Category: Features


Feature | Freedom of expression, the American way

26 April 2010 by

The UK Supreme Court Blog has posted on United States v Stevens, a US Supreme Court decision on animal cruelty videos, involving “freedom of expression in the extreme”. The decision provides for an interesting comparison with the approach to freedom of expression in the UK courts.

If the Human Rights Act 1998 is replaced by a Bill of Rights, the Bill’s drafters are likely to look at other legal systems in order to see how best to recalibrate the balance of the various protections. The drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights themselves had the US Bill of Rights, which has been in force since 1791, as inspiration.

Similar but different

Arguably, the US Bill of Rights places a stronger emphasis on freedom of expression than our domestic law. Freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention is subject to a number of qualifications. There is a long list, including the interests of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals, and the protection of the reputation or rights of others.

Section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shifts the balance slightly, by stating that a court must pay “particular regard” to cases involving the public interest in disclosure of material which has journalistic, literary or artistic merit.

By contrast, despite the US Bill of Rights’ 219 years on the statute books, there remains only a very limited list of forms of expression which are not
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Feature | DNA Database: another key human rights election issue

19 April 2010 by

DNA database impact on human rightsThe National DNA database has become another key human rights issue in the 2010 Election. It is by far the largest such database in the world, with over 1 in 10 people now on the database. The issue of whether innocent people will have their DNA retained has now become highly politicised.

The Tories have now dropped their opposition to the Crime and Security Bill 2010, which has since become law. They had initially opposed provisions which allowed the police to retain the DNA samples of innocent people for up to 6 years. However, they have pledged if elected to bring in early legislation to ensure the DNA profiles of innocent people accused by minor crimes would not be retained.

The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary recently accused the Tories of not being tough enough on crime, whilst appearing at a press conference with Linda Bowman, whose daughter was raped and murdered at age 18. Her killer was convicted in 2008 with the help of DNA evidence. Liberty, the civil liberties organisation, commented that Labour had deliberately confused the issue.

The Conservatives pledge in their manifesto to “Reform Labour’s DNA system with the slimmer and more efficient Scottish system as our model” and “Change the rules on the DNA database to allow a large number of innocent people to reclaim their DNA immediately”.

The Liberal Democrats agree they will “Remove innocent people from the police DNA database and stop storing DNA from innocent people and children in the future, too.”

For their part, Labour say they will “ensure that the most serious offenders are added to the database no matter where or when they were convicted – and retain for six years the DNA profiles of those arrested but not convicted.”

It is probably no coincidence that the criticism of the Tory policy coincides with the Government’s recent concession to strong criticism from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

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Feature | Are the courts taking child protection too far in abuse claims?

8 April 2010 by

Sharon Shoesmith’s court action over her sacking by Haringey Council has once more brought to the fore the sorry account of neglect and mismanagement by police and local authorities of that led to the death of baby Peter Connelly (‘Baby P’). It has also, however, highlighted the increasingly significant role of courts in the UK and Europe in holding public and private authorities to account in claims involving allegations of child abuse.

It is not just local authorities that are under pressure. Allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic church rumble on, occasionally erupting into well publicised court dramas. For example, the recent groundbreaking claim brought against a Catholic priest, Father Clonan, relating to events in Coventry in around 1976 (MAGA v The Trustees Of The Birmingham Archdiocese Of The Roman Catholic Church [2010] EWCA Civ 256).

The claimant (MAGA) was at the time a child of 12 with learning disabilities. The High Court had ruled that the Church was not liable for the abuse as MAGA was not a Roman Catholic, and as such Father Clonan had no business having any dealings with him and was not doing so in his capacity as a priest. MAGA succeeded on appeal because the Court of Appeal accepted that a priest’s duties are very wide, and involve him befriending non-Catholics, such as in the course of his evangelising role.

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Beginning of the end for the “Super Injunction”?

8 April 2010 by

A high profile panel has been formed to review ‘super injunctions’, which have recently been used with varying success to halt media coverage of controversial legal disputes.

Super injunction applications have seen two competing European Convention rights fighting it out; Article 8 (right to privacy) versus Article 10 (freedom of expression).

We have previously posted on the super injunction which was imposed and then swiftly lifted in relation to press coverage of Chelsea footballer and England Captain John Terry’s extra-marital affair.

The committee is to be led by Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, and will be composed of legal and media experts. One notable absence, as Joshua Rozenberg blogs, is Mr Justice Eady, who has been responsible for many of the more controversial super injunctions.

According to the Judicial Communications Office, The Master of the Rolls has set up the committee following the recent report by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on press standards, privacy and libel and concerns expressed to the judiciary.

Read more:

  • Mr Justice Tugendhat decision in the John Terry case
  • The Judicial Communication Office announcement (including the names of the committee members)
  • Commentary from Liberty Central in The Guardian

Just Satisfaction – But only just?

13 May 2009 by

The award of damages under the Human Rights Act – Article by Ben Collins

Article 13 ECHR requires national courts to provide an effective remedy for violations of the convention. This article examines the extent to which the UK courts are prepared to conclude that such an effective remedy should include an award of damages. As will be seen, there is a marked reluctance to award damages save in the clearest cases.

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