The Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius v. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, First Tier Tribunal, 4 September 2012, read judgment
and Bancoult v. FCO, 25 July 2012, Stanley Burnton LJ, read judgment
The manoevres by which the Chagossians were evicted from their islands in the Indian Ocean, the late 1960s and early 1970s, so to enable the US to operate an air base on Diego Garcia, do not show the UK Foreign Office in its best light. Indeed, after a severe rebuke from the courts in 2000, the FCO accepted that the original law underlying their departure was unlawful, and agreed to investigate their possible resettlement on some of their islands.
The first of these new cases is an environmental information appeal concerning the next phase of the story – how the FCO decided that it was not feasible to resettle the islanders in 2002-2004.
This decision was taken in the modern way – backed by a feasibility study prepared by consultants supporting the stance which the FCO ultimately were to take. And this case concerns the islanders’ attempts to get documents lying behind and around the taking of this decision.
One of the possibilities being considered by Lord Justice Leveson as he writes the Report for Part 1 of his Inquiry is whether there should be compulsory regulation of the print media. One, widely discussed possibility is a statutory framework which would require any publisher with turnover or readership above a set threshold to join a “regulatory body”: compulsory regulation for large publishers.
The purpose of such a provision would be to deal with the so-called “Desmond problem” – the anomaly of a system of regulation which does not cover all the large newspaper publishers. But an important freedom of expression question arises: is the compulsory regulation of the print media compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights? This is not a question which has ever been considered by the Court of Human Rights and the answer may not be an entirely straightforward.
A, R (o.t.a A) v. Chief Constable of B Constabulary  EWCA 2141 (Admin), Kenneth Parker J, 26 July 2012, read judgment
The public/private divide still gets lawyers excited, even in an Olympic summer, and for good reason – my image is simply to cool the fevered brow of those fresh from the stadium or the beach. Now for the problem met head on in this case. Generally speaking, parties to a contract may treat the others how they please, as long as that treatment does not offend the terms of the contract or specific consumer protection rules. But, equally generally, a public body is obliged to treat others in accordance with public law rules of fairness, and can challenge unfairness by judicial review. And this case is a good example of the intersection between these principles.
A had run a breakdown recovery service for the police for some years. The police then interposed a main contractor, FMG, who awarded the contract to A for the continuation of the job, now as a subcontractor. But the sub-contract, understandably enough, provided that its award was subject to vetting by the police. And the police then refused to give A clearance. Why? The police would not say, even when A threatened proceedings. And they said that they did not have to. Their line in court was that it was all governed by the contract, and the courts had no business in poking its nose into their reasoning – in the jargon, it was non-justiciable. They relented to some extent in the course of the proceedings, by giving some information, but still said that they were not obliged to do so.
Updated | Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v Switzerland  ECHR 1598 (13 July 2012) – read judgment
This case concerned the Swiss authorities’ refusal to allow an association to put up posters featuring extraterrestrials and a flying saucer on the ground that it engaged in activities that were considered immoral.
The association complained it had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber did not agree, ruling that the refusal had met a “pressing social need” and that the authorities had not overstepped the broad margin of appreciation given to them in view of the non-political dimension of the poster campaign.
At first blush there is nothing remarkable about this ruling. But it was a narrow majority (nine votes to eight) and a brief reading of the dissenting opinions gives pause for thought: does the slightly loony nature of a message justify its suppression? Lurking behind the authorities’ refusal to allow the association’s advertising campaign is a sense of disapproval vis a vis their anti-Christian message; one of the campaigns the association wished to conduct featured a poster stating “God does not exist”, and on another, below the association’s website, ran the message “Science at last replaces religion”. Continue reading →
On the EU watch again, I am afraid. We have looked at getting documents out of the EU, in the context of the IFAW case about the German Chancellor’s letter, via Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 (the EU Access to Information Regulation). And also on how to seek annulment of EU laws and decisions from the EU courts (Inuits and all that). Both apply to all EU issues. We have mused on what might happen if the EU institutions sign up to the ECHR, so that complaints about them can go to the Strasbourg Court.
