairobi,  UKSC 10 – read judgment.
The Supreme Court has ruled that, in principle, the need for spouses or civil partners in the UK to have an annual minimum income of £18,600 in order to obtain entry clearance for their non-EEA spouse/civil partner to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). However, the Supreme Court stated that the relevant Immigration Rules relating to such Minimum Income Requirements (“MIR”) failed to adequately take account of the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when making an entry decision. Finally, the prohibition on taking into account prospective earnings of the foreign spouse or civil partner when applying the MIR was inconsistent with the evaluative exercise required under Article 8, ECHR.
Asylum seeker’s claim that he cannot be returned to Belgium under the Dublin III Regulations due to non-compliance with time limits by authorities fails.
by Fraser Simpson
The petitioner in this case, Bahri Mucaj, was an Albanian that arrived in Belgium in November 2011. After unsuccessfully claiming asylum in Belgium, the petitioner entered the UK and sought asylum here in late December 2014. The petitioner then sent a “take back” request to Belgium under The Dublin III Regulations (“Dublin III” – available here) in order for the Belgian authorities to reconsider his original application. This request was accepted on 7 January 2015 by the Belgian authorities. Consequently, the Secretary of State refused to consider the petitioner’s asylum application due to the fact that there was the possibility to send the individual back to a “safe” country – Belgium. The petitioner then wrote to the Secretary of State alleging that sending him back to Belgium would result in violations of both Article 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This claim was based on the living conditions that they had endured whilst originally in Belgium and the likelihood that they would be subject to similar conditions on return. This claim was refused and removal directions were issued to return the petitioner and his family to Belgium. The petitioner subsequently challenged this removal decision.
As was her policy at the time, the Secretary of State cancelled her removal directions pending the court’s decision. At this point, in mid-2015, there were a number of similar Judicial Review requests concerning the return of asylum seekers to European countries under Dublin III and the potential violation of Article 3. Following the leading decision in AL v Advocate General for Scotland,  CSOH 95, which found in favour of the respondents, the petitioner in the current proceedings made amendments to their arguments. Instead of pursuing substantive challenges to the removal decision based on human rights grounds, the petitioner argued that the authorities had not complied with the time limits for return in Dublin III.
The refusal to allow a Scottish prisoner to purchase a laptop for use in prison has been successfully challenged in the Outer House of the Court of Session. However, the Outer House decision focused on the flawed decision making process as opposed to the substantive conclusion reached by prison authorities.
by Fraser Simpson
In 2001, the petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Whilst in prison, the petitioner, Mr Beggs, made a number of requests to be allowed to purchase a laptop. Mr Beggs intended for this laptop to be used to prepare responses to his lawyers in connection to a number of civil and criminal court actions in which he was involved. Additionally, Mr Beggs intended for the laptop to be used for educational purposes. However, each request made by Mr Beggs was refused.
This issue had been raised as early as 2002. The Scottish Prison Complaints Commissioner had stated that Mr Beggs “is a highly educated, intelligent man whose literacy is excellent”. The formal recommendations stemming from the Commissioner’s consideration of the matter was that Mr Beggs should be provided with a word processor and a printer to assist with his legal casework. However, no such access was forthcoming. As a result, Mr Beggs raised a first set of judicial review proceedings. Such proceedings were halted prior to the first hearing after the authorities agreed to provide computer facilities and a printer. This arrangement between Mr Beggs and the authorities at HMP Peterhead did not operate smoothly. Mr Beggs was allowed to access a communal laptop provided by the prison. However, another prisoner was often using this laptop. As a result, Mr Beggs made a request for permissions to have his own personal laptop.
Scottish Policy on personal laptops
The Governors and Managers Action Notices 84A of 1998 and 15A of 1999 (“GMA 1998” and “GMA 1999”) are the relevant policy documents covering prisoner ownership of computers/word processors. Under GMA 1998 there was a prohibition on prisoners in closed establishments from owning such devices (which would include laptops). However, GMA 1999 relaxed this position and allowed a prisoner to own a laptop in “exceptional cases” if “compelling reasons” had been shown. Additionally, there was the need to demonstrate that any security concerns could be adequately addressed.
This scheme for ownership of laptops operated separately from the various schemes allowing prisoners to access prison-owned laptops. The relevant protocol was most recently updated in March 2013. It only afforded prisoners access for legal work and required completion of a written application form. Access would not be provided unless the individual could show “real prejudice to his case” if access were restricted. Additionally, resources were limited as prisons only owned a certain number of laptops (which cost £1,000 to purchase). All in all, the scheme for accessing prison owned laptops was very restrictive and of little practical use.
Requests for a laptop
Mr Beggs initial request to the governor of HMP Peterhead was refused. Whilst recognising that “compelling circumstances” under GMA 1999 existed to depart from the general ban of laptops contained in GMA 1998, the governor refused the request due to the fact that the protocol for accessing communal computer equipment adequately met Mr Beggs’ needs.
Mr Beggs made a number of similar requests following this initial refusal. All requests were unsuccessful and often referenced the fact that the ability to access a communal laptop was sufficient.
