On 25 January 2012 Justice Edwin Cameron, Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, delivered an emotive and thoughtful talk entitled “What you can do with rights”. The Law Commission’s annual Lord Scarman Lecture covered apartheid, AIDS denialism, LGBT rights and delved into the essence of moral humanity. It was a lecture delivered with skill and fluency, with only the slight dissatisfaction being the vagueness of Justice Cameron’s conclusion: that legal rights allow people to achieve some progress, but they don’t solve every problem.
Justice Cameron has occupied a seat on the highest judicial bench of South Africa for three years. He was made a judge by President Nelson Mandela in 1994, when his country was emerging from the systemic violence that the apartheid system had wrought on human rights. This position gives him authority, but it is his personal experience that lent the lecture gravitas. The Justice was diagnosed as HIV positive at a time when the true scale of the epidemic was being realised, and publicly fought for access to the anti-retroviral drugs that saved his life at a time when the scale of his government’s folly in denying them to millions was becoming equally clear.
In October 2011, I posted on an important consultation, Cost Protection for Litigants in Environmental Judicial Review Claims, in which the Ministry of Justice wheeled out its proposals to get it out of the various scrapes caused by the expense of environmental challenges. The Aarhus Convention requires that environmental challenges not be “prohibitively expensive”, and both the European Commission and the Aarhus Compliance Committee don’t think that the English system complies – it costs way too much.
In a nutshell, MoJ were suggesting that there should be a starting point in the form of costs orders designed to protect unsuccessful claimants against excessive costs incurred by successful defendants – unsurprisingly called Protective Costs Orders. If a Claimant got permission to challenge an environmental decision, but then lost on a full judicial review hearing, he or she should have to pay no more than £5,000. In return, he should not be able to recover any more than £30,000 if he won. MoJ’s consultation period has now closed, and a very significant response has been received from Lord Justice Jackson, who recently carried out a set of mammoth reviews of litigation costs in all areas of the law.
HARKINS AND EDWARDS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 9146/07  ECHR 45 – Read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights has found that there would be no breach of Article 3 ECHR (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) in extraditing two men accused of murder to the US.
The men argued that they face the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole if found guilty. The US had given assurances to the UK government that the death penalty would not be sought. The following summary is based on the Court’s press release (my abridgement):
The Government of the United States of America -v- O’Dwyer, Westminster Magistrates’ Court – Read judgment
It seems appropriate, on the day when Wikipedia shut down for 24 hours to protest against US anti-piracy legislation, to talk about piracy (in the copyright sense) and what role human rights law has to play in the perpetual battle against it.
It is a topic that polarises, with some considering piracy to be no more moral than any other theft, and others seeing those who commit piracy offences as fighting for freedom of expression and liberal copyright laws. In the case of Richard O’Dwyer, a young man who is accused of setting up a website which breaches US copyright law and who is facing extradition to the US for trial, he attempted to block his extradition by relying on a combination of human rights and other objections relating to the manner and circumstances surrounding the request.
The Telegraph’s Andrew Hough and Tom Whitehead chime in with Britain loses 3 in 4 cases at human rights court. But are they right? To add a bit of spice to this statistical journey, I will aim to use at least one analogy involving a popular TV singing contest.
The “explosive research” is a report by Robert Broadhurst, a Parliamentary legal researcher for a group of Conservative MPs. The headline grabbing figures are in this paragraph:
On 1 January 2012, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme started applying to airlines for real. So it was perhaps no coincidence that just before Christmas, and rather more speedily than usual, the EU Court (the CJEU) effectively threw out a challenge by US airlines to the scheme brought in the UK Courts which was referred to the CJEU. The airlines had said that a raft of international rules and conventions were inconsistent with the scheme. The UK denied the unlawfulness; it said, if you want to land in the EU, you have to obey EU rules. I posted on the Advocate-General’s opinion, and the Court has come to the same conclusion albeit by a slightly different route. But, first, what are these emissions trading schemes about?
In his speech earlier this week the Attorney General announced that he would appear in person before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in two weeks’ time, when it hears Scoppola v Italy No2, a case concerning prisoner voting. The United Kingdom is due to intervene in this case, for reasons that readers of this blog will be fully aware of.
I agree with Adam Wagner’s comments that the Attorney General’s speech should (if I may respectfully say so) be applauded for the mature and positive way it addressed some very important issues regarding the future protection of human rights at both the domestic and European level. Here I would like to focus in particular upon what Dominic Grieve said about prisoner voting, and his forthcoming appearance at Strasbourg. On page 9 of his speech he stated:
In this consultation announced this week, the Ministry of Justice is trying to get itself out of the multiple Aarhus problems facing UK justice. Infraction proceedings are threatened in the EU Court, and adverse conclusions were reached by Aarhus Compliance Committee; all much posted about on this blog, for which see below. The main problem is that the Aarhus Convention requires that environmental challenges not be “prohibitively expensive”, and everybody now appears to agree that the basic UK system of “loser pays the costs” does not achieve that objective without changes. So what does MoJ propose to do about it?
