Media By: Laura Profumo


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

21 December 2015 by

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

30 November 2015 by

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.

9 November 2015 by

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

19 October 2015 by

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

29 September 2015 by

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

17 August 2015 by

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.
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The round-up – Books, Boycotts, and Gove’s Debut

19 July 2015 by

01_NH10RES_1148962kLaura Profumo serves us the latest human rights happenings.

In the News: 

Michael Gove appeared before the Justice Select Committee last Wednesday, in the first true baring of his political mettle as justice secretary. Overall, it seems, the MP made a largely favourable impression, though legal commentators remain wary. UKHRB’s own Adam Wagner deftly compared Gove’s success to “when they gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize…because he wasn’t George Bush”. The “post-Grayling Gove-hope” may, then, prove deceptively shallow, defined by the simple relief that Gove is not Grayling.

Yet Gove’s evidence before the committee was laudable – reasonable, measured, and skifully non-committal. Gove’s comments on the Human Rights Act obliquely signalled the “proposals” will be published “in the autumn”, failing to specify whether they would be accompanied by a draft Bill. His substantive points were similarly vague. The Lord Chancellor invoked the “abuse” of human rights as justification for the repeal of the HRA, before conceding he could not offer a “one-hundred per cent guarantee” that the UK would remain a party to the Convention. Such a position suggests a British Bill of Rights may “seek to limit certain rights”, argues academic Mark Elliot, which would, “quite possibly”, precipitate British withdrawal from Strasbourg altogether. Gove also stressed the role of the judiciary in applying the common law to uphold human rights, holding that “there is nothing in the Convention that is not in the common law”. Such a view is “highly contestable at best, plain wrong at worst”, holds Elliot, whilst Conor Gearty finds it stokes the fantasy of “the civil libertarian common law”. Gove seems to suggest that HRA-repeal and possible ECHR-withdrawal would be “far from earth-shattering events”, Elliot notes, as judges could still invoke a panoply of common-law rights. Whilst Gove is right to remind skeptics that HRA-repeal would not leave domestic judges powerless, such “overstatement” of the common-law rights model “might end up hoist on its own petard….ringing hollower than its cheerleaders”.
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The Round Up: Fast-track Failings and Obergefell ‘egoism’

6 July 2015 by

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

Laura Profumo brings you the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

In a critical, though arguably overdue, decision, the Court of Appeal has suspended the fast-track immigration appeals system. The process, under which rejected asylum seekers are detained and given only seven days to appeal, was held “structurally unfair” by the High Court, before being halted altogether by last week’s appeal. The ruling was welcomed by the appellant charity, Detention Action, as meaning “asylum seekers can no longer be detained…simply for claiming asylum”. Previously, the fast-track deadlines could be imposed on any asylum seeker from any country, if the Home Office considered their case could be decided quickly. This marks the third time courts have found the system to be unlawful, yet the suspension will now stay in force until a government appeal is mounted. The decision deals a major blow to a system which is “inefficient, bureaucratic, demeaning and dehumanising”, writes immigration expert Colin Yeo. Whilst there is “no doubt” a replacement fast track will soon be found, in the meantime “let us savour the respite” from such crude expediency.

In other news, the spotlight remains on America, in the euphoric wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v Hodges. The final paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s judgment, in its stirring clarity, is set to make legal history. Yet not everyone is “enveloped in a warm and fuzzy feeling”, writes UKHRB’s own Jim Duffy. Justice Scalia, the firebrand conservative, “pulled no punches” in his dissent, citing the majority opinion as “egotistic” and a “threat to American democracy”. Scalia’s arrival in London last week further stoked the Obergefell debate. Speaking at a Federalist Society event, Scalia held his colleagues had wrongly used the due process clause to distill a substantive, rather than procedural, right. Defending his position as a constitutional originalist, Scalia maintained the meaning of the Constitution as fixed, rather than the “wonderfully seductive judicial theory” of living constitutions, in which “we can have all sorts of new things, like same sex marriage”. When asked about the proposed Bill of Rights, the Justice’s response was particularly biting: “You can’t do any worse than the situation you’re in now”.
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Cake, Equality, and the Queen’s Speech

27 May 2015 by

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

Laura Profumo brings us the latest human rights goings on.

In the News: 

This afternoon, the new Conservative Government’s legislative plans were announced in the Queen’s Speech. Michael Gove, the recently appointed Justice Secretary, will have to defend his party’s intention to scrap the Human Rights Act, blunting the influence of Strasbourg jurisprudence. As Daniel Hannan observes, Gove faces a “different order of magnitude” in his new role, finding himself up against an “articulate and wealthy lobby” within the legal profession. An “elegant compromise” might be found, Hannan suggests, in amending our extant Bill of Rights to include ECHR freedoms, restoring “our sovereignty and our democracy”.

It is certainly clear that Gove will have to carefully pilot the reforms through Parliament. Lord Falconer cautions that the House of Lords, where the Conservatives don’t have a majority, may prove obstructive:

“If the Conservative measures strike at fundamental constitutional rights, the Lords will throw this back to the Commons”.

The backbencher minority of ‘Runnymede Tories’, forcefully headed by David Davis, will also seek to stall the Bill’s course. Yet, Matthew d’Ancona concedes, “if anyone has the intellectual firepower to square all the circles it is Gove”.

