Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked from the Cabinet after making what he calls a “careless and not deliberate” mistake with his taxes. He reportedly paid a 30% penalty fee on top of the money owed to HMRC in connection with his use of an offshore company to hold shares in the polling company YouGov. The Prime Minister had been resisting calls to fire his Minister Without Portfolio, who also serves as Chairman of the Conservative Party, until the independent advisor tasked to investigate the issue made clear that there had been a “serious breach of the ministerial code.” Zahawi’s lawyers had been attempting to obstruct journalists exposing that he was being investigated over his tax affairs with threats of legal action.
Another investigation is being launched by the BBC into the hiring of its current chairman, Richard Sharp. The Tory donor allegedly helped Boris Johnson secure a large loan soon before being recommended by the then prime minister for the job. Sharp has denied he was involved in making the loan, claiming that he had “simply connected” people. The Labour Party has called for a parliamentary investigation into the allegations.
Grant Shapps, the Business Secretary, has set out the anti-strike laws that are planned to enforce minimum levels of service during strike action. Under the proposals, some employees would be required to work during a strike and could be fired if they refuse. It would be for the ministers to set the minimum levels of service, and there would be no automatic protection from unfair dismissal in breaching these levels. Unions have criticised the bill for being ‘undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal’, and Labour have stated it would repeal the legislation if it wins the next general election. The bill has been defended by Shapps, who states it is aimed to protect lives and livelihoods.
The investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine will be considered in a major international meeting to be held in London in March. In attendance will be the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, in order to inform about the court’s work in investigating war crimes. The meeting comes as Putin continues to target crucial energy infrastructure as he destroys central heating supplies in the heart of winter. Dominic Raab has stated that ‘Russian forces should know they cannot act with impunity and we will back Ukraine until justice is served’; the meeting is designed to determine how to further assist the ICC in bringing that justice.
President Putin has ordered his troops in Ukraine to cease fire for 36 hours over Orthodox Christmas and has urged Ukrainian forces to do the same. However, the move was rejected by Kyiv, and the US state department, as a “cynical trap” and propaganda move. Putin announced the truce, to begin at noon 6 January 2023, after a call by Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Ministers announced legislation that looks to enforce “minimum service levels” in six sectors, including the health service, rail, education, fire and border security. Unions that refuse to do so will face injunctions and could be sued for damages. Employers will be able to sue unions, and dismiss union members who are told to work under the minimum service requirement but refuse to do so. Prime minister Rishi Sunak, however, vetoed more far-reaching measures that would have increased the threshold for strike ballots, doubled the notice for industrial action from two weeks to a month, and banned ambulance workers from striking.
The British Medical Association have informed the government that junior doctors will strike for 72 hours in March if the action is supported in a ballot opening next week. Doctors would not provide emergency care during the strike. The union, which has 45,000 junior doctor members, wants their real-terms pay restored to 2008 levels: a 26.1 per cent increase. The scale of the strike proposed by the BMA is larger than those to be held by nurses and ambulance staff, and will inflame tensions between the unions and the government. The Royal College of Nursing strikes are for 12 hours at a time, and the ambulance unions are holding 24-hour strikes.
In Episode 177 Emma-Louise Fenelon speaks to Margaret Bowron KC about how to avoid disastrous expert evidence. This episode is an update to the popular 2019 episode with Neil Sheldon KC, available here.
Margaret and Emma discuss mistakes in expert reports, the standard to be applied to expert reports, actual and potential conflicts of interest, the importance of staying within one’s area of expertise, and the danger where lawyers get involved in joint experts discussions.
· Robinson v Liverpool University NHS FT & Dr Mercier here (**UPDATE** Shortly after we recorded this episode, the wasted costs order in this case was overturned by the High Court, see the judgment here)
· Andrews v Kronospan Ltd  EWHC 479 (QB) here
Remember that listening to our podcasts will earn you CPD points. Episodes like these, with detailed practical material, can be found in our back catalogue; for example the last discussion on expert evidence with Neil Sheldon here, and here are a few others:
The year passed was, unsurprisingly, another year of tumult and surprise, something that by now registers as the norm rather than an aberration. Even so, 2022 must be a standout year – even by recent standards. From Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the collapse of two consecutive Tory governments, dramatic election results around the world from Israel to Brazil, and in the run up to the festive season a football World Cup as mired in human rights controversy as in any sporting event can be, 2022 was not a quiet year.
Nor did the legal world disappoint. On the Parliamentary side of things, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab’s controversial Bill of Rights Bill continues to clunk through Parliament, and other bills with interesting human rights implications have had their moment in the sun as well. To take but one example, the Online Safety Bill, whose controversial but central parts dealing with ‘legal but harmful’ speech were removed recently, is yet to become law after extensive reform following criticisms based on freedom of expression.