Now we return to environmental cases, where there is a specific measure, EU Aarhus Regulation 1367/2006, which applies the Aarhus Convention to EU institutions. We have seen how in a specific context this Regulation must be interpreted in the light of the meaning of the Convention: my post on the pesticides and air quality challenges, where the General Court of the EU effectively ignored the words “of individual scope” in the Regulation to make the Regulation comply with the Convention. But I am now going to have a look at this measure more generally. Remember we are not here dealing with getting environmental information out of member states; that question is dealt with via a separate EU Directive (2003/4), transposed in the UK by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
I am in the middle of a series of posts about the way in which the EU institutions can be kept in check by individuals, including looking at challenges to EU measures (see my Inuit post) and the specifics of seeking an internal review of EU implementing Regulations via the EU Aarhus Regulation 1367/2006 (see my post on the pesticides and air quality challenges). So it was a happy coincidence that last Thursday, the CJEU allowed an appeal in a case concerning documents sought by an NGO from the Commission. We are here in the territory of all EU institutions and all EU issues, not simply environmental questions arising under the Aarhus Convention, though, as we shall see, this is an environmental case.
In a recent post I mentioned that there has been criticism of the scope of the EU Aarhus Regulation inserting provisions about transparency, public participation and access to justice into EU processes themselves. It struck me just how confusing the whole area of EU challenges to EU measures is, so I thought I would summarise it as best I can in this and a following post. Here goes; the going may get a bit bumpy, but it is important stuff. I hope also to give some EU context to the debate about whether something is or is not a legislative act under Aarhus which I trailed in that post.
The EU signed up to the Aarhus Convention on environmental matters, as have all the member states. And the EU has made member states implement Aarhus-compliant procedures in major areas such as environmental impact assessment and industrial emissions, via the 2003 Public Participation Directive. The EU also requires member states to introduce a wide-ranging right to environmental information, transposed in the UK via the Environmental Information Regulations. The European Court has also chipped in with its own Aarhus gloss in the Slovakian Bearcase; whenever a member state is considering some provision of EU environmental law, it must interpret that provision, if possible, so that it complies with Aarhus standards of public participation, even though those standards may be in the parts of the Aarhus Convention which have not received their own direct transposition into EU, let alone domestic, law.
Stichting Natuur en Milieu & Pesticide Action Network Europe v. European Commission (read judgment), and Vereniging Milieudefensie & Stichting Stop Luchtverontreininging Utrecht v. European Commission (read judgment), General Court, 14 June 2012
In these two cases, the General Court in Luxembourg (successor to the Court of First Instance) has decided that the terms of the Aarhus Convention prevail over the EU’s own regulation about access to information, public participation, and access to justice within EU institutions. Therefore NGOs are entitled to an internal review of certain decisions taken by the EU Commission. A decision, it appears, of some controversy, given that the European Commission, European Council and European Council were all arguing against that result.
I have previously posted on the decision leading to this successful appeal by the Planning Inspectorate, against an order that they produce their legal advice concerning a planning appeal. The decision of the First-Tier Tribunal in favour of disclosure was reversed by a strong Upper Tribunal, chaired by Carnwath LJ in his last outing before going to the Supreme Court. So the upshot is that PINS can retain whatever advice which led them to refuse this request for a public inquiry in a locally controversial case.
Now for a bit of background. The claim for disclosure of documents arose out of a planning application by a wind farm operator to install an 80m tall anemometer (and associated guy wires radiating over about 0.5ha) near Fring in North Norfolk. This was to assess the viability of a wind farm near the site. The local planning authority refused permission for the anemometer, and the wind farmer appealed. There are three ways of deciding such an appeal – a full public inquiry with oral evidence and submissions, an informal hearing or written representations. The locals people wanted a public inquiry. They were supported in that by the council, and the local MP thought that the council was the best body to judge that. PINS said no; no complex issues arose for which a public inquiry was necessary.
