How will human rights fare under new PM Theresa May? – the Round-up

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

 

Pressing the Red Button on Rights – Joelle Grogan

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) is the red button for the nuclear option of withdrawal from the EU, and in its design, it was never really, truly envisioned to be pressed. Without testing, and without precedent, we are left with no idea of the potential fallout of pressing that red button. Compared to the quasi-constitutionism of Article 2 TEU evoking the values ‘common to the Member States’ of ‘pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women’; or the brutal legalism of Title VII of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) on competition, tax and the approximation of laws; Article 50 TEU is anaemic. It is, essentially, a button triggering a countdown clock, which is on a comparable level of advancement to the 1980s floppy disk.

The two-year countdown

Triggering Article 50 TEU will begin a two-year countdown to the end of UK Membership of the Union. Within that two-year period an agreement determining the withdrawal arrangements and the future relationship with the Union must be made. Barring a unanimous decision to extend the period, at the end of two years from the point of notification, the UK will no longer be a Member. The Treaties, and all rights and duties therein, cease to apply.

But now, as the British political establishment play a game of “pass the red button”, we are faced with some confounding, and concerning questions from a rights’ perspective. Likely to be lost in the two-year scramble for a political and trade agreement between the UK and EU, which will attempt at all costs to avoid the fall-back position of the application of WTO trade rules, are the very rights and values held as common between the (ex-)Member State(s). During that two-year period, EU law and (pertinently) EU rights will continue to apply in the UK. Free movement will still be (from a legal perspective) free, and claimants may still rely on their EU rights in the Courts. But then what? What happens when the clock strikes zero? Continue reading

Strasbourg Court rules on “excessive” length of Scottish criminal proceedings

Photo credit: The Guardian

O’Neill and Lauchlan v. United Kingdom, nos. 41516/10 and 75702/13, 28 June 2016 – read judgment.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that criminal proceedings concerning two Scottish individuals ran beyond the “reasonable” period of time permitted under Article 6, ECHR. Despite considering that the individual stages of the proceedings were all reasonable in length, the cumulative time was excessive and in violation of Article 6(1).

Background

In August 1998, the applicants were sentenced to periods of imprisonment of eight and six years following convictions for various sex offences. During their incarceration, the police wished to question the applicants about the disappearance, and suspected murder, of their ex-housemate (AM) after she had been reported missing six months earlier. On 17 September 1998 the applicants were detained by police and interviewed separately for over five hours. During these interviews they were directly accused of the murder of AM but, subsequently, neither applicant was arrested or formally charged.

Following release from prison, and subsequent re-arrest and recall to prison due to the apparent abduction of a fourteen year old boy, the applicants were again convicted of various sex offences and sentenced to a further three years in prison. During this period of incarceration the applicants were also placed on petition in relation to the murder of AM in early April 2005. Formal charges were brought on 5 April 2005 whilst the police continued with their investigations. However, in late 2005, Crown Counsel raised concerns about the sufficiency of evidence. Accordingly, a decision to take “no proceedings meantime” was made in December 2005 and subjected to continuous review as investigations continued. Continue reading

Restriction of student loans in Scotland to under-55s deemed to be unlawfully discriminatory

Photo credit: The Guardian

Hunter, Re Judicial Review, [2016] CSOH 71 – read judgment.

The Outer House of the Court of Session has held that the restriction of student loans to individuals under 55 years old in Scotland is unjustifiably discriminatory. Additionally, the Scottish Ministers breached their public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010 by failing to assess the discriminatory effects that the regulation imposing this age restriction would have.

Background

The petitioner, Elizabeth Hunter, applied for a student loan from the Students Awards Agency for Scotland (“SAAS”) in order to allow her to pursue a course in Hospitality Management. At the time of applying for this loan, in 2014, the petitioner was aged 55. In line with Regulation 3(2)(b)(ii), Education (Student Loans) (Scotland) Regulations 2007, she was refused the loan. Regulation 3(2)(b)(ii) limits eligibility for student loans to individuals under 55.

The petitioner claimed that this decision, and the relevant regulation, unlawfully discriminated against her in violation of Article 14, ECHR. Additionally, she also claimed that the Scottish Ministers had failed to consider the potentially discriminatory effect that these regulations could have and, therefore, failed to satisfy their public sector equality duty (“PSED”) imposed by section 149, Equality Act 2010.