In March 2014, having been moved to HMP Edinburgh, the petitioner made another request to be allowed a laptop. Again, he emphasised that a laptop was necessary to allow him manage the vast amount of legal documents that had amassed from various legal actions and also to allow him to further his academic interests. The governor of HMP Edinburgh refused this request. This time, Mr Beggs’ request was refused due to a failure to show that “exceptional circumstances” justifying the provision of a laptop existed as required under GMA 1999. The governor also noted that there were other individuals in the prison who were able to manage their cases without utilising a laptop.
It is this decision of March 2014 that the petitioner sought to have judicially reviewed.
Outer House Decision
Lord Malcolm began his decision by considering the relevant policy documents. As discussed above, GMA 1998 and 1999 established a system that required the individual to show “compelling circumstances” to justify departing from the general ban on prisoners in closed establishments owning laptops and that the relevant security concerns could be addressed. Lord Malcolm noted that only one individual had previously applied for a personal laptop, namely the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombings, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. he had been allowed a laptop. Accordingly, it was clear that the relevant security concerns could be addressed.
Further, the existence of prison-owned laptops was irrelevant. The protocol allowing access to communal laptops existed independently of the scheme for personal laptops under GMA 1998 and 1999. The “very restrictive” prison laptop protocol could not be relied upon as a justification for refusing a personal laptop (despite the fact that such reasoning had been adopted by numerous decision makers in response to Mr Beggs’ previous requests prior to March 2014).
In considering the specific refusal reviewed by Mr Beggs, that of March 2014, Lord Malcolm noted that the governor of HMP Edinburgh merely stated that the petitioner’s circumstances were not “exceptional” and therefore there was no need to provide a personal laptop. But Lord Malcolm, whilst not explicitly disagreeing with the conclusion, empathised with Mr Beggs. Due to a number of factors, including the early positive response of the Scottish Prisons Complaints Commissioner, the undertaking agreed in the context of the first judicial review proceedings, and the initial decision of the governor of HMP Peterhead that “compelling circumstances” existed, Mr Beggs could reasonably expect his position to be considered “exceptional”. A decision that all of the above, amongst other considerations, did not amount to “compelling circumstances” should be be afforded “a more considered, detailed, and reasoned response than anything provided [to Mr Beggs] so far”.
As a result, Lord Malcolm reduced the decision of March 2014 and all subsequent decisions.
Ultimately, this decision of the Outer House relates purely to the decision making process adopted by the prison authorities. It’s easy to have sympathy with Mr Beggs. Despite previous assurances and, at first glance, clear “exceptional circumstances” he was repeatedly refused permission to buy his own personal laptop. These refusals included no reasons which effectively prevented Mr Beggs from being able to assess the height of the hurdle he had to clear in order to be successful.
The result of this judgment is that the governor of HMP Edinburgh will have to consider Mr Begg’s request afresh. In considering the substantive question of whether Mr Begg’s should be allowed a laptop there appears a number of factors in favour of granting permission. First, Mr Beggs has always offered to pay for the laptop himself. Instead of costing the authorities money, this would actually result in less reliance being placed on the limited number of communal laptops provided by the prison. Secondly, there is clearly no insurmountable issues regarding security; Mr al-Megrahi was provided a laptop, and numerous prisoners use communal laptops under the relevant protocol whilst in closed establishments. Finally, it may appear inconsistent to allow prisoners to enjoy Xboxes and PlayStations, which can also potentially access wifi and are explicitly permitted, whilst refusing to allow Mr Beggs to purchase a laptop for legal and educational purposes.
Simon Price v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 15602/07, 15 September 2016 – read judgment.
In a unanimous decision, the European Court of Human Rights has held that the proceedings that lead to the conviction of an individual for drug trafficking charges were entirely compliant with Article 6, ECHR. Despite the inability to cross-examine a key prosecution witness, the Court considered that in light of the existence of supporting incriminating evidence (amongst other factors) the proceedings as a whole were fair.
by Fraser Simpson
In June 2004 a ship, entering the port of Rotterdam, was searched by customs officials and found to contain a quantity of cocaine worth £35 million. The applicant, Simon Price, was arrested after he made enquiries into the container shortly after. He was subsequently charged with an offence under s.20, Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and with the attempted importation of drugs from Guyana to the United Kingdom via the Netherlands and Belgium. Continue reading →
The applicant, VM, entered the UK illegally on 18 November 2003 with her son (S). Soon after, her son became the subject of an interim care order and the applicant was charged with child cruelty under the relevant legislation. Following an unsuccessful application for asylum due to fears for her life back in Nigeria, VM pleaded guilty to the child cruelty charges in August 2004. However, following the granting of bail pending the next hearing in February 2005, VM absconded for a period of over two years.
