Grant Shapps, the Business Secretary, has set out the anti-strike laws that are planned to enforce minimum levels of service during strike action. Under the proposals, some employees would be required to work during a strike and could be fired if they refuse. It would be for the ministers to set the minimum levels of service, and there would be no automatic protection from unfair dismissal in breaching these levels. Unions have criticised the bill for being ‘undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal’, and Labour have stated it would repeal the legislation if it wins the next general election. The bill has been defended by Shapps, who states it is aimed to protect lives and livelihoods.
The investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine will be considered in a major international meeting to be held in London in March. In attendance will be the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, in order to inform about the court’s work in investigating war crimes. The meeting comes as Putin continues to target crucial energy infrastructure as he destroys central heating supplies in the heart of winter. Dominic Raab has stated that ‘Russian forces should know they cannot act with impunity and we will back Ukraine until justice is served’; the meeting is designed to determine how to further assist the ICC in bringing that justice.
The Government has launched legal action to recover £122m from PPE Medpro, the supplier recommended by Conservative peer Michelle Mone. The claim is grounded in a contract for the supply of 25m sterile surgical gowns awarded via the ‘VIP lane’ used during the pandemic to prioritise companies with political connections. None of the gowns purchased were ever used in the NHS as they were allegedly not fit for purpose, although Medpro insist that the gowns passed inspection and will defend the claim. The case will be of significant public interest following the revelation that £29m originating from profits from this contract was paid to an offshore trust whose beneficiaries were Mone and her children. Mone’s husband also profited at least £65m from these government contracts. Mone remains insistent that she had no involvement in Medpro and has not gained financially from the contracts.
The Scottish Parliament have passed the Gender Recognition Bill, allowing people to legally change their gender through a system of self-identification. The Bill seeks to make it easier for individuals to legally change their gender, removing the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria to gain a gender recognition certificate, and extending the new system to 16 year olds. It also reduces the time someone has to have been permanently living in their acquired gender before they can apply (to 3 months down from 2 years). The Bill has been the centre of a much heated debate, with potent beliefs on either side. While the parliamentary debate itself was disrupted within minutes by protesters shouting ‘shame on you… this is the darkest day’, many have come out in support of the Bill for the protections it provides for trans people.
The proposed requirement for social media platforms to delete ‘legal but harmful’ content has been partly removed from the Online Safety Bill. While the change affects adult users, the requirement to prevent children being exposed to harmful content remains in the Bill. Culture Secretary, Michelle Donelan, denied that this change was ‘weakening’ the laws protecting social media users because there will be more control about what people see on specific sites. The kinds of material people will have control over include content promoting eating disorders or inciting hate on the basis of race, gender, or religion. The removal of the ‘legal but harmful’ element of the Bill has been welcomed by many who criticised it for ‘posing a threat to free speech’. Lucy Powell MP, however, states that the removal of the section gives a ‘free pass to abusers and takes the public for a ride’.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner has warned that a ‘deeply unjust’ postcode lottery puts victims of domestic abuse at greater risk depending on where they live in the country. The statistics demonstrate that regional inequalities exist in terms of accessing support for domestic abuse, with a 21% difference between the highest performing area (the North-East) and the lowest performing area (Wales). The report also found that black and minority ethnic victims of domestic violence struggle to access necessary support. Consequently, the Commissioner has urged that the Victims Bill place a duty on local authorities to conduct needs assessments along with a new central obligation to provide greater funding to meet those needs.
New data has revealed that 40 potential breaches of the ministerial code have never been referred for investigation by the ethics adviser. In discovering this, the report stated that it would be concerning if Rishi Sunak’s new adviser was not allowed to examine historical cases, which a parliamentary committee warned would be the case previously. One of the recommendations of the report is to make former ministers and civil servants who break the rules regulating the relation between government and the private sector face legal action.
The High Court has been asked to decide whether a teenager who is on life-support following an apparent suicide attempt can be allowed to die. Hospital bosses have prospectively asked whether it would be lawful to remove life-support treatment, but the trial has been adjourned until the new year so that the family could have ‘as normal and as peaceful’ a Christmas as possible.
