After almost five really enjoyable years as commissioning editor of the UK Human Rights Blog, I will be stepping back from that role and joining the Blog’s editorial board. I am delighted to announce that replacing me as joint commissioning editors will be Darragh Coffey and Jasper Gold.
The last few years have been very good ones for the Blog and it has been a great privilege to be the commissioning editor. I am hugely grateful to all the contributors, the round-up writers and, of course, the editorial board, for all of their hard work, help and support. I know that Darragh and Jasper will be excellent set of hands for this role. If you are interested in writing for the Blog, please contact them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And so we come to the end of another year. The Covid-19 pandemic has continued to dominate the news, particularly with the very concerning surge of the Omicron variant this month. Many reading this will be separated from loved ones over Christmas. The year has also seen the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal at the end of August, the resumption of military rule in Myanmar and the ongoing persecution of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government, this year recognised by the House of Commons and the US government (as well as many other bodies and organisations) as constituting a genocide. So, one could say that this year has rivalled last year for infamy.
But what, I hear you ask, about the law? As always, this year has been packed with fascinating and important legal developments — many of which you may have caught, but some of which may have passed under the radar. And so, please refresh your glass (or mug) and join me on another adventure as we review the 10 cases that defined 2021.
This time last year I wrote that 2019 had been “perhaps the most tumultuous period in British politics for decades”. Little did I know what 2020 would have in store.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused loss, suffering and anxiety across not only the UK but almost all of the globe. At the UK Human Rights Blog, we feel deep gratitude to the doctors, nurses, carers and essential workers who have kept society going in what has been a deeply difficult year for so many of us.
In light of this, it is perhaps harder to summon the usual festive spirit that graces the approach of the holiday period — particularly as so many of us will be separated from our loved ones. And yet, perhaps it makes holding onto some spirit of joy all the more necessary.
Writing the article summing up the legal developments of the year is one of the highlights for me as commissioning editor of this blog. Let us embark together on a tour of what the courts had to say over the last 12 months. As ever, it has been a very interesting year.
The latest reports of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights lay bare the conditions in some British prisons.
Some of the language that is used to describe living conditions in the Chief Inspector’s report is shocking – including “appalling”, “squalid”, “intolerable”, “extremely squalid” and beset with “vermin and filth”.
The Chief Inspector’s view is that such conditions “should not feature in 21st century jails”. This conclusion was expressed prior to the further impact caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The conclusion of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is that the Government’s response and the deficiencies in the measures to mitigate the impact of this “have put at risk the right to family life of up to an estimated 17,000 children of mothers in prison”.
In the view of this author, the evidence indicates that in several respects the UK may well be in breach of vital protections for prisoners and their families under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This extended piece will examine these issues in detail.
As many others in the legal community have said, we at the UK Human Rights Blog are deeply saddened and appalled by the killing of George Floyd and the events in Minneapolis and elsewhere that exemplify systemic racism and violence against black people.
We endorse the statements made by the Bar Council and by 1 Crown Office Row which may be found here.
We will explore these issues in more depth in upcoming podcasts and articles.
In a complicated but very important decision, the High Court has ruled as a preliminary issue that the procedural protections under Article 6 which require a person to be given sufficient information about the allegations against them so they can give effective instructions to their lawyers will apply to a challenge to conditions imposed by order on a man suspected to have affiliations to Al-Qaeda.
This ‘extended look’ will explain the background to the issues in play and the way that a powerful ‘cocktail’ of rights under Articles 6 and 8 ECHR operates to try to ensure that a balance is struck between the rights of the individual and the collective interest in security.
Temporary Exclusion Orders
The claimant, QX, is a British national. He is married with three children who are all of toddler age. In October 2018, he and his wife were arrested in Istanbul.
On 26 November 2018 the Secretary of State successfully applied to the court for permission to impose a Temporary Exclusion Order (TEO) on QX for two years on grounds of national security. This was granted by the court and on 9 January 2019 QX was returned from Istanbul to the UK under the terms of the TEO.
