24 September 2017
In the news this month:
The Brexit Bill
The Bill for the withdrawal from the European Union has been dominating the news over the past few weeks. Mark Elliott comments that it is ‘difficult to overstate the importance’ of the bill from a constitutional standpoint, and the House of Lords Constitution Committee has said in an interim report that its political, legal and constitutional significance are ‘unparalleled’. Concern has been voiced in various quarters over the use of ‘Henry VIII’ powers (so named because of the monarch’s disdain for parliamentary restraint) which will allow the executive to bypass parliament to ‘tweak’ legislation, and a concomitant lack of sufficiently robust sunset clauses or checks and balances to the handover of such powers. For more detail, I highly recommend listening to David Hart QC’s conversation with Rosalind English on our new podcast series Law Pod, in which he details the potential consequences of the bill in general and in terms of environmental law in particular; you can read his comments here or have a listen here.
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25 July 2017
The Law Pod UK podcast for this roundup is available on iTunes – Episode 7
In the news…
The Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme
Disgraced surgeon Ian Paterson’s sentence has been referred to the Court of Appeal under the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme. Paterson was jailed for 15 years in May, having been found guilty of 17 counts of wounding with intent and three of unlawful wounding. The breast surgeon was accused of negligence in performing so-called ‘cleavage-sparing mastectomies’, an unapproved procedure leaving tissue behind for cosmetic reasons and for some women leading to the return of their cancer, and furthermore, of carrying out unnecessary operations where a simple biopsy would have sufficed.
The Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme was also in the news this week when the Ministry of Justice announced that 19 terror offences would be incorporated, including encouraging terrorism and sharing terrorist propaganda. The Scheme allows anyone to refer a sentence that they feel was lenient to the Attorney-General, who has the power to refer it to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration.
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27 June 2017
IN THE NEWS
The Strasbourg Court has ruled inadmissible the claims by Charlie Gard’s parents that the withdrawal of artificial ventilation from the severely ill child would breach their right to respect for family life under Article 8. Seven judges ruled that it was most likely that Charlie was “being exposed to continued pain, suffering and distress”. The parents had wanted to take him to undergo experimental treatment in the US, but the Strasbourg Court said that undergoing this treatment with “no prospects of success… would offer no benefit”.
These means that the Great Ormand Street Hospital may proceed with the Supreme Court’s order to end the baby’s continued suffering by removing Charlie from life support. We will post a link to the text of the decision when it becomes available; here in the meantime is the press release detailing the inadmissibility decision in the case Gard and Others v. the UK . See our most recent update here for more details and earlier posts here and here.
As the Law Gazette reports, David Lidington takes over from Liz Truss as Lord Chancellor and representative of the judiciary in the Cabinet. He is our fifth Lord Chancellor in just five years. David Lidington has been Conservative MP for Aylesbury since 1992. You can find his voting record here and check out this profile of his record on human rights by Rights Info.
The Independent reports that the number far right extremists reported to the government’s counter-terrorism Prevent strategists increased by 30% in the past year. Prevent has been criticised for its ineffectiveness and now for focusing too heavily on Islamist terror. See Liora Lazarus in the UK Constitutional Law blog on the tension between (and politicisation of) human rights and effective counter-terrorism, and Adam Wagner on how we respond to terror.
Litigation following the Grenfell Tower disaster is inevitable. Sir Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), said on the Andrew Marr show that prosecutors are looking into corporate manslaughter charges. Such a charge is notoriously difficult to bring (see Solicitors’ Journal here and the CPS guidelines here). There have been other calls for charges to be brought under the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter, especially after it was revealed that both the insulation and the tiles in the building failed multiple safety tests. But legal challenges regarding negligent maintenance are also difficult to bring due to the lack of legal aid for the claimants. We’ll keep you posted as this case develops.
It’s Refugee Week this week, so head over to Free Movement for an in-depth look at the new Home Office policy of periodically reviewing (and where possible returning) refugees who have been granted indefinite leave to remain.
