Judge allows paternity test for DNA disease analysis

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Spencer v Anderson (Paternity Testing) [2016] EWHC 851 (Fam) – read judgment

A fascinating case in the Family Division throws up a number of facts that some may find surprising. One is that this is the first time the courts in this country have been asked to direct post-mortem scientific testing to establish paternity. The other is that DNA is not covered by the Human Tissue Act, because genetic material does not contain human cells. One might wonder why the statute doesn’t, given that DNA is the instruction manual that makes the  human tissue that it covers – but maybe updating the 2004 law to cover genetic material would create more difficulties than it was designed to resolve.

The facts can be briefly stated. The applicant had been made aware of his possible relationship to S, who had died of bowel cancer some years before. When S had presented with the disease, it turned out that there was a family history of such cancer. The hospital treating him therefore took a blood sample and extracted DNA from it to test for high-risk genes. If the applicant was the son of the deceased he would have a 50% risk of inherited predisposition to bowel cancer. This risk would be mitigated by biannual colonoscopies. Continue reading

South Africa’s President Zuma survives impeachment vote despite judgment against him

President_Jacob_Zuma_Official_400x400Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly, President Jacob Zuma and Public Protector Case CCT 143/15; Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly, President Jacob Zuma, Minister of Police, Public Protector with Corruption Watch as Amicus Curiae – Case CCT 171/15 (31 March 2016) – read judgment

The Constitutional Court of South Africa last week handed down a damning judgement against the ruling head of the African National Party (the ANC). Despite this judgment, parliament voted not to impeach him.  The ANC defeated the opposition-sponsored motion, saying Mr Zuma was not guilty of “serious misconduct”.

See University of Cape Town law professor Richard Calland’s article on the consequences of this ruling for President Zuma.

Background to the Constitutional Court proceedings

The Public Protector is an institution set up under the South African Constitution to ensure good governance and “strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic”. She investigated allegations of improper conduct or irregular expenditure relating to the security upgrades at President Zuma’s Nkandla private residence, and she concluded that the President failed to act in line with certain of his constitutional and ethical obligations by knowingly deriving undue benefit from the irregular deployment of State resources. Exercising her constitutional powers to take appropriate remedial action she directed that the President, duly assisted by certain State functionaries, should work out and pay a portion fairly proportionate to the undue benefit that had accrued to him and his family. Added to this was that he should reprimand the Ministers involved in that project, for specified improprieties.

For well over a year, neither the President nor the National Assembly did what they were required to do in terms of the remedial action. Therefore the EFF and the DA took these applications agains the National Assembly and the President, arguing that the President should be ordered to comply with the remedial action. Continue reading

Triumph for the rule of law in South Africa?

Jacob-Zuma(R)The leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has called for President Zuma to be impeached following the Constitutional Court’s finding that he had flouted the Constitution by failing to “uphold, defend and respect the Constitution.”

The case was brought by the Democratic Alliance, amongst others, seeking validity for the Public Protector’s remedial action against the President. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had reported that Zuma should reimburse the country the money he has spent on upgrades to his palatial homestead. As a course of this remedial action, she recommended that he pay back a portion of the funds used for the upgrades. But this report was set aside by the National Assembly after Zuma made submissions on why he should not pay back the funds.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, giving judgment for the Court, said that the remedial action had a binding effect. Continue reading

Joint Enterprise press release from the Appellant’s solicitors

20308267It is important to note that the draft judgment of the Supreme Court was embargoed from all apart from solicitors and counsel until today so our client, Ameen Jogee, and his family only found out about our success this morning. There are also no facilities for Ameen to attend court so his family have authorised us to release this statement: 

