Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint against the European Commission, 17 December 2012 – Read decision
The UK secured what Tony Blair described as an opt-out in respect of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights as part of the negotiations leading up to the Lisbon Treaty – which contains the Charter. Rosalind English has summarised here what the Charter involves, and whether the “opt-out” really changes anything. This recent EU Ombudsman’s decision concerns the attempts of an NGO to extract certain EU Commission documents in the run-up to the Lisbon Treaty. The EU Commission was taking its usual head-in-the-sand approach to disclosure (see various posts listed below), hence the complaint to the Ombudsman. And, as we shall see, the Ombudsman gave the Commission both barrels in this highly critical decision.
One of the stranger and bolder pieces of US legislation slipped into force in November 2012 – The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 – sic. This enables the US Secretary of Transportation to prohibit US airlines from complying with EU rules. Those EU rules apply to all airliners which touch down or take off in the EU, and requires them to participate in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – designed progressively to limit carbon emissions from aviation via a cap and trade mechanism.
The US Act would be odd enough in its lack of respect for the laws of other countries, had the Act’s beneficiaries (the US airlines) not sought to challenge the legality of the EU measure in the EU Courts – and failed: see my post on the judgment of the CJEU. As will be seen, the EU Court expressly rejected claims (by US airlines) that the rules had extra-territorial effect and conflicted with international aviation conventions. Hence, the scheme was lawfully applicable to US airlines – just as to those of all other countries using EU airports.
Schwartz and another v Insogna and another, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit – read judgment
Never doubt the authority of the law, particularly in the US, where a six year battle triggered by a middle finger gesture continues to rage in the New York courts.
In May 2006, Mr. Swartz was a passenger in a car in a rural part of upstate New York when he spotted a police car that was using a radar speed-tracking device. The driver, a Vietnam veteran and retired airline pilot, acted on instinct to show his displeasure: he extended his right arm outside the passenger’s side window, and then further extended his middle finger over the car’s roof. As the New York Times reports
The reaction was swift. The officer followed the car; words were exchanged; backups were called; and Mr. Swartz was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.
Mr Schwartz maintained that his gesture was provoked by his anger that the local police were spending their time running a speed trap instead of patrolling and solving crimes. Continue reading →
R (Khan) v Secretary Of State For Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs  EWHC 3728 (Admin) (21 December 2012) – Read judgment
In this unsuccessful application for permission to apply for judicial review, the Claimant sought to challenge the Defendant’s reported policy of permitting GCHQ employees to pass intelligence to the US for the purposes of drone strikes in Pakistan. The Claimant’s father was killed during such an attack in March 2011.
The Claimant alleged that by assisting US agents with drone strikes, GCHQ employees were at risk of becoming secondary parties to murder under the criminal law of England and Wales and of conduct ancillary to war crimes or crimes against humanity contrary to international law. The Claimant sought declaratory relief to that effect and also sought a declaration that the Defendant should publish a policy addressing the circumstances in which such intelligence could be lawfully disseminated. [paragraph 6]
The set of injustices which led to these claims is well known – and see my posts here and here. For the uninitiated, in the 1960s, the US wanted Diego Garcia (one of the Chagos Islands) as a major air base. It spoke nicely to the UK, its owners, who consequently evicted and banned all the inhabitants from it and the neighbouring islands. The constitutional arrangements were apparently decorous. A new UK colony was established (the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT) with a Commissioner to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Territory.
The UN was told that the population consisted of migrant workers, their position had been fully protected, and they had been consulted in the process – none of this in fact happened. Those evicted mainly went to Mauritius and the Seychelles. So the peace, order and good government in fact forthcoming from the UK amounted to total depopulation for military objectives.
Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence  EWCA Civ 1365 – Read judgment
Updated – the first two paragraphs of this post have been amended as they were factually inaccurate. Many apologies for this.
Last month, the Court of Appeal decided that the negligence claims of the families of five British soldiers killed or injured on duty in Iraq could go ahead. It would be for the High Court to decide on the facts whether decisions made about troops’ equipment and training fell within the long-standing doctrine of ‘combat immunity’. The appellants were however unsuccessful in arguing that the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) applied.
