The advent of the Human Rights Act 1998, and the incorporation into domestic law of the Article 2 right to life, has transformed coronial investigations and inquests over the last two decades. Lord Bingham’s magisterial creation of the ‘enhanced’ investigation and conclusion in R (Middleton) v West Somerset Coroner  UKHL 10,  2 AC 182 (later adopted by Parliament) gave coroners greater responsibility to hold the state to account for deaths. That, in turn, has significantly improved the ways in which all inquests are conducted, not just those where Article 2 is found to be engaged. Inquests are no longer haphazard affairs. They are (ordinarily) carefully planned and structured processes; and their participants, the ‘interested persons’, are far more involved in assisting coroners with the task of identifying the proper scope of their investigations and the lawful ambit of their conclusions.
Article 2, then, has already conquered and occupied the terrain of the coroners’ courts and it is only at the frontiers of its application that legal skirmishes still occur. One such fight is the case of R (Maguire) v HM Senior Coroner for Blackpool & Fylde and another  UKSC 20, which was argued before the Supreme Court on 22nd and 23rd November 2022, and in which judgment was given on 21st June 2023.
The central issue in the case was whether Article 2 required an enhanced inquest into the death of highly vulnerable woman, Jackie Maguire, who had become seriously unwell while in a private residential care home and had later died in hospital. The Supreme Court held unanimously that it did not. More importantly, in doing so, it took the opportunity to provide a detailed and authoritative account of how Article 2 applies to coronial investigations and inquests.
In Privacy International v Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the Divisional Court held that s.5 Intelligence Services Act 1994 does not permit the government to issue general warrants to engage in computer network exploitation (“CNE”) – more commonly known as computer hacking. The court also offered valuable guidance on warrants and what is required to make them lawful.
There were three issues:
1. Does s.5 Intelligence Services Act 1994 (“the 1994 Act”) permit the Secretary of State to issue ‘thematic’ or ‘general’ warrants to hack computers? General warrants are those which purportedly authorise acts in respect of an entire class of people or an entire class of acts (e.g. ‘all mobile phones in London’).
2. Should the court allow the claim to be amended to include a complaint that, prior to February 2015, the s.5 regime did not comply with Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights?
3. If permission is given to amend the claim, should the new ground succeed?
The Supreme Court has upheld challenges to the legal regimes for disclosing criminal records in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland, finding them to be incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).
R (P, G and W) and Anor v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Anor  UKSC 3 – Read Judgment
ARB v IVF Hammersmith & Another  Civ 2803 (17 December 2018) – read judgment
Legal policy in the UK has traditionally prohibited the granting of damages for the wrongful conception or birth of a child in cases of negligence. In this case the Court of Appeal has confirmed that this bar is equally applicable to a wrongful birth arising from a breach of contract.
The facts of the case are set out in my podcast on the first instance decision (Episode 12 of Law Pod UK). Briefly, an IVF clinic had implanted the claimant father’s gametes into his former partner without his consent. This occurred after the couple had sought fertility treatment at the clinic resulting in the birth of a son some years previously. Following standard practice, the clinic froze five embryos made with their gametes. Subsequently, the couple separated. Some time after this separation the mother, R, attended the clinic without ARB and informed the staff that they had decided to have another child. The form requiring consent from ARB for thawing and implanting the embyro was signed by R, and the clinic failed to notice the forgery. R went on to give birth to a healthy daughter, E, who is now the sibling of ARB’s son. There is a Family Court order confirming parental responsibility and shared residence in respect of both children. Continue reading →
The question for the court was whether his case raised “an arguable point of law of general public importance” which ought to be heard by the Supreme Court at this time. Whilst the points of law were undoubtedly arguable, and the public importance obvious, the court concluded “not without some reluctance” that the applicant’s prospects of success did not justify granting permission to appeal. Rosalind English has more detail here.