In the courts
In The Good Law Project v The Prime Minister  EWCA Civ 1580, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal and a claim for judicial review regarding duties owed in relation to public records under section 3(1) of the Public Records Act 1958. S3(1) establishes a duty on ‘every person responsible for the public records… to make arrangements for the selection of those records which ought to be permanently preserved and for their safe-keeping.’ The substantive issues on appeal were (i) whether this duty extended to the preservation of records before they are selected; and (ii) whether there was a duty to comply with 8 published policies. In respect of the first issue, the Court held that Parliament did not impose a general duty to retain public records and did not specify that records were to be retained pending their selection. The Court was not willing to find that the duty was implied either, as to do so would mean the duty applied to all records which would overwhelm the Departments and the National Archives . In respect of the second issue, the Court found that there was no duty to comply with the policies. Importantly, they were directed to ministers and civil servants, not to the public. the Appellant could not, therefore, enforce it against the Respondent. The policies were internal and could not be framed as absolute duties not to use certain methods of communication.
In Kays v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWCA 1593, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against the refusal of a claim for universal credit. The Appellant was a student with severe disabilities. He applied for universal credit under the understanding that students in receipt of disability living allowances are entitled. His claim was refused because he had not been assessed as having limited capability for work before the claim was made (as per the 2020 Regulations), which he claimed was unlawful. The grounds for appeal were that the Respondent acted irrationally in deciding not to consult before making the 2020 Regulations, and that it resulted in arbitrary results. It was held that no duty exists to consult on the making of regulations; the Respondent was not obliged to consult and did not see anything necessitating her to do so. It was held that there was nothing irrational in that approach . It was also held that the 2020 Regulations did not lead to arbitrary results because the issues complained of were not caused by the Regulations themselves. The opportunity to obtain an assessment of work capability was contained in the relevant regulations before the 2020 Regulations were made .
In Ware v French  EWHC 3030 (KB), the High Court found in favour of the Claimant in a defamation trial regarding the Panorama documentary ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’ that aired in July 2019. An article was published in Coldtype magazine by the Defendant entitled ‘Is the BBC Anti-Labour? Panorama’s biased AntiSemitism Reporting – A Case to Answer, an investigation by Paddy French’. The Claimant, the programme’s reporter, claimed that the article was defamatory because it caused him serious harm by describing him as a rogue and biased journalist. This position was described as ‘overwhelming’. The wide dissemination of the article, the large interest in antisemitism within the Labour Party, and the Claimant’s high profile as a journalist all contributed to a situation where the allegations directly impacted the Claimant’s ability to earn a living.
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has made headline news over the past few months. Attention firstly focused on whether it would happen at all. Once the acquisition was completed, public opinion turned to Musk’s plans for the platform: to make Twitter a bastion of free speech in opposition to an age of censorship. As these reforms have begun to unfold, news outlets have looked at the treatment of staff during this period of ‘transition’.
What is interesting, however, is that these episodes are not taking place in a contextual vacuum. At the same time that Musk brags that “the bird is freed”, the Online Safety Bill passes through Parliament with an aim to control information on social media platforms. The Bill sets out to regulate what Musk’s Twitter sets out to deregulate.
Does the Bill salt the bird’s tail, caging what has only just been freed? Where should the balance be struck between social media freedom and social media protection?
The High Court has granted an injunction preventing M25 protests in response to Just Stop Oil activists gluing themselves to motorways in the past weeks. The injunction means that anyone fixing themselves to the road, or anyone assisting someone else in doing so, can be held in contempt of court and thus face imprisonment, an unlimited fine, and the seizure of assets. The decision follows a previous court order obtained against Insulate Britain who partook in similar protests earlier in the year. The existing injunctions now cover the M25, the M25 feeder roads, and major roads in Kent and around the Port of Dover until May 2023.
The proposed bill to overhaul EU law, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, could have devastating impacts on legal certainty in the UK, the Law Society have warned. The measures would allow ministers to overhaul laws without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny or public oversight, raising concerns over parliamentary sovereignty, legal certainty, and the rule of law, according to Society president Lubna Shuja. A clause in the bill would mean that many retained EU laws will expire at the end of 2023, with them going many basic protections. The Society has called for this ‘arbitrary and unrealistic’ 2023 deadline to be removed in order to allow a more measured review of the laws and what reform is necessary.