In brighter news, the Republic of Ireland has become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through popular vote. Some 62% of the electorate voted in favour of the reform, with all but one of the Republic’s 43 constituencies voting Yes. The result comes just two decades after the Irish government decriminalised homosexuality, marking a milestone in Ireland’s divisive religious history. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, recognised the vote as a “social revolution”, which requires the Church to “have a reality check, not move into the denial of realities”.

In a prelude to the historical referendum, the ‘Gay Cake’ Case, which has gripped Northern Ireland for the last year, come to a close last week. In a clear decision, it was found that the Christian bakery’s refusal to make a campaign cake the LGBT support group, QueerSpace, amounted to direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The outcome has not been welcomed by all. TUV leader Jim Allister lamented it a “dark day for justice and religious freedom”, whilst Melanie McDonagh, writing in the Spectator, found the decision inversely “intolerant and discriminatory”, forcing a Presbyterian business to promulgate a message “at odds with their belief”. Yet talk of religious persecution is besides the point, argues academic Colin Murray. The case concerned the “ability to do the banal and ordinary things in life without these activities becoming the subject of public opprobrium”. It was not, as McDonagh suggests, a case of cake artisans’ ‘right to ice’, but the right of the public to lawfully contract with a business, irrespective of “how that public is constituted”.

Following the decisive vote across the border yesterday, many hope that Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is still prohibited, will follow suit. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has advocated a referendum: “This is a matter of whether or not we want to live in a modern progressive society that respects minorities”. Now that Northern Ireland has their cake – it remains to be seen whether the idiom will ring true.

 

In Other News:

  • Haile v London Borough of Waltham Forest: The Supreme Court ruled that the appellant had not made herself intentionally homeless when, after learning that she was pregnant, she left her London hostel. As she would have been evicted from the hostel anyway, on giving birth to her child, the Court ruled in her favour. Her lawyer, Nathaniel Matthews, welcomed the decision as one in which “glorious common sense prevailed. Women who become homeless because they have become pregnant must be protected”.
  • Vladimir Putin has signed a bill which allows foreign NGOs to be banned from operating in Russia. The law will allow authorities to prosecute NGOs which are designated as ‘undesirable’ on national security grounds. Individuals working for such organisations could face fines, or up to six years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International has condemned the measure as part of the “ongoing draconian crackdown…squeezing the life out of civil society”.

In the Courts: 

  • Identoba and Others v GeorgiaThe Georgian police failed to protect participants in a march against homophobia from violent attacks of counter-demonstrators. ECtHR held the police had violated the protestors’ Article 3 and 11 rights, in failing to take sufficient measures to prevent the attacks.
  •  SS v the United Kingdom; F.A and Others v the United Kingdom A case concerning convicted prisoners’ entitlement to social security benefits was held to be inadmissible by ECtHR. The applicants were prisoners in psychiatric hospitals who complained that, under new 2006 regulations, denying them benefits paid to the other patients amounted to unjustified discrimination. The Court emphasised Contracting States’ margin of appreciation in social policy, finding that the differential treatment was not unreasonable, given that the applicants, whilst patients, were also convicted prisoners.
  • Gogitidze and Others v Georgia The ECtHR ruled that the forfeiture of a wrongfully acquired property was not in breach of the tenant’s right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, under Article 1 of Protocol No.1. As the property confiscated belonged to the former Deputy Minister of the Interior, the Court inquired whether a proportionate balance had been struck between the method of forfeiture and the public interest in combating political corruption. The domestic courts were held to have achieved such a balance.

 

    Events:

  • ‘Do we need a new Magna Carta?’ The Miriam Rothschild & John Foster Human Rights Trust, and University College London, are hosting a lecture given by Lord Lester QC, on alternatives to the embattled Human Rights Act. The event will take place at 6.15pm, 15th June, at the Institute of Child Health. Please RSVP to rsvplectureinvitation@gmail.com.If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the Blog’s Commissioning Editor, Jim Duffy, at jim.duffy@1cor.com 

     

Caped Crusaders and Princely Rights – The Human Rights Round-Up

19 April 2015 by

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

Laura Profumo runs through the week’s human rights headlines.

In the News:

The Conservative party published its manifesto last week. The document makes for curious reading, writes academic Mark Elliott. The manifesto confirms the party’s pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act and to replace it with a British Bill of Rights, reversing the “mission creep” of current human rights law.

Yet the polarising references to “Labour’s Human rights Act” illustrate the Act’s failure to secure supra-political constitutional status, being tossed between the parties like a “political football”, writes Elliott.

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Grayling’s legacy, naked rambling and the benefits cap: It’s the Round-up!

30 March 2015 by

Naked RamblerLaura Profumo brings us up to speed with the latest human rights happenings.

In the News

“It seems hard to believe that Grayling will remain Lord Chancellor for long”. Joshua Rozenberg delivered a biting analysis of the minister’s future legacy in the Law Gazette last week. As the General Election looms, “perhaps Cameron has finally begun to realise how much anger and despair there is at the steady erosion in access to justice for which Grayling is held responsible”. If the Conservatives lead the next government, the Lord Chancellor will struggle to secure his place, Rozenberg warns.

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