But the focus of this post is not on Parliament, or politics in general, but on the highlights of 2022 in the Courts. So with no further ado and in no particular order, the cases which (in the completely impartial and objective joint opinion of the co-editors of this blog) have defined 2022 are:
The Government has launched legal action to recover £122m from PPE Medpro, the supplier recommended by Conservative peer Michelle Mone. The claim is grounded in a contract for the supply of 25m sterile surgical gowns awarded via the ‘VIP lane’ used during the pandemic to prioritise companies with political connections. None of the gowns purchased were ever used in the NHS as they were allegedly not fit for purpose, although Medpro insist that the gowns passed inspection and will defend the claim. The case will be of significant public interest following the revelation that £29m originating from profits from this contract was paid to an offshore trust whose beneficiaries were Mone and her children. Mone’s husband also profited at least £65m from these government contracts. Mone remains insistent that she had no involvement in Medpro and has not gained financially from the contracts.
The Scottish Parliament have passed the Gender Recognition Bill, allowing people to legally change their gender through a system of self-identification. The Bill seeks to make it easier for individuals to legally change their gender, removing the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria to gain a gender recognition certificate, and extending the new system to 16 year olds. It also reduces the time someone has to have been permanently living in their acquired gender before they can apply (to 3 months down from 2 years). The Bill has been the centre of a much heated debate, with potent beliefs on either side. While the parliamentary debate itself was disrupted within minutes by protesters shouting ‘shame on you… this is the darkest day’, many have come out in support of the Bill for the protections it provides for trans people.
In our final episode of the year, Rosalind English, Lucy McCann and Jonathan Metzer discuss some of the most important judgments that have been handed down in the last twelve months. The recording of this episode took place a day before judgment was handed down in the “Rwanda case” ( R ((AAA) Syria and Ors) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 3230 (Admin).
Below are the citations for all the cases discussed in this episode.
The Divisional Court has dismissed the claim for judicial review challenging decisions made by the Home Secretary that asylum claims made in the United Kingdom should not be determined here and that instead the persons who have made those claims should be removed to Rwanda to have their asylum claims determined there. Removal from the United Kingdom in these circumstances involves two decisions: first, a decision that the asylum claim is inadmissible – i.e., that the asylum claim should not be decided on its merits in the United Kingdom; and second a decision to remove the asylum claimant to a safe third country which in these cases is Rwanda. Lewis LJ and Swift J found that the Home Secretary was entitled to rely on assurances provided by the Rwandan government in a specific and detailed memorandum of understanding that Rwanda was a safe third country. They also rejected the argument that the policy was in breach of retained EU law, specifically, Directive 2005/85 art.27(2). Regardless of whether art.27(2) had been breached, there was no breach of retained EU law, by reason of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 Sch.1 Pt 3 para.6, the Directive was not retained EU law. The judgment is also interesting on the question of standing. The claimants included individual asylum seekers, charities and a home office officials’ trade union. The Court concluded that neither the trade union nor the charities had standing. The union’s members were not directly affected by the policy in any sense relevant for the purposes of seeking judicial review, and it could not be said that any person working for a public authority had sufficient interest to challenge any decision taken by that authority. The charities claimed that they had surrogate standing in that they represented the interests of those who were not well-placed to bring an action themselves. However, that submission was undermined by the presence of the asylum-seeker claimants, who were better placed to bring the claim.
A&E wards dealt with 2.2. million patients last month, while ambulance services attended 81,655 of the most serious incidents: the highest demand on record for November. Strikes are set for December 15 and 21, as Royal College of Nursing members at hospitals across England will strike over below-inflation pay increases. Paramedics and other ambulance staff in most parts of the country will strike a day later on December 21. Labour have indicated they are “willing to talk” about higher pay rises for NHS staff, and would revisit the pay deal handed to NHS staff.
A Manchester High Court order was made on Friday 16 December by Fordham J, ruling that the Home Secretary acted unlawfully in failing to ensure an adequate rate of support for more than 50,000 asylum seekers. The case, brought by an asylum seeker “CB”, challenged the amount of financial support given to asylum seekers during the cost-of-living crisis. An estimated 58,148 asylum seekers in self-catering accommodation receive cash support for basic needs such as food and travel. The level of support is calculated to be the minimum required for day-to-day survival.
Yesterday, the Divisional Court (Lewis LJ and Swift J) held that, in principle, the relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda was consistent with the Refugee Convention and other legal obligations on the government, including those imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998. However, the Court also held that Home Secretary had failed to properly consider the circumstances of eight individual claimants to decide whether there was anything which meant that their asylum claim should be determined in the UK or they should not be relocated to Rwanda. Therefore, the decisions in those cases were set aside and referred back to the Home Secretary for her to consider afresh.