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16 May 2017
IN THE NEWS
Three women, including a mother and her daughter, have been charged with conspiracy and attempt in the first all-female terror plot in the UK. This accolade means it is sure to be feverishly anticipated by the press when the charges reach the Old Bailey on May 19th.
The Children’s Society is looking for evidence on the impact of LASPO (2012) on unaccompanied migrant children, and are calling for the participation of legal practitioners in a survey which can be found here. Evidence would be used in the pending review of LASPO and in a strategic litigation case intended by the Children’s Society to bring unaccompanied migrant children under the auspices of legal aid. For more information contact Dr Helen Connolly at firstname.lastname@example.org or Richard Crellin, Policy Manager at the Children’s Society at email@example.com.
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24 April 2017
IN THE NEWS THIS WEEK
With election fever well and truly afflicting the exhausted electorate again, Gina Miller, of Article 50 fame, has launched a tactical voting initiative to back candidates who will “commit to keeping the options open for the British people.” The crowd-funding campaign, rousingly named “Do what’s best for Britain!”, reached and surpassed its £135k goal in just 24 hours. It’s not the first initiative of its kind: moreunited.co.uk contributed to the Lib Dem success in the Richmond Park by-election, and has doubled its crowd-funding target after raising more than £50k in the 48 hours since the announcement of the general election. Neither initiative is allied to a particular party: instead, they aim to support individual candidates sympathetic to their values.
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3 April 2017
There’s a lot to cover this week, as the Round Up looks at (among other things) Strasbourg’s view on forced labour in Greece, the High Court’s latest decision on assisted dying, a mooted Hillsbrough law, Katie Hopkins’ twitter fiasco receiving short shrift in the courts and, inevitably, the triggering of Article 50.
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13 March 2017
Happy international women’s week, Human Rights Blog readers! Women’s rights are human rights and human rights matter, so to help you keep fighting the good fight we’ve curated the week’s legal updates for your immediate consumption.
Let’s start with the good news…
- The Supreme Court has heard the issue of whether a male employee in a civil partnership is entitled to the same pension for his spouse as if he were married to a woman (Walker v Innospec, UKSC 2016/0090).
- Our friends over at Rights Info have curated some landmark cases for women’s equality, and you can read up on them here.
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10 February 2017
THE DUBS AMENDMENT
The big news this week is that the UK government will only accept another 150 unaccompanied refugee children under the Dubs Amendment.
What’s the Dubs Amendment?
Alfred Dubs, who himself came to the UK via Kindertransport, introduced an amendment to the Immigration Act 2016. The amendment, which became Section 67 of the Act, mandated that a number of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe would be allowed to come to the UK. The number was left unspecified, until this week.
Since the law was passed in May, it has brought around 900 children to the UK, many from the camp (the ‘Jungle’) in Calais. Many of these came over when French authorities ransacked the Jungle in October 2016.
(FYI, the Dubs Amendment is not to be confused with the Dublin rules, an EU Regulation governing how asylum claims are handled and shared between EU countries. Amber Rudd herself has on occasion gotten it wrong. For news this week on the Dublin Regulations and time limitations, see here).
What just happened?
Now Amber Rudd has announced (in a written statement the day before Parliamentary recess) that the number of children brought by the Dubs Amendment will not exceed 350. That includes 200 already transferred, and only children who were in Europe before the Immigration Act was passed in May 2016 are eligible (at least under this provision – the Syria Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme are still in operation).
Well, the charity Help Refugees had already launched an application for Judicial Review for the government’s failure to properly implement the Dubs Amendment, back in 2016. The claim (brought by three barristers from Doughty Street, instructed by Leigh Day) asserts that the government failed to properly consult with local authorities as required by statute (as per Section 67.2 of the 2016 Act), and therefore both unlawfully and incorrectly calculated the number of children to bring. The case characterises the government’s figure as woefully low, and the claim won a pretty significant victory in December 2016: the court found that the Dubs Amendment was an additional obligation that the government did not meet by acting in accordance with EU law, specifically Dublin III above.
The next hearing for this case is actually today, in the High Court. This in an interesting one to watch in light of these recent developments, so watch this space!
