Landmark A-G opinion: EU must respect right of self-determination of Western Sahara

wsaharaR (o.t.a. Western Sahara Campaign UK) v. HMRC and DEFRA, Court of Justice of the European Union, opinion of Advocate-General Wathelet, 10 January 2018 – read here

The A-G has just invited the CJEU to conclude that an EU agreement with Morocco about fishing is invalid on international law grounds. His opinion rolls up deep issues about NGO standing, ability to rely on international law principles, justiciability, and standard of review, into one case. It also touches on deeply political, and foreign political, issues, and he is unapologetic about this.  That, he concludes, is a judge’s job, both at EU and international court level – if the issues are indeed legal.

The opinion is complex and I summarise it in the simplest terms. But here goes.

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Does “damage” go wider than injury? Supreme Court on jurisdiction

Four Seasons Holdings v. Brownlie [2017] UKSC 80, 19 December 2017, read judgment

Professor Ian Brownlie Q.C., an eminent international lawyer, and members of his family were killed in a road accident in Egypt, when on their way to Al-Fayoum. His widow, also injured, had booked the driver through their hotel, the Four Seasons in Cairo.

The family wished to bring proceedings in the UK against the hotel in respect of the driver. However, the key defendant (Holdings) was incorporated in British Columbia, and the issue which got to the Supreme Court was the issue of jurisdiction.

The family said that there was a contract for the trip with Holdings, and further that Holdings were vicariously liable in tort for the negligence of the driver. Holdings had been less than transparent at earlier stages of the proceedings, but, after the Supreme Court required it to give a full account of itself, it emerged that it was as the name suggested – a non-trading holding company which had never operated the Cairo hotel, even though other companies in the group were involved with the hotel.

On that ground, Holdings’ appeal was allowed. The unanimous Court concluded that there was no claim in either contract or in tort. In simple terms, Holdings was nothing to do with the booking of the driver by the hotel.

But the lasting interest in the case lay in the question of whether you can establish qualifying “damage” in tort in the UK even if you are injured abroad, and on this the Court was split 3-2.

Let me set the scene for this, before telling you the result.

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Reasons and planners again: Supreme Court

13454123443_80fef9d87e_bDover District Council v. CPRE Kent [2017] UKSC 79, 6 December 2016, read judgment

The Supreme Court has just confirmed that this local authority should have given reasons if it wished to grant permission against the advice of its own planning officers for a controversial development to the west of Dover. 

The interest is in the breadth of the decision – how far does it extend?

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Duty of care in genomic medicine: who is liable?

Clinical Genetics is a field of medicine concerned with the probability of an indvidual’s condition having an hereditary basis.  The journal Medical Law International has just published an article  about the scope of potential duties of care owed by  specialists in this field to people with heritable diseases.  The authors draw out the features of genomic medicine that open the door to new liabilities; a potential duty owed by clinicians to third party family members, and another legal relationship that may be drawn between researchers and patients.

Background

There is no legislation on the duties involved in genome sequencing in the United Kingdom, and, in the absence of this, any new legal duties on the part of professionals in clinical genomics need to be established within the common law of negligence. Civil lawyers are familiar with the standard framework for establishing whether a duty of care is owed, based on these three consecutive questions:

  1. Was the damage was reasonably foreseeable
  2. Was there was sufficient “proximity” between the claimant and the defendant and
  3. Would it be fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty: see Lord Bridge of Harwich in Caparo Industries plc v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605, 617-618

These principles are neat enough as they are laid out but only take us as far as the facts of any particular case, particularly the Caparo test outlined in para (3).

This relatively new field of medical endeavour is unusual in that it is concerned with the management of a family rather than one individual. More generally, in the field of genomic medicine, there is a “close interaction between care and research”, resulting in “the real possibility” that genomics researchers will be found to owe a legal duty to disclose findings to participants.

So we have two new possible avenues of liability here; that of clinicians to third parties, and that of researchers to patients. Continue reading

The clash between open justice and one’s good name

Khuja (formerly known as PNM) v. Times Newspapers [2017] UKSC 49, Supreme Court, read judgment

The outcome of this case is summed up in its title, an unsuccessful attempt to retain anonymity in press reporting.  It is a stark instance of how someone involved in investigations into very serious offences cannot suppress any allegations which may have surfaced in open court, even though no prosecution was ever brought against them.

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Purdah: Government should obey the law in the run-up to an election

NO2_Pic

R (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Garnham J, 27 April 2017, judgment here

Last November (here) the judge decided that the UK’s air pollution plans under EU and domestic laws were not good enough.  The case has a long, and unedifying back-story of Government not doing what the law says it should do – see the depressing list of posts at the bottom of this post.

The pollutant was nitrogen dioxide, a product of vehicle exhaust fumes. And as the judge reminded us in this latest instalment, the Department for Transport’s own evidence suggests that 64 people are dying everyday as a result of this pollutant.

The particular issue might seem legally unpromising. Government wanted to delay the publication of its latest consultation proposal from 24 April 2017 (the date ordered by the judge last November) until after the Council elections on 4 May, and, then, once the general election had been called, until after 8 June 2017. It accepted that it had its report drafted, but did not want to release it.

But the only justification for the delay was Purdah.

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Coroner’s conundrums: born alive or still-birth, and mother’s anonymity

R (o.t.a T)  v. HM Senior Coroner for West Yorkshire [2017] EWCA 187 (Civ), 28 April 2017 read judgment

A sad story of human frailty posed two difficult problems for the Coroner, and the Court of Appeal.

A 19-year old mother went into hospital, with a shoebox. In the shoebox was the 6-days dead body of her daughter. She told the hospital and the police that she had been raped, hence the shame about reporting the death. She had given birth in her bedroom at home, and she said that the baby had been cold when born. Continue reading