The Court’s judgment is detailed and addresses a number of issues. In this post, the focus will be on the general challenge made to removal to Rwanda in principle and what can be expected in the (likely) event that this aspect of the case is appealed further.
Abortion in Northern Ireland has had a fraught and frequently distressing history. Until 2019 when the UK Parliament reformed the law, the jurisdiction had the most restrictive approach to abortion in the UK. But even this reform has not reformed the reality, either for those seeking abortion services or information and counselling on such services or for those who work at providers of such services lawfully. I have previously written about the situation as it stood in March 2021, and the reality has changed little since then, with two notable exceptions. In March 2022, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill (Northern Ireland) (‘SAZ Bill’) to create buffer zones around lawful abortion providers, in an attempt to criminalise the harassment and intimidation of people who seek or work in such places. On 2 December 2022, tired of the glacial pace and political controversy in commissioning abortion services, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland moved to commission such services himself. In the interim, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland (‘AGNI’) referred the SAZ Bill to the UK Supreme Court to determine whether it was lawful.
But the SAZ Reference also drew another ECHR issue to the Court’s attention: the assessment of proportionality and reasonable excuse defences in criminal trials involving protests. The main points here were the consideration of the Court’s previous judgment in Ziegler and the judgment of the Divisional Court (England and Wales) in Cuciurean. Unusually for a devolution reference, therefore, the Supreme Court sat as a panel of seven Justices. The SAZ Reference judgment was unanimous and authored by Lord Reed.
The Online Safety Bill returned to parliament on 5 December after a five-month delay. The bill had been postponed until after the summer recess in July in light of the confidence vote called by Boris Johnson. The bill has changed significantly since originally proposed by Theresa May in the online harms white paper, including the recent adjustments to requirements relating to “legal but harmful” content, as noted in last week’s round-up.
A Freedom of Information request by Big Brother Watch has revealed that the Metropolitan police were rebuked by the information commissioner’s office in 2020 for video surveillance of children as young as 10 at a March 2019 climate protest. According to the ICO, the data-gathering was unlawful because the force had failed to consider the privacy rights of the children at the protest, and had not considered their entitlement to added data protections in light of their age.
In Episode 174 Emma-Louise Fenelon speaks to Sir Jonathan Jones about recent developments in public law and the Constitution, including recent political turbulence, the Union, the Northern Ireland Protocol, Judicial Review reforms, Human Rights Act reforms and Standards and Ethics in public life.
Sir Jonathan Guy Jones KCB KC is a British lawyer, appointed in March 2014 and serving until his resignation on 8 September 2020 as HM Procurator General, Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Service, and so the Permanent Secretary of the Government Legal Department. He is now a Senior Consultant, Public and Constitutional Law, at Linklaters. He tweets at @SirJJKC
This Episode mentions:
HM & Ors  EWHC 2729 (14 October 2022), judgment here, covered by Marina Wheeler KC on the Blog here
The Good Law Project v SSHSC  EWHC 298 (15 February 2022) judgment here
Reference by the Lord Advocate (Rev1)  UKSC 31 (23 November 2022) judgment here
These lawsuits started in the United States in the late eighties, but they’ve certainly been on the rise in the UK and in the EU. So much so that the EU has brought out a draft directive to attempt to deal with the problem. In July this year, the then Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, launched an urgent call for evidence in response to the challenges presented by SLAPPs.
SLAPPs are often framed as legal cases. But they represent an abuse of law and procedure as their principal objective is stifling public debate rather than pursuit of a legal remedy. In Episode 173 of Law Pod UK Rosalind English discusses this phenomenon with Greg Callus, defamation specialist from Five Raymond Buildings.
A full transcript of the interview is available here.
We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Prof Brice Dickson, Emeritus Professor of International and Comparative Law at Queen’s University Belfast, in which he sets out the international human rights monitoring mechanisms applicable to the UK and considers the UK’s engagement with the relevant monitoring processes (Eds).
On 10 November 2022 the UN Human Rights Council conducted its fourth Universal Periodic Review of the UK’s compliance with international human rights standards. The Council’s report was adopted just six days later and contained no fewer than 302 recommendations from other States on how the UK could improve its human rights record. That figure is up from 227 in 2017. For early accounts of the review meeting see the pieces by Marcial Boo and Robert Booth.
The UPR, of course, is just one of many international mechanisms for monitoring human rights in the UK. In a book published this month, International Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms: A Study of their Impact in the UK, I examine the full range of monitoring mechanisms to which the UK is subject and attempt to evaluate how they have operated to date, especially since 2000. In particular, I try to determine what difference they have made to the protection of human rights in practice. The analysis extends to monitoring conducted by a committee of the International Labour Organisation and by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), two bodies which do not usually attract the attention of human rights lawyers.
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.