The Family Court in Manchester has denied a transgender parent access to her five Orthodox Jewish children. J, a transgender woman, left her wife and the Charedi Jewish community in 2015 and has been fighting a legal battle for access to her children since.
In family law, the welfare of the children is the paramount consideration: any decision regarding parental access must be made with that in mind. A parent’s presence in a child’s life is presumed to be beneficial unless the contrary is shown.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson, in his judgment, had the unenviable task of balancing J’s rights on the one hand, to see her children and to be free from discriminatory treatment as a transgender women, and the potential harm to the children. The judge, who said that “it is not for the court to judge the way of life of the ultra‐Orthodox Jew or of the transgender person,” found “with real regret” that the overriding concern was the risk, amounting to a probability, that the children and their mother would be rejected by their Orthodox community if they continued to have a relationship with J.
(J v B and The Children (Ultra-Orthodox Judaism: Transgender)  EWFC 4)
Two separate judgments this week have been a win for unmarried couples.
The ECHR found that to exclude children born out of wedlock from their inheritance rights is discriminatory. German legislation previously provided that children born out of wedlock before 1st July 1949 were precluded from the right to inherit, and the ECHR followed the direction of movement in both national and EU-wide case law to find that this was unlawful. (Mitzinger v. Germany, Application no. 29762/10 ECHR)
Closer to home, the Supreme Court found in favour of a Northern Irish woman, Denise Brewster, who applied for Judicial Review after she was denied her deceased partner’s pension. Unmarried cohabitees in Northern Ireland were required to nominate their partners with a designation form, whereas married couples would benefit from automatic entitlement. Because Ms Brewster’s partner didn’t fill out the nomination form before his sudden death, she was not entitled to his pension. The five sitting justices in the Supreme Court found unanimously that the requirement for an opt-in form should be removed. This judgment is predicted to have wide implications for the rights of cohabiting couples in other areas.
RIGHTS OF DISABLED PEOPLE
Various charities for disabled individuals have published reports finding that the UK government is violating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These will be submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which announced in 2015 that it would conduct an inquiry into the UK government’s treatment of disabled people.
The UK has the (very) dubious honour of being the first: no other government has yet been investigated under this Convention. The Optional Protocol mandates the UN Committee to investigate where they have reliable evidence of ‘grave and systemic violations’ of the Convention, but this had not yet been used since the Convention was adopted in 2008.
The UN released a damning report in October 2016, finding that the UK government has systemically violated the rights of disabled people and making eleven policy recommendations. It delves into policies going back to 2010, including vicious cuts to welfare and social security benefits. Westminster’s response is expected later this year.
IN THE NEWS:
- Trump’s executive order mandating a travel ban on citizens from seven countries has been found unlawful in multiple US appeals courts. With lawsuits currently moving through 11 out of the 13 US appeal court circuits, it’s easy to anticipate that the controversial order will provide grounds for litigation for months and perhaps years to come. The likelihood that the US Supreme Court will rule on the ban is growing, as Trump’s administration shows willing to defend the policy throughout the courts, and meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union is moving towards international legal action, and applying for an emergency hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
- The Bar Council and the Citizenship Foundation are creating lessons for secondary school pupils on constitutional law to explain the role of the judiciary in democracy. The move was prompted by the backlash against the judiciary after the Miller ruling about triggering Article 50, in particular the personal attacks against the three High Court judges. (BBC).
- MP Liz Saville Roberts has tabled a Sexual Offences (Amendments) Bill 2017, which is attracting significant cross-party support. The Bill would tighten up existing laws on the use of sexual history evidence in rape cases, including questions in cross-examination. (Guardian)
IN THE COURTS THIS WEEK:
- The High Court is hearing an application for Judicial Review on the government’s decision to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia, despite warnings from senior civil servants that they might be used to kill Yemeni civilians. (Guardian)
- If you missed 1 Crown Office Row’s event in collaboration with Leigh Day, “Brexit and Fundamental Rights”, you can find the podcast here. Chaired by Joshua Rozenberg QC, no less, it’s well worth a listen!
By Sarah Jane Ewart