Protestors demonstrate outside the Famagusta district court in Paralimni, Cyprus, at the trial of a 19-year old girl convicted of public mischief after withdrawing a rape allegation in contested circumstances. Credit: The Guardian.
A quick look at the “recent decisions” page of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute’s (BAILII) website did not, at first glance, give this author much cause for optimism in the preparation of this blog. However, a more careful reflection on the week’s events provided a plethora of material to consider, notwithstanding the absence of any recent decisions from the Supreme Court or civil Court of Appeal.
When the domestic courts go on leave, it falls to their European counterparts to pick up the slack and churn out judgments to help keep us occupied. It was with surprise however, that a hopeful scroll through the week’s European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decisions revealed not only the familiar names paying a visit to Strasbourg (ahem, Russia), but also that our own United Kingdom had put in an appearance at Europe’s legal naughty corner. Some further creative searching on BAILII revealed that the UK paid nine visits to the ECtHR last year, compared to Russia’s one-hundred and seventy-three.
In Yam v United Kingdom  ECHR 41, a former MI6 informant and Chinese dissident failed in his attempt to have the ECtHR rule that his 2009 murder trial had been prejudiced by virtue of parts of it being held in camera, rather than in public. The applicant had relied upon the provisions of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically 6(1) and 6(3)(d):
“1. In the determination of … any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing … [T]he press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interests of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;”
The court held however that these provisions did not prohibit domestic courts from derogating from public hearings where special circumstances justified it. The measures adopted during his trial had met the requirement of necessity. Furthermore, the ECtHR considered itself poorly equipped to challenge national authorities’ judgement when assessing national security concerns. The court held that the trial judge had carefully balanced the need for openness against the national security interests at stake, and in so doing, had limited the private aspects of the trial to the minimum possible. Through such an analysis, he had satisfied himself that a fair trial was still possible. Consequently, there was no thus disadvantage to the applicant, who had suffered no breach of his Article 6 rights.
In other international developments, lawyers acting for a British 19-year-old in Cyprus filed an appeal against her suspended sentence for public mischief and fabricating an “imaginary crime”. The woman involved had initially made accusations of gang-rape against 12 Israeli youths before retracting her accusation in circumstances now disputed. Her defence have suggested that not only was she suffering from PTSD at the time her claims were withdrawn, but also that she was in fear for her life. The signed confession was in Greek rather than English and made after several hours of unrecorded questioning by detectives in the absence of a lawyer. Her legal team seek to have her conviction overturned.
Returning to purely domestic considerations, the week also saw the announcement that judicial sentencing remarks in high profile cases will in future be broadcast on television from Crown Courts. The move was lauded by broadcasters and the Lord Chief Justice as promoting transparency and as an aid to public understanding of the criminal justice system.
The move was not however uncontroversial. Concerns were raised by the Bar Council of England and Wales that the broadcast of sentencing remarks in the absence of fuller details of the trial could lead to a failure on behalf of viewers to appreciate why a particular sentence has been passed. They expressed anxiety that the audience will be deprived of relevant context, such as mitigation. Further fears included that increased disclosure of judges to the public eye could expose them to undue attack and criticism in circumstances where a given sentence proves unpopular. However regardless of the merits, the development was successful in affording current BBC radio 4 listeners one of the funnier moments so far of 2020, when Evan Davis introduced American lawyer Robert Shapiro to debate the topic with Lord Sumption, only to find that they had inadvertently invited an American political adviser with the same name to the PM show instead (listen here).
The week also saw:
The Mail of Sunday file its defence at the High Court on Tuesday in response to a claim brought by the Duchess of Sussex for breach of copyright, invasion of privacy and misuse of personal data. The case concerns excerpts of correspondence between the Duchess and her father published by the newspaper.
The ECHR deliver judgment in favour of nine Russians detained pending trial for as long as 7 years, some of whom remain incarcerated, in circumstances characterised by fragile reasoning of the courts and an absence of due process – DIGAY AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA  ECHR 54.
The entire Russian government resign in a move thought likely to pave the way for amendments to the country’s constitution favourable to current leader Vladimir Putin. The proposed reforms would strengthen the role of the Prime Minister and weaken that of the President. Mr Putin is constitutionally barred from standing again for the presidency but could transition into one of the roles in which the proposed constitutional changes are likely to vest more power. The reforms would also restrict the applicability of international law in Russia to circumstances where it did not contradict the constitution or restrict people’s rights and freedoms, a measure framed as one to increase national sovereignty.
