Category: Case summaries
15 October 2018
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.
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27 May 2018
Image Credit: The Guardian
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Yes emphasised that the amendment created ‘absolute legal paralysis in dealing with crisis pregnancies’ and had to be repealed if women in Ireland were to receive ‘appropriate’ and ‘compassionate’ healthcare.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.
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11 March 2018
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.
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3 September 2017
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.
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6 May 2017
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.
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26 January 2017
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.
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9 November 2016
Photo credit: The Guardian
Beggs, Re Judicial Review,  CSOH 153 – read judgment.
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.
1 November 2016
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.
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5 October 2016
In the news
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.
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30 September 2016
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.
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15 September 2016
Photo credit: the Guardian
V.M. v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 49734/12, 1 September 2016: read judgment.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that part of an individual’s detention pending deportation violated the right to liberty protected by Article 5, ECHR. This judgment is the second recent ruling to find a lack of “due diligence” on behalf of UK authorities following the Court’s judgment in J.N. v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 37289/12, 19 May 2016 (see my previous UKHRB post here).
by Fraser Simpson
The applicant, VM, entered the UK illegally on 18 November 2003 with her son (S). Soon after, her son became the subject of an interim care order and the applicant was charged with child cruelty under the relevant legislation. Following an unsuccessful application for asylum due to fears for her life back in Nigeria, VM pleaded guilty to the child cruelty charges in August 2004. However, following the granting of bail pending the next hearing in February 2005, VM absconded for a period of over two years.
In September 2007 the applicant was again arrested, this time on charges relating to possession of false documentation with intent to commit fraud. Following conviction she was sentenced to nine months in prison. The applicant was also eventually convicted of the child cruelty charges in April 2008. Before sentencing, a psychological report was produced that indicated the applicant suffered from depressive and psychotic symptoms. However, such symptoms were being adequately managed through therapy and medication. Accordingly, there was no need to consider specialised treatment in a hospital or prison healthcare wing under the Mental Health Act 1983. The applicant was therefore sentenced to twelve months imprisonment, with an additional three months due to the failure to surrender to bail, in July 2008. At this point, due to the severity of the offences, the domestic judge recommended that the applicant be deported.
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29 July 2016
The Christian Institute and others (Appellants) v The Lord Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland)  UKSC 51 – read judgment here
The Supreme Court has today unanimously struck down the Scottish Parliaments’s Named Persons scheme as insufficiently precise for the purposes of Article 8, overturning two previous decisions at the Court of Session (see our previous coverage here).
by David Scott
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19 July 2016
In the news
Theresa May has been sworn in as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, prompting speculation about the impact her leadership will have on human rights.
The former Home Secretary has been a vocal and long-standing critic of the Human Rights Act. In a 2011 speech she insisted that the legislation “needs to go”, making controversial reference to what legal commentators argued was a “mythical example” of an immigrant who could not be deported because “he had a pet cat”. Her appointment of Liz Truss as Justice Secretary, who has previously spoken out against the HRA, suggests that the Government will continue with plans to replace the Act with a British Bill of Rights.
Nonetheless, it appears that the UK will remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, at least in the near future. During her campaign to be Prime Minister, Theresa May stated that she would not pursue pulling out of the ECHR, describing the issue as divisive and lacking majority support in Parliament. Amnesty International have said that they “warmly welcome” this commitment, and have called on the Prime Minister to “turn the corner on human rights” in the UK.
In an examination of “Theresa May’s Eight Human Rights Highs and Lows”, RightsInfo has noted that in 2012 May “came out strongly in support of the proposal to change the law so people of the same sex could marry”. Pink News charts her evolution on LGBT rights to become the “unsung hero” of equal marriage, while pointing out criticisms that conditions for LGBT asylum-seekers have worsened under her tenure as Home Secretary.
On the issue of freedom of religion, commentators have similarly looked to Teresa May’s actions as Home Secretary for an indication of her position. David Pocklington provides an overview for Law & Religion UK, noting her recent launch of an independent review into the operation of sharia law in England and Wales.