In September 2007 the applicant was again arrested, this time on charges relating to possession of false documentation with intent to commit fraud. Following conviction she was sentenced to nine months in prison. The applicant was also eventually convicted of the child cruelty charges in April 2008. Before sentencing, a psychological report was produced that indicated the applicant suffered from depressive and psychotic symptoms. However, such symptoms were being adequately managed through therapy and medication. Accordingly, there was no need to consider specialised treatment in a hospital or prison healthcare wing under the Mental Health Act 1983. The applicant was therefore sentenced to twelve months imprisonment, with an additional three months due to the failure to surrender to bail, in July 2008. At this point, due to the severity of the offences, the domestic judge recommended that the applicant be deported. Continue reading →
O’Neill and Lauchlan v. United Kingdom, nos. 41516/10 and 75702/13, 28 June 2016 – read judgment.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that criminal proceedings concerning two Scottish individuals ran beyond the “reasonable” period of time permitted under Article 6, ECHR. Despite considering that the individual stages of the proceedings were all reasonable in length, the cumulative time was excessive and in violation of Article 6(1).
by Fraser Simpson
In August 1998, the applicants were sentenced to periods of imprisonment of eight and six years following convictions for various sex offences. During their incarceration, the police wished to question the applicants about the disappearance, and suspected murder, of their ex-housemate (AM) after she had been reported missing six months earlier. On 17 September 1998 the applicants were detained by police and interviewed separately for over five hours. During these interviews they were directly accused of the murder of AM but, subsequently, neither applicant was arrested or formally charged.
Following release from prison, and subsequent re-arrest and recall to prison due to the apparent abduction of a fourteen year old boy, the applicants were again convicted of various sex offences and sentenced to a further three years in prison. During this period of incarceration the applicants were also placed on petition in relation to the murder of AM in early April 2005. Formal charges were brought on 5 April 2005 whilst the police continued with their investigations. However, in late 2005, Crown Counsel raised concerns about the sufficiency of evidence. Accordingly, a decision to take “no proceedings meantime” was made in December 2005 and subjected to continuous review as investigations continued. Continue reading →
The Outer House of the Court of Session has held that the restriction of student loans to individuals under 55 years old in Scotland is unjustifiably discriminatory. Additionally, the Scottish Ministers breached their public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010 by failing to assess the discriminatory effects that the regulation imposing this age restriction would have.
by Fraser Simpson
The petitioner, Elizabeth Hunter, applied for a student loan from the Students Awards Agency for Scotland (“SAAS”) in order to allow her to pursue a course in Hospitality Management. At the time of applying for this loan, in 2014, the petitioner was aged 55. In line with Regulation 3(2)(b)(ii), Education (Student Loans) (Scotland) Regulations 2007, she was refused the loan. Regulation 3(2)(b)(ii) limits eligibility for student loans to individuals under 55.
The petitioner claimed that this decision, and the relevant regulation, unlawfully discriminated against her in violation of Article 14, ECHR. Additionally, she also claimed that the Scottish Ministers had failed to consider the potentially discriminatory effect that these regulations could have and, therefore, failed to satisfy their public sector equality duty (“PSED”) imposed by section 149, Equality Act 2010.
Article 14, which protects against discrimination on the basis of age, amongst other characteristics, is not a “free-standing” right. Instead, it is only applicable when the facts of the case fall within the scope of one of the Convention’s substantive provisions. Accordingly, the first issue for Lady Scott was to assess whether one of the substantive Convention rights was engaged in this situation. The petitioner submitted that either Article 1, Protocol 1, which includes the right to property and possessions, or, alternatively, Article 2, Protocol 1, which protects the right to education, was of relevance. Continue reading →
J.N. v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 37289/12, 19 May 2016 – read judgment.
Photo credit: The Guardian
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the general system for detention of individuals prior to deportation in the United Kingdom, which lacks specific maximum time-limits, complies with Article 5, ECHR (Right to liberty and security of the person). However, in the proceedings involving J.N., the authorities had not acted with sufficient “due diligence”, which resulted in a violation of Article 5.
by Fraser Simpson
The applicant, known as J.N., arrived in the UK in early 2003 and unsuccessfully sought asylum soon after. In February 2004 he was convicted of indecent assault and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. Following his release he was subjected to a number of conditions which he failed to comply with. This led the Secretary of State to issue an order deporting J.N. back to Iran. On 31 March 2005 the applicant was detained pending deportation.
Complications arose when attempts were made to obtain the necessary travel documents from the Iranian Embassy. Eventually, in November 2007, the Embassy agreed to issue the documents if the applicant signed a “disclaimer” consenting to his return. The applicant refused to sign this disclaimer.
Despite being released for one month following review of his detention by the Administrative Court in December 2007, the applicant was once again detained in January 2008. He continued to refuse to sign the disclaimer that was necessary to obtain the travel documents and to effect the deportation. During this second period of detention the authorities considered prosecuting the applicant for failing to comply with the Secretary of State’s request to take specific action to obtain a travel document (under s. 35, Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004). But no prosecution was forthcoming. Additionally, J.N. agreed to sign the disclaimer if he was compensated for the periods of detention. However, the UK Border Agency refused to do so.
J.N.’s refusal to sign the disclaimer continued until late-2009 when J.N.’s solicitors began judicial review proceedings challenging the lawfulness of his detention. In considering the lawfulness of the detention pending deportation, the judge considered the four principles established in R v. Governor of Durham Prison, ex parte Hardial Singh,  WLR 704:
The Secretary of State must intend to deport the person and can only use the power to detain for that purpose;
The deportee may only be detained for a period that is reasonable in all the circumstances;
If, before the expiry of the reasonable period, it becomes apparent that the Secretary of State will not be able to effect deportation within that reasonable period, he should not seek to exercise the power of detention;
The Secretary of State should act with reasonable diligence and expedition to effect removal.
