Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
Credit: The Guardian
In the News:
This week saw a novel legal challenge which may have significant consequences for the Equality Act 2010. The case arose following the dismissal of Jordi Casamitjana by the League Against Cruel Sports on the grounds of gross misconduct. This was because he released information showing that the pension fund of employees was being invested in firms engaging in animal testing. However, Mr Casamitjana claims he was discriminated against by his former employer because he is vegan.
Mr Casamitjana alleges that he first raised his concerns about the pension investments internally. He says the charity responded by offering staff an alternative ‘ethical’ investment strategy with lower rates of return. Mr Casamitjana subsequently wrote to colleagues saying that their money was still being invested in non-ethical funds, and that there were other alternative investments available with good financial outcomes.
Mr Casamitjana argues that his sacking was due to the charity discriminating against his belief in ‘ethical veganism’. The League strongly deny the allegations and have stated Mr Casamitjana was dismissed purely because of gross misconduct.
The dispute means that an employment tribunal will have to decide whether veganism is a ‘belief’ which should be protected by the Equality Act 2010. It is thought to be the first time this issue has been raised. The ruling could have significant consequences for the provision of goods and services, as well as on employment rights more generally. However, others have warned that recognising too many views as protected characteristics would be excessively restrictive. Continue reading →
Review of Fixed Recoverable Costs: Supplemental Report, 31 July 2017 – here
Jackson LJ is still toiling away at costs issues some 8 years after his main report. The original report changed the whole way in which the civil courts go about working how much, if anything, is due from one side to another at the end of a case – budgets being one key element. The main part of this new report concerns extending fixed costs further.
This post is about something different, judicial review. Rather different factors may come into play when you are challenging public authorities. You may have a direct financial or other interest in the outcome, or you may just think that the law needs properly enforcing against those authorities. It does not follow that the winner should recover costs on the same rules as elsewhere in the civil system. And Jackson LJ returns to the question of costs in this context in Chapter 10 of his report.
Since 2013, things have been different in the area of environmental judicial reviews. With substantial prods from the EU, things are now better off for claimants, though recent reforms have sought to put further obstacles in the way of claimants: see my post here.
So it is refreshing to read something from a very senior judge which recognises the true value of judicial review as a whole and why the costs rules need adjusting in this area for the benefit of claimants.
R (o.t.a. Dilner) v. Sheffield City Council  EWHC 945 (Admin), Gilbart J, 27 April 2016, read judgment
A quick note on the latest Aarhus Convention point to come before the domestic courts.
In November 2015, I posted on the decision by Ouseley J in McMornhere that a gamekeeper’s challenge fell within the scope of Aarhus, and that as a result there should be a more intense scrutiny of the underlying merits of the claim than would typically be allowed under domestic public law principles.
The current case bears on the standard of review point. Mr Dilner and other environmental campaigners challenged the tree-felling policies of Sheffield City Council, and one of his arguments was that tree-felling required an environmental assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. This environmental claim fell within the protections conferred by the Aarhus Convention, and hence, it was said, required such an intense scrutiny. Mr Dilner relied upon Ouseley J’s reasoning.
Gilbart J robustly rejected the argument, and did not follow Ouseley J’s ruling.
McMorn (R, on the application of) v Natural England EWHC 3297 (Admin) – read judgment
An interesting point arose in this judicial review (for which see Rosalind English’s post here). Could the claimant could get the benefit of an order that any costs he might have had to pay were capped at £5,000? The original judge, Thirlwall J, when granting permission, had refused this costs protection. Ouseley J granted it, though, because the claimant won, the order is academic (short of a successful appeal by the defendant).
This kind of costs protection only applies when the claim is an environmental claim covered by the Aarhus Convention: see a whole list of posts at the end of this one, including the true bluffer’s guide here. The UK has been dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with the Aarhus costs requirements, that environmental challenges not be “prohibitively expensive”, thanks to a combination of the Convention’s own enforcement body and the EU Court in Luxembourg.
But the domestic courts have had some difficulty in deciding what is or is not comes within an environmental challenge.
As we will see, the judge also thought that an Aarhus claim requires a more intensive review of the substantive decision than might have been applied had the claim been a typical domesticchallenge on grounds of irrationality. I deal with that point first.
Animal Defenders International v United Kingdom, April 22 2013 – read judgment
In what was a profoundly sad day for democracy, on 22 April 2013 the European Court of Human Rights found in favour of the UK government in a landmark test case concerning a TV advertisement produced by ADI in 2005, and subsequently banned under the Communications Act 2003.
