Media By: Rosalind English


The Human Genome and Human Rights recommendations: “aspirational and symbolic”

2 December 2015 by

DNA database impact on human rightsThe International Bioethics Committee, under the auspices of UNESCO, has recently updated its guidance on the human genome and human rights. The Report of the IBC on Updating its Reflection on the Human Genome and Human Rights was published in October 2015, and takes into account the  Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997), the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data (2003) and the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (2005). The following summary is based on Alison Hall’s review of the recommendations in the PHG Foundation’s bulletin.

The IBC’s report attempts to review all the relevant ethical challenges for regulating genetic research and clinical care across national boundaries. The area that has received most coverage in the press involves the emerging techniques for editing the human genome, in particular engineering gametes. The other four areas of application the IBC has chosen for review are:

Direct-to-consumer genetic tests and genetic analysis that is not related to health care
Precision/personalised medicine
Biobanks (banks of genetic information)
Non-invasive prenatal testing
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The Magna Carta, Then and Now: Public Lecture

24 November 2015 by

National Archives Displays An Original Copy Of Magna CartaIn celebration of UN Human Rights Day on 10 December, Professor David Carpenter will be giving a lecture at Queen Mary University London.

David Carpenter is a Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London and author of ‘Magna Carta’, published by Penguin Classics.

Magna Carta, forced on King John in 1215 by rebellion, is one of the most famous documents in world history. It asserts a fundamental principle: that the ruler is subject to the law. David Carpenter’s commentary draws on new discoveries to give an entirely fresh account of Magna Carta’s text, origins, survival and enforcement, showing how it quickly gained a central place in English political life.
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Buzzards should not be protected any more than herring gulls and cormorants: High Court

14 November 2015 by

buzzard06McMorn (R, on the application of) v Natural England [2015] EWHC 3297 (Admin) – read judgment

Public opinion regarding raptors and pheasant shoots should not influence the authorisation of buzzard control, the Administrative Court has ruled. Any derogations to the EU protection of wild birds should apply equally across wild avian species, irrespective of their popularity.

This was a gamekeeper’s challenge to the refusal by the defendant statutory body (Natural England) to grant him a licence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to kill buzzards which he said were destroying such high numbers of game birds as to render his shoot unviable.

At the heart of the claimant’s challenge was his contention that NE treated raptors differently from other wild birds, making it far harder, well-nigh if not quite impossible, for anyone to meet the statutory conditions for the issue of a licence.
He maintained the defendant treated these licence applications differently because of the public controversy which the grant of a licence for the killing of buzzards would engender. This was because of perceived adverse public opinion about the protection of a pheasant shoot. Hence, the decision was based on unjustified inconsistencies in NE’s treatment of raptor and other birds equally protected under the law. 
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Suing Facebook is no easy matter

9 November 2015 by

facebook_logoRichardson v Facebook [2015] EWHC 3154 (2 November 2015) – read judgment

An action in defamation and under the right to privacy against Facebook has been dismissed in the High Court. The Facebook entity named as defendant did not “control” the publication so as to allow liability; and even if it did, no claim under the Human Rights Act could lie against FB as it could not be described as any sort of a public authority for the purposes of Section 6 of the Act.

The claimant, acting as a litigant in person, sought damages in respect of the publication in 2013 and 2014 of a Facebook profile and a posting on the Google Blogger service. The Profile and the Blogpost each purported to have been created by the claimant, but she complained that each was a fake, created by an impostor. She claimed that each was defamatory of her, and infringed her right to respect for her private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
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Management consultant charges mother £400 for each visit to nursing home – Court of Protection

28 October 2015 by

Court of protectionSF, Re [2015] EWCOP 68 (26 October 2015) – read judgment

This Court of Protection case has, unusually, made the papers, and when you read the details you won’t be surprised. What the judge described as a “callous and calculating” son charged his widowed mother, who suffered from dementia, more than £117 000 for “out of pocket expenses” visiting her in her nursing home.  He had been in charge of her expenses since 2004 when Sheila (the mother) had been admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. But alarm bells only went off after her unpaid nursing bills reached nearly £30 000. The Public Guardian launched an enquiry that led to this hearing of an application for the court to revoke the son’s  (Martin’s) Enduring Power of Attorney (‘EPA’) and to direct him to cancel its registration. The Public Guardian also applied to freeze Sheila’s bank account.
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Transparency in the Family Court: judge allows publication of article about children in care

26 October 2015 by

Fountain pen on a blank page open on a diary book...

Fountain pen on a blank page open on a diary book…

Tickle v Council of the Borough of North Tyneside and others [2015] EWHC 2991 (Fam) (19 October 2015) – read judgment

Before the court were cross applications by a journalist and the local authority regarding care proceedings which the former wished to report. The individual in question was a mother (representing herself in these proceedings) who had had a number of children taken into care in the past. Her life had been “blighted” historically by serious mental health problems which have at times made it unsafe for her to care for her children. At the time of this application, it seemed, those times appeared to be behind her. Be that as it may, she and her children had been through the care system on a number of occasions.