The judge considered that the authorities responsible for the deportation had acted with a “woeful lack of energy and impetus”. They had failed to change their approach to the situation, they refused to bring a prosecution under the relevant legislation. Further, they had not approached the Iranian authorities to see if they would change their position regarding the need for a disclaimer. The Secretary of State had fallen short of the fourth requirement established in Hardial Singh. Accordingly, the judge found that the applicant’s detention had been unlawful from 14 September 2009 onwards.
The Strasbourg Court
Article 5 protects the right to liberty and security of persons. Restrictions of liberty are permissible if they fall within one of the specific grounds highlighted in Article 5(1). Article 5(1)(f) relates to detention “of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition”. Any detention in pursuance of this objective must be prescribed by, and comply with, domestic law. Additionally, the domestic law must be “sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable in its application, in order to avoid all risk of arbitrariness”. To satisfy this “quality of law” requirement, domestic law should include clear provisions on the ordering and extension of detention as well as effective remedies that can be used by the individual to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. These requirements act as safeguards against arbitrary detention.
The applicant complained that the UK system for detention pending deportation did not specify maximum time limits for such detention and that this led to a violation of Article 5(1). Additionally, there was a need for automatic judicial scrutiny of any detention as opposed to requiring the individual to initiate judicial review proceedings themselves. Finally, the applicant submitted that if the UK’s system was said to satisfy the “quality of law” requirement, then the entirety of his detention had been unlawful, and in violation of Article 5, as at no point had there been a realistic prospect of removal (see paras. 59-63).
Lack of time-limits within the UK system (paras. 90-93)
The ECtHR had previously held that Article 5(1)(f) does not impose maximum time limits for detention pending deportation. However, the absence of such time-limits will be a factor in assessing whether domestic law satisfies the “quality of law” requirement. But other protections against arbitrariness, including the ability to review the lawfulness of the detention, are equally important.
The ECtHR held that Article 5(1)(f) does not require states to establish time-limits for detention pending deportation. The UK has sufficient procedures to allow the lawfulness of detention to be tested. Accordingly, the failure of the UK system to establish such limits, in light of the other procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, was not in violation of Article 5(1).
Lack of automatic judicial review of immigration detention (paras. 94-96)
The ECtHR refused the applicant’s submissions that Article 5(1)(f) required automatic judicial scrutiny of immigration detention. Article 5(4) provides all individuals who have been detained or had their liberty deprived with a right to take proceedings to examine the lawfulness of the detention. An entitlement to take proceedings, as opposed to automatic review, is all that is required by Article 5.
Was J.N.’s detention in accordance with Article 5? (paras. 102-108)
Finally, the ECtHR considered whether J.N.’s second period of detention, from 14 January 2008 to 14 September 2009 (the date on which the domestic court ruled that the detention had become unlawful) was in compliance with Article 5(1)(f) (for the reasons for restricting the scope of review to this period see paras.48-57)
The ECtHR saw no justification for the domestic courts to have restricted the “unlawful detention” to the period following 14 September 2009. Despite the repeated refusal of J.N. to cooperate, this could not be “be seen as a ‘trump card’ capable of justifying any period of detention” (para. 106). The ECtHR considered that the authorities had shown, to use the language of the domestic court, a “woeful lack of energy and impetus” from mid-2008 onwards. As a result, the detention had not been pursued with “reasonable diligence and expedition” from mid-2008 and therefore was not in accordance with domestic law and the principles established in Hardial Singh.
Accordingly, the detention from mid-2008 to 14 September 2009 was in violation of Article 5(1).
Undoubtedly the EU Returns Directive has resulted in the majority of Council of Europe states having limits for such detention. But as argued by the Government, recognising that Article 5 imposed such time limits may have “subvert[ed] the democratic process” by imposing time limits modelled on the EU Returns Directive from which the UK had lawfully opted out (para. 66).
During parliamentary scrutiny of the recent Immigration Act 2016 (which received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016) amendments were proposed by the House of Lords to limit immigration detention to 28 days – it should be noted that this would not have covered J.N.’s situation as it was not applicable in the event that the Secretary of State had made a deportation order – see para. 84 here). However, this amendment was rejected. In the final version of the Immigration Act a duty to arrange consideration of bail is placed upon the Secretary of State for all individuals detained pending deportation (which would cover J.N.) after four months (Sch. 10, para. 11, Immigration Act 2016). This would clearly act as a further, important safeguard against arbitrariness.
Seton v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 55287/10, 31 March 2016 – read judgment.
The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) has held that the use of telephone recordings as evidence in a criminal trial, despite the inability of the accused to challenge the caller, did not violate his rights under Article 6, ECHR. This judgment follows a number of Grand Chamber judgments on similar issues that have altered the ECtHR’s stance on the subject of absent witness evidence.
by Fraser Simpson
The applicant, Mr Seton, was on trial for murder. Prior to the trial, he submitted a defence statement stating that he believed that the murder had been carried out by Mr Pearman. The applicant alleged that he had previously been involved in a drug deal with Mr Pearman and the victim.