Angus McCullough QC and Jeremy Johnson QC, Special Advocates at the JCHR
It appears that the Government has climbed down, in part, from some of its controversial secret justice proposals. According to the Telegraph, the Justice and Security Bill, which will be published this week, will include a provision whereby judges, not the Government, has the final say on whether a Closed Material Procedure (CMP) is used. Moreover, CMPs will be restricted to “national security cases” rather than any case “in the public interest”.
It “remains uncertain”, however, “whether Mr Clarke will exclude inquests from being subject to the secret hearings.” Junior Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly caused a stir last week when he appeared prematurely to announce that particular concession in Parliament, but quickly stepped back from his statement. In view of the likely legislative bartering which will occur as the bill progresses through Parliament, perhaps this is a concession which was meant to be left until later in the process.
We will analyse the bill when it is published later this week. But as this important debate resurfaces and the manoeuvring continues, it is important to keep two things in mind.
Department of Health v IC, Healey and Cecil(EA/2011/0286 & EA/2011/0287) – Read Decision
In a recent post, Panopticon brought you, hot-off-the-press, the Tribunal’s decision in the much-publicised case involving publication, under Freedom of Information Law, of the NHS Risk Register. Somewhat less hot-off-the-press are my observations. This is a very important decision, both for its engagement with the legislative process and for its analysis of the public interest with respect to section 35(1)(a) of Freedom of Information Act 2000 (formulation or development of government policy) – particularly the “chilling effect” argument. At the outset, it is important to be clear about what was being requested and when.
Risk registers in general
The DOH prepared two “risk registers” documenting the risks associated with implementing the “far-reaching and highly controversial” NHS reforms under what was then the Health and Social Care Bill. The Tribunal heard that risk registers are used widely across government for project planning. They provide snapshots (rather than detailed discussions) combining the probability of and outcomes from any given risk associated with the proposed reform; risks are then classified in red, amber or green terms. According to Lord Gus O’Donnell, who gave evidence in support of the DOH’s case, risk registers are the most important tool used across government to formulate and develop policy for risk management in advising ministers. John Healey MP, one of the requesters in this case, said that he was a minister for ten years and was never shown such a register.
Today was one of striking parallels between the USA and the UK in terms of litigation concerned with access to information.
APPGER and security bodies
First, one of The Independent‘s main stories this morning concerned a case brought in the US by the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition (APPGER). Readers will recall that in the UK, APPGER was partially successful before the Upper Tribunal last year; the decision of the First-Tier Tribunal in a second case (the hearing of which concluded in February 2012) is awaited.
R (o.t.a Guardian Newspapers) v. City of Westminster Magistrates Court, USA as Interested Party, 3 April 2012, Court of Appeal: read judgment
No, not a case about secret trials, but about the way in which newspapers can get hold of court papers in open oral hearings. And, as we shall see, it led to a ringing endorsement of the principle of open justice from the Court of Appeal, leading to production of the documents to the Guardian.
Bribery allegations against a London solicitor and a former executive of a Halliburton company, and extradition sought by the USA and keenly challenged by the defendants. Some lack of clarity as to why the Serious Fraud Office was not prosecuting the defendants. All in all, a tasty morsel for the Guardian to get its teeth into. It was allowed into the hearing, but then not allowed critical documents provided to the courts, including the written arguments submitted by the USA and the defendants, affidavits supporting the extradition, and various other letters and documents put before the court.
Kennedy v. Charity Commission et al, Court of Appeal, 20 March 2012, read judgment
Tangled web, this one, but an important one. Many will remember George Galloway’s Mariam Appeal launched in response to sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1998, and the famous picture of GG with Saddam Hussein. Well, the Appeal was then inquired into by the Charity Commission, and this case concerns an attempt by a journalist, unsuccessful so far, to get hold of the documents which the Inquiry saw. But the Commission took the 5th amendment – or rather, in UK terms, a provision in the Freedom of Information Act (s.32(2))which exempted from disclosure any document placed in the custody of or created by an inquiry. Cue Article 10 ECHR, and in particular the bits which include the freedom to receive information.
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