This announcement by Animal Defenders International (ADI) describes the fate of a film from which the picture above is taken. The verdict was carried through by a majority of one – eight out of seventeen judges dissented. And the reference to “democracy” in ADI’s response to the judgment is not overblown. The general trend of the majority appears to suggest that it is legitimate, in a democracy, for a government to impose a blanket restriction on the exercise of freedom in the name of broadcasting freedom. Such an aim is not one of those listed in Article 10(2). As some of the dissenting judges pointed out,
The ban itself creates the condition it is supposedly trying to avert – out of fear that small organisations could not win a broadcast competition of ideas, it prevents them from competing at all.
Julius Kloiber Schlachthof GMBH and others v. Austria, ECtHR, 4 April 2013, read judgment
These ECtHR decisions are the latest in a number of claims by slaughterhouses that their rights were infringed by the exaction of a surcharge by the Austrian national agricultural board. The Court decided that (a) the process of surcharging by administrative bodies engaged the criminal part of Article 6 and (b) the Austrian courts hearing appeals against the surcharges did not have the jurisdiction to carry out a “full review” of the decision to surcharge; only that way could one turn the combination of administrative decision and court decision into a decision by a “tribunal” complying with Article 6.
Now to unpack these complex but important ECtHR rules, and to look at how they play out domestically.
Harlan Laboratories UK L & Another v Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and others  EWHC 3408 (QB) – read judgment
The High Court has granted a medical testing laboratory a final injunction against anti-vivisectioners protesting outside their premises.
Harlan laboratories breed animals for medical and clinical research purposes. The applicants’ harassment claim included assertions that the respondent anti-vivisection groups had verbally abused those entering and leaving its premises, blocked and surrounded vehicles entering and leaving the premises in a threatening manner and trespassed on Harlan’s property. They had also photographed Harlan’s employees and recorded their vehicle registration details. Interim injunctions had been granted restraining, inter alia, where and how often the respondents could demonstrate outside of Harlan’s premises.
The issues in this application were whether the applicants were entitled to summary judgment on their harassment claim and whether the court should grant a permanent injunction pursuant to s.3(3) of the 1997 Protection Against Harassment Act. The applicants also applied for a permanent injunction under section 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. Continue reading →
Referring to the concentration camps has become an offence on a par with holocaust denial, it seem, in certain contexts.
In 2004 the applicant animal welfare association planned to start an advertising campaign under the head “The Holocaust on your plate”. The intended campaign, which had been carried out in a similar way in the United States of America, consisted of a number of posters, each of which bore a photograph of concentration camp inmates along with a picture of animals kept in mass stocks, accompanied by a short text. One of the posters showed a photograph of emaciated, naked concentration camp inmates alongside a photograph of starving cattle under the heading “walking skeletons”. Other posters showed a photograph of piled up human dead bodies alongside a photograph of a pile of slaughtered pigs under the heading “final humiliation” and of rows of inmates lying on stock beds alongside rows of chicken in laying batteries under the heading “if animals are concerned, everybody becomes a Nazi”. Another poster depicting a starving, naked male inmate alongside a starving cattle bore the title “The Holocaust on your plate” and the text “Between 1938 and 1945, 12 million human beings were killed in the Holocaust. As many animals are killed every hour in Europe for the purpose of human consumption”.
Three individuals filed a request with the Berlin Regional Court to be granted an injunction ordering the applicant association to desist from publishing or from allowing the publication of seven specified posters via the internet, in a public exhibition or in any other form. They submitted that the intended campaign was offensive to them as survivors of the holocaust and violated their human dignity. Continue reading →
R (o.t.a Badger Trust) v. Defra, Ouseley J, 12 July 2012, read judgment, and on appeal, CA, 11 September 2012, not yet available online.
It is impossible to drive through the narrow and high-hedged lanes of Herefordshire without coming across the sad and inevitable outcome of car meeting badger. One estimate is that we may lose as many as 50,000 badgers a year this way. But this case is about whether we should kill a lot more badgers – deliberately.
For many years there has been a debate about whether, and if so, to what extent, badgers cause the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, and, if it does, what should we do about it. Recently, a decision was made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to cull some of them. And this challenge is to the lawfulness of that decision.
At which point we immediately run up against a bit of an institutional accident. Defra, is, when you scratch it, the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spliced together with bits of the old Department of Environment. And, a bit like the sad nocturnal collision of badger and vehicle, badgers tend to come off worse when farming interests encounter nature, particularly where, as in this context, the science appears equivocal. That sounds rather contentious, but is not meant to. Let me explain why.
Herrmann v Germany (Application no. 9300/07) 26 June 2012 – read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation of a landowner to allow hunting on his property violated his Convention rights. Although the majority based their conclusion on his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, the partially concurring and dissenting opinions and the judgment as a whole provide an interesting insight into the way freedom of conscience challenges are to be approached in a secular society where religion holds less sway than individual ethical positions on certain issues.
