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.
(a) A claimant at the Immigration Tribunal who relies on their private (not family) life under Article 8 will be entitled to have only “little weight” placed on that private life if they have been in the UK without indefinite leave to remain, unless there are “particularly strong features of the private life in question”; and
(b) A claimant who is financially dependent on other people but not on the state should not have that fact held against them when assessing the public interest in their removal.
Whilst the result was a victory for the individual claimant in this case, the wider consequences of this decision will be to clarify and tighten the law in a way that will make it even harder than it already was for claimants to succeed on the basis of their private life in the UK.
On 24th October 2018 the Supreme Court gave its judgment in the conjoined cases of KO (Nigeria); IT (Jamaica); NS (Sri Lanka) and others; Pereira v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 53 — read judgment.
This is a major decision which clarifies the approach that the Immigration Tribunal should take to the question of whether a child and/or their parents should be removed from the UK in circumstances where it is claimed that this would constitute a disproportionate interference in their rights to private and family life.
In summary, the Court held that misconduct by the parents — be it criminal offending or immigration-related misdemeanours such as overstaying a visa — should not form part of the assessment of whether a child should be removed from the UK. As a result, it should also not form part of the assessment of whether Article 8 requires that the parent remain in the UK with the child.
However, the judgment is complicated and leaves some questions without clear answers. In this extended article, we will explore the reasoning of the Court and have a look at what has been clarified but also at what might now be plunged into confusion.
As discussed previously on the Blog, the rights of the family members of EEA nationals to reside in the UK is currently in a state of flux. One important issue concerns the appeal rights of an “extended family member” of an EEA national.
At the moment, if a “family member” of an EEA national resident in the UK, that is, a spouse, direct descendant (including a stepchild) who is dependent or under 21, or a dependent in the direct ascending line, applies for a residence card under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016 and is refused by the Home Office, they have a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal in the normal way.
However, if an “extended family member”, that is, a non-married partner or other dependent relative (e.g. grown-up child) of the EEA national applies for a residence card, but is refused, regulation 2 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016 operates to preclude a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. Therefore, only judicial review is available to challenge such a decision.
In my last article, we saw that one such “extended family member”, Ms Rozanne Banger (I am reliably informed that her surname is pronounced “Banjer” with a soft “g”), fought a case at the Upper Tribunal in part concerning the issue of whether the denial of a right of appeal to a person in her position was compatible with EU law, specifically Article 3(2) of Directive 2004/38 (known as the “Citizens Directive”). The Upper Tribunal decided that it needed to ask the Court of Justice of the European Union to clarify the matter.
This author suggests that it is arguable that the denial of a right of appeal is open to legal challenge.
How the scheme works
Citizens of Commonwealth countries who were living in the UK before 1 January 1973, plus their children and certain non-Commonwealth citizens will be assessed and issued with proof of British citizenship if they already are British in law, or will be considered for naturalisation if they are not. Those who do not qualify for British citizenship will be assessed to see if they have the right of abode and those who do not qualify for that will be considered for a permit confirming their right to be in the UK under the no time limit biometric residence permit scheme.
In judicial review, on the other hand, the judge does not step into the shoes of the decision-maker and is tasked instead with evaluating whether the decision was lawful and rational. There is always the possibility that the judge will conclude that whilst the decision is tough, it is still legally watertight. In addition, an applicant must apply for permission before they can get a substantive hearing and an unsuccessful applicant usually pays the Secretary of State’s costs.
So, there is a fair amount riding on the issue of whether a claimant gets an appeal or not.
One way for an immigrant to gain the right to be in the UK is by making an application under the Immigration Rules. But these applications are relatively expensive and the requirements have become increasingly stringent (e.g. in a case of a partner, the normal minimum income requirement of £18,600 p/a, which was upheld by the Supreme Court).
For as long as the UK remains in the EU, there is also an alternative option – an application under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations. This offers a route for the family of an EU citizen to apply for a UK residence card.
But the law in this area concerning the right of appeal has been on the move. This article will aim to give an update of where we are up to and what is still yet to be decided.
UPDATED following the Advocate General’s opinion in Banger – see end of this post.
We are delighted to announce the return of the weekly news Round-Up!
Each Monday, Sarah-Jane Ewart, Conor Monighan and Eleanor Leydon will be giving you a bite-sized round-up of legal developments over the last week. These will include summaries of the latest decisions in the courts and discussion of wider issues. We hope these updates will assist in keeping on top of the fast-moving currents in the law in 2018. Don’t go away — these will start next week!
2017 has been a dramatic year in global politics and no less in the world of human rights law.
It has been a fascinating time to be editor of the UK Human Rights Blog. As just a taster, decisions have ranged across issues of the best interests of a seriously ill child, the conduct of British soldiers in Iraq and whether a transgender father should be allowed access to his children in an ultra-religious community. But there is much, much more.
So pour yourself a large measure of whatever you fancy, unwrap that mince pie waiting for you in the larder, and let me take you by the hand as we embark on a whirlwind tour of 10 of the biggest human rights cases of the 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.