Mr Pearman, who was at the time imprisoned for drug dealing, was interviewed by the police but he refused to cooperate and answered “no comment” to all questions. Following these interviews, Mr Pearman phoned his wife and son from the prison and stated that he had never heard of the applicant and had no knowledge of the murder. These calls were recorded – a standard practice that Mr Pearman would have been aware of.
During the applicant’s trial for murder, it was accepted that the primary issue to be determined by the jury was whether the applicant or Mr Pearman had committed the murder. Mr Pearman had refused to attend the trial or make a formal witness statement. Accordingly, the prosecution sought to rely upon these recordings to disprove the applicant’s version of events. The trial judge, in deciding whether the recordings could be admitted as evidence, referred to s.114, Criminal Justice Act 2003 (“CJA 2003″). After considering the relevant considerations – such as the probative value of the evidence, whether it was self-serving, the reliability of the recording, and the prejudice that the applicant would face if it were to be admitted – the judge decided that the recordings could be relied upon during the trial. In summing up, the trial judge outlined the limitations of the telephone recordings and stated that it was up to the jury, in light of these limitations, to decide the relevant weight to be attached to the recordings. The applicant was subsequently convicted by the jury and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The applicant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal (see, Seton v. R.,  EWCA Crim 450). The Court of Appeal considered that compelling Mr Pearman to attend the trial, which was an option, would have “been a fruitless exercise”. Mr Pearman could have invoked the protection against self-incrimination and had consistently refused to cooperate so the “prospect of any sensible evidence being given by him was, on a realistic view, nil” (paragraph 22 of Court of Appeal judgment). The Court of Appeal would only interfere with the trial judge’s decision if the decision was “marred by legal error, or by a failure to take relevant matters into account or it is such that the judge could not sensibly have made”. The Court of Appeal held that the relevant consideration under s.114(2), CJA 2003 had been covered by the trial judge and there were no other grounds to overturn the conviction.
Further, the Court of Appeal commented on the safety of the conviction. Due to the “overwhelming” evidence against the applicant, including eye-witness accounts, telephone call records between the applicant and the victim and cell site location evidence placing the applicant in the vicinity of the murder, the conviction was deemed to be safe.
The Strasbourg Court
The applicant applied to the European Court of Human Rights and alleged that his right to a fair trial within Article 6(1) and 6(3)(d) had been violated. Article 6(1) includes the right to a fair hearing when facing criminal charges whilst Article 6(3)(d) ensures that the individual has the right:
“to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him”
The default position is that witness evidence should be provided during the trial and the accused should have the opportunity to challenge this evidence during this trial. However, the use of witness evidence when the witness does not attend the trial does not automatically result in a violation of Article 6(1) and 6(3)(d). The Grand Chamber has previously set out specific guidance in assessing whether the use of such evidence complies with Article 6. In Al-Khawaja and Tahery v. the United Kingdom (GC), Application nos. 26766/05 and 22228/06, 15 December 2011 (see paragraphs 118-151), the Grand Chamber outlined a general three-part process:
Consider whether good reasons exist for the absence of the witness.
Consider whether the evidence was the “sole or decisive” decisive evidence against the accused.
Assess the existence of sufficient counterbalancing factors and procedural safeguards which allow the reliability of the evidence to be fairly and properly tested.
This process was clarified in Schatschaschwili v. Germany (GC), Application no. 9154/10, 15 December 2015. The Grand Chamber stated that the lack of good reasons for lack of attendance was not sufficient to result in a violation of Article 6, but it was a strong factor to be considered when assessing the overall fairness of the proceedings (paragraph 113). Additionally, the necessary extent of counterbalancing factors depends upon the weight of the evidence provided by the absent witness in the overall context of the proceedings (paragraph 116).
Were there good reasons for the non-attendance of Mr Pearman? (paragraphs 61-62)
The ECtHR has previously adopted a robust approach to assessing whether “good reasons” existed for the absence of the witness at the trial. Previously, even in situations where the witness was located in another country (Gabrielyan v. Armenia, Application no. 8088/05, 10 April 2012), or could not be located at all (Lučić v. Croatia, Application no. 5699/11, 27 February 2014), the ECtHR have held that the authorities have failed to satisfy their duty to secure attendance of the witness. In light of this, the ECtHR unsurprisingly concluded that no good reasons existed for Mr Pearman being absent from the trial. The trial court could have compelled Mr Pearman to attend the trial and whilst they could not compel him to give evidence, due to his right to silence, the jury would have at least been able to assess his demeanour when facing cross-examination.
Was the evidence of Mr Pearman the “sole or decisive” evidence? (Paragraphs 63-64)
The ECtHR considered that the recorded telephone calls could not be considered the “sole or decisive” evidence in the criminal trial. The Court of Appeal, in commenting on the safeness of the conviction, had listed the other “overwhelming” evidence against the applicant. However, the evidence had been described as “important” by the trial judge. Accordingly, following the Grand Chamber decision in Schatschaschwili, it was necessary to consider whether sufficient counterbalancing factors existed during the trial.