A TEO is an order which may be imposed under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (“the 2015 Act”) in order to temporarily disrupt the return and activities of a citizen suspected of being involved in terrorist-related activity abroad to manage the risk that they may pose to the public. It is an offence triable in either the Magistrates’ or the Crown Court with a maximum sentence of 5 years if a person does not comply with TEO conditions without reasonable excuse.
Unlike some of the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, the prohibition on torture or inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3 is absolute. There is no question of striking a balance between Article 3 and other considerations: the state simply may not act in a way which would breach this prohibition.
This means that this right can offer crucial protection to the sorts of people that some members of the public may not have instinctive sympathy towards, such as an immigrant with a serious criminal history who may otherwise struggle to resist deportation. Even if their case is otherwise unattractive, if it is shown that deporting them would expose them to inhuman or degrading treatment (or indeed constitute such treatment), their appeal must succeed.
In certain circumstances this will include a person with a serious medical condition who resists removal on the basis that the disparity between medical care in their country of origin compared to their host state would mean that removing them would constitute inhuman or degrading treatment. Such cases had previously been considered to succeed primarily for a person close to death, where removal would involve “in effect, pulling a man off his deathbed” (AM (Zimbabwe), para 14).
However, in AM (Zimbabwe) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 17, the Supreme Court has held that the proper approach to Article 3 was modified by the European Court of Human Rights in Paposhvili v Belgium Imm AR 867. The relevant test now is whether removal would give rise to a real risk of a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in the person’s state of health resulting in intense suffering, or to a substantial reduction in life expectancy. This does not require that death be imminent in the event of removal.
Last autumn I was privileged to spend six weeks in the United States as a scholar on the Pegasus Programme. This gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal about the similarities and contrasts between our legal systems, as well as the latest developments across the Atlantic.
In this piece I will tell you about what I learned about the US Supreme Court — its history, its role and what the Presidency of Donald Trump may mean for its future.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and acts as guarantor and arbiter of the Constitution. It has the power to establish (and extend) the content of constitutional rights and to strike down not only government acts, but also primary legislation incompatible with those rights.
In a historic decision, a panel of 11 justices of the Supreme Court has held that the decision of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to prorogue Parliament for 5 weeks from 9 September to 14 October 2019 was unlawfulon the basis that it constituted an unjustified frustration of the constitutional principles of Parliamentary sovereignty and accountability.
Giving the summary of the Court’s reasons for the decision, the President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, said that
when the Royal Commissioners walked into the House of Lords it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper … Parliament has not been prorogued.
It follows, said Lady Hale, that the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords “can take immediate steps to enable each House to meet as soon as possible”.
The question of whether non-married partners and wider dependent relatives (e.g. grown-up children) of EEA nationals (known as ‘extended family members’) have a right of appeal against a decision by the Home Secretary to refuse them a residence card under the EEA Regulations has had a fraught recent history.
On Newsnight (see 31 mins, 20 seconds into this episode), former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption said that whilst he considered what Boris Johnson has done to be politically “shocking”, he did not expect the courts to block the move, saying that
I think that it’s a very very long shot. This is such an unusual situation that nobody can stand here and say what the answer is definitely going to be, but there are huge difficulties in the way of an application like that … the relations between the Crown and Parliament are governed by conventions … [which are] binding only in the sense that it would be politically costly to disregard them … the courts are not there to decide what are good political reasons and what are bad political reasons, they are there to decide what’s lawful.
In this article we will navigate our way through the decision and have a look at the principles that lie behind this case and what its wider significance might be.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) is the body which has jurisdiction to examine the conduct of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Effectively, the IPT is the court where a person can challenge the lawfulness of a decision to put them under surveillance.
The question in this case was whether the decisions of the IPT itself could be challenged in court. In particular, did the High Court have jurisdiction to entertain an application for judicial review brought by Privacy International against a decision by the IPT that computer hacking by GCHQ fell lawfully within its general warrant to undertake such activity?
But what happened in the courts? Oh what an adventure it has been, dear reader. Strap on your seat belts and join me as we take a whistle-stop tour through 10 of the biggest legal battles of the last year.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.