Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
In the News:
A landmark piece of legislation was passed this week, with significant consequences for civil liberties. The Coronavirus Act 2020, which was passed in only 4 days, is designed to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.
It gives the police a number of powers, including:
A power to restrict events and shut down premises such as non-essential shops (Schedule 22).
The ability to forcibly isolate or detain individuals who are thought to be at risk of spreading Covid-19.
A reduction in the care duties imposed on Local Authorities.
The Act also produces a number of changes designed to help workers:
Employers can reclaim the cost of paying statutory sick pay from HMRC.
Employees can claim sick pay from the day they stop working, rather than there being a delay of three days before payments are made.
The Act has attracted criticism for the range of powers it grants to the executive, and the speed with which it was passed. To help address these concerns, the Act will automatically expire after two years. Matt Hancock MP, the Health Secretary, also said that the Act will be debated and voted on every six months. This commitment is reflected in s.98. A statement of compatibility with the ECHR has been made. Continue reading →
Conor Monighan reviews the Administrative Law Bar Association (ALBA) Summer Conference 2018
This year’s ALBA conference featured an impressive list of speakers and they did not disappoint. Delegates heard from a Supreme Court judge, an Attorney General, top silks, and some of the best legal academics working in public law.
The conference dedicated much of its time to public international law, a discipline which is often thought to have little relevance for most public lawyers. In fact, the conference showed that domestic public law is heavily intertwined with international law. This post summarises the key points from the conference, with a particular focus on human rights. Continue reading →
In a landmark moment for women’s rights, the Irish electorate has voted in favour of abolishing the 8th Amendment by a stunning two-thirds majority of 1,429,981 votes to 723,632.
Whilst abortion has long been illegal in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the notorious 8th Amendment, which gives the foetus’ right to life absolute parity with that of the woman carrying it, was enacted after a 1983 referendum lobbied for by pro-life activists. By virtue of the amendment:
“The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
Lawyers for Yes emphasised that the amendment created ‘absolute legal paralysis in dealing with crisis pregnancies’ and had to be repealed if women in Ireland were to receive ‘appropriate’ and ‘compassionate’ healthcare. Also on the UKHRB, Rosalind English shares a powerful analysis of the extraordinary nature of the legal obligations imposed on women’s bodies by this provision.
R (o.t.a. Western Sahara Campaign UK) v. HMRC and DEFRA, Court of Justice of the European Union, opinion of Advocate-General Wathelet, 10 January 2018 – read here
The A-G has just invited the CJEU to conclude that an EU agreement with Morocco about fishing is invalid on international law grounds. His opinion rolls up deep issues about NGO standing, ability to rely on international law principles, justiciability, and standard of review, into one case. It also touches on deeply political, and foreign political, issues, and he is unapologetic about this. That, he concludes, is a judge’s job, both at EU and international court level – if the issues are indeed legal.
The opinion is complex and I summarise it in the simplest terms. But here goes.
Four Seasons Holdings v. Brownlie  UKSC 80, 19 December 2017, read judgment
Professor Ian Brownlie Q.C., an eminent international lawyer, and members of his family were killed in a road accident in Egypt, when on their way to Al-Fayoum. His widow, also injured, had booked the driver through their hotel, the Four Seasons in Cairo.
The family wished to bring proceedings in the UK against the hotel in respect of the driver. However, the key defendant (Holdings) was incorporated in British Columbia, and the issue which got to the Supreme Court was the issue of jurisdiction.
The family said that there was a contract for the trip with Holdings, and further that Holdings were vicariously liable in tort for the negligence of the driver. Holdings had been less than transparent at earlier stages of the proceedings, but, after the Supreme Court required it to give a full account of itself, it emerged that it was as the name suggested – a non-trading holding company which had never operated the Cairo hotel, even though other companies in the group were involved with the hotel.
On that ground, Holdings’ appeal was allowed. The unanimous Court concluded that there was no claim in either contract or in tort. In simple terms, Holdings was nothing to do with the booking of the driver by the hotel.
But the lasting interest in the case lay in the question of whether you can establish qualifying “damage” in tort in the UK even if you are injured abroad, and on this the Court was split 3-2.
Let me set the scene for this, before telling you the result.
Dover District Council v. CPRE Kent  UKSC 79, 6 December 2016, read judgment
The Supreme Court has just confirmed that this local authority should have given reasons if it wished to grant permission against the advice of its own planning officers for a controversial development to the west of Dover.
The interest is in the breadth of the decision – how far does it extend?
R (o.t.a. Oakley) v. South Cambridgeshire District Council  EWCA Civ 71, 15 February 2017, read judgment
There is, I am glad to say, an insistence these days in the Court of Appeal that the giving of proper reasons is a necessary part of what can be expected of a planning authority when it grants permission: see my post here for a case last year.
And the current case is another good example. The CA, reversing Jay J, decided that the planning authority had acted unlawfully in not giving reasons in this case.
The oversight of the conduct of British soldiers in Iraq has been subject of two recent developments. The first is political, as Prime Minister Theresa May has renewed criticism of investigations into allegations of criminal behaviour of British troops. The second is legal, with the Court of Appeal offering clarification as to the role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad. However, comments by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have since thrown into doubt the future role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad.
R (o.t.a. CPRE Kent) v. Dover District Council  EWCA Civ 936, 14 September 2016, read judgment
The Court of Appeal has just given us a robust vindication of the importance of giving proper reasons when granting planning permission, by way of a healthy antidote to any suggestion that this is not really needed as part of fairness.
It is, as we shall see, very context-specific, and Laws LJ, giving the main judgment, was careful not to give the green light to floods of reasons challenges – common enough as they are in planning judicial reviews. Nonetheless it is a decision of significance.
R (o.t.a. Western Sahara Campaign UK) v. HMRC and DEFRA  EWHC 2898 (Admin) Blake J, 19 October 2015 read judgment
Not primarily about migration, but a case arising out of the long-running conflict between Morocco, as occupying power, and the Western Sahara as occupied territory. For many years, the UN has recognised the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory which is entitled to exercise its right of self-determination. Morocco does not agree, and has done what occupying powers do, namely send in Moroccan nationals to flood the existing populations, add troops, and commit human rights abuses, according to evidence filed in the case.
You may be wondering how this North-West African problem got to London’s Administrative Court. This is because the challenge is to two EU measures concerning Morocco. The first is a preferential tariff (administered by HMRC) applicable to imports from Morocco of goods originating from the Western Sahara. The second concerns the intended application of an EU-Morocco fisheries agreement about fishing in the territorial waters of Western Sahara.
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?
The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry.
In the history of American jurisprudence, there are a handful of cases which are so significant that they will be known to all US law students, much of the domestic population at large, and even large segments of the international community. Brown v Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in schools, is one example. Roe v Wade, which upheld the right of women to access abortion serves, is another. To that list may now be added the case of Obergefell v Hodges.
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Alex Wessely.
In the news: Military chiefs have criticised the influence of Human Rights law in a report published this week, arguing that the “need to arrest and detain enemy combatants in a conflict zone should not be expected to comply with peace-time standards”. This follows a series of cases over the years which found the Ministry of Defence liable for human rights violations abroad, culminating in allegations of unlawful killing in the Al-Sweady Inquiry that were judged “wholly without foundation” in December.
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.
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