The UN Human Rights Council have reminded that the UK’s treatment of asylum seekers must comply with international law in their review of the human rights situation in the UK. The statement came alongside a call on the Government to give some certainty to asylum seekers by speeding up approvals instead of housing people in motels, stating the temporary accommodation they are kept in is ‘grim’. The examination was against the backdrop of plans to send migrants to Rwanda.
The Government have been accused of ‘rolling back’ on tackling modern slavery by the charity Anti-Slavery International. It is claimed that the UK has attempted to reclassify modern slavery as an immigration issue and that a rhetoric of ‘abusing the system’ diverts attention from the important issues. The charity says that the Rwanda scheme, for instance, fails to provide safeguards to prevent victims of modern slavery being targeted for relocation.
In the courts
In Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis v A Police Conduct Panel  EWHC 2857 (Admin), the High Court ordered that a new panel redetermine whether an officer’s behaviour amounted to gross misconduct in relation to the unauthorised use of firearms. The officer in question falsely stamped his personal firearms authorisation, meaning whenever a weapon was withdrawn by him, he used a false document authorising him to carry it. The Commissioner claimed judicial review of the panel assessing his conduct (who did not dismiss him) on 2 grounds: (i) the process by which his sanction was reached was unlawful; and (ii) the sanction awarded was irrational. Ground 1 was accepted on the basis that the Panel erred in law by considering testimonials when assessing the misconduct. Ground 2 was accepted on the basis that the only reasonable sanction was dismissal, whereas the panel only issued a written warning.
In Modi v Government of India  EWHC 2829 (Admin), the High Court dismissed an appeal against a ruling ordering the Claimant to be extradited to India, who seek him for criminal proceedings. The appeal submitted that the extradition was oppressive within the meaning of s91 of the Extradition Act 2003 by virtue of his physical or mental condition. The court determined that while the risk of suicide is high, there are suitable medical provisions and an appropriate plan in place to mitigate this risk. The risk therefore did not cross the high threshold required to satisfy that the claimant’s condition is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him.
In AB v Chief Constable of British Transport Police  EWHC 2749 (KB), the High Court dismissed an appeal against a judge’s declaration that the retention of records in relation to an incident involving the claimant was unlawful. The claimant has Asperger’s and experiences high levels of anxiety. Two women complained to the police that he had touched them inappropriately, but he was not charged with any offence. The police retain information about the complaints, which the claimant submits is unlawful on 2 grounds: (i) it is inaccurate, and the retention is therefore in breach of data protection; and (ii) it is a disproportionate interference with his Article 8 Convention rights. The appeal was dismissed for the fundamental reason that the records were intended to reflect the information provided to the police, rather than detailing the underlying facts of what happened.
Elsewhere on the UKHRB
Rosalind English discusses the HS2 protest injunction here.
A report has found that the newly introduced practice of GPS tagging migrants has left people feeling suicidal and stigmatised. Since August 2021, those on immigration bail facing deportation have been monitored by the State, but in January of this year the measures were increased to GPS tracking their every move. The report raises the following concerns: (i) it causes serious damage to mental and physical health; (ii) it is a form of surveillance that goes beyond what is necessary; and (iii) the tags must be charged for up to 4 hours per day and cannot be removed to do this. In the round, the report characterised the practice as ‘psychological torture’ and recommended that it be stopped.
Thousands of students have decided to bring legal claims against universities over their education during the Covid-19 pandemic. The claims complain that the tuition fees for education remained the same despite everything moving online, the result of which being that resources were vastly reduced. Some students paid £40,000 for the year despite lessons frequently being cancelled and timetables slashed. Part of the issue, according to one student at the University of Nottingham, was that students were not told when the period of online teaching would end, and so were forced to pay rent for no reason. No claim has been brought at present, but the calls have rallied nearly 20,000 students in support.
Law firms in the UK will be banned from providing ‘transactional legal advisory services’ to Russians, as part of an effort to increase sanctions. The decision came after Putin’s announcement of the illegal annexation of 4 Ukrainian regions. The UK Government had previously banned services exported to Russia back in May (including accountancy, management consultancy, and PR), but legal services were deliberately excluded from this. The justification for that exclusion was the Rule of Law principle that everyone has a right to access legal representation. In order to maintain this principle as far as possible, the ban on legal advice has been limited to commercial and transactional services with a vision to impede Russian business’s ability to operate internationally.
