The Round-Up: Janner’s death – an end to an unseemly CPS affair?

Greville Janner, CommentLaura Profumo peruses the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

Lord Janner died on Saturday, aged 87, after a long battle with dementia.  The former labour peer was due to face a “trial of the facts” in April, after being accused of a string of child sex abuse offences. The special hearing, for suspects unfit to defend themselves in a normal criminal trial, takes place before a jury, yet there is no formal verdict, nor sentencing procedure. It is speculated that, if the trial had continued when Janner was alive, he would have been given a discharge, if not altogether acquitted.  It now looks unlikely that the trial will proceed. “I can’t think of any way in which the Crown Prosecution Service could even reinstate the case. It dies with the unfit defendant”, writes academic Ronnie Mackay. It’s a dim prognosis for Janner’s alleged victims, who still hope to have their day in court, after many abortive attempts to bring their claims against Janner before he fell ill. Their hopes are now confined to the forthcoming civil proceedings against Janner’s estate, and the Goddard inquiry. Yet former DPP, Ken Macdonald, has held that the decision whether to proceed with the trial is “quite finely balanced” and, despite his personal preference, there stands a credible case for it taking place. As there’s no question of a penal sanction in a trial of the facts, the presence of the defendant is not strictly required. In light of this, Lord Macdonald has suggested “the argument for continuing is that [Janner] was not going to play any part in these proceedings in any event”. Continue reading

The Round-Up: NI Change in Abortion Laws, and the Lord’s Prayer Ban

Photo credit: GuardianLaura Profumo considers the latest human rights headlines.

In the News

The High Court in Belfast today ruled that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHCR) brought the case to extend abortion to cases of serious foetal malformation, rape and incest.

The Abortion Act 1967 does not extend to Northern Ireland: abortion is only allowed there if a woman’s life is at risk, or if there is a permanent risk to her mental or physical health. In this judicial review, it was held that the grounds for abortion should be extended, though it is still to be determined whether new legislation will be required to give effect to the ruling.

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The Round-Up: Plaudits for Gove, and the Constitutional Convolutions of the Ministerial Code.

michael-Gove_2566694bLaura Profumo serves us the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

At the Howard League for Penal Reform AGM last week, Michael Gove held his own when challenged about criminal justice reform. Despite his Making Prisons Work speech in July, and his successful overturning of his predecessor’s prison book ban, Gove has remained relatively reticent on his plans for the criminal justice system. Speaking for some 30 minutes, Gove addressed the “need to move away from the sterile debate of ‘lock people up or let them out’”, and summon a “new era of talking about crime and punishment”. His audience, many still bristling from Grayling’s stringency in office, were won over by the Lord Chancellor’s more peaceable approach to penal reform. In addition to emphasising the need for a more sensitive sentencing framework, Gove urged for the causes of criminality to be tackled, including the “moral absence” experienced by many offenders growing up in care. In contrast to Grayling’s perceived complacency over prison conditions, Gove recognised the current “crisis”, pledging his commitment to his “new for old” prisons policy – replacing ineffective Victorian prisons with functional new ones – as well as to improving the autonomy of prison governors. The Lord Chancellor also proposed the use of more advanced technology in prisons, in order to improve the safety of staff and inmates, and to meet the particular educational needs of prisoners with learning difficulties. The conference ended on an especially poignant note, with Gove expressing his admiration for social workers – words which left Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League “blown away”.

It remains to be seen whether the Autumn Statement, unveiled later this month, will affirm Gove’s ambitious plans. Yet his moral framework for policy choices bodes well, informing the ongoing debate on the prison system with a quieter rhetoric of hope and realism. Continue reading

The Round-Up: Gove’s Gallop to the Commons

michael-Gove_2566694bLaura Profumo delves into the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

In an “exclusive” last weekend, The Independent revealed that the government is planning to “fast-track” a British Bill of Rights into UK law. The report claimed a 12-week consultation will run from late this year, which will seek to clarify that the UK will not pull out of the ECHR. In an “unusual but not unique” move, a Bill will then proceed straight to the House of Commons, without a preliminary Green or White Paper. With the EU referendum due in 2017, ministers are anxious to extricate the ECHR question from that of EU membership, making the Bill law before the in/out campaigns begin. Yet the Bill’s Parliamentary passage will be far from seamless. A cabinet minister has cautioned that the short timescale is “aspirational”, as the Bill could be “really clogged up in the House of Lords”. The upper chamber, where the Conservatives fail to command a majority, hosts some “seasoned lawyers”, who are fearful of the fallout with Strasbourg. It is understood that Gove will visit Scotland before the consultation is published, to convince the SNP to back the proposal. Yet it is not yet clear whether Gove will visit Northern Ireland and Wales as well, where he must also secure support. If the Bill is to reach the statute books before the MPs’ summer recess, it will need to be propounded in the next Queen’s speech, due in May 2016. Continue reading

The Round-Up: Holyrood’s Hard-line, and Sumption’s Long Game

SumptionLaura Profumo brings you the latest human rights happenings.

In the News: 

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, announced last week that it was “inconceivable” that the SNP would support the Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. Talking to an audience in Glasgow on Wednesday, Sturgeon pledged her unequivocal commitment to block the HRA-repeal. Sturgeon warned that human rights remained a “devolved issue”, meaning that Scottish opposition might well hamper Gove’s forthcoming efforts. Many find sympathy with Sturgeon’s stance. Sturgeon values the HRA as a “careful model” which incorporates human rights protection into UK law, without upsetting our constitutional bedrock, writes Alex Cisneros in The Justice Gap. Continue reading

The Round-Up: Janner’s debut, and the plight of relying on Dignitas.

2138Laura Profumo serves us the latest human rights happenings.

In the news:

Lurid show-trial of a vulnerable man, the timely vindication of justice being done, and being seen to be done, a CPS volte-face.

Whatever you think of the Janner trial, it’s now in full swing. The former Labour Peer made his first appearance in court on Friday, facing 22 historic child sex abuse charges. The 87 year old’s committal hearing lasted some 59 seconds, after weeks of legal grappling with his defence lawyers. Any doubt over Janner’s dementia was “dispersed instantly” by his arrival, writes The Telegraph’s Martin Evans: flanked by his daughter and carer, Janner appeared frail and “confused”, cooing “ooh, this is wonderful” as he entered the courtroom. The case will now pass to the Crown Court, with the next hearing due on September 1, where a judge will decide whether the octogenarian is fit to stand trial, or whether a trial of fact is a suitable alternative. If the latter course is taken, a jury will decide if Janner was responsible for his charged actions – no verdict of guilt will be found, and no punishment will be handed down. Continue reading

The Round Up: The right to die battle – last rites, or the long game?

_75775977_150348420Laura Profumo delivers the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

Right to die campaigners have sustained yet another setback, following the judgment of R (AM) v General Medical Council last week.

 

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