Arguments in the referendum challenge now available

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The imminent  litigation concerning the government’s response to the Brexit vote is much anticipated. The skeleton arguments have now been filed. The High Court has just resisted an application for partial redaction of the arguments, so they are open for public perusal.

A quick reminder of what this is all about:

In R (on the Application of Gina Miller) and others v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union the claimants seek a declaration that it would be unlawful for the defendant secretary of state or the prime minister on behalf of HM Government to issue a notification under Article 50 (TEU) to withdraw the UK from the EU without an act of parliament authorising such notification.

Here is the  skeleton argument from one of the groups supporting that case (People’s Challenge), and here are the Government defendants’ grounds of resistance

Prerogative Power

People’s Challenge

The triggering of Article 50 requires a prior step: the decision to withdraw from the EU in response to the referendum result. It is only once this decision is taken that it can be notified to the European Council.

This first step cannot be made as an exercise of the royal prerogative, which is the power of the government to take action without consulting parliament.  This power has been weakened over time – mainly whittled away by parliamentary legislation – and is so residual now that it cannot be exercised to implement Brexit. Consequently, the executive does not have power to decide that the UK should withdraw from the EU, and without putting the matter to vote in Parliament, ministers cannot notify the European Council of any such decision to withdraw.

Because parliament brought us into the UK, only parliament can authorise a decision to leave.

Since the prerogative forms part of the common law,  the courts have jurisdiction to determine the extent of this power in accordance with ordinary judicial review principles.

Government 

Prerogative powers cannot be reduced by implication. In any event, withdrawal from the EU by governmental fiat has not been prohibited by any statute.

The Act that parliament passed to authorise the referendum was predicated on the “clear understanding” that the government would respect the outcome, and this is a lawful and constitutional step. Parliament has a role, but only in the negotiations following the decision to leave, not in the taking of the decision itself, which follows the outcome of the referendum. That is for the government, under its prerogative treaty making powers.

The referendum result cannot be attacked in the way the challengers contend; the vote concerned the decision to leave the EU. As articulated, this result should be given effect by use of prerogative powers.

Courts have no more power to adjudicate on the decision to withdraw from the EU as they did on the decision to join it. This is now, and was then, a matter of “highest policy reserved to the Crown”. Treaty-making, with the European Union or any other body, is not generally subject to parliamentary control.

Citizens’ Rights

People’s Challenge

Even if the government has prerogative power to deal with this, it cannot be used in any way to modify “fundamental rights”, in particular “citizenship rights”; these rights include employment, equal pay and healthcare rights.

Government

Article 50 was drafted to allow member states to determine their own requirements for withdrawal, free from interference from EU law. This is a provision of the EU Treaties which regulates states and does not confer rights upon individuals. As such, it cannot be invoked in a complaint such as the one at hand, regarding the activation of Article 50.

In any event, no particular rights have been asserted by the claimant that might be infringed by this process, and therefore they are not justiciable.

Devolution

People’s Challenge

The devolved legislatures of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are bound by EU law to protect the rights of their citizens. Furthermore, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic cannot be separated by different rules on free movement of EU citizens.

Government

The government’s use of its prerogative powers has nothing to do with devolution. The conduct of foreign affairs is a “reserved” matter so that the devolved governments have no competence over it.

Concluding statements

People’s Challenge

If Article 50 is triggered without the authorisation of MPs, this would create a precedent preventing any future parliament from legislating to hold a second referendum on EU withdrawal.

Government

It is “entirely appropriate” under the UK’s unwritten constitution for the government to implement the outcome of the resolution without the need for parliamentary authorisation.

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No more human rights? Wait. No more lawyers??

415h7k2lel-_sx329_bo1204203200_Not only is God dead, says Israeli professor Yuval Noah Harari, but humanism is on its way out, along with its paraphernalia of human rights instruments and lawyers for their implementation and enforcement. Whilst they and we argue about equality, racism, feminism, discrimination and all the other shibboleths of the humanist era, silicon-based algorithms are quietly taking over the world.

