A Political Decision Disguised as Legal Argument: Opinion of CJEU 2/13 – and other things
Over the summer an interesting article was published by Graham Butler, on his interview with David Thor Björgvinsson, former Icelandic judge in the European Court of Human Rights – see here.
One subject was the CJEU’s refusal to permit accession by the EU to the ECtHR (see my post here) – despite the EU’s commitment to accede via Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty, in December 2009. A Draft Agreement on Accessionwas concluded in April 2013, but it required the obtaining of an opinion from the CJEU on whether the Agreement was compatible with the EU Treaties – to which the CJEU gave a dusty answer in December 2014.
Quite a lot has happened in the 6 months since my post here on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is a proposed trade agreement between the US and the EU, with negotiations on the substantive issues between the EU and the US underway in Brussels at the moment.
The proposed treaty may have significant effects on EU regulation, but let’s concentrate on whether TTIP should contain specific provisions enabling investors to suegovernments.
The ground for action would be governmental “expropriation” of investments – and that may mean anything from telling a cigarette manufacturer that he must have to change what his packets look like, (with consequential loss of profits), to imposing new environmental standards on a power generating plant.
This mechanism is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. Our government seems astonishingly sanguine about this, on the basis that it has not yet been sued successfully under existing bilateral treaties with similar provisions. This does not seem to be a very profoundly thought-through position to adopt, if the proposed system has its problems – which it plainly does, when one compares it with traditional claims in the courts. Put simply, why wave it on?
Unsurprisingly, the Opinion of the EU Court (just before Christmas – my post here) that the proposed accession of the EU to the ECHR on current terms would be unlawful has not gone down well in Strasbourg.
An excellent post today by Tobias Lock on the Verfassungblog tells the story here, but these are the highlights. In short, the President of the Strasbourg Court, Dean Spielmann, added some text to his review of 2014, in a speech given yesterday, 29 January – here.
Lots of interesting stuff on the 2014 ECtHR case law (and case load), but his withering bit on the CJEU’s Opinion is worth quoting.
Bearing in mind that negotiations on European Union accession have been under way for more than thirty years, that accession is an obligation under the Lisbon Treaty and that all the member States along with the European institutions had already stated that they considered the draft agreement compatible with the Treaties on European Union and the Functioning of the European Union, the CJEU’s unfavourable opinion is a great disappointment.
In short, the CJEU is out of line with the views of the member states, and not least with the obligation in Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty that the EU “shall” accede to the ECHR.
But Spielmann did not leave it at that, as we shall see.
Last week, on 15 January 2015, TTIP was debated in the House of Commons – see here. It is important for us all, but why?
TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the US, the EU, and various members of the EU including the UK. A sober account of its history and scope was produced for the HoC debate (here), and a rather less polite view is here from George Monbiot.
Now, TTIP contains the usual things which one might expect to see in a trade agreement, such as the reduction or removal of tariffs between the respective trading blocs. And it comes with the usual accompanying material suggesting that all parties will benefit massively from the deal to the tune of billions of euros.
So what is there not to like?
Well, one part of the concern is that it will confer on investors (think multi-nationals) the right to sue governments for regulatory regimes causing loss of profits to those investors. This ability to sue is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. And the suing does not happen in domestic courts, but in a special international law tribunal consisting of corporate lawyers drawn from the world over. I shall give some examples below of the sort of litigation engendered in the past by ISDS, so you can assess what this means in practice.
TTIP with ISDS is being enthusiastically backed by the present Government – not hitherto a fan of foreign judges taking charge of how our laws comply with external standards.
Like lots of things to do with the ECHR, the idea seems to have been British. As Simpson put it in his magnificent history of the Convention, Human Rights and the End of Empire (OUP, 2001), Our Man (Jebb), in early 1949, appears to have suggested the site of the Council of Europe should be Strasbourg
not for its architectural or gastronomic qualities, much less for its geese, but because of its symbolic significance for Franco-German reconciliation
Quite obvious, when you think about it. I was spurred into this by my winter festival reading, Neil MacGregor’s Germany.