Meanwhile, the Government’s review into whether victims of trafficking have effective access to legal advice has yet to be published. Writing in the Justice Gap, Juliette Nash has called on Theresa May to deliver on her promise to tackle modern slavery and implement any recommendations of the review as soon as possible: “the spotlight is now on …the Prime Minister…to ensure that justice is done”.
In other news:
The Guardian: Lawyers acting on behalf of a British citizen are seeking to challenge the lawfulness of the Government triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union without parliamentary approval. We have posted on the “divorce” process here. The UK Constitutional Law Association Blog provides extensive academic discussion of the constitutional issues surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Law Society’s Gazette: In a report on the impact of tribunal fees published on 20 June, the House of Commons Justice Committee made a number of recommendations, including that the fees charged in the employment tribunal should be ‘substantially reduced’. In the meantime, Unison has continued to pursue its quest for judicial review of the lawfulness of the fees, with an appeal to the Supreme Court set for December 2016.
BBC: An investigation is under way following the death of 18 year-old Mzee Mohammed in police custody, who had been detained by security staff at a shopping centre. The charity Inquest has called for “the most thorough and robust scrutiny of the actions of the security guards and the police” who were in contact with Mr Mohammed before his death.
Daily Telegraph: Figures released by the CPS show that the number of prosecutions for hate crimes against disabled people has increased by 41.3% in the last year, while prosecutions for homophobic and transphobic crime have risen by 15% over the same period.
In the courts:
Taddeucci and McCall v Italy (judgment in French only)
This case concerned the refusal of Italian authorities to grant a residence permit to a gay couple, on the basis that they did not constitute family members. The Court found that the restrictive interpretation of the notion of family member applied by the authorities did not take into account the fact that under Italian law the couple were unable to marry. In deciding to treat homosexual couples in the same manner as unmarried heterosexual couples, Italy was in breach of article 14 (freedom from discrimination) taken together with article 8 (right to respect for private and family life).
Buzadji v the Republic of Moldova
This case concerned the detention of a businessman for ten months, pending trial on an allegation of attempted fraud. The Court affirmed that judicial authorities were required to give relevant and sufficient reasons for detention, in addition to having a “reasonable suspicion” that the relevant individual had committed an offence. Importantly, this requirement was held to apply already at the time of the first decision ordering detention, and “promptly” after the arrest.
On the particular facts, the Court found that the reasons given for detention had been stereotyped, abstract and inconsistent. As such there had been a violation of article 5 (the right to liberty).
UK HRB posts
Whose fair trial prevails? – David Hart QC
Justice for everyone: another Grayling reform bites the dust – Gideon Barth
Book review: “The Inquest Book: The Law of Coroners and Inquests” edited by Caroline Cross and Neil Garnham – Michael Deacon
The Chilcot Report – an Illegal War? – Dominic Ruck Keene
Another door closes for the Chagossians – Dominic Ruck Keene
Get out the back, Jack? make a new plan, Stan? – Rosalind English
24 May 2016
Photo credit: RT
In the news
The absence of fixed time limits in the UK system of immigration detention does not breach Article 5 of the Convention (the right to liberty), according to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in JN v United Kingdom.
The applicant was an Iranian national who was refused asylum in the UK and issued with a deportation order. He was detained in an immigration removal centre for more than four and a half years, following completion of a custodial sentence for indecent assault. The applicant complained that in the absence of fixed time limits, domestic law was unclear and did not produce foreseeable consequences for individuals.
This argument was rejected by the Court, which re-iterated that Article 5 does not lay down maximum time limits for detention pending deportation. The issue was said to be whether domestic law contained sufficient procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, and in this regard the UK did not fall short of Convention requirements. However, the Court did find that between January 2008 and September 2009 deportation of the applicant had not been pursued with “due diligence”, and his detention during this period was therefore in breach of his right to liberty.
The decision will come as a disappointment to campaigners, who point out that the UK is the only EU Member State which places no time limit on the detention of foreign nationals. According to the UNHCR, detention can have “a lasting, detrimental impact on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers”, and both a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry and a recent report of the UN Human Rights Committee have called on the UK to adopt an upper limit.