Did sufficient counterbalancing factors exist? (Paragraphs 65-68)
In the present case, the ECtHR highlighted the detailed legislative scheme intended to ensure that evidence from the absent witness could only be relied upon in limited circumstances. The need to assess the significance of the evidence, its reliability, and the prejudice that the applicant would face as a result of being unable to challenge the witness was an important procedural safeguard intended to uphold respect for the applicant’s rights. Additionally, the instruction of the judge as to the limitations of the evidence was another important counterbalancing factor.
As clarified by the Grand Chamber in Schatschaschwili, the assessment of counterbalancing factors is a relative one – fewer factors will be required if the evidence provided by the absent witness is not especially important. In light of the existence of separate “overwhelming” evidence against the accused, the counterbalancing factors in the present case were considered sufficient.
In conclusion, the ECtHR decided that the criminal proceedings as a whole had been fair. Having following the procedure outlined in Al-Khawaja, the ECtHR concluded that there had been no violation of Article 6.
This decision of the ECtHR is the consequence of previous Grand Chamber decisions tending to dilute the procedural protections contained within Article 6(3). The right to examine witnesses has slowly been weakened in favour of a more holistic approach that focusses upon the overall fairness of the proceedings instead of potential individual deficiencies.
But the balancing process places an undue weight upon the existence of other incriminating evidence against the accused. The position appears to be that it is more acceptable to deny the accused the right to cross-examine a witness if the prosecution’s case against him/her is strong. This move towards focussing on the accuracy of the verdict, as opposed to upholding the rights of individuals, is a potentially worrying development. Indeed, the contemporary Strasbourg position appears, in effect, similar to the Court of Appeal’s consideration of the safety of the conviction.
It could be argued that the ECtHR may be surrendering its role as an upholder of fundamental human rights and moving towards that of an international criminal appeal court.
Hammerton v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 6287/10 – read judgment.
The European Court of Human Rights has held that the detention of an individual following his breach of a civil contact order, where he had no legal representation, did not violate his rights under Article 5, ECHR (Right to Liberty and Security of Person). However, the decision not to provide compensation to the individual following a failure to provide him with a lawyer during domestic proceedings resulted in a violation of Article 6 (Right to a Fair Trial).
The petitioner, Yousef Ansari, is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment. The punitive part of his sentence, set at nine years, expired in March 2005. In his petition for judicial review, Mr Ansari claimed that the local authority, Aberdeen City Council, and the Scottish Government, had failed to afford him a reasonable opportunity to rehabilitate himself. A duty to offer opportunities for rehabilitation had been previously recognised as implicit in the scheme of Article 5 by the Supreme Court in Haney (see previous UKHRB post here). The hearing before Lord Glennie was restricted to the question whether the council owed such a duty.
Mr Ansari’s case
The starting point for the petitioner was the duty recognised in the Supreme Court decision in Haney. He argued that the duty required both the provision of opportunities for rehabilitation, which was the responsibility of the Scottish Ministers, and the provision of opportunities for the prisoner to demonstrate that they no longer posed an unacceptable risk to the public. This latter aspect of the Haney duty required the active cooperation of the local authority. Mr Ansari argued that Aberdeen City Council had failed to satisfy this duty. Whilst in the “Open Estate”, he was provided with the opportunity to return to the community – an important step in proving he no longer posed a threat. However, during this reintegration he was placed under extensive supervision by the local authority which, in his submission, undermined his ability to demonstrate he posed a reduced risk to the public.
Additionally, his ability to be temporarily released into the community was contingent upon the ability to provide the local authority with an appropriate “home leave” address. Mr Ansari claimed that during the vetting process the local authority had incorrectly considered his brother’s residence as inappropriate. Further, if no other address had been suitable, the local authority had a duty to provide him with accommodation under Part II, Housing (Scotland) Act 1987. On his case, these shortcomings had prevented Mr Ansari from temporarily returning to the community and therefore denied him the opportunity to demonstrate that he posed a reduced risk to the public.
In the alternative, Mr Ansari submitted that the duty would, in any event, extend to the local authority. The duty was imposed upon the “state” and, by virtue of s.6, Human Rights Act 1998, this would extend to public bodies such as Aberdeen City Council. As a result, they were bound by the requirements of Article 5, which included the duty recognised in Haney.
Imposing the Haney duty on the local authority, from the petitioner’s perspective, was a natural conclusion. Whilst the functions of the Scottish Ministers and the local authority differed, they both played an important role in the rehabilitation of Mr Ansari. A number of functions of the local authority, especially in the process relating to preparation for release, could not be carried out by the Scottish Ministers acting through the Scottish Prison Service. Extending the duty to provide reasonable opportunities for rehabilitation to the local authority would ensure that the Haney duty was “practical and effective” due to the important “real and practical sense” in which the local authority was involved in Mr Ansari’s rehabilitation.