The High Court refuse permission to appeal in a case brought by a soldier, who contracted Q-fever whilst serving in Afghanistan, against the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The claimant soldier had alleged failings on behalf of the MOD in not providing him with adequate chemoprophylaxis to protect him from the disease – Bass v Ministry of Defence  EWHC 36 (QB).
This week sees Baroness Hale sitting for the final time as President of the Supreme Court. Photo credit: The Guardian.
A brief delay to the publication of this article has helpfully afforded this blogger the opportunity to move beyond the political events of last Thursday and instead focus on much more interesting legal matters (more on those later).
However, it would be remiss not to recognise the consequences of last week’s election, which saw the Prime Minister return newly empowered by a sizeable Conservative majority. At the time of writing, proposals were being made to put the legislation required to withdraw from the European Union back to MPs as early as this Friday.
Sneaking in at page 17 of the Conservative manifesto (one page after a commitment to extend the water rebate in the South West) came the party’s offering on law and order. This included commitments to increase the number of police, enhance the use of “fair and proportionate” stop and search, as well as promote longer sentences and the greater use of electronic tags. The manifesto was however silent on some matters which have drawn attention of late, including court closures, legal aid cuts, and previous suggestions from ministers that the Human Rights Act might be amended to protect soldiers from prosecution for acts performed during their time in service. With such a significant majority however, the Government will be in a position to pursue its chosen agenda with enthusiasm, and so these and other mooted at policies, such as reform of the judicial review process, may not be as fanciful as previously thought.
Moving gratefully on from politics, today saw the first day in the case of XX v Whittington Hospital NHS Trust (appealing  EWCA Civ 2832), which also serves as Baroness Hale’s final case as President of the Supreme Court before her replacement on January 11thby Lord Reed. The case provides an interesting example of a scenario in which factual matters combined with absent or inadequate law require the court to consider matters of a deeply public policy nature. Continue reading →
An Extinction Rebellion protester is removed by police in central London. Credit: The Guardian.
As the general election campaign accelerated this week, the political fall out from the publication of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry contributed to some awkward headlines for both politicians and lawmakers. However, this was by no means the only legal news of the week…
The case turned on the lawfulness of the exercise of powers by the police under section 14(1) of the Public Order Act 1986 to ban XR’s protests earlier this month.
The court ruled that in exercising section 14 powers, the police were required to identify a location to be covered by the powers conferred by the Act. Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if co-ordinated under the umbrella of one body, were not held to be one public assembly within the meaning of section 14(1). Consequently, the decision of the police to impose the condition across a wide area of London for several days was unlawful, being outwith the powers conferred by section 14(1).
Harry Dunn’s family after meeting with the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, last week. Photograph: Credit: The Guardian, Peter Summers/Getty Images.
The usually obscure concept of diplomatic immunity came to the fore this week after it emerged that the wife of an American diplomat was wanted for questioning in connection with the death of a motorcyclist in Northamptonshire. Anne Sacoolas was spoken to by police after a collision with Harry Dunn in which he was killed whilst riding his motorbike, prior to her return to the United States.
Article 31 of the 1961 Vienna Convention grants immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state to diplomats, a feature extended to their family members by article 37. However, both the United Kingdom and the United States were this weekend reported as having agreed that diplomatic immunity was no longer “pertinent” in the case of Mrs Sacoolas. This raised the possibility of the UK seeking her extradition, despite President Trump being photographed this week with a briefing card stating that she would not be returning to Britain.
Meanwhile, the country’s attention turned back towards Brexit, with the week ahead promising to, in the Prime Minister’s words, be “do or die” for the prospects of a negotiated deal. At the beginning of the week it was widely reported that talks had faltered, with Downing St leaks suggesting a deal was “essentially impossible”. However, the mood surrounding negotiations changed significantly on Thursday, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar describing the emergence of a “pathway” to a deal following his meeting with Boris Johnson. Continue reading →
Flags flutter outside Parliament. Credit: The Guardian.
