Category: Features


There should be more QC on our TV

1 December 2010 by

When the UK supreme court opened for business just over a year ago one of its most exciting innovations was that, for the first time in the UK, hearings would be filmed and recordings made available to broadcasters.

The change followed 20 years of campaigning and preparation, and was heralded as a turning point in the history of our legal system.

So, one year on, are our TV schedules flooded with live feeds of cases of great social importance? Hardly. In fact, Baroness Hale, one of the court’s 11 justices, recently said that although the recordings are available to the media upon request, “they don’t often ask.”

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Failure to deport Philip Lawrence killer was not about human rights

29 November 2010 by

It has been widely reported that Learco Chindamo, who was convicted of killing headmaster Philip Lawrence in 1995, has been rearrested only months after being released from jail. The story has reopened a debate over the Human Rights Act, on the basis that it prevented Chindamo from being deported to his native Italy. But did it?

In fact, what the case really highlights is that the unpopularity of the Human Rights Act is in part due to inaccurate media reporting of human rights cases, even 10 years after it came into force.

The Telegraph reported at the end of last week that Frances Lawrence, Philip Lawrence’s widow, has urged the prime minister to act on his previous pledges to scrap the Human Rights Act, as

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Pressure grows for reform of access to environmental justice

15 September 2010 by

Hard on the heels of the UN-ECE Aarhus Compliance Committee (see my previous post), Lord Justice Sullivan’s Working Party on Access to Environmental Justice has similarly condemned the current system under which judicial review claimants face an onerous costs burden when they advance claims which do not ultimately succeed.

The Working Party reported initially in May 2008 on access to justice in environmental cases, and was critical of the current costs regime. Its current focus is rather narrower that the recent conclusions of the Aarhus Compliance Committee, but potentially more effective thanks to that focus. It reviews the rather fuzzy case-law on Protective Costs Orders, fashioned by the judges to help Claimants against unlimited costs liabilities. The report can be read here.

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Rooney, Coulson and Hague scandals reveal the need for more, not less, press protection

6 September 2010 by

What does Wayne Rooney’s alleged philandering have to do with human rights? In itself, not very much. But a recent spate of exposés in and of the press has exposed more than a footballer’s indiscretions.

The starting point from a human rights perspective is the fragile relationship between two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; namely, the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression. Article 8 provides that everyone has the “right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” This right is qualified, in the sense that it is possible for a state authority to breach privacy rights if it is (amongst other things) necessary in a democratic society.

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The invention of human rights

25 August 2010 by

In a fascinating new essay, Samuel Moyn, a history professor at Columbia University, examines the history of human rights. He concentrates on the concept of international human rights from a U.S. perspective, but many of his observations are highly relevant to those with an interest in UK human rights. As is often the case, examining the movement’s history provides interesting clues as to its future.

Moyn begins by recalling US President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inaugural speech, when he said that “Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere... Our commitment to human rights must be absolute.” Our own Foreign Secretary made a similar commitment after the May 2010 election. But whereas now the concept is well known, in 1977, Moyn says, many people had never heard of “human rights”, and no previous president had mentioned the concept in any substantive way. Interestingly, the current US president Barak Obama has barely mentioned human rights during his time in office, and this may well be a reaction to his predecessor George Bush’s invocation of human rights to justify the invasion of Iraq.

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End of the age of terrorism for human rights campaigners [updated]

2 August 2010 by

Updated (4 Aug 2010)

Army generals are notorious for fighting the last war instead of the current one. Human rights campaigners may be in danger of the same mistake if they get their strategy wrong for the new coalition government.

The great civil liberties fight of the last decade centered on New Labour’s anti-terrorism measures. Keystone issues such as stop and search, 42-day detention without charge and control orders caught the public imagination and have been the subject of bitterly fought and largely successful campaigns by rights groups.

The other significant fights have been over the so-called surveillance state; for example CCTV, the DNA database and ASBOs, all of which are now being considered for reform by the new government.

