Media By: Rosalind English


The EU Charter: are we in or out?

1 March 2011 by

Like many points of European law, the question whether the UK and Polish protocol to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights amounts to a full opt-out is mired in confusion and political prejudice.

Its characterisation as an opt out or a mere “clarification” depends on where one stands on the eurosceptic/europhile spectrum.  So where do we find a practical rather than an ideological answer to this important question? Certainly not in the political or academic record.

First, a reminder of what the Charter is all about. From the very early days of the European Community the Court of Justice (ECJ) has relied on fundamental principles of human rights as an interpretative tool, and the key provisions of the Charter  are derived from the ECHR, which is uncontroversial enough. However a large number are drawn from the Community Social Charter 1989 and the Council of Europe’s Social Charter 1961. These are the so-called “social and economic rights” which appear to transform aspirational norms into judicially enforceable ones, like the right to work or healthcare. These “rights” are largely to be found in the “Solidarity Title” of the Charter, and it is to this part of the Treaty that the UK secured an opt out at the European Council in 2007.
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Prisoners not entitled to compensation for voting ban

19 February 2011 by

Tovey & Ors v Ministry of Justice [2011] EWHC 271 (QB) (18 February 2011) – read judgment.

In a case heard the day before Parliament debated whether it should amend the law preventing prisoners from voting, the High Court struck out a claim for compensation by a prisoner in respect of his disenfranchisement.

Although it was “not part of the court’s function to express any view as to the nature of legislative change”, this ruling confirmed that as a matter of English law, including the Human Rights Act 1998, a prisoner will not succeed before a court in England and Wales in any claim for damages or a declaration based on his disenfranchisement while serving his sentence.
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Why be nice? Human rights under pressure

16 February 2011 by

The latest episode in the soap concerning our relationship with Strasbourg may end in a fizzle rather than a cliffhanger, but it has provoked some useful soul-searching about the vision of the good embodied in the ECHR, and its monopoly on the right to govern social life.

Derogating from the ECHR or even pulling out of Strasbourg altogether have ceased to be taboo subjects for discussion, but the fear seems to be that the consequence of such defection would mean reversion to selfish nationalism. Is this a bad thing?

This question is not as facetious as it seems and answering it is central to the long term maintenance of a set of principles by which states agree to live.
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Analysis: Early medical abortion cannot take place at home

15 February 2011 by

British Pregnancy Advisory Service v Secretary of State for Health [2011] EWHC 235 (Admin) – read judgment

The High Court has ruled that the law requiring that administration of the early medical abortion drugs take place at hospital cannot be read down to allow self-administration at home. The approval of the appropriate place for treatment must be made by the Secretary of State.

The current accepted treatment for a medical abortion up to 9 weeks’ gestation involves the prescription and two-phase administration of drugs at intervals of 24-48 hours. The claimant organisation argued that the requirement for women to return to the hospital or clinic for a second visit created unnecessary stress and hardship and therefore that the term “treatment” in the relevant legislation should be interpreted to mean that only the prescription and issuing of the drugs should take place in a hospital, allowing women to stay at home after the first visit.

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It’s time we packed our bags at Strasbourg, says report

9 February 2011 by

Bringing Rights Back Home is the latest policy document to address the tension between judges and politicians over public policy with human rights implications.

Within hours of  publication of the report,  a hard-hitting academic paper put together by the political scientist Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, criticism started pouring in, and there will be no doubt more huffing and puffing to come.

But before these lofty admonitions stifle them, it is worth considering some of the paper’s objections and proposals.   These are legitimate points made in a political debate which has been masquerading for years as a legal one.  The document is essentially uncontroversial, in legal terms.
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Analysis: Children’s “best interests” and the problem of balance

2 February 2011 by

ZH (Tanzania) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] UKSC 4 (1 February 2011) – Read judgment

This case (see yesterday’s summary) is illustrative of two misconceptions about rights that we are all in thrall to from time to time.

One is that there is a fundamental hierarchy of human rights which allows certain interests to prevail over others in all situations; the other is that this hierarchy is determined by considerations that are morally and politically neutral. A prime example of this kind of principle is the idea of the “overriding rights of the child”, a consideration with a perfectly orthodox role in family law, but one whose application to human rights as a whole is questionable.
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Fair trial rights in Licensing Proceedings

1 February 2011 by

R on the application of Hope and Glory Public House v City of Westminster Magistrates Court [2011] EWCA Civ 31  Read judgement

It was not unfair in terms of Article 6 to require of a party aggrieved by a licensing decision to bear the responsibility of persuading the court hearing the appeal that the original decision was wrong.

This appeal raises a question about how a magistrates’ court hearing an appeal from a decision of a licensing authority under the Licensing Act 2003 (“the Act”) should approach the decision.

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Libel threatens to stifle debate about factory farming

25 January 2011 by

Food production is becoming a chosen territory for some of the fiercest current battles about freedom of information in this country.  In 2009 the Channel 4 broadcast of a film about the  pork factory business was effectively shut down by the threat of libel action; in the last week the Guardian reported that libel lawyers Carter and Ruck have written to the Soil Association threatening legal action if they failed to withdraw allegations underlying their objection to a planning application for one of the country’s largest pig units.

Update (15 January 2011): Nocton Dairies Ltd has withdrawn its planning application for a 3,700-cow mega-dairy in Lincolnshire.

