A new animation about the birth of the European Convention on Human Rights

Almost six years ago, not long after this blog started, we published a lovely post by Tom Blackmore, the grandson of David Maxwell Fyfe. Maxwell Fyfe was a Conservative lawyer and politician who went from being the British Deputy Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials to being instrumental in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since then, I have been trying to find an opportunity to bring this fascinating story to life. So I am delighted to share this short film which RightsInfo, along with the Met Film School, have just released to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Nuremberg Trials. Please share widely and enjoy! If you are looking for a subtitled version, click here.


  • Read more about David Maxwell Fyfe here
  • Read Tom Blackmore’s original post here

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.


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

The British Bill of Rights Show: Series 14, Episode 9… *Zzzzzzz*

Gove bends the knee

Gove bends the knee

It came and went, and we know nothing more. Yesterday, =the government said, through the Queen, that:

Proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights. My government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights. My ministers will uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons.

All of the signals were pointing to no activity before the EU Referendum, and that was proved right.

It makes sense. We don’t even know if Michael Gove will still be in post after the referendum, and if we are leaving the EU we may want to fold bigger constitutional questions into the bill of rights debate anyway.

So, like a particularly boring 18-season box-set, the saga continues. But if the government continues to delay, at least each new episode brings forth some interesting reactions and coverage, and here is some of it:

  • This is by me: 4 Charts Which Show The European Court Of Human Rights Has Dramatically Changed Its Approach To The UK (RightsInfo)
  • What Did The Queen’s Speech Tell Us About The Bill Of Rights? (RightsInfo)
  • Lockerbie relatives, football supporters and domestic violence survivors among more than 100 groups standing together against Human Rights Act repeal (Liberty)
  • Why Michael Gove should drop his Bill of Rights plans (Head of Legal/Carl Gardner)
  • The 2016 Queen’s Speech and the Constitution (Public Law For Everyone)

See you next series. Or episode. Or something.

Human rights – a coat of many colours


“Roses are red.

Violets are blue.

Whatever your political colour;

Human rights should matter to you”

Some legal oratory flows into the profound, beautiful and inspiring. Most of the time when it comes to poetry – as this particularly appalling ditty is designed to demonstrate – we lawyers should stick to the day job.* 

This week human rights commentators celebrated both World Poetry Day and the launch of a new project on the conservative commitment to human rights.  Announcing a Commission made up of MPs and commentators – including Maria Miller MP, Dominic Grieve QC MP and Matthew D’Ancona – Bright Blue this week published a series of essays by Conservative leaders on a range of human rights threats; from the refugee crisis to the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

Bright Blue now joins the Labour Campaign for Human Rights in taking steps to take the current debate beyond the heat and light of party politics and into a greater conversation about how we protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our communities and about the UK’s place in the world.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reinforces Scottish opposition to repeal of the Human Rights Act

Nicola-SturgeonYesterday morning, in a speech to civic organisations in Glasgow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “no responsible government” would consider repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 due to the numerous negative consequences, both in the domestic and international sphere, that would result from such a move – (see a transcript of the speech here).

Proposals for Repeal of the Human Rights Act

It has been a longstanding Tory policy to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Such a policy is motivated by discontent over a handful of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) that have allegedly “undermine[d] the role of UK courts in deciding on human rights issues”. In October 2014, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced Tory proposals to treat Strasbourg judgments as “advisory” – irrespective of the potential incoherence between treating judgments in such a way and the UK’s obligations under Article 46, ECHR (see John Wadham’s post here). However, the 2015 Tory manifesto included less specific promises to “scrap the Human Rights Act” in order to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights”. Little substantive information has been provided on the development of these plans, apart from an intention, included in the Queen’s speech, to conduct consultations and publish proposals this autumn. Continue reading

Scotland, Sewel, and the Human Rights Act

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

The Queen’s speech suggests a slowing of the Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. But recent comments from the Scottish Human Rights Commissioner suggest the Conservatives may be considering removal of HRA protections in relation to English and reserved UK-wide matters only, leaving the Human Rights Act in place in the other devolved areas of the UK. 

Much ink has been spilled over the Government’s proposals. This article will take a narrow look at Scotland’s relationship with the Human Rights Act, and how devolution may be a future thorn in the Government’s side. 

But wait! I thought the Human Rights Act was enshrined in the Scotland Act. Doesn’t that protect the Human Rights Act in Scotland?

Sort of (not really).

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North of the Wall – A Beginner’s Guide to Scots Law

With our new team of Scots law researchers in place, the time has come for the briefest of introductions to the Scottish legal system. David Scott is our tour guide.

The Court system

The Scottish court system is divided into five tiers:

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