Stott, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice  UKSC 59: The appellant was a prisoner who had been classed as ‘dangerous’ and accordingly given an Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS), under which he would become eligible for parole only after serving two-thirds of the appropriate custodial term. This was in various ways narrower than the ordinary parole eligibility of other categories of prisoner. The appellant claimed unlawful discrimination under Article 14 ECHR, combined with Article 5 (the right to liberty).
The cake at the centre of the controversy — Image: The Guardian
Lee v. Ashers Baking Company Ltd – read judgment here.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court handed down its much-anticipated judgment in the ‘gay cake’ case. The Court unanimously held that it was not direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or political opinion for the owners of a Northern Irish bakery to refuse to bake a cake with the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ on it, when to do so would have been contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The judgment is a significant and welcome affirmation of the fundamental importance of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. The Court emphasised that refusing to provide a good or service to someone because they are gay (or because of any other protected characteristic) is unlawful discrimination — this judgment should not give anyone the idea that discrimination is now acceptable. However, the Court made clear that the purpose of equality law is to protect people, not ideas, and that no-one should ever be compelled by law to make a statement or express a message with which they do not agree.
In a landmark moment for women’s rights, the Irish electorate has voted in favour of abolishing the 8th Amendment by a stunning two-thirds majority of 1,429,981 votes to 723,632.
Whilst abortion has long been illegal in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the notorious 8th Amendment, which gives the foetus’ right to life absolute parity with that of the woman carrying it, was enacted after a 1983 referendum lobbied for by pro-life activists. By virtue of the amendment:
“The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
Lawyers for Yes emphasised that the amendment created ‘absolute legal paralysis in dealing with crisis pregnancies’ and had to be repealed if women in Ireland were to receive ‘appropriate’ and ‘compassionate’ healthcare. Also on the UKHRB, Rosalind English shares a powerful analysis of the extraordinary nature of the legal obligations imposed on women’s bodies by this provision.
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
Photo credit: The Guardian
In the News:
Over 100 female detainees have gone on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.
The women began their strike on the 21st February, over “inhuman” conditions, indefinite detentions, and a perceived failure to address their medical needs. The UK is the only European state that does not put a time limit on how long detainees can be held.
This week, the strikers were given a letter from the Home Office warning their actions may speed up their deportation. Labour criticised the letter, but Caroline Nokes, the Immigration Minister, said the letter was part of official Home Officer guidance and was published last November on its website. Continue reading →
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.
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:
Was the damage was reasonably foreseeable
Was there was sufficient “proximity” between the claimant and the defendant and
Would it be fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty: see Lord Bridge of Harwich in Caparo Industries plc v Dickman 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 →
R (o.t.a T) v. HM Senior Coroner for West Yorkshire  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 →
In the new age of alternative facts, even Sean Spicer might struggle to spin Tuesday’s Supreme Court judgment as anything other than a comprehensive defeat for the government.
Yet, as my colleague Dominic Ruck Keene’s post alluded to, the ultimate political ramifications of Miller would have made the Article 50 process appreciably more turgid had the Justices accepted the various arguments relating to devolution.
The refusal to allow a Scottish prisoner to purchase a laptop for use in prison has been successfully challenged in the Outer House of the Court of Session. However, the Outer House decision focused on the flawed decision making process as opposed to the substantive conclusion reached by prison authorities.
by Fraser Simpson
In 2001, the petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Whilst in prison, the petitioner, Mr Beggs, made a number of requests to be allowed to purchase a laptop. Mr Beggs intended for this laptop to be used to prepare responses to his lawyers in connection to a number of civil and criminal court actions in which he was involved. Additionally, Mr Beggs intended for the laptop to be used for educational purposes. However, each request made by Mr Beggs was refused.
