In Government of the United States v Julian Assange  EWHC 3313 (Admin), the High Court allowed the appeal of the United States of America against the ruling of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, thereby permitting the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder to the US where he faces criminal charges relating to the unlawful obtaining and publication of classified defence and national security materials.
The High Court held that diplomatic assurances given by the US government regarding Assange’s prospective detention conditions were sufficient to quash the original basis upon which his extradition was initially discharged, namely that his mental condition was such that it would be “oppressive” to extradite him, per s.91 Extradition Act 2003.
The Claimants sought a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act in respect of section 1(1)(d) of the 1967 Act. It was their contention that this section is incompatible with Articles 2, 3, 8 and 14 of the ECHR. The Court dismissed the claim in its entirety.
The First Claimant was a 25-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome. The Second Claimant was the mother of the Third Claimant. At 35 weeks’ gestation, the Third Claimant was identified as being very likely to have Down’s syndrome and the Second Claimant’s evidence was that during her pregnancy that she had been made to feel that a life with Down’s syndrome was of no value. The Third Claimant is now two years old has met all his developmental milestones.
The Legal Framework
As is now in force, s.1(1) of the 1967 Act provides that there may be a medical termination of a pregnancy if two medical practitioners are of the opinion that, inter alia, “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” (under subsection (d)).
Whereas Parliament has set a general upper time limit for abortions at 24 weeks, this does not apply to abortions on grounds of foetal abnormality.
Whilst there is guidance from public medical authorities on the various factors influencing the severity of a “handicap”, the guidance does not offer a legal definition of “substantial risk” or “serious handicap”.
In R (NB & Others) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1489 (Admin), the High Court ruled that the treatment of asylum seekers at Napier military barracks did not meet minimum legal standards, that the process for allocating asylum seekers to accommodation centres was flawed and unlawful and that the six claimants had been falsely imprisoned during the “inevitable” Covid-19 outbreak. David Manknell of 1 COR was junior counsel to the SSHD.
In September 2020, Napier military barracks was converted into a medium-term accommodation centre for asylum seekers. By the end of January 2021, the centre had witnessed a major outbreak of Covid-19, protests by residents against poor conditions inside the facility and a fire.
NB and the other five claimants had been kept at the barracks for months. This was despite evidence that that they had all experienced “people trafficking and/or torture prior to their arrival in the United Kingdom” and that several of them were suffering from pre-existing mental health issues as a result of their experiences. At issue in this case was the Defendant’s decision in each of the Claimants’ cases that they should be accommodated at the Barracks.
The appellants’ challenge focused on the alleged participation of undercover MI5 agents in criminality. Particular emphasis was placed upon the infamous killing in 1989 of Northern Irish solicitor, Pat Finucane, who was involved in representing those accused of terrorist activities. Of note, in 2012, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated that there was “state collusion” in the murder . This led to a report prepared by Desmond de Silva QC in December 2012, who expressed “significant doubt” that the murder would have occurred without the involvement of “elements of the State”; and suggested that there were “positive actions by employees of the State” to further and facilitate the murder .
In this case, the focus of challenge was a policy document issued by the Security Service in March 2011 entitled, “Guidelines on the Use of Agents who participate in Criminality – Official Guidance” (“the Guidance”). This document delineates the Security Service’s procedure for “authorising” the participation in criminal conduct by Covert Human Intelligence Sources. Ultimately, the Court had to determine the legitimacy of this policy by reference to the provisions of the Security Service Act 1989, which was the first piece of legislation to put the activities of the Security Service on a statutory footing. The Service had previously been governed by the Royal Prerogative.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (“the Tribunal”) found by a majority for the respondents, but the minority disagreed on the issue of whether the relevant policy amounted to an unlawful de facto power to “dispense” with the criminal law (and therefore also whether it was compliant with the ECHR).
In The Government of the United States v Julian Assange (2021), the District Judge sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court discharged the American extradition request against the founder of WikiLeaks because there is a substantial risk that he would commit suicide. Given Julian Assange’s political notoriety as an avowed whistle-blower, however, the judgment is significant for its dismissal of the defence’s free speech arguments. This article analyses why these human rights submissions were unsuccessful.
The Criminal Charges against Assange
In December 2017, Assange was charged with a conspiracy to commit unlawful computer intrusion contrary to Title 18 of the US Code. Assange is alleged to have conspired with Chelsea Manning to steal classified material. Manning was previously convicted by court martial in July 2013 for violations of the Espionage Act 1917 and other related offences.