The case concerned claims brought by the families of five men killed or injured in south-east Iraq. Corporal Allbutt was killed and Troopers Twiddy and Julien injured in Challenger II tanks in fratricide, or ‘friendly fire’, incidents on 25 March 2003. Privates Hewett and Ellis and Lance Corporal Redpath were killed in their Snatch Land Rovers by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on 16 July 2005, 28 February 2006 and 9 August 2007 respectively (the ‘Snatch Landrover claims’).
A quick note to say that the UK Jewish Film Festival is showing a fascinating new Israeli documentary (with subtitles), The Law in These Parts, this Sunday at 2:30pm at the Tricycle Cinema in Kilburn. The film will be followed by a discussion, chaired by me, between Danny Friedman of Matrix chambers and Jonathan Turner of 13 Old Square chambers. All details are here.
I have seen the film and it is excellent. It is an examination of legal proceedings in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. The documentary is made up almost entirely of interviews with former judges in Israel’s security courts, including a Supreme Court justice, which in itself of great interest. Although the legal and moral issues faced up to in the film are in one way unique to Israel, many from the UK legal community will recognise themes in relation to Northern Ireland during the Troubles, as well as broader problems which we are still grappling with involving the use of secret evidence and evidence obtained by torture.
In short, one of the best legal documentaries I have seen, and highly recommended (not just by me – Newsweek described it as “a gripping new documentary“). I hope to see you there, do come and say hello if you can make it. Book here – trailer below
R (Edwards & another) v. Environment Agency, Opinion of A-G Kokott, CJEU, 18 October 2012, read opinion – updated
In environmental cases, this costs question arises in a sharp-focussed way, because the UK is committed by Treaty obligations (the Aarhus Convention) and specific provisions of EU law to ensure that environmental cases are not “prohibitively expensive.”: Article 9(4) of the Convention.
The issue arose because a domestic judicial review got to the House of Lords and the claimant lost. She was ordered to pay the costs. In due course, the matter came before the Supreme Court who asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to say what “prohibitively expensive” means in the Convention. The first and obvious question is – prohibitive to whom? No litigation may be prohibitively expensive to Mr Abramovich. Any costs liability may deter someone on state benefits.
Last month I posted on the troubling case of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old protester killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003. In August, an Israeli court ruled that the Israeli Defence Ministry bore no responsibility in civil law for her death.
I complained that the reporting of the ruling had been poor, despite a reasonably good summary in English produced by the court. One of the main problems undoubtedly was the lack of an English translation of the 73-page Hebrew ruling. Until now, that is. Through the magic of the internet – and a huge amount of work – Irène Solomon, a legal advisor at Ofgem and reader of this blog, has translated the judgment from Hebrew into English. She has taken on this mammoth task for free in her personal capacity and has given me permission to publish her work online as a UKHRB exclusive.
You can download the translation here (PDF) and it is also reproduced after the break below. I should emphasise that this is not an official translation, but it does appear to me to be a very good effort indeed.
How is a Member State of the ECHR supposed to react when the UN Security Council tells it to do one thing and the Convention requires it to do another? That is the interesting and important question which the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was presented with, and dodged, in its recent decision in Nada v. Switzerland.
Mr Nada is an 82-year-old Italian-Egyptian financier and businessman, who in November 2001 found himself in the unfortunate position of having his name added to the international list of suspected funders and supporters of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which is maintained by the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council. Mr Nada has consistently denied that he has any connection to al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group, and in 2005 the Swiss Government closed an investigation after finding that the accusations against him were unsubstantiated. However, despite this Mr Nada remained on the list until September 2009. During the intervening 8 years the impact on Mr Nada’s health and his private and family life was severe, so he brought a claim against Switzerland for breach of his Article 8 rights, as well as breaches of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), Article 3 (right not to be subjected to ill-treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty) and Article 9 (right to freedom of religion).
Almost a year ago, I and some other legal bloggers wrote about a phenomenon known as the Freemen on the Land movement. I called the post Freemen of the dangerous nonsense, for that is exactly what the movement is, for those desperate enough to sign up to it. Now a Canadian judge has done many judges around the world a huge favour by exploding the movement’s ideas and leaders (or “gurus”) in a carefully referenced and forensic 192-page judgment, which should be read by anyone who has ever taken a passing interest in this issue, and certainly by any judge faced by a litigant attempting the arguments in court.
