Category: Judges and Juries


Courts entitled to ignore European Court decision on DNA and fingerprint retention

23 July 2010 by

DNA database impact on human rightsUpdated, 1/9/10 | R (C) v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis [2010] WLR (D) 193 – Read judgment

When faced with conflicting authorities from the European Court of Human Rights and the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) on the indefinite retention of DNA profiles and fingerprints by the police, the Divisional Court held that they were bound to follow the House of Lords.

This was so despite clear indications from the previous and current governments that the law would be changed to take account of the Strasbourg decision. However, as leave to appeal was granted, the Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to revisit the issue and determine the law in this controversial area.

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Master of the Rolls calls for more restraint from Strasbourg judges

6 July 2010 by

The Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger has given the first lecture to the meeting of the newly-formed the European Circuit of the Bar. Along with the contributions of Lord Judge, Lord Hoffmann and Lady Justice Arden, this address forms part of an elegant but increasingly intense debate that reflects unease about Strasbourg.

At the end of his speech Lord Neuberger calls for a “dialogue” with the European Court of Human Rights that

will require from Strasbourg a more acute appreciation of the validity of the differential approaches by Convention states to the implementation of rights…Strasbourg might well benefit from developing the margin of appreciation to take greater account of practical differences which arise between Convention states and their implementation of high level principles.
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European Court of Human Rights sharpens its teeth

2 June 2010 by

Increasing powers

The European Court of Human Rights underwent something of a revolution yesterday with the long-delayed introduction of reforms to its rules. The changes will help the court clear its enormous backlog of cases, but also give it significant new powers to punish states which fail to implement its rulings. The UK may be one of the first on the receiving end of these new powers in relation to prisoner voting rights.

The Strasbourg-based European Court, which interprets and applies the European Convention on Human Rights, celebrated its fiftieth birthday last year. But it has recently been showing its age, creaking under the weight of its backlog of cases, running to an astonishing 119,300 waiting to be heard in 2009.

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Round-up of European Court of Human Rights Cases

1 June 2010 by

The European Court

The UK Supreme Court Blog has posted a useful round-up of key European Court of Human Rights judgments from the past few months.

The following cases catch the eye (all summaries courtesy of the UK Supreme Court Blog):

Al-Saadoon and Mufdhi v. the United Kingdom(Application no. 61498/08) (2 March 2010) This was a case about two Iraqis taken prisoner by the British troops in Iraq and handed over to the Iraqi authorities against the ECtHR’s previous orders. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) as the two prisoners had been exposed to the death penalty which they would face in Iraq. This judgment is important in the context of a series of decisions and judgments on the death penalty (see paragraph. 123 of the judgment).

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Are trials without juries always illiberal?

24 May 2010 by

Under threat?

The Coalition Government has pledged to “protect” the right to trial by jury. It is often assumed that the a jury is needed to ensure a fair trial, but Sir Louis Blom-Cooper argues in an interesting article in the Guardian that juries may not always be essential, particularly in cases involving serious organised crime.

Blom-Cooper, an academic and barrister, argues that jury-less trials need not always be illiberal. He says “The experience in Northern Ireland over three decades suggests that serious organised crimes can effectively and efficiently be tried before a professional court ‑ a single judge or perhaps three judges.” He also suggests that defendants ought to be able to waive their right to trial by jury as is the case in many other jurisdictions.
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Coalition agreement calls for Human Rights Act Plus, but will it last?

21 May 2010 by

The full Coalition agreement is now available, and has made things a little clearer on the new government’s plans for the Human Rights Act. But will the promised review of the 1998 Act be anything more than a time-wasting exercise born of irresolvable disagreements between the partners on fundamental rights, and will the changes last?

“The Coalition: our programme for government” is available to download here. The civil liberties section is largely the same as in the draft agreement published last week, but with an added section on the recently announced Commission to

investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.

We posted earlier in the week on three possible outcomes arising from the Commission; first, full repeal of the 1998 Act, second, repeal and replacement with a Bill of Rights or, third, create in effect a “Human Rights Act Plus”, which would bolster the 1998 Act whilst maintaining the UK obligations under the European Convention. As predicted, it appears that the third option has been selected, but under the Bill of Rights banner.
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New head of Court of Appeal making waves on civil liberties

12 May 2010 by

Making waves

Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls (head of the Court of Appeal), has only been in post for six months but has already made significant waves, particularly in a series of judgments on the impact of terrorism law on civil liberties. In a speech yesterday, he discussed the experience of having his judgment censored during the Binyam Mohamed appeal.

He used an old Woody Allen joke to describe the experience, saying that his “favourite of his aphorisms is I’m not afraid of dying – I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” He continued that the this has some resonance for him now, as “I’m not afraid of changing my judgments – I just don’t want to be there when I do.

The tone of the speech was light – Lord Neuberger has been praised for his unusually (for a judge) affable manner – but it does provide an opportunity to take stock of the Master of the Rolls’ eventful first six months in post.

An eventful six months

Lord David Neuberger turned down the chance to be an inaugural member of the UK Supreme Court in order to head up the Court of Appeal, the second highest appeal court. He had already been highly critical of the evolution of the House of Lords to the Supreme Court. Six months later, it already seems clear that the Court of Appeal under its new Master of the Rolls is to be an activist court, and particularly in relation to civil liberties.