Subsequently, in May 2019, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment containing eighteen counts alleging further offences related to the obtaining, receiving and disclosure of “National Defense Information” (contrary to Title 18).
The information Assange is alleged to have unlawfully acquired and published relates to the illegal actions of the United States’ military and intelligence agencies during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the abusive treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. An extradition request was submitted to the British government in June 2019.
In Delve and Anor v SSfWP  EWCA Civ 1199, the Court of Appeal dismissed the challenge brought against the series of Pensions Acts between 1995 and 2014 which equalised the state pension age for women with that of men by raising the state pension age for women from 60 to 65 and then raising the age at which both men and women can claim their state pension.
The Appellants were two women born in the 1950s, whose pension age has been raised to 66. They contended that although one of the aims of the Pensions Act 1995 was to end the discrimination based on gender, “this equalisation has run ahead of actual improvements in the economic position of women in their age group.” 
It was their contention that this gives rise to:
1. direct age discrimination contrary to Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with Article 1 of the First Protocol (A1P1); and
2. indirect sex discrimination contrary to EU law and indirect discrimination contrary to Article 14 on grounds of sex or of sex and age combined.
It was also argued that the Secretary of State failed in her duty to notify them far enough in advance of the fact that they would not, as they expected, start receiving their pension at age 60.
In Soltany and Others v SSHD , the High Court dismissed a challenge to the conditions at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), which at the material times in 2017 and 2018, was run by G4S.
The claim for judicial review, which was brought by three individuals of Afghan origin, principally contended the night-time lockdown regime, pursuant to which detainees were locked in their rooms overnight from 9pm to 8am, was both “unnecessary and unduly harsh” .
Additionally, two of the claimants argued that the combination of the night state, which meant that observant Muslims had to perform some of their daily prayers in their rooms, and the conditions of the rooms (especially the proximity of the toilet) amounted to unlawful religious discrimination.
In a complex judgement extending to over 400 paragraphs, Cavanagh J refused the application on each ground. First, the Court held that Brook House’s overnight lock-down regime and room conditions are compatible with both ECHR Articles 5 and 8. Second, the Defendant did not act contrary to either the common law or Article 5 in failing to give reasons for the allocation of detainees to specific removal centres. Third, there was no religious discrimination under ECHR Article 9, either read alone or together with ECHR Article 14. Nor was there any indirect discrimination contrary to section 19 of the Equality Act 2010.
In Sutherland v Her Majesty’s Advocate, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that it was compatible with the accused person’s rights under ECHR article 8 to use evidence obtained by “paedophile hunter” (“PH”) groups in a criminal trial.
PH groups impersonate children online to lure persons into making inappropriate or sexualised communications with them over the internet, and then provide the material generated by such contact to the police. Importantly, they operate without police authorisation.
Per Section 6(1) of the HRA, a prosecution authority – as a public authority – cannot lawfully act in a way that is incompatible with a Convention right. Consequently, there were two compatibility issues on appeal before the Supreme Court:
Were the appellant’s article 8 rights interfered with by the use of the communications provided by the PH group as evidence in his public prosecution?
To what extent is the state’s obligation to provide adequate protection for article 8 rights incompatible with the use by a public prosecutor of material supplied by PH groups in investigating and prosecuting crime?
In R (Reprieve & Ors) v Prime Minister  EWHC 1695 (Admin), the High Court made a preliminary ruling that Article 6(1) of the ECHR does not apply to the forthcoming judicial review of the Government’s decision not to establish a public inquiry into allegations that the UK intelligence services were involved in the torture, mistreatment and rendition of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11. It was further held that the claimants are not entitled to the level of disclosure of open material outlined in SSHD v AF (No 3) .
With Covid-19 having driven jury-trials to a grinding halt, it is no overstatement to suggest that justice itself has been suspended.
To remedy this situation, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, last week told the BBC that it will be necessary to consider “radical measures” to enable jury trials to continue. To satisfy social distancing requirements in courtrooms, he said he would support reducing the number of jurors from twelve to seven. The historical precedent for this proposal is the Administration of Justice (Emergency Provisions) Act 1939 which similarly reduced the size of juries to accommodate for the pressures of national conscription during the Second World War.
Whilst this proposal is compelling on its practical merits, it could pose significant risks to a defendant’s right to a fair trial, with a reduced jury potentially affecting the procedural fairness of a trial.
To what extent can the government be held liable for facilitating the imposition of the death penalty in a foreign state?