Very few weeks have given the function of the legal system and the role of the courts as much prominence, nor exposed them to as much scrutiny, as the last week. The decision of the Prime Minster to prorogue Parliament, followed by the granting of royal assent to legislation which would require him to seek an extension to the Article 50 process for exiting the European Union, has launched into the public consciousness areas of constitutional law previously the domain only of law students cramming for exams, public law lawyers and academics in tweed blazers. In what at times made Newsnight look like an hour-long revision seminar for Graduate Diploma in Law students, unfashionable concepts such as justiciability, judicial review and the rule of law took centre stage, framed by the context of Brexit.
New President of the Supreme Court Lord Reed: Credit The Guardian.
In the week after the appointment of Lord Reed as the new President of the Supreme Court, the final week of July brought with it the end of the legal term and a flurry of judgements in the senior courts.
In the Supreme Court, the case of Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring (Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK)  UKSC 38 (29 July 2019) gave the court the opportunity to examine the principle of open justice, in particular how much of the written material made available to the court ought to be accessible by those not directly party to proceedings. The case came about after an asbestos victim support group, not party to the initial proceedings, made an application to have access to all the documents from a settled personal injury asbestos case. The defendant from the initial trial appealed against the granting of such an order under the common law and the provisions of CPR rule 5.4C. The Media Lawyers Association intervened, advancing arguments based on the importance of media reporting to maintaining open justice, and the reliance such reporters have on access to documents subsequent to the conclusion of proceedings. In deciding to remit the matter back to the High Court, the court provided a good summary of the principles concerning open justice laid down in R (Guardian News and Media Ltd) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Article 19 intervening) EWCA Civ 420;  QB 618.
Outgoing Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke. Credit: The Guardian.
The week ahead will, barring some extreme political drama, give us a new Prime Minister, and with it, the inevitable cabinet reshuffle. Some ministers have already made clear they believe they are unlikely to remain in post after the new PM’s appointment on Wednesday, in particular the Chancellor Phillip Hammond, and the Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke.
Whoever takes over at the Ministry of Justice will have a significant inbox. Cuts to legal aid were brought to the fore this week after it emerged a relative of those killed in the 2017 terrorist attacks at London Bridge was represented pro-bono by lawyers from international corporate law firm Hogan Lovells (see The Independent here). Mr Gauke used his forthcoming departure from post to propose scrapping short custodial sentences in a bid to reduce re-offending rates. However, the incoming Lord Chancellor will still be considerably better off than their new boss, for whom the “to do” list includes getting an oil tanker back from Iran and concluding Brexit.
Theresa May resigns during a speech in Downing Street, May 24th 2019. Credit: The Guardian
It would be virtually impossible for readers of this blog, unless they have recently returned from the International Space Station, awoken from a coma or been rescued after two weeks in the Hawaiian jungle, to have failed to notice this week’s political developments. Dispensing with them briefly, this week saw the Prime Minister announce her departure, and the subsequent commencement of a Conservative leadership campaign to appoint a new PM. Into this mix was thrown Sunday’s European Parliament elections, which saw Nigel Farage’s World Trade Organisation terms advocating Brexit Party finish first, albeit in a poll that saw advocates of a “no-deal” Brexit obtain fewer votes than those committed to preventing Brexit, if you take the combined Brexit Party and UKIP vote compared to combined Liberal Democrat, Green Party and Change UK vote.
More on Britain’s political machinations can be found courtesy of wall-to-wall coverage available pretty much everywhere. Continue reading →
TM (Kenya) concerned a 40 year old Kenyan woman who faced deportation after her applications for leave to remain and asylum were rejected by the Home Office. She had been detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in advance of proceedings to remove her from the country, during which time she had been uncooperative with staff. In light of her behaviour and in advance of her removal to Kenya, she was removed from free association with other detainees. Such detention was authorised by the Home Office Immigration Enforcement Manager at Yarl’s Wood, who was also the appointed “contract monitor” at the centre for the purposes of section 49 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
She sought judicial review of the decision to deprive her of free association. The initial application was refused. She appealed to the Court of Appeal where she advanced three grounds, including that her detention was not properly authorised.