This issue had been raised as early as 2002. The Scottish Prison Complaints Commissioner had stated that Mr Beggs “is a highly educated, intelligent man whose literacy is excellent”. The formal recommendations stemming from the Commissioner’s consideration of the matter was that Mr Beggs should be provided with a word processor and a printer to assist with his legal casework. However, no such access was forthcoming. As a result, Mr Beggs raised a first set of judicial review proceedings. Such proceedings were halted prior to the first hearing after the authorities agreed to provide computer facilities and a printer. This arrangement between Mr Beggs and the authorities at HMP Peterhead did not operate smoothly. Mr Beggs was allowed to access a communal laptop provided by the prison. However, another prisoner was often using this laptop. As a result, Mr Beggs made a request for permissions to have his own personal laptop.
Scottish Policy on personal laptops
The Governors and Managers Action Notices 84A of 1998 and 15A of 1999 (“GMA 1998” and “GMA 1999”) are the relevant policy documents covering prisoner ownership of computers/word processors. Under GMA 1998 there was a prohibition on prisoners in closed establishments from owning such devices (which would include laptops). However, GMA 1999 relaxed this position and allowed a prisoner to own a laptop in “exceptional cases” if “compelling reasons” had been shown. Additionally, there was the need to demonstrate that any security concerns could be adequately addressed.
This scheme for ownership of laptops operated separately from the various schemes allowing prisoners to access prison-owned laptops. The relevant protocol was most recently updated in March 2013. It only afforded prisoners access for legal work and required completion of a written application form. Access would not be provided unless the individual could show “real prejudice to his case” if access were restricted. Additionally, resources were limited as prisons only owned a certain number of laptops (which cost £1,000 to purchase). All in all, the scheme for accessing prison owned laptops was very restrictive and of little practical use.
Requests for a laptop
Mr Beggs initial request to the governor of HMP Peterhead was refused. Whilst recognising that “compelling circumstances” under GMA 1999 existed to depart from the general ban of laptops contained in GMA 1998, the governor refused the request due to the fact that the protocol for accessing communal computer equipment adequately met Mr Beggs’ needs.
Mr Beggs made a number of similar requests following this initial refusal. All requests were unsuccessful and often referenced the fact that the ability to access a communal laptop was sufficient.
In March 2014, having been moved to HMP Edinburgh, the petitioner made another request to be allowed a laptop. Again, he emphasised that a laptop was necessary to allow him manage the vast amount of legal documents that had amassed from various legal actions and also to allow him to further his academic interests. The governor of HMP Edinburgh refused this request. This time, Mr Beggs’ request was refused due to a failure to show that “exceptional circumstances” justifying the provision of a laptop existed as required under GMA 1999. The governor also noted that there were other individuals in the prison who were able to manage their cases without utilising a laptop.
It is this decision of March 2014 that the petitioner sought to have judicially reviewed.
Outer House Decision
Lord Malcolm began his decision by considering the relevant policy documents. As discussed above, GMA 1998 and 1999 established a system that required the individual to show “compelling circumstances” to justify departing from the general ban on prisoners in closed establishments owning laptops and that the relevant security concerns could be addressed. Lord Malcolm noted that only one individual had previously applied for a personal laptop, namely the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombings, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. he had been allowed a laptop. Accordingly, it was clear that the relevant security concerns could be addressed.
Further, the existence of prison-owned laptops was irrelevant. The protocol allowing access to communal laptops existed independently of the scheme for personal laptops under GMA 1998 and 1999. The “very restrictive” prison laptop protocol could not be relied upon as a justification for refusing a personal laptop (despite the fact that such reasoning had been adopted by numerous decision makers in response to Mr Beggs’ previous requests prior to March 2014).
In considering the specific refusal reviewed by Mr Beggs, that of March 2014, Lord Malcolm noted that the governor of HMP Edinburgh merely stated that the petitioner’s circumstances were not “exceptional” and therefore there was no need to provide a personal laptop. But Lord Malcolm, whilst not explicitly disagreeing with the conclusion, empathised with Mr Beggs. Due to a number of factors, including the early positive response of the Scottish Prisons Complaints Commissioner, the undertaking agreed in the context of the first judicial review proceedings, and the initial decision of the governor of HMP Peterhead that “compelling circumstances” existed, Mr Beggs could reasonably expect his position to be considered “exceptional”. A decision that all of the above, amongst other considerations, did not amount to “compelling circumstances” should be be afforded “a more considered, detailed, and reasoned response than anything provided [to Mr Beggs] so far”.