She had shared this experience on social media sites, and had described, in particular, how she fought for her youngest child (a child who was removed at birth) and how she eventually succeeded in having that child live with her. Bodey J, who had read some of her online articles,  found them “balanced and responsible”.
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Court of Appeal castigates judge’s conclusion on deprivation of liberty

21 October 2015 by

logoKW (by her litigation friend) and others v Rochdale Council (Court of Appeal) [2015] EWCA Civ 1054 – read judgment

This was an appeal against a ruling by Mostyn J in the Court of Protection concerning a consent order between an incapacitated woman, the appellant, and the local authority ([2015] EWCOP 13). The judge had held that the 52 year old appellant, who had been severely incapacitated following surgery, had not been subject to deprivation of liberty contrary to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights by her 24 hour care package. In his view, the test for deprivation of liberty in Cheshire West and Chester Council v P [2014] UKSC 19 did not apply.  In paragraph 17 of his judgment Mostyn J remarked that it was impossible to see how the protective measures in place for KW could linguistically be characterised as a “deprivation of liberty”. Quoting from JS Mill, he said that the protected person was “merely in a state to require being taken care of by others, [and] must be protected against their own actions as well as external injury”. At para 25, he said that he found that KW was not “in any realistic way being constrained from exercising the freedom to leave, in the required sense, for the essential reason that she does not have the physical or mental ability to exercise that freedom”.

He therefore ordered that it was in KW’s best interests to reside at the address at which she was residing and to receive a package of care in accordance with her assessed needs. The Court of Appeal upheld her appeal against this ruling, holding that the judge had been bound by Cheshire West and had made a material error of law. 
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Court of Protection upholds the right of a confused, lonely man to refuse treatment

13 October 2015 by

Empty-hospital-bed-300Wye Valley NHS Trust v B (Rev 1) [2015] EWCOP 60 (28 September 2015) – read judgment

The Court of Protection has recently ruled that a mentally incapacitated adult could refuse a life saving amputation. This is an important judgement that respects an individual’s right to autonomy despite overwhelming medical evidence that it might be in his best interests to override his wishes. The judge declined to define the 73 year old man at the centre of this case by reference to his mental illness, but rather recognised his core quality is his “fierce independence” which, he accepted, was what Mr B saw as under attack.
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Parents’ wish to treat child’s cancer with Chinese medicine overruled by Family Court

11 October 2015 by

71bl6-vngql-_sl1500_JM (a child), Re [2015] EWHC 2832 (Fam), 7 October 2015 – read judgment

Mostyn J, ruling in the Family Division that a child should receive surgical treatment for bone cancer against the wishes of his parents, has referred to Ian McEwan’s “excellent” novel The Children Act (Jonathan Cape 2014), which is about a 17 year old Jehovah’s Witness refusing a blood transfusion. The judge noted however that the book was in fact “incorrectly titled”:

a question of whether a medical procedure should be forced on a 16 or 17 year old should be sought solely under the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction, and not under the Children Act.

This case on the other hand concerned a ten year old child, J. The NHS Trust sought permission to perform urgent surgery of a serious nature on his right jawbone, where he has a very rare aggressive cancer. Its medical name is a craniofacial osteosarcoma, presenting a tumour in the bone of about 4 inches long and 1½ inches wide. The unambiguous medical evidence before the court was that if it was not removed very soon then in 6 months to a year J would die “a brutal and agonising death”. The oncologist had spelt this out in unflinching detail:

 J will not slip peacefully away. The cancer will likely invade his nerve system affecting basic functions such as speaking, breathing and eating. His head will swell up grotesquely. His eyes may become closed by swelling. A tracheostomy may be needed to allow breathing. Above all, the pain will likely be excruciating.

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US court takes important step in resolving human/wildlife conflict at sea

30 September 2015 by

Sea Otters

Sea Otters

California Sea Urchin Commission, et al. v Michael Bean, et al, US District Court, Central District of California (September 18 2015) – read judgment

A Californian court has upheld the protection of marine otters over the interests of commercial fishing.

Sea otters are remarkable marine mammals who live their entire lives at sea, giving birth in the water and clutching their cubs to their bellies as they float in rafts of up to a thousand, holding hands while they sleep to avoid drifting off in the ocean’s currents. But they are not just picturesque; they are essential to the health of the seas. A main component of their diet is the ubiquitous sea urchin, which feeds on kelp. As sea otters have been hunted and killed as by-catch over the centuries, their diminishing numbers have led to the proliferation of the sea urchin population and the consequent disappearance of the kelp forests on the seabed. The damage this does to the marine ecosystem has been inestimable.