His new book, Homo Deus, is the sequel to Homo Sapiens, reviewed on the UKHRB last year. Sapiens was “a brief history of mankind”, encompassing some seventy thousand years. Homo Deus the future of humankind and whether we are going to survive in our present form, not even for another a thousand years, but for a mere 200 years, given the rise of huge new forces of technology, of data, and of the potential of permissive rather than merely preventative medicine.

We are suddenly showing unprecedented interest in the fate of so-called lower life forms, perhaps because we are about to become one.

Harari’s message in Sapiens was that the success of the human animal rests on one phenomenon: our ability to create fictions, spread them about, believe in them, and then cooperate on an unprecedented scale.  These fictions include not only gods, but other ideas we think fundamental to life, such as money, human rights, states and institutions. In Homo Deus he investigates what happens when these mythologies meet the god-like technologies we have created in modern times.

In particular, he scrutinises the rise and current hold of humanism, which he regards as no more secure than the religions it replaced. Humanism is based on the notion of individuality and the fundamental tenet that each and everybody’s feelings and experiences are of equal value, by virtue of being human. Humanism cannot continue as a credible thesis if the concept of individuality is constantly undermined by scientific discoveries, such as the split brain, and pre-conscious brain activity that shows that decisions are not made as a result of conscious will (see the sections on Gazzaniga’s and Kahneman’s experiments in Chapter 8 “The Time Bomb in the Laboratory”).

…once biologists concluded that organisms are algorithms, they dismantled the wall between the organic and inorganic, turned the computer revolution from a purely mechanical affair into a biological cataclysm, and shifted authority from individual networks to networked algorithms.

… The individual will not be crushed by Big Brother; it will disintegrate from within. Today corporations and governments pay homage to my individuality, and promise to provide medicine, education and entertainment customised to my unique needs and wishes. But in order to do so, corporations and governments first need to break me up into biochemical subsystems, monitor these subsystems with ubiquitous sensors and decipher their working with powerful algorithms. In the process, the individual will transpire to be nothing but a religious fantasy.

Continue reading

High Court calls for change in bereavement law to benefit cohabitees

1152277_90340870Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and another [2016] EWHC 2208 (QB) – read judgment

Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 those who live together but are not married are not entitled to damages for bereavement. The High Court has found that though this did not directly engage the right to family life and privacy under Article 8, the difference in treatment between cohabitees and those who were married or in a civil partnership could not be justified and consideration should be given to reforming the law.

The issues before the Court

The claimant had cohabited with a man for over two years before he had died as a result of the first and second defendants’ negligence. She had made a dependency claim under s.1 of the 1976 Act, which by a 1982 amendment had been extended to people who had been cohabiting for more than two years, but the bereavement damages provisions in s.1A(2)(a) still applies only to spouses and civil partners. Continue reading

Juncker’s ban on post-Brexit negotiations may be illegal

30n02junckertwoap-485712Shortly after the Brexit referendum, the President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker declared that he had

forbidden Commissioners from holding discussions with representatives from the British government — by presidential order.

In effect, he has prohibited any executives in the EU Commission from embarking on negotiations with British government representatives before the government triggers the exit process under Article 50. Now a legal challenge is being proposed to the legality of Mr Juncker’s declaration. There is no basis for this so-called “presidential order”, say the challengers, a group of British expats seeking to protect their interests in the negotiations over the UK’s exit. Continue reading

Get out the back, Jack? make a new plan, Stan?

slammingdoor1… well there aren’t exactly fifty ways to leave the European Union, but from the vociferous debate in legal as well as political circles we might be excused for thinking there are a great deal more. Today’s Times reports that “1,000 people join legal fight against Brexit” to ensure that parliament votes before the government formally triggers the exit procedure from the EU. David Pannick will argue the challenge. But against such a legal heavyweight is former law lord Peter Millett, whose letter published in yesterday’s Times declares that the exercise of our treaty rights is a matter for the executive and the triggering of Article 50 does not require parliamentary approval. So whom are we to believe?