The court found no conflict in the dual positions held by the manager at Yarl’s Wood. The Home Secretary had legitimately authorised her detention under the principles described in Carltona Limited v Commissioners of Works  2 All ER 560. In addition, there was no obligation to develop a formal policy concerning removal from free association, as Rule 40 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 was sufficiently clear to meet the needs of transparency. Continue reading →
Mourners including Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, DUP leader Arlene Foster and SNP leader Ian Blackford give a standing ovation after Fr Martin Magill’s speech at the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee in Belfast – April 24th 2019. Credit: The Guardian.
This week saw the senior courts continue their Easter vacation between the Hilary and Easter Terms. Consequently, neither the Supreme Court, Civil Division of the Court of Appeal or Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court recorded any new decisions in the week commencing April 22nd.
Luckily for the writer of this Blog, the European Court of Human Rights does not share the relaxed attitude of the domestic courts towards Easter working, and on the April 25th gave judgement in the case of VM v United Kingdom (No 2).
The case concerned a Nigerian woman who entered the United Kingdom illegally in 2003. She subsequently pleaded guilty to cruelty to her son and was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with a recommendation she be deported at the end of her sentence. Pursuant to this, upon her release, she was detained under immigration powers for two years and ten months.
After some quieter times earlier in the year, last week saw no fewer than two Supreme Court judgements and twenty Court of Appeal (Civil Division) decisions.
However, the dominant legal and political story of the week (the ubiquitous Brexit aside) concerned criticism of the Home Secretary Sajid Javid, after reports emerged about the death of the child of Shamima Begum. The 19-year-old left East London to travel to Syria and join the Islamic State aged 15. Javid had stripped Begum of her British Citizenship on the basis that she was a dual national of Bangladesh. News broke this morning that the Home Office had removed citizenship from a further two individuals who had left under similar circumstances.
Renu Begum holds a photograph of her sister Shamima, taken prior to the then school girls travel to Syria to support the Islamic State. Credit: The Guardian
Immigration cases have dominated human rights case law this week. However, perhaps the greatest controversy concerned the Home Secretary’s intervention in the case of Shamima Begum. News broke on Sunday morning that the nineteen-year-old had given birth in Syria to baby boy, having travelled to the country to support ISIS as a school girl three years ago.
In his 1748 text ‘The Spirit of the Laws’, Montesquieu proposed his initial concept of what would ultimately become known amongst political scientists as the separation of powers. Mercifully, for both the writer of this blog and the time poor reader, this weekly round-up of events need only concern itself with one of those branches of government…
Despite best efforts however, the topic of European politics is never truly out of the picture. This week saw judgement given in a series of cases by the European Court of Human Rights concerning Article 6 rights in Hungary – Boza and Others, Kurmai and Others, Csontos and Others, Kvacskay and Others, Bartos, Kovács-Csincsák and Komlódi, and Borbély and Others v. Hungary. The EU member state has increasingly been the focus of continent-wide concerns about the rule of law in central Europe, which in particular relate to the policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party. Similar concerns have spread to neighbouring countries including regional heavyweight Poland, where the ruing Law and Justice Party has repeatedly clashed with both Brussels and the country’s judiciary over suggestions that judicial appointments have become politically motivated. Continue reading →
This week the eyes of the United Kingdom, and quite possibly the whole of Europe, were trained on Luxembourg for an eagerly awaited judgement from the Court of Justice of the European Communities. However, before we embark on a lengthy and forensic analysis of the German/Slovakian case of AlzChem v Commission (State aid – Chemical industry – Judgment)  EUECJ T-284/15 (13 December 2018), we should pay some attention to the week’s legal Brexit developments…
The CJEU this week delivered judgement in the case of Wightman and Others – (Notification by a Member State of its intention to withdraw from the European Union – Judgment)  EUECJ C-621/18 (10 December 2018). The case had been referred to the Luxembourg court by the Inner House of the Court of Session and addressed the feasibility of unilateral revocation of Article 50 TEU. The UK government sought to have the application ruled inadmissible on the grounds that the question posed was hypothetical, no such revocation of Article 50 having been attempted or even contemplated. The European Council and Commission meanwhile contended that although revocation was possible, the right was not unilateral. They appeared to fear abuse of Article 50 by member states who could unilaterally seek to terminate their membership of the European Union, revoke that termination and then repeat the exercise as necessary to circumvent the two-year time limit imposed by Article 50 on withdrawal negotiations. Continue reading →
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.