This somewhat technical judgment, made on a preliminary application for summary judgment by the fishing industry, therefore marks an important step in the judicial response to marine conservation.
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Injunction and damages in libel case awarded against anonymous website

17 September 2015 by

solicitors-from-hell-co-u-006Brett Wilson LLP v Person(s) Unknown, Responsible for the Operation of the Website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, 7 September (Warby J) [2015] EWHC 2628 (QB) – read judgment

This was a claim in libel by a firm of solicitors who acted for another firm which also claimed against the operators of SFHUK, causing the original site to be shut down (Law Society v Rick Kordowski [2011]). In this case the words complained of appeared on a new site, but despite efforts by the present claimants, it was not possible to find out who was operating it. The site alleged various aspects of mismanagement, including incompetence and fraud. It also quoted a client of the claimant firm who alleged overcharging and who refused to pay their fees. (It is worth noting that the site appears to have been taken down since default judgement was given in this case)

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A vegan in charge of agriculture? Herod at the nursery gates!

16 September 2015 by

CO3P2F_UYAIyidu.jpg-largeUpdated: Well, not exactly. But the outrage attending Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment of animal welfare campaigner Kerry McCarthy to the shadow DEFRA post betrays a level of panic which defies logic. What is wrong with someone concerned with humane animal husbandry being in charge of those who regulate it? See Maria Chiorando’s “A vegan shadow agriculture minister is a good move for farming” for a sane assessment of this particular episode in the post-Corbyn drama.

The timing is perhaps apt:  The picture to the left depicts a cow awaiting her slaughter after a long journey through Europe.  To register your objection to this practice, join Compassion in World Farming on 9th October in London: https://www.facebook.com/events/141120356236597/

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The importance of privacy in ancillary relief proceedings – High Court

16 September 2015 by

money_1945490cDL v SL [2015] EWHC 2621 (Fam) 27 July 2015 (Mostyn J)  – read judgment

This was a simple, if contentious, divorce case in which the judge took the opportunity to make a point about balancing the principle of open judgment – allowing media coverage of cases – against the privacy of the parties involved. Whilst he was ready to acknowledge that publicity ensures not only the probity of the judge but the veracity of the witnesses, and that such publicity served promote understanding and debate about the legal process, in some cases privacy should trump the rights of the press.

There are many cases which are heard publicly, or privately with the media in attendance, but where, by a process of anonymisation, the privacy of the parties, and of their personal and other affairs, is sought to be preserved. This compromise, or balance, between open justice and the privacy of the individual has arisen for two reasons. First, the increased recognition that is given to the interests of children who are caught up in the dispute between the adult parties. And secondly, the rise of the idea that privacy is an independently enforceable right.
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“Widespread incompetence” of fertility regulator and clinics lamented by President of Family Division

11 September 2015 by

One-Happy-BabyA and others (In the matter of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008) – read judgment

This case is best summed up in Sir James Munby’s own words:

This judgment relates to a number of cases where much joy but also, sadly, much misery has been caused by the medical brilliance, unhappily allied with the administrative incompetence, of various fertility clinics. The cases I have before me are, there is every reason to fear, only the small tip of a much larger problem.

These cumulative cases

 must raise questions as to the adequacy if not of the  Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s regulation then of the extent of its regulatory powers. That the incompetence to which I refer is, as I have already indicated, administrative rather than medical is only slight consolation, given the profound implications of the parenthood which in far too many cases has been thrown into doubt. This is a matter I shall return to at the end of this judgment.

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Woman’s wish to donate unwanted embryos to scientific research rejected by Strasbourg Court

8 September 2015 by

cdce0842e2fac4bcf0335ab5c367-is-embryonic-stem-cell-research-wrongParrillo v Italy (application no. 46470/11) Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, [2015] ECHR 755 (27 August 2015) – read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court has ruled that the Italian ban on the donation of embryos obtained by IVF procedures to scientific research was within Italy’s margin of appreciation and therefore not in breach of the applicant’s right of private life and autonomy, even though she was willing to give the embryos to scientific research, since she no longer wanted to proceed with pregnancy after her partner was killed covering the war in Iraq. By donating these cryopreserved embryos to research she would, she argued, make an important contribution to research into medical therapies and cures. 

A strong dissent to the majority judgment is worth pointing up at the outset. The Hungarian judge, Andras Sajó, found Italy’s general ban quite out of order. Not only did it disregard the applicant’s right to self-determination with respect to an important private decision, it did so in an absolute and unforeseeable manner.

The law contains no transitional rules which would have enabled the proper authority to take into consideration the specific situation of the applicant, whose embryos obtained from the IVF treatment were placed in cryopreservation in 2002 and whose husband passed away in 2003, three months before the law entered into force.

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