It says that costs protection should be provided via codification of the rules concerning Protective Costs Orders. That means that a claimant in any public interest case may ask the court for a PCO, to “cap” his liability to pay the other side’s costs to such a figure as does not deter him from bringing those proceedings. The boundaries of when a PCO can be ordered are much fought over – leading to more costs – but it certainly extends in principle to all public interest judicial review cases, not simply environmental ones. It is possible (at its very lowest) that PCOs can be made in public interest environmental challenges not involving judicial review, though there is not yet a decision either way on that.
why should judges decide matters of social policy [thrown up by human rights cases] at all? The political rights, Article 8 – 12, with the right set out in the first part and the derogation in the second, create a structure which means that a very large number of legal debates is about how the balance between private right and public interest should be struck. But what authority, expertise, do lawyers have to strike that balance, that is special to them? Why are lawyers any better qualified to assess family ties in foreign criminal questions?
When the floor was opened to questions I suggested that these comments could be extended out more broadly: what was the proper role and function of the Strasbourg Court? This question, I suggest, lies at the heart of much of the recent controversy surrounding the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, especially in the context of the disagreement over whether prisoners should be able to vote.
But that all changes when the US lawyers come over here – exactly the issue in this case. US airlines said to the EU Court that their rights under international aviation law have been infringed by a European Directive on greenhouse gas emissions from airlines. This EU Court Opinion goes right to the heart of how two systems of supra-national law fit together. EU law hits International Law. And, unsurprisingly, an EU lawyer thinks that EU law wins – so far, anyway, before the full EU Court of Justice decides the case.
Equality and Human Rights Commission v Prime Minister & Ors  EWHC 2401 (Admin) – Read judgment
A challenge to published guidance for intelligence officers interviewing detainees overseas has been partially successful.
Mr Al Bazzouni and the EHRC argued that the guidance as to what officers should do if they suspect detainees might be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (“CIDT”) was unlawful.
There are somewhere in the region on 12 million people worldwide who have no nationality. Being stateless can create enormous problems, from being unable to rely on diplomatic assistance to having no home country with an automatic right to return to. The risk to stateless of people of having their human rights breached to is great. The United Nations has expressed its concern repeatedly, and is encouraging states to sign up to two conventions which provide basic rights to those without a state.
Back in March we considered a case where a man claiming asylum alleged that he was a member of a particular ethnic group which, it was accepted by the parties, is at risk of persecution in Kuwait. His claim failed as the court found him to be Kuwaiti. However, because he had no documents to show he was Kuwaiti, the Kuwaiti authorities would not allow him to enter their state. Hence the Catch-22 situation of many stateless people, where they cannot establish a right to reside in one state but have no other state to return to.
The recent European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Al-Skeini will certainly enter the Court’s hall of fame as a landmark judgment for pushing the boundaries of the European Convention on Human Rights’s jurisdiction. While it may take us some time to appreciate the full implications of this judgment, one of its possible consequences is the potential opening of the Court’s doors to claims arising from international armed conflicts.
by Melinda Padron
In Al-Skeini, the ECtHR determined that there may be instances when the European Convention on Human Rights may apply outside the ‘espace juridique’, that is the Convention’s ‘legal space’, or within the territories of the Convention’s member states (see Alasdair Henderson’s post on the ruling, which concerned Article 1 of the Convention). This may occur when agents of a member state are exercising authority and control over individuals (personal rather than strictly territorial control) within a given territory upon which that same member state is exercising some public powers. Accordingly, in the case of Al-Skeini, the Convention was found to be applicable to actions taken by British troops in Basra (Iraq), where the UK assumed the exercise of some of the public powers normally exercised by a sovereign government (see paras. 149-150 of the judgment).
The decisions by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda, handed down last Thursday, have generally been hailed as leap forward for human rights protection. We have already provided a summary of the decisions and pointed to some of the commentary here.
However, it is worth considering the core parts of these rulings a little more carefully. Without wishing to put too much of a dampener on the initial excitement from human rights campaigners about the outcome, the Court’s reasoning is perhaps not quite the radical breakthrough it first appeared to be. In fact, as Judge Bonello pointed out in his concurring opinion (which has drawn a lot of attention for his comments about ‘human rights imperialism’), the principles governing jurisdiction under Article 1 of the ECHR are not that much clearer following these decisions.
When a diplomatic employee takes action for compensation for unfair dismissal, the host country’s courts cannot simply rule out the possibility of a claim on the basis that the employer has state immunity. This would impair the very essence of his right of access to a court under Article 6 of the Convention.
The applicant, a French national, had been employed as an accountant in the Kuwaiti embassy in Paris since August 1980. He was promoted to head accountant in 1985. In March 2000, the Embassy terminated his contract as part of a cost-cutting exercise. His application to the local employment tribunal was initially successful but ultimately failed before the Paris Court of Appeals which found that the State of Kuwait enjoyed jurisdictional immunity on the basis of which it was not subject to court actions against it in France. Continue reading →
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