Strasbourg commands a chapter, Floating City. Floating, because itswapped between Germany and France regularly, with increasing rapidity in the run up to the ECHR in 1950. Formerly known as Strassburg, it had been emphatically part of the Holy Roman Empire, an Imperial city, a bishopric and German-speaking, until Louis XIV nicked it in 1681 – in war. The French were wise enough to administer it with a light touch – German remaining the predominant language – so it remained nominally French until 1871. Indeed, Goethe (and Metternich) studied there, and Goethe lauded the Gothic mediaeval cathedral (see pics) as reflecting supremely German architecture (Von Deutscher Baukunst) – which of course it wasn’t, given that Gothic architecture derives from France. Continue reading →
Well, here’s a thing. The EU top court in Luxembourg has decided that it is somehow against the EU treaties for it to defer in specific instances to the other European top dog, the ECtHR in Strasbourg.
Accession of the EU to the ECHR has been a very slow-burn process, with the Commission starting things off in 1979 (sic). The breakthrough, or so it appeared at the time, was the entry into force of Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty of European Union, in December 2009. This (Art.6(2)) makes it a treaty obligation that the EU
One of the steps contemplated by the draft Agreement was the obtaining of an opinion from the CJEU on whether the Agreement was compatible with the EU Treaties. And the CJEU’s firm “non” to that question will inevitably set back the process, if not lead to its complete derailment.
The Opinion has already been well analysed by Aidan O’Neill QC here and Steve Peers here, neither in terms flattering of the CJEU. It is of some importance, so here is my penn’orth.
In a previous blog post on these pages, the case of Lindsay Sandiford was examined. Sandiford – a British citizen facing the death penalty in Indonesia – had asked the UK Government for funding to help her appeal, but was refused financial help. The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Government, stating that the decision to provide legal aid to a British citizen abroad is a discretionary matter for the executive.
Regardless of whether one agrees with the decisions of the Government and the Court, the case raises interesting questions about the obligations that are imposed on states that have abolished the death penalty. The primary duty on states is to simply refrain from imposing the death penalty, but it is possible to detect an emerging secondary obligation to refrain from facilitating the use of the death penalty elsewhere. This issue is particularly relevant to the UK, because although the UK takes a leading role internationally in campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty, there is evidence that the UK has on occasion aided the use of capital punishment elsewhere.
Mousa & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 1412 (Admin) (24 May 2013) – Read judgment
Remember the Iraq War? Following the 2003 invasion Britain remained in control of Basra, a city in South Eastern Iraq, until withdrawal over six years later on 30 April 2009. 179 British troops died during that period. But despite there over four years having passed since withdrawal, the fallout from the war and occupation is still being resolved by the UK Government and courts.
Thousands of Iraqis died in the hostilities or were detained by the British. Thanks to two decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2011 (Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda – our coverage here), the state’s duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate deaths and extreme mistreatment applied in Iraq at that time. It is fascinating to see how the UK authorities have been unravelling the extent of that duty. The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry has reported and the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry is ongoing (I acted in the former and still do in the latter). In this major judgment, which may yet be appealed, the High Court has ruled the manner in which the UK Government is investigating deaths and perhaps mistreatment is insufficient to satisfy its investigative duty.
Last Friday, 5 April, saw a break-through in negotiations as to how the EU is to accede to the ECHR – see the Draft Agreement on Accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. There has been a lot of speculation (e.g. my post of June 2012) about how the roles of the EU Court (the CJEU) and the Strasbourg Court might be fitted together. Now at least we have some of the proposed answers, though there are a number of formal steps to be undergone before it comes into law.
The move is a culmination of a process trailed as long ago as the 1970s, though kick-started more recently by Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty of European Union. This entered into force in 2009, and says that the EU “shall” accede to the ECHR. Negotiations started in earnest in 2009/10, initially with negotiators from 14 Convention countries (7 in the EU, 7 ECHR but non-EU members) who met with members of the European Commission, and latterly involving all 47 Council of Europe countries. Those negotiators have now reached agreement.
The set of injustices which led to these claims is well known – and see my posts here and here. For the uninitiated, in the 1960s, the US wanted Diego Garcia (one of the Chagos Islands) as a major air base. It spoke nicely to the UK, its owners, who consequently evicted and banned all the inhabitants from it and the neighbouring islands. The constitutional arrangements were apparently decorous. A new UK colony was established (the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT) with a Commissioner to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Territory.
The UN was told that the population consisted of migrant workers, their position had been fully protected, and they had been consulted in the process – none of this in fact happened. Those evicted mainly went to Mauritius and the Seychelles. So the peace, order and good government in fact forthcoming from the UK amounted to total depopulation for military objectives.
Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence  EWCA Civ 1365 – Read judgment
Updated – the first two paragraphs of this post have been amended as they were factually inaccurate. Many apologies for this.
Last month, the Court of Appeal decided that the negligence claims of the families of five British soldiers killed or injured on duty in Iraq could go ahead. It would be for the High Court to decide on the facts whether decisions made about troops’ equipment and training fell within the long-standing doctrine of ‘combat immunity’. The appellants were however unsuccessful in arguing that the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) applied.
The case concerned claims brought by the families of five men killed or injured in south-east Iraq. Corporal Allbutt was killed and Troopers Twiddy and Julien injured in Challenger II tanks in fratricide, or ‘friendly fire’, incidents on 25 March 2003. Privates Hewett and Ellis and Lance Corporal Redpath were killed in their Snatch Land Rovers by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on 16 July 2005, 28 February 2006 and 9 August 2007 respectively (the ‘Snatch Landrover claims’).
In my post of today about checks on EU legality, I made the point that no institution formally monitors the EU apart from EU institutions. Moves are afoot to change that, though not in a form that diehard Eurosceptics are likely to relish. Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty of European Union says that the EU shall accede to the ECHR. As and when that occurs, the European Court of Human Rights will assume a formal role in adjudicating upon the legality of EU measures. The details of accession could not be settled by the purely EU Treaty of Lisbon, hence the ongoing negotiations.
However, things have been happening very recently. Yesterday, 19 June, a joint informal body of members of the European Parliament and Council of Europe parliamentarians welcomed the prospect of talks resuming on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, and, last week, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to pursue negotiations with the European Union with a view to finalising the legal instruments setting out the way in which the EU would accede to the ECHR.
This was the scene in the riverbed lying below a large reservoir near Vladivostok. There had been very heavy rain, causing the managers of the reservoir to let water through into that riverbed for fear that the reservoir might collapse. But the channel beneath was not exactly clear of obstructions, as the image shows. 6 flooded applicants obtained no redress in the Russian Courts, and had to go to Strasbourg to get damages – nearly 11 years after the flood in August 2001.
It might be thought that similar claimants here would not go uncompensated. But that is far from clear, as English law on flooding liabilities is by no means straightforward. Hence, the interest of the case, in which claims under Articles 2 (right to life), 8 (right to private and home life) and Article 1 Protocol 1 (right to possessions) were successful.
Behind the Times paywall Anthony Lester today declares that “Sniping at Strasbourg will only hinder reform”. In his guest column, he says that Court is suffering unfair criticism from “sections of the British media” and “politicians who accuse it of over-reaching its power”. That may well be the case, but the most searing and authoritative criticism comes not from politicians or the press but from Lord Lester’s own profession – see Jonathan Sumption QC’s recent broadside (and our post) and Lord Hoffmann’s much-discussed analysis (posted here).
If the Court is indeed hobbled by unfair squibs and arrows from a resentful sector of the British populace, as Lord Lester suggests, why is the prisoner votes example the only one he can come up with? That is an important fight, at least from a constitutional angle, but not the only flashpoint; the Court’s tendency to act as fourth instance appeal tribunal particularly on deportation and terrorism cases is arguably far more “dangerous” and certainly of concern to more people than votes for prisoners. Continue reading →
The recent European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Al-Skeini will certainly enter the Court’s hall of fame as a landmark judgment for pushing the boundaries of the European Convention on Human Rights’s jurisdiction. While it may take us some time to appreciate the full implications of this judgment, one of its possible consequences is the potential opening of the Court’s doors to claims arising from international armed conflicts.
by Melinda Padron
In Al-Skeini, the ECtHR determined that there may be instances when the European Convention on Human Rights may apply outside the ‘espace juridique’, that is the Convention’s ‘legal space’, or within the territories of the Convention’s member states (see Alasdair Henderson’s post on the ruling, which concerned Article 1 of the Convention). This may occur when agents of a member state are exercising authority and control over individuals (personal rather than strictly territorial control) within a given territory upon which that same member state is exercising some public powers. Accordingly, in the case of Al-Skeini, the Convention was found to be applicable to actions taken by British troops in Basra (Iraq), where the UK assumed the exercise of some of the public powers normally exercised by a sovereign government (see paras. 149-150 of the judgment).
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