Since signing the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention in 1999, the UK has refused to extradite or deport persons to countries where they are facing criminal charges that carry the death penalty.
There is no judicial precedent, however, which prohibits the sharing of information relevant to a criminal prosecution in a non-abolitionist country. Therefore, in Elgizouli v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 10, there were two questions before the Supreme Court:
1. Whether it is unlawful at common law for the Secretary of State to provide mutual legal assistance (in the form of evidence) that will facilitate the death penalty in a foreign state against the individual in respect of whom the evidence is sought; and
2. Whether and in what circumstances it is lawful under Part 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018, as interpreted in light of relevant provisions of European Union data protection law, for law enforcement authorities in the UK to transfer “personal data” to law enforcement authorities abroad for use in capital criminal proceedings.
In a judgment which showed tremendous sensitivity to the primacy of the legislature, a majority of the Supreme Court (with Lord Kerr dissenting) held the provision of mutual legal assistance (MLA) was not unlawful under the common law.
Nonetheless, the Court unanimously allowed the appeal on the second ground under Part 3 of the DPA 2018, overturning the ruling of the Divisional Court.
The Home Office is proposing to legislate for a new criminal offence relating to the “possession of the most serious material glorifying or encouraging terrorism”.
This follows a suggestion made by the Chief Coroner, HHJ Mark Lucraft QC, in his report concerning the 2017 London Bridge terrorist attack. In his view, the lack of such an offence may sometimes prevent counter-terror police taking disruptive action against terror suspects, even when the extremist propaganda they possess is of the most offensive and shocking character. That propaganda might include, for instance, footage of sadistic violence.
It must provide a specific definition for the “most serious” category of materials which “glorify or encourage” terrorism. This should be supplemented with empirical guidance to ensure a high and objective threshold is set for criminal sanction.
The mens rea requirement for the offence must be deliberate possession of harmful material, with the knowledge that said material glorifies or encourages terrorism. The standard of liability must be one of intention rather than recklessness or negligence. This would ensure that only harmful purposes are penalised.
It must establish statutory defences to such possession on grounds of reasonable excuse and/or working in the public interest.
The High Court has dismissed an application for judicial review regarding the use of Automated Facial Recognition Technology (AFR) and its implications for privacy rights and data protection.
Haddon-Cave LJ and Swift J decided that the current legal regime is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR in a free and civilised society. The Court also held that South Wales Police’s (SWP) use to date of AFR by has been consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and data protection legislation.
Nonetheless, periodic review is likely to be necessary. This was the first time any court in the world had considered AFR. This article analyses the judgement and explores possible avenues for appeal.
What is the scope of a school’s duty to accommodate the religion of a parent whose children attend its schools? From September 2020, it will become mandatory for “relationship education” which includes lessons about LGBT relationships to be taught in English primary schools under the Children and Social Work Act 2017. According to a petition by Muslim parents in Birmingham, however, such teaching contradicts the Islamic faith, thereby violating their freedom of religion.
The ongoing protests raise a host of questions about the boundaries between religious rights and the obligation of the state to promote social inclusion through universal and non-discriminatory education.
In this article, it will be argued that the rigorous approach taken by the Canadian courts to this issue should serve as a template for possible future consideration by the English courts and also that uneven standards in the statutory guidance for maintained and independent (including faith) schools undermine the equality duty in the UK.
R (Johnson, Woods, Barrett and Stewart) v SSWP CO/1552/2018 (11 January 2019) – read judgment
This case was brought by four social security claimants contesting the proper method of calculating the amount of universal credit payable to each claimant under the Universal Credit Regulations 2013. Singh LJ and Lewis J concluded that treating claimants as having “earned” twice as much as they do if they happen to be paid twice within one monthly assessment period is “odd in the extreme” [para 54] and “…. could be said to lead to nonsensical situations” [para 55].
The Legal Proceedings
The four claimants are employees who are paid monthly. As they receive their salaries on or around either the last working day or last banking day of the month, there are times when salaries payable in respect of two months are paid during one assessment period. This means that there were occasions on which the claimants were only allowed to retain a single amount of £192 by way of the work allowance from the combined two months’ salary. The work allowance is the amount of earnings claimants with children or with limited capability for work can keep in full before universal credit is reduced by a proportion (63%) of their earned income under Regulation 22 of the 2013 Regulations. This way of calculating the allowance resulted in fluctuating universal credit awards and “severe cash flow problems” [para 4] for the claimants. Continue reading →
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