In her guest post Joelle Grogan has speculated upon the possible future for rights in the immediate aftermath of the referendum so I won’t cover the same ground. I will simply draw out some of the questions considered in two reports produced before the result of the referendum was known: 1. House of Lords EU Committee Report (HL138) and the more detailed analysis by Richard Gordon QC and Rowena Moffatt: 2 “Brexit: The Immediate Legal Consequences”.

  1. The House of Lords EU Report

Is Article 50 the only means of leaving the EU?

States have an inherent right to withdraw. It would be inconceivable that the member states of such a close economic arrangement would force an unwilling state to continue to participate. The significance of Article 50 therefore lies not in establishing a right to withdraw but in defining the procedure for doing so. Continue reading

Fertility regulator wrongfully denied consent for mother’s surrogacy

Pregnant-woman-001M, R (on the application of) Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority [2016] EWCA Civ 611 (30 June 2016)

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a 60 year old woman may use her daughter’s frozen eggs to give birth to her own grandchild. Her daughter, referred to as A in the judgment, died of cancer at the age of 28 in 2011. The High Court had dismissed M’s argument that the HFEA had acted unlawfully by refusing to allow the eggs to be exported to a fertility clinic in the United States where an embryo would be created using donor sperm, and implanted in the mother.

The HFEA is bound by statute (the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Act) to provide services using a person’s gametes only where that person consents. The difficulty here was that while A had consented to treatment for egg removal and storage, including storage after her death, she had not completed a specific form giving details of the use that was now proposed.

The essence of the appellants’ challenge was there was “clear evidence” of what A wanted to happen to her eggs after she died. “All available evidence” showed that she wanted her mother to have her child after her death, the Court was told.

Arden LJ, giving the judgement of the court, found that the judge below had reached his conclusion on the basis of a “misstatement of certain of the evidence” about A’s consent by the Committee. Continue reading

One trade freedom we could do without

istock_000004682690small_cowsSupporters of Brexit and campaigners for animal welfare are not natural bedfellows. And indeed my quick poll of the intuitive reaction to Thursday’s vote revealed anxiety about a future race to the bottom in terms of welfare standards as European regulations are unpicked and new trade deals are carved out, whether with individual member states of the EU, the European Union as a whole, or under the surveillance of the WTO. (But here’s a call for action: https://action.ciwf.org.uk/ea-action/action?)ea.client.id=119&ea.campaign.id=53173&ea.tracking.id=98b15a7c&utm_campaign=transport&utm_source=ciwftw&utm_medium=twitter

Which is why it is critical at this moment to remember that the obstacle in the way of this country reviewing its participation in the trade in live animals is one of the pillars of the EU Treaty: free movement of goods. Animals are regarded as goods, and any measure adopted by a member state government interfering with the movement of livestock within the single market and beyond its borders with its trading partners has been prohibited as a “quantitative restriction” on exports. When we are eventually free of this overarching prohibition, no time should be lost in grasping the opportunity to alter our laws in recognition of humane standards in animal husbandry.

Some Background: veal crates and the port protests in the 1990s

Just at the time when the red carpet was being rolled out for the Human Rights Act, campaigners for the rights of non human animals had their eye on a much more difficult task: persuading the government that shipments of young calves to veal crates across the Channel defeated our hard-won animal welfare laws and were in breach of the EU’s own proclaimed animal protection measures. The practice of rearing veal for the popular white meat involves confining a week old calf in a box for five months until slaughter. The well respected farm animal charity Compassion in World Farming managed to convince the UK courts that they not only had standing but an arguable case that this export trade breached the domestic prohibition on the veal crate system as well as the relevant EU Convention and Recommendation. CIWF contended that the UK government had power under Community law

to restrict the export of veal calves to other Member States where the system described above was likely to be used, contrary to the standards in force in the United Kingdom and the international standards laid down by the Convention to which all the Member States and the Community had agreed to adhere….

the export of calves to face rearing contrary to the Convention is considered to be cruel and immoral by animal welfare organisations and a considerable body of public opinion, supported by authoritative scientific veterinary opinion, in the Member State from which exports occur.

In fact the EU rules merely contained stipulations as to the minimum width of veal crates and the composition of veal calves’ diets. Continue reading