As a result, Lord Malcolm reduced the decision of March 2014 and all subsequent decisions.
Ultimately, this decision of the Outer House relates purely to the decision making process adopted by the prison authorities. It’s easy to have sympathy with Mr Beggs. Despite previous assurances and, at first glance, clear “exceptional circumstances” he was repeatedly refused permission to buy his own personal laptop. These refusals included no reasons which effectively prevented Mr Beggs from being able to assess the height of the hurdle he had to clear in order to be successful.
The result of this judgment is that the governor of HMP Edinburgh will have to consider Mr Begg’s request afresh. In considering the substantive question of whether Mr Begg’s should be allowed a laptop there appears a number of factors in favour of granting permission. First, Mr Beggs has always offered to pay for the laptop himself. Instead of costing the authorities money, this would actually result in less reliance being placed on the limited number of communal laptops provided by the prison. Secondly, there is clearly no insurmountable issues regarding security; Mr al-Megrahi was provided a laptop, and numerous prisoners use communal laptops under the relevant protocol whilst in closed establishments. Finally, it may appear inconsistent to allow prisoners to enjoy Xboxes and PlayStations, which can also potentially access wifi and are explicitly permitted, whilst refusing to allow Mr Beggs to purchase a laptop for legal and educational purposes.
This blog has covered a number of claims for damages arising out of the misuse of private information. The Mirror Group phone hacking case is one example (see my post here and the appeal decision here), and the fall-out from the hapless Home Office official who put private information about asylum-seekers on the Internet, being another – (Gideon Barth’s post on TLT here). See also below for related posts.
But this post is to give a bit of context, via the wider and scarier cyber crime which is going on all around us. It threatens the livelihoods of individuals and businesses the globe over – and has given and will undoubtedly give rise to complex spin-off litigation.
So let’s just start with the other week. On 21 October 2016, it seems nearly half the Internet was hit by a massive DDoS attack affecting a company, Dyn, which provides internet services infrastructure for a host of websites. Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, WIRED, Spotify and the New York Times were affected. DDoS, for cyber virgins, is Distributed Denial of Service, i.e. an overloading of servers via a flood of malicious requests, in this case from tens of millions of IP addresses. No firm culprits so far, but a botnet called Mirai seems to be in the frame. It is thought that non-secure items like cars, fridges and cameras connected to the Internet (the Internet of Things) may be the conscripted foot soldiers in such attacks.
And now to the sorts of cases which have hit the headlines in this country to date.
The oversight of the conduct of British soldiers in Iraq has been subject of two recent developments. The first is political, as Prime Minister Theresa May has renewed criticism of investigations into allegations of criminal behaviour of British troops. The second is legal, with the Court of Appeal offering clarification as to the role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad. However, comments by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have since thrown into doubt the future role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad.
Simon Price v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 15602/07, 15 September 2016 – read judgment.
In a unanimous decision, the European Court of Human Rights has held that the proceedings that lead to the conviction of an individual for drug trafficking charges were entirely compliant with Article 6, ECHR. Despite the inability to cross-examine a key prosecution witness, the Court considered that in light of the existence of supporting incriminating evidence (amongst other factors) the proceedings as a whole were fair.
by Fraser Simpson
In June 2004 a ship, entering the port of Rotterdam, was searched by customs officials and found to contain a quantity of cocaine worth £35 million. The applicant, Simon Price, was arrested after he made enquiries into the container shortly after. He was subsequently charged with an offence under s.20, Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and with the attempted importation of drugs from Guyana to the United Kingdom via the Netherlands and Belgium. 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.