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.
The first flight attempting to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been cancelled at the last minute following a ECtHR ruling that granted an ‘urgent interim measure’ to stop the deportation. This is in contradiction to the UK High Court and Court of Appeal, which found that, while there should be a full review of the policy, the Home Secretary would not be acting unlawfully by deporting asylum seekers in the meantime. The UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal. The ECtHR stated that the decision was influenced by the UN’s refugee agency, who raised concerns that those being deported may not receive a fair hearing and could be left in unsafe conditions.
The Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the US. Assange has been charged under the US Espionage Act for publishing leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars on his whistle-blowing platform ‘WikiLeaks’ and faces up to 175 years in jail if found guilty. Assange has been in prison since he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2019 after his asylum status was removed. His extradition had previously been blocked for concerns regarding his mental health, but the current decision marks the most important stage in his legal battle. Assange has 14 days to appeal the decision, but his brother expressed that if this is not successful the case will be brought before the ECtHR.
The Queen’s Speech was delivered by Prince Charles on Tuesday, setting out the legislative agenda for the year to come. The controversial Bill of Rights was announced, which would overhaul the Human Rights Act with a vision to ‘restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts.’ However, more than 50 groups including Amnesty, Liberty, and the British Institute for Human Rights have written to Boris Johnson warning of the ‘significant implications’ of repealing the Act. Other bills in the speech include: a Public Orders Bill (designed to target environmental protesters); a Brexit Freedoms Bill (ending the supremacy of EU law by making repeal easier); and a National Security Bill (tightening up official secrets law).
The first legal action against the UK-Rwanda asylum plan has been launched, based on an Iranian asylum seeker who claims he would face extreme hardship if sent to Rwanda. The challenge is that the scheme breaches international law, the UN refugee convention, and data protection laws. The legal action comes as the UN refugee agency expressed serious concerns that the policy will be taken up throughout Europe.
Last week saw an influx of legislation approved before Parliament’s Thursday end-of-session deadline. Some include:
The Nationality and Borders Act. Three of the most controversial provisions are: to allow asylum claims to be handled at overseas facilities (offshoring asylum); criminalising those who knowingly arrive in the UK illegally; and treating asylum seekers differently depending on how they enter the UK.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. Another turbulent journey to Royal Assent, this grants police extra powers to quash disruptive demonstrations. This is done by increasing restrictions on protests where ‘noise’ could cause ‘serious disruption’, and by criminalising activity which causes ‘serious distress, serious annoyance or serious inconvenience’ without ‘reasonable excuse’.
An independent review by Jonathan Hall QC has concluded that terrorists in prison ‘enjoy high status’ within a culture of fear and violence across English and Welsh jails. The review details examples of ‘Islamic gang-like activity’, exacerbated by the 27% cut in staff between 2010 and 2017. A separate report by Hall also discovered that the Government does not keep a record, ‘officially or unofficially’, of the number of prosecuted terrorists returning to the UK from Syria.
Victims of sexual offences are subject to the longest waiting period on record, with an average of 9 months for cases to go through Crown Courts. Data also demonstrates that the speed of cases depends on their location, with cases in Leicester taking the longest to complete (on average 15 months).
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