The House of Commons privileges committee has issued its response to the legal opinion of Lord Pannick KC and Jason Pobjoy (on behalf of Boris Johnson) in respect of its inquiry into ‘partygate’. Pannick’s opinion criticised the committee’s proposed conduct by identifying 6 areas where a ‘fundamentally flawed approach’ has been adopted. The most substantial criticism was that the committee did not consider intent to be necessary in proving that Johnson misled the House. The weight behind this argument was that there would be a ‘chilling effect’ on Ministerial comments if unintentional mistakes were held to be contempt. In their response, the committee described this proposition as ‘wholly misplaced and itself misleading’. The response also says that the opinion is ‘founded on a systemic misunderstanding of the parliamentary process and misplaced analogies with the criminal law’. Questions have been raised as to both the method of publication of the opinion (which was not shown to the committee as is convention) and why the matter was not arranged by the government legal service.
The Home Office plans to re-open immigration detention centres as Suella Braverman indicates that she will take a harder line on immigration than Priti Patel, her predecessor. The plans are for 2 centres to open in order to detain 1,000 male asylum seekers, and to increase the number of people the Home Office can imprison. The plan is specifically linked to the detainment of people before they are sent to Rwanda, at a projected cost of £399m. The new contracts come after the former prison ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, published two comprehensive and highly critical reports on immigration detention, though officials stress they will take this into consideration.
The Law Commission has proposed to ban discrimination in the appointment of arbitrators. At present, women are still ‘around three times less likely to be appointed as arbitrators than men’. The proposed reform would amend the Arbitration Act 1996 so that any agreement in relation to proposed arbitrator’s protected characteristics should be unenforceable. At present, many arbitration agreements require a ‘commercial man’ or similar. This situation received judicial treatment in 2011 in the case of Hashwani v Jivraj, where it was decided in the UKSC that since an arbitrator was not appointed under a contract of employment, employment law rules against discrimination did not apply.
Barristers on strike have had the first talk with the Justice Secretary, the newly appointed Brandon Lewis. The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Kirsty Brimelow KC, said the group was willing to negotiate, having taken the decision to strike following repeated requests to meet with Lewis’ predecessor, Dominic Raab, to no avail. The Justice Secretary described the talks as a ‘constructive initial meeting’ and urged the CBA to stop the strike while negotiations were underway. The CBA is still asking for a 25% rise in pay for legal aid in defence cases.
One of the first decisions taken by the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has been to halt Dominic Raab’s Bill of Rights plan. The bill would have given legal supremacy to the UK Supreme Court, explicitly entitling it to disregard rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The bill is now ‘unlikely to progress in its current form’, a Whitehall source of the BBC has expressed, leaving doubt over whether Raab’s attempts to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 will materialise. Vice President of the Law Society, Lubna Shuja, said that ‘the only smart way to proceed would be to go back to the advice of the independent review it [the Government] commissioned.’
The legal challenge against the Rwanda asylum plan is being heard before the High Court. While the trial is ongoing, and no judgment will be handed down for some time, the Government’s legal arguments defending the plan are now known. Part of the defence advanced by Lord Pannick KC, counsel for the Government, relies on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, which confers on ministers the power to send asylum seekers to safe countries. If they are of the opinion the asylum seekers will be safe and not put in danger, the Home Secretary can transfer them to other states. The main hurdle for the Government in this defence will be the UN Refugee Agency’s declaration that Rwanda is an unsafe place for migrants. The Court has asked for a detailed response to this critical point.
Members of the Criminal Bar Association have voted in favour of an indefinite strike, escalating the industrial action that the courts have witnessed since June. The decision follows failed negotiations with the Ministry of Justice, with Dominic Raab still having not met with the CBA and the government standing firm in its position. The MoJ have expressed their disapproval of the decision, labelling it ‘irresponsible’. The CBA, alternatively, have accused the government of overseeing a ‘recklessly underfunded’ criminal justice system. In response to the decision, Raab has proposed granting more solicitors rights of audience, allowing more to advocate in the Crown court. The strike is due to commence on 5 September, coinciding with the announcement of the new Conservative party leader.