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Judicial review as to the need for a single inquiry into Iraqi torture allegations to go ahead, says High Court

19 July 2010 by

Ali Zaki Mousa and others v Secretary of State for Defence and Legal Services Commission 16 July 2010 – Read judgment

Permission has been given to around 100 Iraqi applicants to bring proceedings to compel the Secretary of State to hold a single public inquiry to investigate breaches of Article 3 in relation to each of the claimants with respect to their treatment whilst in detention in Iraq

The claimant was representative of a group of Iraqis numbering about 100 who either have brought, or wish to bring, judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State for Defence alleging that they were ill-treated in detention in Iraq at various times between 2003 and 2008 by members of the British Armed forces in breach of Article 3. It is possible that up to 100 other Iraqis may wish to join the group in the future.

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Feature | The duty to investigate deaths under human rights law: Part 2

15 July 2010 by

R (Humberstone) v Legal Services Commission [2010] EWHC 760 (Admin) – Read case

Part 2 of Matthew Hill’s feature on the duty to investigate deaths under human rights law (read Part I).

A recent High Court decision (see previous post) concerning the funding of a party at a coroner’s inquest has highlighted the importance of distinguishing between the two different types of investigative duty that arise under Article 2 ECHR.

It is argued in this post that imprecise terminology and a failure to appreciate that Article 2 is engaged in Jamieson as well as Middleton inquests has confused this area, and that the learned judge in R (Humberstone) v Legal Services Commission [2010] EWHC 760 (Admin) erred by eliding the investigative duties and the case-law from which they emerged.

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Feature | The duty to investigate deaths under human rights law: Part 1

12 July 2010 by

Silih v Slovenia (2009) 49 E.H.R.R. 37 – Read judgment, McCaughey and Quinn’s Application [2010] NICA 13 – Read judgment

This is Part I of Matthew Hill’s feature. Click here for Part II.

A recent decision of the Strasbourg Court has reopened the issue of the State’s obligation to investigate deaths under the European Convention on Human Rights, leaving a tension between the European Court’s view and that of the highest UK court.

In Silih v Slovenia (2009) 49 E.H.R.R. 37, the European Court looked again at the question of whether the investigative obligations under Article 2 ECHR have retrospective effect in domestic law. A majority of the Court held that Slovenia’s failure to provide an effective independent judicial system to determine responsibility for the death of a patient receiving medical treatment violated Article 2 even though the death itself took place before the Convention came into force in that state.

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Budget benefits cuts and the human right to money

22 June 2010 by

George Osborne is to announce the Government’s emergency budget today. Although the Government has been seeking to emphasise measures which will soften the blow to the poor, the fact remains that these are the biggest cuts in decades and that many will end up worse off, particularly if wages decrease and unemployment increases.

Update: The full budget can be downloaded here. The section on benefits starts at page 33.

The Government is to cut benefits by £11bn by 2014-15. The huge cost of benefits (spending on social security and tax credits has increased by 45 per cent, around £60 billion, in real terms over the past 10 years.), the Chancellor told Parliament, were one of the reasons why there isn’t any more money in the Government coffers. The Health in Pregnancy grant will be abolished from 2011 and Sure Start will be limited. Child Benefit is to be frozen for the next three years. Disability Living Allowance will be restricted by a new medical check from 2013.  The Chancellor has said he will “increase the incentives to work” and will reassess benefits on the basis of the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index. Housing benefit will be limited significantly and maximum limits on what can be claimed are to be introduced for the first time.

Rosalind English posted two weeks ago on whether budget cuts will lead to revised calls for “socio-economic” human rights; a concept which is as old as the European Convention on Human Rights and just as controversial. We will now revisit that post.

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Bloody Sunday, human rights and the duty to investigate deaths [updated]

16 June 2010 by

Lord Saville has already come under significant criticism for the time and money which has been swallowed up by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. Future public inquiries could now be under threat as new Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has accused the Lord Saville of allowing the process to get “ludicrously out of hand“.