The Freemen, alongside other groups with similar creeds, believe that if you change your name and deny the jurisdiction of the courts, you will be able to escape debt collectors, council tax and even criminal charges. As this member of the Occupy London movement, “commonly known as dom” wrote in guardian.co.uk (of all places) “if you don’t consent to be that “person”, you step outside the system“.
As you may have guessed, this magical technique never works in the courts, but judges are often flummoxed when faced with the arguments, which are odd and in many ways risible. But what has been lacking is an authoritative, systematic judgment explaining, in detail, why that is. Until now, that is.
Earlier today, 25 September 2012, (judgment here, in French) the Cour de Cassation in Paris ruled on the long-running question of whether Total is criminally and civily liable for the loss of the Erika on 12 December 1999 and the consequent spillage of some 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, affecting some 400 km of the French coastline.
The case has see-sawed so far. The Criminal Court of First Instance, and the Court of Appeal in Paris had said that Total and others were responsible, though the Court of Appeal did not make this finding in respect of the civil claims. Next, the prosecutor, Advocate-General Boccon-Gibod, expressed his view to the Cour de Cassstion that Total was not liable at all. But his view was not shared by 80 parties who appeared before the court, including the affected communes Now, the court has finally ruled in favour of those polluted, both under the criminal and civil laws, as against Total and other responsible parties – all these issues have been decided in the same decision, in a way which may seem a bit odd to UK lawyers who generally put criminal and civil law in different boxes.
The judgment is pretty weighty, some 330 pages of legal French – as is standard, this is all written as one huge sentence – broken up by multitudinous semi-colons. it is not easy to digest, to say the least, but I shall try and give the bare bones of the decision.
Communist prisoners held during the Malaya emergency Photograph: Jack Birns/Time & Life Pictures
Chong Nyok Keyu and ors v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and another  EWHC 2445 (Admin), read judgment
Although the High Court has rejected an attempt to force the Government to hold a public inquiry into an alleged massacre of unarmed civilians by British troops in 1948, the case represents a further example of the use of the Courts to redress historical grievances.
There are two German words for dealing with the traumatic recent past, neither of which has a direct equivalent in English. This linguistic quirk reflects history and national self-identity. The defeats of the Kaiser, the Nazis and the GDR Communists led to national introspection in Germany, whereas the United Kingdom, on the winning side in each of the those three struggles, evaded such soul-searching. The post-war decline was relatively gentle and easy to fit in to the national myth of historical continuity. An Empire absent-mindedly acquired was considered to be the subject of an orderly and benevolent liquidation, with lasting benefits of railways and the rule of law left to the inheritors.
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.
Almost ten years after the death of Rachel Corrie on 16 March 2003, her case still raises troubling questions. How was a 23-year-old protester killed by an Israeli military bulldozer? Did the driver do it deliberately, as the family have claimed? Were the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) responsible in some other way?
Those questions were all in play in a civil negligence claim brought against the Israeli state by Corrie’s family, who claimed $1 in damages. Having exhausted other avenues, the family were looking for answers, not a pay out. The Haifa District Court examined the issues over 15 days of oral testimony, and two weeks ago Judge Oded Gershon released a 73-page ruling (Hebrew) as well as a detailed summary of the Judgment (English).
I was particularly interested in the judgment as a significant proportion of my work recently has involved public inquiries into allegations against the British Armed Forces over events which happened in Iraq in 2003/4. Unfortunately, the reporting of the ruling has been fairly poor. The Guardian published eight articles and a cartoon about the ruling (by comparison, the appointment of a new Justice Secretary generated four). But despite the sheer volume of commentary, I had no sense from reading the articles that the writers had attended the oral hearings, read the judgment (which is long and in Hebrew) or even consider the court’s English summary. The Guardian’s legal section is very good so it is disappointing that the legal interest of the story was largely ignored.
With this in mind, I thought I would post a summary of the judgment and brief discussion of how an equivalent claim would work in the UK.
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