  1. We are glad our arguments on the law were accepted by the court and very pleased that the court took this opportunity to correct a grossly erroneous tangent of law and remove “parasitic accessorial liability” (often referred to as “joint enterprise”) from our law.
    1. The law had incorrectly and unfairly developed to convict secondary parties on the basis of mere “foresight or contemplation” of what someone else might do. This over-criminalised secondary parties, particularly young people like Ameen Jogee.
    2. The consequence was that people were convicted of serious offences, committed by others, and imprisoned for lengthy periods. Primarily, we suggested to the Court that there should be a return to the foundational law encapsulated in cases before the tangent created by joint enterprise. Our primary submission at the hearing in October 2015 was that the true test for accessorial liability is knowledge of the essential matters of that offence or that type of offence and acts which demonstrate an intention to assist or encourage that offence or that type of offence. Such a formulation can adapt to individuals assisting each other or cases where there is evidence of a common plan. The Supreme Court judgment appears to adopt our submissions.
  1. We are delighted for Ameen and his family and the many other families of those affected by joint enterprise who have been waiting on this judgment.
  2. This judgment does not refer in detail to all the material placed before the court so future cases and appeals must take care to ensure that the errors are not repeated.
  3. Internationally it is vital that the errors created by joint enterprise are also corrected.
  4. We would like to thank our excellent staff, our team of counsel Felicity Gerry QC and Catarina Sjölin of 36, Bedford Row and Adam Wagner and Diarmuid Laffan of 1 Crown Office Row. We would also like to thank the teams for Mr Ruddock and the interveners (Just for Kids Law and JengBA). Many of the lawyers involved have worked pro bono for all or some of the time on this difficult case.
  5. A special thank you to Dr Matt Dyson of Trinity College Cambridge whose meticulous research over 500 years of law enabled us to prove what the law was and how it went wrong. Also thank you to Beatrice Krebs from the University of Reading for her comparative work on authorisation which enabled us to place alternative options before the court, and to Professor Luke McNamara from the University of Wollongong whose 2014 paper identified the probability issues from an Australian perspective, which was an important part of this appeal.
  6. We must now focus on the final orders which are not due for some weeks. The Court is yet to decide what effect its conclusions on the principles of joint enterprise will have on our client’s specific case.
  7. If you want an easy read on the case, see these 2 blogs by Catarina Sjölin and Felicity Gerry QC for Nottingham Law School: http://blogs.ntu.ac.uk/nlsblog/tag/joint-enterprise/
  8. In the words of Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG “To hold an accused liable for murder merely on the foresight of a possibility is fundamentally unjust. It may not be truly a fictitious or ‘constructive liability’. But it countenances what is ‘undoubtedly a lesser form of mens rea’. It is a form that is an exception to the normal requirements of criminal liability. And it introduces a serious disharmony in the law, particularly as that law affects the liability of secondary offenders to conviction for murder upon this basis”.
  9. We started this case looking for an alternative probability test for those who were not accused of direct participation with shared intention, along the way we identified the legal errors which had been perpetuated over many years.

We are glad to have played a role in correcting this unjust law.

 

 

 

NI Judge acquits Pastor of “gross offence” against Muslims

MolanaDPP v McConnell [2016] NIMag (5 January 2016)

Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.

(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī , 13th Century Persian Islamic scholar and poet)

These words were the last in the ruling by DJ McNally in the Belfast county court, acquitting Pastor McConnell of grossly offending Muslims in a sermon that had been delivered in church but also transmitted over the internet. The Pastor had declared from the pulpit the there were more and more Muslims “putting the Koran’s hatred of Christians and Jews alike into practice”, and the sermon had continued in a similar vein. Continue reading

The “socialite” who rejected life saving treatment

why_we_need_kidney_dialysis_1904_xKing’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v C and another  [2015] EWCOP 80 read judgment

A woman who suffered kidney failure as a result of a suicide attempt has been allowed to refuse continuing dialysis. The Court of Protection rejected the hospital’s argument that such refusal disclosed a state of mind that rendered her incapable under the Mental Capacity Act.  An adult patient who suffers from no mental incapacity has an absolute right to choose whether to consent to medical treatment. Continuation of such treatment is unlawful, even if the refusal seems irrational to others. As the judge said, this rule

reflects the value that society places on personal autonomy in matters of medical treatment and the very long established right of the patient to choose to accept or refuse medical treatment from his or her doctor (voluntas aegroti suprema lex). Over his or her own body and mind, the individual is sovereign (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859).

The Trust’s further application to be allowed to restrain C “physically or chemically” from leaving the hospital where she was receiving the dialysis was therefore rejected.

Background facts

The coverage of this case reflects a certain level of social disapproval. “Right to die for socialite scared of growing old” – “Socialite allowed to die was terrified of being poor” run the headlines. Behind them lurks an essentially religious consensus that people should not be allowed to opt out of senescence and its associated poverty and suffering, such matters being for God alone.  There is also a measure of censoriousness behind the  details brought to court regarding C’s attitude to motherhood and men, the news that she had breast cancer, her love of “living the high life” and her dread of growing old “in a council house”. Continue reading

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

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 Continue reading