The City Council’s submissions
The first respondent submitted that they did not owe the petitioner any duty under Article 5 as interpreted in Haney. The duty to provide opportunities for rehabilitation is not a freestanding duty, but instead stems from the decision of the state to detain an individual following conviction by a competent court. In James, Wells, and Lee v. the United Kingdom,  ECHR 1706, the European Court of Human Rights recognised that part of the purpose of an indeterminate sentence was to rehabilitate the prisoner. Consequently, the Supreme Court in Haney recognised the need to provide reasonable opportunities to rehabilitate in the event that the state attempts to justify continued detention under Article 5(1)(a). The first respondent submitted that as they had no power to detain the prisoner, or order his release, it would be inappropriate to impose such a duty upon them.
Lord Glennie held that the duty recognised in Haney could not be extended to Aberdeen City Council. In line with submissions made by counsel for the first respondent, Lord Glennie held that the Haney duty is only imposed on states in the event that they have detained a prisoner and rely upon Article 5(1)(a) as justification. However, the local authority is in an entirely different position and has no powers to detain or release the prisoner. The first respondent was not required to justify the detention of the prisoner and, therefore, there was no reason to impose the Haney duty upon them.
In the petitioner’s submissions, reference was made to Lord Glennie’s decision in Reid, Re Judicial Review,  CSOH 84 (read previous UKHRB post here). In Reid, Lord Glennie held that as part of the duty recognised in Haney, the Scottish Ministers had a duty to take “reasonable steps to procure” the cooperation of the local authority during the rehabilitation process (see paragraph 30). Lord Glennie clarified that in providing various services to the Scottish Ministers that aid the rehabilitation process, the local authority could only be considered to owe a duty to the Scottish Ministers, not the individual prisoner. As a result, Reid provided no support for the submission that the Haney duty should be extended to the local authority.
Lord Glennie also noted that certain statutes may impose specific duties upon a local authority. For example, s.27, Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 (detailing the functions relating to the supervision and care of those released from prison) and the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 outlined relevant functions and duties of the local authority. However, these did not assist the argument that the general Haney duty arising from the operation of Article 5 could extend to the local authority. These duties existed independently from any duty to afford opportunities for rehabilitation. Any failures relating to these duties could be challenged by Mr Ansari in separate proceedings.
The Supreme Court has held that the continuation of a prisoner’s solitary confinement for safety reasons was not authorised under domestic rules and incompatible with the right to private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).
by Fraser Simpson
The appellant, Imran Shahid, was first placed in solitary confinement in October 2005. His confinement was continued following his conviction for the racially motivated murder of a 15-year-old boy. The decision was based on threats made against the appellant. This period of solitary confinement continued until his eventual reintegration into the general prison population in August 2010.
The appellant had originally challenged his continued segregation in both the Outer and Inner Houses of the Court of Session (see this previous post for a discussion of the Inner House’s opinion). The Scottish courts refused his complaints and held that his prolonged solitary confinement accorded with both domestic law and Articles 3 and 8, ECHR.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision delivered by Lord Reed, held that not only was the continued segregation invalid according to domestic law, but it also amounted to a violation of Article 8.
Compliance with domestic law?
The relevant rules concerning the power to place a prisoner in solitary confinement were, at the relevant time, contained in the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 1994 and 2006. Despite the amendment of the Rules during the relevant period, the core provisions relating to the grounds for segregation and the time limits imposed remained the same. The purpose of Shahid’s segregation – to maintain good order and protect him – was not in question. Shahid instead contended that certain time limits contained within the Prison Rules relating to the continuation of a period of segregation had not been complied with. The relevant provision, Rule 94(5), states:
“A prisoner who has been removed from association … shall not be subject to such removal for a period in excess of 72 hours from the time of the order, except where the Scottish Ministers have granted written authority … prior to the expiry of the said period of 72 hours.”
Three of the orders made authorising prolongation of Shahid’s segregation were made by the Scottish Ministers after the expiration of this 72-hour limit.
The lower courts considered that such delays did not impact upon the validity of the orders that authorised continued segregation. Importance was placed upon the relatively limited extent to which the orders were late (17, 44 and 47 hours) and the fact that the purpose of the reviews, to ensure that segregation was maintained for only as long as necessary, was not frustrated by such limited delays.
Lord Reed, adopting an alternative construction of the Prison Rules, held that any order made after the expiration of the 72-hour period was automatically invalid (see paragraphs 15-18 of the judgment). His conclusion that the late orders authorising continued segregation of the appellant were invalid, and that a period of 14 months of segregation therefore had no legal basis, is important in the context of the Article 8 challenge.
The Scottish Ministers accepted that the placement of the appellant in solitary confinement was an interference with his right to respect for private life under Article 8. Consequently, it was for them to show that the measure was in accordance with the law, in pursuance of a legitimate aim, and a proportionate interference in light of the pursued aim.
Lord Reed was quick to point out that his previous conclusion, that the late authorisations had rendered invalid the subsequent segregation, would result in certain periods of the segregation not being “in accordance with the law”. Accordingly, such periods of segregation could not be justified under Article 8(2).
Lord Reed went on to consider that the appropriate prison authorities had not always been independently making the decisions to continue the segregation of the appellant but instead, on some occasions, had been unduly influenced by the decisions and recommendations of a non-statutory advisory body. The need for a statutory decision making power to be exercised by the individual, or body, that has been conferred such a power had not been satisfied (see R v. Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison Ex p Hague,  1 AC 58). Accordingly, there was a failure to satisfy the lawfulness criterion within Article 8(2).