We posted last week on the three provocative linked judgments, each written by Lord Neuberger and Lord Justices Maurice Kay and Sullivan, released as a triptych on the same day. The appeals all related to terrorism legislation, and each judgment sought to limit the ability of the Government and security services to keep evidence secret – from the public and even the parties to the litigation – in civil trials. A fourth, relating to control orders in a criminal context, was also released on the same day.

The security services will see the judgments as a fly in their ointment, arguing that the protection of the public from terrorism sometimes trumps the principle of open justice, that justice is done but is also seen to be done. The Government will say in the inevitable appeals to the Supreme Court that the Court of Appeal judgments have stymied their ability to fight terrorism, making it impossible in future for the security services to keep sensitive information from the public domain.

Censorship and the Binyam Mohamed affair

Whilst the three linked judgments were important, by far the most controversial incident involving Lord Neuberger’s court was the censoring of part of a judgment in an appeal relating to Binyam Mohamed (see our post). The court ordered that an email concerning MI5’s knowledge of Mr Mohamed’s alleged torture be disclosed. But part of Lord Neuberger’s judgment, the now notorious paragraph 168, was sharply critical of MI5’s involvement in the material events as well as their conduct in the litigation. Upon an application by the Government, the paragraph was briefly sanitised, and then eventually restored to its original wording.

Lord Neuberger spoke about the experience of “seeing one paragraph of a judgment being discussed in op-ed pieces, headlines. TV and radio bulletins and interviews, and, I imagine, the tweets.” He continued:

One thing the Binyam Mohamed case did teach me was that even a Master of the Rolls should not tempt fate. The day before we initially handed down judgment in the case, the Lord Chief Justice asked me how I was getting on with the new job after my first 20 weeks. Blithely ignorant of what was to happen the following day, tempting fate, I said that, for the first time I was beginning to feel in control of things. Let me tell you: one is never in control of things, above all when one thinks one is. As Woody Allen said, If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans. Although my favourite of his aphorisms is I’m not afraid of dying – I just don’t want to be there when it happens. I suppose that that has some resonance for me now: I’m not afraid of changing my judgments – I just don’t want to be there when I do.

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Super injunctions, bad habits and secret justice [updated]

30 April 2010 by

Super injunctions, John Terry, human rights

No more super injunctions?

Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, provided an interesting discussion on so-called “super injunctions” in a speech on 28 April 2010. He said that “Where justice is carried out in secret, away from public scrutiny, bad habits can develop. Even if they don’t develop, the impression may arise that they have done so.

Super injunctions came to prominence as a result of the case involving footballer John Terry, who initially used the courts to block publication of details of his extra marital affair, as well as all mention of the case.

The speech will be of particular interest to libel lawyers, as Lord Neuberger is currently chairing a high-profile panel to review super-injunctions which may lead to their demise. The speech provides a useful background to the issue in terms of human rights law, as well as in relation to freedom of speech in the United States (see our recent post on the topic).

Lord Neuberger gave little away, but does strongly emphasise the importance of open justice, which the super injunction has arguably diminished. The following paragraph may worry lawyers and celebrities who hope that the super injunction will survive:

29. But what of the substantive issue? How do we reconcile such injunctions with the principle of open justice? The first thing we could say is, as Mr Justice Tugendhat, the judge in the Terry case, pointed out, where such an issue is raised it requires intense scrutiny by the court. It does so because openness is one of the means by which public confidence in the proper administration of justice is maintained. Where justice is carried out in secret, away from public scrutiny, bad habits can develop. Even if they don’t develop, the impression may arise that they have done so. Neither reality nor suspicion are an acceptable feature of any open society.

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Judge’s failure to warn jury over defendant’s silence did not render trial unfair

23 April 2010 by

Article 6 human rights not breached when judge failed to give silence direction to juryAdetoro v United Kingdom (Application no. 46834/06, ECtHR)

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that there was no violation of of the European Convention on Human Rights when a man was convicted after the judge failed to direct a jury properly in relation to the Defendant’s silence in a police interview.

Read judgment

The Court found there was no violation of Article 6 as the Defendant had not been convicted on the strength of his silence alone and there had been no unfairness in the trial as a whole.

The Applicant had been convicted of offences relating to a string of robberies. When interviewed by the police he had answered “no comment” to questions in relation to his movements recorded by police surveillance, association with other persons and whereabouts when the robberies were occurring. At trial, he admitted involvement in dealing in stolen cars and claimed that this explained the matters which the police had observed. He explained his silence on the basis that he did not wish to incriminate others.

In summing up, the judge omitted from his direction to the jury words to the effect that no inferences could be drawn from the Applicant’s silence unless its members were satisfied that the reason for his silence was that he had no answer to the questions asked or none that would stand up to scrutiny.

The Applicant argued that
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Lord Chief Justice says European Court has too much influence over British Legal System

2 April 2010 by

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, has used the annual Judicial Studies Board (JSB) lecture to complain that the English courts were being influenced too heavily by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

This is becoming something of a tradition at the annual JSB lecture. Lord Hoffman used the same platform last year (read lecture here) to criticise the ECtHR, saying it had been “unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and to impose uniform rules on Member States.”

In this year’s lecture, Lord Judge suggested that “statute ensures that the final word does not rest with Strasbourg, but with our Supreme Court” and that the Luxembourg-based ECtHR was encroaching on the legal territory of its Strasbourg cousin, the European Court of Justice.

The full lecture can be found here, or you can read more of the address after the page break below:

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