The Online Safety Bill returned to parliament on 5 December after a five-month delay. The bill had been postponed until after the summer recess in July in light of the confidence vote called by Boris Johnson. The bill has changed significantly since originally proposed by Theresa May in the online harms white paper, including the recent adjustments to requirements relating to “legal but harmful” content, as noted in last week’s round-up.
A Freedom of Information request by Big Brother Watch has revealed that the Metropolitan police were rebuked by the information commissioner’s office in 2020 for video surveillance of children as young as 10 at a March 2019 climate protest. According to the ICO, the data-gathering was unlawful because the force had failed to consider the privacy rights of the children at the protest, and had not considered their entitlement to added data protections in light of their age.
The Home Office has reclassified modern slavery as an “illegal immigration and asylum issue”. While it used to appear on the official list of ministerial responsibilities for the safeguarding minister, it is now listed at the bottom of the “illegal immigration and asylum” brief of immigration minister Tom Pursglove. According to official statistics, more than a quarter of all people identified as potential modern slavery victims are British, and 97% of all modern slavery referrals concluded in the first half of 2022 were confirmed as genuine by the authorities.
On 10 October, criminal barristers voted to end their strike over pay. 57% voted in a ballot to accept the package offered by Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis: an immediate 15% rise in fees for government-funded defence work, which will also apply to 60,000 cases in the backlog, and additional payments for a range of court preparation work. Crown courts have begun hearing cases as normal again, but it is not clear how quickly the backlog will be reduced.
On Wednesday, a new Bill of Rights was introduced to Parliament. While the Government claims that the Bill ‘will strengthen traditional UK rights’ which are ‘under attack’ from ‘stifling political correctness’, critics say the Bill dilutes domestic human rights protection and seeks to diminish the powers of domestic courts. Key aspects of the Bill are as follows:
it gets rid of the interpretive obligation under s3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, with no analogous replacement;
it prevents UK courts from adopting new interpretations of ECHR rights that would require a public authority to comply with a positive obligation and limits their ability to enforce existing positive obligations;
it introduces a permission stage requiring people to show they have suffered a significant disadvantage before their claim can go ahead;
it prevents domestic courts from finding legislative provisions concerning deportation to be incompatible with the Article 8 right to respect for private and family life unless the provision would require the relevant person to be treated in a way that would occasion ‘harm’ so ‘extreme’ that it would ‘override the otherwise paramount public interest’ in removal from the UK; and
it requires courts, when deciding ‘incompatibility questions’, to treat Parliament as having ‘decided’ that the Act strikes an appropriate balance between the relevant competing factors.
The Bill’s detractors have suggested that, despite its stated aim to ‘bring rights home’, the Bill will in fact result in the UK being in breach of its obligations under the ECHR more often, making it more vulnerable to adverse rulings by the ECtHR.
On Friday, the US Supreme Court overturnedRoe v Wade, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion. Going forward, abortion rights will be determined by states, unless Congress acts. President Biden commented: “The Court has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.”
On 16 May, the Home Secretary announced in a letter to police forces that she is permanently lifting restrictions on the use of stop-and-search powers under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which give police officers the right to search people without reasonable grounds in an area when they expect serious violence, and to look for weapons before they can be used, or those used in a recent attack. The new changes will lengthen the periods for which the powers can be in force and by which they can be extended, and a lower rank of officer will be able to authorise their deployment. In addition, the officer will now only need to anticipate that serious violence “may” occur, not that it “will” occur. Concerns have consistently been raised around the powers on the basis that they disproportionately affect black and minority ethnic communities. For instance, in the year to March 2021, black people were seven times and Asian people two-and-a-half times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.
In the first Ukraine war crimes trial since the invasion by Russia, a Russian tank commander has pleaded guilty to shooting dead a 62-year-old civilian. Even in light of the guilty plea, for the suspect to be convicted and sentenced, the three judges hearing the case will have to reach a unanimous verdict. The suspect faces life in jail.
On 2 May, a draft majority opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States was leaked, suggesting that the court has voted to strike down the landmark decision of Roe v Wade and sparking widespread anger. In the opinion, Justice Samuel Alito states that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” and that “it is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” This is the first time in history that a draft decision has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending. On 3 May, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the decision, which would remove federal constitutional protection of abortion rights and leave the decision in the hands of each state.
Under a new pilot scheme, victims could have the right to attend full Parole Board hearings from as early as next month. The Parole Board will also be required to take into account victims’ submissions and victims will be allowed to ask questions. Currently, victims can ask to read a statement in person but are not allowed to hear the rest of the evidence.
Police are investigating a gathering attended by Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner in April 2021. Having initially decided to take no action, Durham Constabulary has now begun conducting an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations in light of “significant new information”. Durham Constabulary had previously stated that it had a policy against retrospective Covid fines, after allegations of lockdown breaches by Dominic Cummings.
On 4 May, foreign secretary Liz Truss announced in a press release that there will be a ban on services exports to Russia, covering services such as accountancy, consultancy and PR advice. Lawyers, however, will still be able to service Russian clients.
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