The Saville Inquiry Report was published yesterday and can be downloaded here, a summary here and a good analysis here. Lord Saville’s long-awaited inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings of 30 January 1972 was set up to investigate the events surrounding a march in Derry when 29 protesters were shot by British soldiers, leading to 13 deaths. The Inquiry has been widely criticised prior to its findings.

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Feature | A human right to money: will it ever happen?

8 June 2010 by

Prime Minister David Cameron has been busy preparing the country for “painful” cuts to pensions, pay and benefits. In a recent Guardian Article, The changing face of human rights, Afua Hirsch comments with approval on the 2008 recommendation by the Joint Committee on Human Rights that a new UK bill of rights should include the rights to health, education, housing and an adequate standard of living. Rosalind English asks whether the time has indeed come for “economic” human rights.

Ms Hirsch cites a number of examples around the world where such “social and economic rights” have been used successfully to challenge government policy on the distribution of healthcare, housing and benefits. Why, then, she asks, is such an extension of our existing rights so strenuously resisted in this country?

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The increasing role of human rights law in extradition and deportation cases

25 May 2010 by

Human rights challenges to deportation and extradition seem to be constantly in the public eye. Gary McKinnon’s battle against extradition has caught the public, as has the now notorious “Pathway Students” terrorist deportation case. An examination of three recent decisions highlights the various ways in which the courts approach the human rights arguments in such cases.

There have been a steady stream of high-profile deportation and extradition decisions in the past few weeks, none more controversial than the “Pathway students” case, where two suspected terrorists were saved from deportation to Pakistan as they were thought to be at risk of torture or death upon their return. The Daily Telegraph reports that the Human Rights Act is being invoked in a growing number of asylum and immigration case, although it does not say whether the number of successful uses of the Act has increased.

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Religious versus other freedoms: the future of Article 9?

10 May 2010 by

McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ B1 (29 April 2010) – Read judgment or our previous post

Case comment

Lord Carey of Clifton, responding to Lord Justice Laws’ observations in MacFarlane, has called this latest dust-up about religion in the courts a “deeply unedifying clash of rights“. It is indeed a clash of rights, but unedifying it is not. It is precisely when these rights collide that some real, hard thinking is generated, not only about the precise content of these rights, but their historical purpose and their proper function in modern society.

It may be that when the architects of the Convention drafted Article 9, guaranteeing freedom of thought, conscience and religion, they did not foresee that its future role would not be so much the protection of oppressed believers against Soviet-style secularisation but instead a thorn in the flesh of public authority employers seeking enforce their legitimate objectives against non-compliant religious employees.

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Feature | Barred voters and the right to compensation under human rights law

9 May 2010 by

With possibly thousands of people prevented from voting in the 2010 General Election, can those who were locked out claim for compensation for breach of their human rights, and how much are they likely to receive?

The legal basis: Article 1 of Protocol 3 to the European Convention on Human Rights, the duty on States to hold free and fair elections, has been receiving more than its usual share of attention. Under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a convention right. Under Section 7, a person may bring proceedings against a public authority which has acted unlawfully. One of the potential remedies is compensation.

How many: It appears that thousands of voters may have been prevented from voting as polling stations were unable to handle the amount of people who arrived in the last few hours before voting closed at 10pm. For example, The Guardian reports that “In Chester more than 600 people were unable to vote because the electoral list had not been updated and Labour won on a majority of 549“and in Hackney “The council estimated that 270 voters were turned away at four polling stations in the south of the borough.” In Sheffield Hallam “students tried to prevent ballot boxes being taken to the count after up to 500 voters were turned away”.

How much: We posted on Friday on an article by Lord Pannick, a human rights barrister, in which he said that prisoners denied the right to vote (a separate but certainly comparable issue to those who were turned away) may be entitled to awards “in the region of £750 and possibly more”. Geoffrey Robertson QC, also a well known human rights barrister, told the BBC that spurned voters may be entitled to “at least £750”.

However, it is not clear where either lawyer derived the £750 figure from.
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