It remains open to the Government to do so. However, in light of the judgment in JN, the introduction of a statutory time limit would now appear unlikely. A spokeswoman told the Guardian that the Home Office were pleased with the outcome of the case: “We maintain that our immigration detention system is firm but fair”.
In other news
The Queen’s Speech has declared that “proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights” – wording that is near identical to last year’s commitment to ‘bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Policy Director at Liberty, Bella Sankey remarks that if this “felt like groundhog day, it was because little progress has been made” towards the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. UKHRB founder Adam Wagner provides a useful list of reactions and coverage here.
A report from the European Commission points to evidence that “the migration crisis has been exploited by criminal networks involved in trafficking in human beings”, who target the most vulnerable. According to official figures, in 2013-2014 there were 15,846 registered victims of trafficking in the EU, although the true number is considered to be “substantially higher”. The BBC reports on the findings.
The Supreme Court has upheld an interim injunction in the ‘celebrity threesome’ case, until after the full trial for invasion of privacy. The Court of Appeal had been wrong to enhance the weight attached to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR) as compared with the right to respect for privacy (article 8 ECHR) – neither article had preference over the other in the balancing exercise. David Hart QC provides an analysis of the decision for the UKHRB – a summary of the main points can be found on RightsInfo
In the courts
The applicants were Hungarian nationals and members of parliament, who had been issued with fines for engaging in protests that were disruptive of parliamentary proceedings. They complained that this had violated their right to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR).
The Court observed that Parliaments were entitled to react when their members engaged in disorderly conduct disrupting the normal functioning of the legislature. However, on the present facts domestic legislation had not provided for any possibility for the MPs concerned to be involved in the relevant disciplinary procedure. The interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression was therefore not proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued, because it was not accompanied by adequate procedural safeguards. Accordingly, the Court found a violation of Article 10.
The applicant’s husband had died in circumstances where there had been a negligent failure to diagnose meningitis shortly after (successful) nasal polyp surgery, although that negligent failure was not necessarily causative. In its Chamber judgment of 15 December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention as to the right to life and, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 2.
Analysis of that decision is provided by Jeremy Hyam QC for the UK HRB. On 2 May 2016 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the Portuguese Government’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.
Those in need of some summer reading might consider: Five Ideas to Fight For, by Anthony Lester, recently published. The book describes the development of English law in relation to human rights, equality, free speech, privacy and the rule of law, explaining how our freedom is under threat and why it matters.
UK HRB posts
CA says ex-pats cannot say yes or no to Brexit – David Hart QC
The British Bill of Rights Show: Series 14, Episode 9…*Zzzzzzz* – Adam Wagner
Three Way in the Supreme Court: PJS remains PJS – David Hart QC
The National Preventive Mechanism of the United Kingdom – John Wadham
Bank Mellat’s $4bn claim: CA rules out one element, but the rest to play for – David Hart QC
19 April 2016
Photo credit: Guardian
“ After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
– Morpheus, The Matrix
The explosion of genetic testing in the last half century has produced unquantifiable benefits, allowing scientists to understand the constitution of genetic disorders and dramatically improve disease diagnosis, avoidance and treatment. Consider the near-eradication of Tay-Sachs, a fatal neurodegenerative disease, since the introduction of screening in the 1970s; the standardisation of newborn testing; and the introduction of BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing for inherited cancer genes.
These advances have created challenging ethical and legal questions, however: How much information does each of us want to know about our genetic makeup?; Do we have a responsibility to seek such information out? What should we do with the information once we get it? What about the significant risks of stigmatisation and discrimination?; And, where do doctors’ duties begin and end insofar as they are, or ought to be aware of testing outcomes?
In the High Court last week (judgment available here) McKenna J dealt with the latter question, striking out a claim by a patient’s relatives over a missed diagnosis of a genetic disorder and holding that a third party cannot recover damages for a personal injury suffered because of an omission in the treatment of another.
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