Article 14, which protects against discrimination on the basis of age, amongst other characteristics, is not a “free-standing” right. Instead, it is only applicable when the facts of the case fall within the scope of one of the Convention’s substantive provisions. Accordingly, the first issue for Lady Scott was to assess whether one of the substantive Convention rights was engaged in this situation. The petitioner submitted that either Article 1, Protocol 1, which includes the right to property and possessions, or, alternatively, Article 2, Protocol 1, which protects the right to education, was of relevance. Continue reading

Article 5 ECHR does not require time limits for detention pending deportation

J.N. v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 37289/12, 19 May 2016 – read judgment.

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Photo credit: The Guardian

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the general system for detention of individuals prior to deportation in the United Kingdom, which lacks specific maximum time-limits, complies with Article 5, ECHR (Right to liberty and security of the person). However, in the proceedings involving J.N., the authorities had not acted with sufficient “due diligence”, which resulted in a violation of Article 5.

Background

The applicant, known as J.N., arrived in the UK in early 2003 and unsuccessfully sought asylum soon after. In February 2004 he was convicted of indecent assault and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. Following his release he was subjected to a number of conditions which he failed to comply with. This led the Secretary of State to issue an order deporting J.N. back to Iran. On 31 March 2005 the applicant was detained pending deportation.

Complications arose when attempts were made to obtain the necessary travel documents from the Iranian Embassy. Eventually, in November 2007, the Embassy agreed to issue the documents if the applicant signed a “disclaimer” consenting to his return. The applicant refused to sign this disclaimer.

Despite being released for one month following review of his detention by the Administrative Court in December 2007, the applicant was once again detained in January 2008. He continued to refuse to sign the disclaimer that was necessary to obtain the travel documents and to effect the deportation. During this second period of detention the authorities considered prosecuting the applicant for failing to comply with the Secretary of State’s request to take specific action to obtain a travel document (under s. 35, Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004). But no prosecution was forthcoming. Additionally, J.N. agreed to sign the disclaimer if he was compensated for the periods of detention. However, the UK Border Agency refused to do so.

Domestic Proceedings

J.N.’s refusal to sign the disclaimer continued until late-2009 when J.N.’s solicitors began judicial review proceedings challenging the lawfulness of his detention. In considering the lawfulness of the detention pending deportation, the judge considered the four principles established in R v. Governor of Durham Prison, ex parte Hardial Singh, [1984] WLR 704:

  1. The Secretary of State must intend to deport the person and can only use the power to detain for that purpose;
  2. The deportee may only be detained for a period that is reasonable in all the circumstances;
  3. If, before the expiry of the reasonable period, it becomes apparent that the Secretary of State will not be able to effect deportation within that reasonable period, he should not seek to exercise the power of detention;
  4. The Secretary of State should act with reasonable diligence and expedition to effect removal.

The judge considered that the authorities responsible for the deportation had acted with a “woeful lack of energy and impetus”. They had failed to change their approach to the situation, they refused to bring a prosecution under the relevant legislation. Further, they had not approached the Iranian authorities to see if they would change their position regarding the need for a disclaimer. The Secretary of State had fallen short of the fourth requirement established in Hardial Singh. Accordingly, the judge found that the applicant’s detention had been unlawful from 14 September 2009 onwards.

The Strasbourg Court

Article 5 protects the right to liberty and security of persons. Restrictions of liberty are permissible if they fall within one of the specific grounds highlighted in Article 5(1). Article 5(1)(f) relates to detention “of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition”. Any detention in pursuance of this objective must be prescribed by, and comply with, domestic law. Additionally, the domestic law must be “sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable in its application, in order to avoid all risk of arbitrariness”. To satisfy this “quality of law” requirement, domestic law should include clear provisions on the ordering and extension of detention as well as effective remedies that can be used by the individual to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. These requirements act as safeguards against arbitrary detention.

The applicant complained that the UK system for detention pending deportation did not specify maximum time limits for such detention and that this led to a violation of Article 5(1). Additionally, there was a need for automatic judicial scrutiny of any detention as opposed to requiring the individual to initiate judicial review proceedings themselves. Finally, the applicant submitted that if the UK’s system was said to satisfy the “quality of law” requirement, then the entirety of his detention had been unlawful, and in violation of Article 5, as at no point had there been a realistic prospect of removal (see paras. 59-63).