The Supreme Court moved on to consider the proportionality of Shahid’s continued segregation. The lower courts, in holding that the continued segregation was proportionate, opined that it was the only practicable way of dealing with the threats made against the appellant. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, listed a number of potential alternatives to solitary confinement that could have achieved the aim of protecting the appellant from attacks, including relocating the appellant to another UK prison. Irrespective of such alternatives, the Supreme Court decided that earlier steps could have been taken to promote Shahid’s reintegration. A plan to reintegrate the prisoner had only been developed after four and a half years of almost continuous segregation. Failure to take such steps resulted in the segregation being disproportionate and a violation of Article 8.
However, the Supreme Court considered that the appellant had not suffered any prejudice. If the Article 8 violations had not occurred then there was no evidence to show he would have been returned to the general population sooner.
Additionally, the extent to which his right to respect for his private life under Article 8 had been infringed was limited considering the negative attitudes other prisoners harboured towards him.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court considered that there was no need to make an award for damages despite the appellant seeking £6,000.
The appellant also complained that the segregation was incompatible with his right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3, ECHR. The European Court of Human Rights has recognised the potentially damaging effect that continued solitary confinement can have upon the mental and social facilities of an individual (see Ahmad v United Kingdom, (2013) 56 EHRR 1, paragraph 207).
However, the use of such measures for disciplinary, security, or protective reasons does not automatically contravene Article 3. In assessing whether the measure was compatible with Article 3, the Supreme Court considered the conditions and duration of the detention as well as the motivation for such a measure and its impact on the appellant.
The Court concluded that the measure did not attain the minimum level of severity to engage Article 3. The appellant was kept in suitable accommodation and the ability to exercise, receive visitors and associate with other prisoners pointed towards the treatment falling short of the Article 3 threshold. Despite the length of the segregation extending beyond four years, the fact it was imposed in the interests of the appellant’s safety were also of relevance.
The use of segregation in prisons should always be considered as a serious measure. Indeed, the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture advises that for punitive purposes any stint should be limited to 14 days (see the CPT’s 21st General Report, (2011), page 40).
The strict interpretation of the 72-hour limitation within the Prison Rules by Lord Reed results in appropriate weight being attributed to the decision to segregate. As Lord Reed pointed out, this allows early consideration of the necessity of the segregation by officials external to the prison. This provides an important procedural safeguard, even at an early stage of segregation.
However, if the 72-hour limit were strictly applied in this instance, there could be negative practical repercussions. When continued segregation was without legal basis, would the prison officials be under a duty to return the appellant to general population even if this would endanger his safety? An analogous situation was raised by the Inner House in support of their interpretation of the Prison Rules (paragraph 24 of the Inner House Judgment). Lord Reed answered these concerns by outlining that the officials would also be subject to a duty under s.6(1) of the Human Rights Act to secure the safety of the prisoner in accordance with Article 2 and 3, ECHR. If there was a serious risk to life then the prisoner could remain in segregation in accordance with domestic law using such protections as justification.
Interestingly, such an argument was not substantively raised on behalf of the Scottish Ministers in order to justify the periods for which there was a lack of authorisation.
In a judgment much anticipated on both sides of the Channel, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) has held that French restrictions on the eligibility of prisoners to vote are lawful under EU law.
Yesterday morning, in a speech to civic organisations in Glasgow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “no responsible government” would consider repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 due to the numerous negative consequences, both in the domestic and international sphere, that would result from such a move – (see a transcript of the speech here).
by Fraser Simpson
Proposals for Repeal of the Human Rights Act
It has been a longstanding Tory policy to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Such a policy is motivated by discontent over a handful of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) that have allegedly “undermine[d] the role of UK courts in deciding on human rights issues”. In October 2014, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced Tory proposals to treat Strasbourg judgments as “advisory” – irrespective of the potential incoherence between treating judgments in such a way and the UK’s obligations under Article 46, ECHR (see John Wadham’s post here). However, the 2015 Tory manifesto included less specific promises to “scrap the Human Rights Act” in order to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights”. Little substantive information has been provided on the development of these plans, apart from an intention, included in the Queen’s speech, to conduct consultations and publish proposals this autumn. Continue reading →
The Outer of House of the Court of Session has refused an individual’s request for clarification of the prosecution policy relating to assisted suicide in Scotland.
by Fraser Simpson
The Petitioner, Mr Ross, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and currently resides in a care home due to his dependence on others. Although not wishing to currently end his life, Mr Ross anticipates that in the future he will wish to do so and will require assistance.
In July 2014, the Petitioner requested from the Lord Advocate – the head of the prosecution service in Scotland – guidance on the prosecution of individuals who assist others to commit suicide. The Lord Advocate replied that such cases would be referred to the Procurator Fiscal – the Scottish public prosecutor – and dealt with under the law of homicide. The Lord Advocate further stated that decisions regarding whether prosecution would be in the public interest would be taken in line with the published Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Prosecution Code (“COPFS Code”). However, he admitted that it would often be in the public interest to prosecute such serious crimes as homicide. Continue reading →
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