In 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the granting of exceptional authorisation for the slaughter of animals without previous stunning, on religious grounds, did not breach the German Basic Law Schächt-Entscheidung (BVerfGE 99, 1, 15 January 2002). The social uproar that followed the ruling led to the German constitutional legislature taking a significant step aimed at protecting animal welfare with the 2002 constitutional reform, by including Article 20a in the Basic Law:
“Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the State shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals through legislation…” Continue reading →
Joseph Lennox Holmes (Appellant) v Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (Respondent)  UKPC 48 – read judgment
The disciplinary procedures of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons did not give rise to any appearance of bias so as to breach a practitioner’s right to a fair trial under Article 6.
Despite the fact that the membership of the committee dealing with the prosecution of charges was drawn from the College’s governing body, in whose name any charges were brought, and that the body dealing with the determination of charges was also drawn from the College’s governing body, in practice their procedures were fair.
BUAV v Information Commissioner and Newcastle University (EA/2010/0064) – read judgment
There is no doubt that freedom of expression plays a starring role in the human rights fairy tale. While she is carried aloft on the soaring rhetoric of citizens’ rights from the newsrooms to protesters’ rallies, the right to information, her shy stepsister, is rarely allowed out. How can that be? Surely we can’t have the one without the other?
The key lies in the Strasbourg Court’s traditionally restrictive interpretation of the relevant part of Article 10 – “the freedom to … to receive and impart information” (10(1)). Although the right to information is explicit (unlike many of the other rights the Court has conjured from the Convention), it does not entitle a citizen a right of access to government-held information about his personal position, nor does it embody an obligation on the government to impart such information to the individual (Leander v Sweden (1987) 9 EHRR 433). This approach is changing, particularly in relation to press applicants. But the culture remains hostile; as the Court says “it is difficult to derive from the Convention a general right of access to administrative data and documents” (Loiseau v. France (dec.), no. 46809/99, ECHR 2003-XII – a self-serving statement if ever there was one, given that it is not the Convention but the Court’s own case law that has been so tight-fisted in the past.
First, when referring to a legal judgment in a speech make sure you get the outcome right. Particularly when prefaced by “I am not making this up”. Secondly, if said speech is being broadcast live, there are plenty of lawyers on Twitter who will enjoy nothing more than tracking down the judgment, reading it and exposing the fact that you have got it wrong.
These lessons are important. But they relate to any amusing but forgettable political gaff. There is, however, a third lesson. There has been for a number of years a trend of wilfully or recklessly misreporting human rights cases. This trend is not just mischievous; it threatens to do real damage to our legal system.
R (on the application of K and AC Jackson and Son) v DEFRA – read judgment.
An interesting ruling in the Administrative Court this week touches on some issues fundamental to public law – the extent to which “macro” policy (such as EC law) should trump principles of good administration; the role of factual evidence in judicial review proceedings, and the connection between public law wrongs and liability in tort.
It all started with Boxster the pedigree bull and notices issued by DEFRA which sealed his fate, or at least appeared to do so when his owners received them in April and July 2010. They were directed to arrange the slaughter of the animal as a result of a positive bovine tuberculosis (bTB) test that had been carried out by DEFRA technicians earlier in the year. The notices of intended slaughter were issued under paragraph 4 of the Tuberculosis (England) Order 2007, an Order made under powers contained in the Animal Health Act 1981. Continue reading →
Food production is becoming a chosen territory for some of the fiercest current battles about freedom of information in this country. In 2009 the Channel 4 broadcast of a film about the pork factory business was effectively shut down by the threat of libel action; in the last week the Guardian reported that libel lawyers Carter and Ruck have written to the Soil Association threatening legal action if they failed to withdraw allegations underlying their objection to a planning application for one of the country’s largest pig units.
Update (15 January 2011): Nocton Dairies Ltd has withdrawn its planning application for a 3,700-cow mega-dairy in Lincolnshire.
Pig production company Midland Pig Producers (MPP) is seeking planning approval for 30 acres of land in Foston, Derbyshire, to develop a pig unit containing 2,500 sows and up to 25,000 pigs. The Soil Association formally objected to the plans because of the ‘increased disease risk and poor welfare conditions” of intensive units.
The application to South Derbyshire district council was in fact withdrawn after it was ruled that it needed to go to the county council instead. This is because the proposed inclusion of an anaerobic digestion unit on the site brings in waste matters which concerns the jurisdiction of the county council rather than the district planners. MPP expects to reapply in the next few weeks. Continue reading →
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