Liz Truss has expressed that she will consider triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol if she were to be successful in her leadership campaign. Article 16 provides ‘safeguarding measures’ that entitle the UK or the EU to suspend any part of the agreement. It does not, however, dismantle the Protocol in its entirety. Rather, triggering the article would provide an alternative to other suggestions which propose primary legislation to deem it necessary that the Government not comply with its existing obligations under the agreement. Triggering the article would exhaust the legal options the UK has before following through on this threat to discard the agreement altogether. The news comes after the EU launched a series of legal challenges against the UK’s commitment to the Protocol.
A former Afghan judge, who is fleeing from the Taliban with her son, has appealed against the Home Office rejected her application to enter the UK. Lawyers representing the woman state that she and her son have been left in a “gravely vulnerable position” following the withdrawal of western troops from the country. They had been chasing the Home Office for a decision on their application, but stated that the decision-makers were “dragging their feet”. They were told the delays were due to resources being redirected to Ukraine. After nine months the applications were refused, and an appeal is expected to take more months still. The family are currently in hiding in Pakistan after their home in Kabul was raided. Their residency is dependent on the goodwill of a landlord putting himself at risk of criminal punishment. Their refused entry is believed to be a result of administrative error.
Last week, the EU launched new legal action against the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol. The four new claims, which concern a failure to apply the customs and tax rules as agreed in 2019, are prompted by the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill passing through parliament that plans to discard the arrangements. Under the bill, companies in Great Britain who wish to export to Northern Ireland could choose between meeting either the UK or the EU regulatory standards. The EU’s Brexit commissioner described such terms as “illegal”, and justified the action as a response to the UK’s “unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion since February”. The four new challenges come on top of three other cases already underway, all of which will come before the European Court of Justice.
Charles Bronson, “Britain’s most notorious prisoner”, is the first person to formally ask for a public Parole Board hearing following rule changes that came into force on Thursday. In deciding whether to grant a public hearing, the board’s chairman will take into account the victims’ wishes, the risk of trauma, the vulnerability of the prisoner, and whether any witness evidence would be affected. The reform followed a case in 2020 in which Bronson successfully argued that Ministry of Justice regulations preventing public hearings breached his right to a fair trial. While the normal position remains that hearings will be private, the new rules allow for prisoners to request publicity, and Bronson’s hearing is expected to be held publicly late this year or early 2023.
The UK Government has urged Supreme Court justices not to hear the Scottish government’s request for a ruling as to whether it has the power to hold ‘indyref2’ (a proposed second Scottish independence referendum). The request was referred to the UKSC by Lord Advocate Bain, who was not prepared to sign off on the independence referendum bill without a ruling which acknowledges the necessary power to do so. The UK Government has been expressive in its “clear view” that the bill would be beyond the competence of the Scottish Parliament, and that the matter is too “premature” for justices to rule on it. The case is currently in the hands of Lord Reed. If the Scottish Government wins the case, Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that the bill would be introduced promptly so as to allow the vote to take place before October 2023.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has reprimanded the Department of Health for the use of WhatsApp and private emails during the pandemic. The use of these cryptic platforms has meant that information regarding the handling of the pandemic has been lost. The issue was brought before the courts in April, where the claim was dismissed and the practice held to be lawful. This was because the use of such channels of communication did not in themselves breach the Freedom of Information or data protection rules, because sufficient controls were in place to allow the information to be retrieved upon request. The ICO investigation has discovered, however, that “such controls were lacking”. As a result, the Department of Health has been formally required to improve its communications operations so that “public authorities remain accountable to the people they serve”.
The biggest story filling the headlines this week was that Boris Johnson has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party following over 50 resignations from government ministers. Though predominantly a political development, there are potential legal implications to the decision. This is because, until the leadership campaign announces his successor, current policies are stagnated under the ‘lame-duck government’. There is, therefore, doubt over the future of three particularly controversial policies: the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill; the Bill of Rights Bill; and the Rwanda scheme.
The proposed Bill of Rights Bill is Dominic Raab’s effort to replace the Human Rights Act, with the vision to allow the UKSC to take little account of rulings by the ECtHR. While Raab still remains in office, there are question marks over whether the controversial Bill will survive the administrative overhaul that is soon to unfold. See the reference below to the latest episode of Law Pod UK, which discusses the Bill in detail.
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.