Pig production company Midland Pig Producers (MPP) is seeking planning approval for 30 acres of land in Foston, Derbyshire, to develop a pig unit containing 2,500 sows and up to 25,000 pigs. The Soil Association formally objected to the plans because of the ‘increased disease risk and poor welfare conditions” of intensive units.

The application to South Derbyshire district council was in fact withdrawn after it was ruled that it needed to go to the county council instead. This is because the proposed inclusion of an anaerobic digestion unit on the site brings in waste matters which concerns the jurisdiction of the county council rather than the district planners. MPP expects to reapply in the next few weeks.
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Batty behaviour in Hampshire habitat

21 January 2011 by

Morge (FC) (Appellant) v Hampshire County Council (Respondent) on appeal from [2010] EWCA Civ 608- Read judgment

We cannot drive a coach-and-horses through natural habitats without a bit of soul-searching, says the Supreme Court .

The UK has conservation obligations under EU law to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and this goes beyond holding back only those developments that threaten significant disturbance to species. Detailed consideration must be given to the specific risks to the species in question. But this consideration can be left to the quangos; planning committees are not obliged to make their own enquiries.

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Analysis: Costs Regime in Peril after Strasbourg Naomi Campbell Ruling

19 January 2011 by

MGN Limited v The United Kingdom – (Application no. 39401/04) Read judgment

The details of the Court’s ruling are set out in our previous post on this case. The following analysis focusses on the success of the newspapers’ core complaint concerning the recoverability against it of 100% success fees.

This judgment has serious practical implications not just for publication cases but for any civil case not covered by legal aid, and although the ruling is only binding on the government, not on the courts, the potential for its immediate domestic impact cannot be ignored. Defendants challenging costs orders will have this judgment at the head of their arsenal from today; the practical resonances of the case are imminent.

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The Secret Letter: Commission bows to government paranoia

18 January 2011 by

IFAW Internationaler Tierschutz-Fonds gGmbH; read judgment

EU law is replete with the soaring rhetoric of rights and transparency. Indeed the very first Article of the Treaty on European Union states that ‘decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen’ . But not, it appears, when the decision concerns the balance between short-term economic interests and those of the environment – or, in the Commission’s own words, the “Community’s natural heritage”.

Key facts and figures relating to central policy remain firmly under lock and key in the EU, as NGOs find when they try to get the Commission to enforce the various Directives against national governments and the EU institutions themselves.

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“Human” rights of Iranian bank in the dock

14 January 2011 by

Bank Mellat v HM Treasury [2011] EWCA Civ 1: read judgment.

Financial restrictions imposed in 2009 on an Iranian Bank which effectively excluded it from the UK financial market did not breach common law or ECHR principles of fairness, said the Court of Appeal on Thursday.

The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 conferred powers on the Treasury to restrict persons operating in the financial sector from entering or participating in any transaction or business relationship with the appellant Bank Mellat (BM). The Order, which was subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and reviewable on limited grounds (Section 63(2) CTA) was justified by a Ministerial Statement which declared that the direction to cease business would

reduce the risk of the UK financial sector being used, unknowingly or otherwise, to facilitate Iran’s proliferation sensitive activities.
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Child detention: More smoke and mirrors

13 January 2011 by

R (on the application of) Reetha Suppiah and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Interveners [2011] EWHC 2 (Admin) – Read judgment

A high court judge has ruled that two asylum seekers and their children were unlawfully detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre last year.

This ruling will add fuel to the flames of the debate over whether the government is truly committed to ending the detention of children in immigration centres, or whether they intend merely to “minimise” it.

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A Ferrari with its doors locked shut

12 January 2011 by

C-115/09 Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland, Landesverband Nordrhein-Westfalen eVvBezirksregierung Arnsberg Trianel Kohlekraftwerk Lünen (intervening) – read judgment

The German system of judicial review involves a “careful and detailed” scrutiny of administrative decisions. However, admissibility criteria are such that few are able to access this system, particularly groups bringing actions alleging environmental harm.

At the centre of this case is the highly topical matter,  relevant to one of the discussion threads on this site, of the trend towards a new system of environmental justice, heralded by Aarhus and the accompanying EU Directives, where national courts to are required to recognise claims brought by pressure groups alleging infringement of environmental provisions, even where there is no individual legal interest involved. The  Trianel case puts into sharp focus the debate as to whether the environment should be protected not as an expression of an individual’s interest, but as a general public interest, enforceable in the courts.
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Pigswill and public health: a load of EU bull

7 January 2011 by

[Updated] In the spirit of our coverage of environmental activism in one form or another, here is the website strapline for the  Campaign for Real Farming, which sets out to 

achieve nothing less than the people’s takeover of the food supply

Some of the initiatives for that takeover were being aired at the CRF’s “fringe” farming conference which took place in Oxford this week, voicing polite but forceful protest against the high production objectives of the mainstream Farming Conference in the Examination Schools next door.
According to CRF founder Colin Tudge,  if we are serious about feeding 9 bn people in a few decades’ time, the current food production system, which is designed to make money, has to be dismantled in favour of small scale, labour intensive farming, which is designed to feed people.  Like any reform movement, this “agrarian renaissance” is about wresting power away from existing authorities and it has set its sights on, amongst other things, the constellation of laws and regulations governing the cultivation of food.
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