Lack of time-limits within the UK system (paras. 90-93)

The ECtHR had previously held that Article 5(1)(f) does not impose maximum time limits for detention pending deportation. However, the absence of such time-limits will be a factor in assessing whether domestic law satisfies the “quality of law” requirement. But other protections against arbitrariness, including the ability to review the lawfulness of the detention, are equally important.

The “EU Returns Directive” (see Article 15 here) does set down a maximum time limit of 18 months for detention pending deportation. However, the UK has opted out of this Directive and it is therefore not binding. The ECtHR considered that despite this Directive creating a uniform approach over the majority of Council of Europe States, it could not be considered that such a position was required by Article 5(1)(f) or that this is the only position compatible with such a provision. Additionally, two Council of Europe instruments had addressed detention pending deportation and refrained from imposing time limits (see Twenty Guidelines on Forced Return, 2005 and Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1707 on the detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe, 2010).

The ECtHR held that Article 5(1)(f) does not require states to establish time-limits for detention pending deportation. The UK has sufficient procedures to allow the lawfulness of detention to be tested. Accordingly, the failure of the UK system to establish such limits, in light of the other procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, was not in violation of Article 5(1).

Lack of automatic judicial review of immigration detention (paras. 94-96)

The ECtHR refused the applicant’s submissions that Article 5(1)(f) required automatic judicial scrutiny of immigration detention. Article 5(4) provides all individuals who have been detained or had their liberty deprived with a right to take proceedings to examine the lawfulness of the detention. An entitlement to take proceedings, as opposed to automatic review, is all that is required by Article 5.

Was J.N.’s detention in accordance with Article 5? (paras. 102-108)

Finally, the ECtHR considered whether J.N.’s second period of detention, from 14 January 2008 to 14 September 2009 (the date on which the domestic court ruled that the detention had become unlawful) was in compliance with Article 5(1)(f) (for the reasons for restricting the scope of review to this period see paras.48-57)

The ECtHR saw no justification for the domestic courts to have restricted the “unlawful detention” to the period following 14 September 2009. Despite the repeated refusal of J.N. to cooperate, this could not be “be seen as a ‘trump card’ capable of justifying any period of detention” (para. 106). The ECtHR considered that the authorities had shown, to use the language of the domestic court, a “woeful lack of energy and impetus” from mid-2008 onwards. As a result, the detention had not been pursued with “reasonable diligence and expedition” from mid-2008 and therefore was not in accordance with domestic law and the principles established in Hardial Singh.

Accordingly, the detention from mid-2008 to 14 September 2009 was in violation of Article 5(1).

Comment

Despite concerns as to the unlimited nature of detention pending deportation being generally raised by a number of UN and European human rights bodies, as well as specific recommendations for the UK to adopt such limits (see UN Human Rights Committee, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and a UK All Party Parliamentary Group), the ECtHR refused to recognise that such limits were required by Article 5.

Undoubtedly the EU Returns Directive has resulted in the majority of Council of Europe states having limits for such detention. But as argued by the Government, recognising that Article 5 imposed such time limits may have “subvert[ed] the democratic process” by imposing time limits modelled on the EU Returns Directive from which the UK had lawfully opted out (para. 66).

During parliamentary scrutiny of the recent Immigration Act 2016 (which received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016) amendments were proposed by the House of Lords to limit immigration detention to 28 days  – it should be noted that this would not have covered J.N.’s situation as it was not applicable in the event that the Secretary of State had made a deportation order – see para. 84 here). However, this amendment was rejected. In the final version of the Immigration Act a duty to arrange consideration of bail is placed upon the Secretary of State for all individuals detained pending deportation (which would cover J.N.) after four months (Sch. 10, para. 11, Immigration Act 2016). This would clearly act as a further, important safeguard against arbitrariness.

Unlimited Immigration Detention and the Right to Liberty – the Round-up

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.

Publications

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

CA says ex-pats cannot say yes or no to Brexit

feb1957854b3b7ec1c58e7c35c4c4503_LSchindler and MacLennan v. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2016] EWCA Civ 469  20 May 2016 – read judgment

Last month, I posted here on this challenge to the rule stopping long-time expatriates from voting on the Brexit proposals. The case went swiftly to the Court of Appeal, who, today, swiftly dismissed the expats’ appeal. 

The challengers said that the 15 year rule on voting was an unjustified restriction of the rights of freedom of movement under EU law, not least because if the UK were to leave the EU, they would end up without rights of abode in their current EU countries.

Continue reading