Category: Margin of Appreciation


Hunting, animals, and the evolving landscape of rights

4 July 2012 by

Herrmann v Germany (Application no. 9300/07) 26 June 2012 – read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation of a landowner to allow hunting on his property violated his Convention rights. Although the majority based their conclusion on his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions,  the partially concurring and dissenting opinions and the judgment as a whole provide an interesting insight into the way freedom of conscience challenges are to be approached in a secular society where religion holds less sway than individual ethical positions on certain issues.

Background

In 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the granting of exceptional authorisation for the slaughter of animals without previous stunning, on religious grounds, did not breach the German Basic Law Schächt-Entscheidung (BVerfGE 99, 1, 15 January 2002). The social uproar that followed the ruling led to the German constitutional legislature taking a significant step aimed at protecting animal welfare with the 2002 constitutional reform, by including Article 20a in the Basic Law:

“Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the State shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals through legislation…”
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Hate speech and the meaning of “unacceptable behaviour”

26 April 2012 by

Raed Mahajna v Secretary of State for the Home Department IA/21/21631/2011 – read judgment

1 Crown Office Row’s Neil Sheldon appeared for the Secretary of State in this case. He is not the writer of this post.

Late last year I posted about the case of Mr Mahajna, a national of Israel (but of Palestinian origin), who appealed against a deportation order issued by the Home Secretary under section 3(5) of the Immigration Act 1971 on the basis that his presence in the United Kingdom was not conducive to public good. To recap:

  1. The Government has a list of “Unacceptable Behaviours” which forms the basis of its policy on excluding non-nationals under that provision. This includes actions expressing views which are likely to foster hatred and lead to inter-community violence in the UK (this policy was recent the focus of judicial consideration in the Court of Appeal in the case of R (Naik) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWCA Civ 1546).
  2. The Home Secretary relied on five pieces of evidence which were said to fall within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviours and justify her conclusion that Mr Mahajna’s presence was not conducive to the public good.
  3. The First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) examined those pieces of evidence. It concluded that the Home Secretary was entitled to conclude that they constituted examples of unacceptable behaviour and fell within the scope of the exclusion policy.
  4. Although the order to deport Mr Mahajna constituted an interference with his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) because he was unable to carry out a number of public speaking engagements in the UK, the views of the Home Secretary as to what was in the public interest were entitled to significant weight in assessing whether or not that interference was proportionate.
  5. The FTT ultimately concluded that the interference was proportionate, and the deportation order was upheld.
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Should gay marriage be legalised?

15 March 2012 by

The Government has begun its consultation on whether the ban on marriage between people of the same sex should be removed. As suggested by the consultation’s title – Equal civil marriage consultation – the Government is only proposing to remove the ban on civil gay marriage.

The consultation document makes clear that it is “limited to consideration of civil marriage and makes no proposals to change the way that religious marriages are solemnised“. In other words, religious institutions will not be forced to allow same-sex marriages on their premises. And moreover, perhaps in order to dodge some of the controversy which has erupted in recent weeks, there are no plans to allow same-sex marriage to take place on religious premises at all. So even religious denominations which support same-sex marriage in principle will not be allowed to conduct the ceremonies on religious premises.

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Strasbourg rules on anti-gay speech for the first time

13 March 2012 by

Vejdeland and Others v Sweden (Application no. 1813/07) – Read judgment

 “Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?”, asked Cardinal O’Brien in his controversial Telegraph article on gay-marriage. He was suggesting that changing the law to allow gay marriage would affect education as it would preclude a teacher from telling pupils that marriage can only mean a heterosexual union. He later insinuated that the change might lead to students being given material such as an “explicit manual of homosexual advocacy entitled The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century.”

A few weeks before that article was published, the European Court of Human Rights handed down its first ever ruling on anti-gay speech, in a Swedish case where a group of young men, seemingly motivated by a similar abhorrence to that expressed by Cardinal O’Brien for the “tyranny of tolerance” in education, put a hundred or so leaflets in or on the students’ lockers at a secondary school. The leaflets read:

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Axel Springer and Von Hannover: Grand Chamber victory for media – Inforrm

7 February 2012 by

The media were successful in both the judgments handed down this morning by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.  The judgments made it clear that the right to privacy has to be carefully balanced against contribution which a publication makes to a debate of general interest.  In both cases, taking account of the nature of the individuals involved and the publications the right to freedom of expression prevailed over the right to privacy. 

The judgments demonstrate the need for a careful balancing exercise in privacy cases.   Both cases involved “popular journalism” and show that,  even in this area, privacy is not a “trump card”.  The judgments will be welcomed by the media as showing that the Court of Human Rights remains sensitive to the need to protect its freedom of expression.

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Attorney General nuances the PM’s dig at European Court

31 January 2012 by

The Prime Minister’s speech at the Council of Europe (see our coverage here) has attracted significant press attention over the past week – ranging from flag-waving, sabre-rattling support to criticism from Sir Nicholas Bratza (the British President of the Court).

Hot on the heels of Cameron’s address on Wednesday, the Attorney-General Dominic Grieve gave a speech on Thursday which set out in further detail the Government’s plans for reform of the European Court of Human Rights and the incorporation of human rights into UK law.

The full text of the Attorney-General’s speech is not yet available (although a similar speech he gave last year and his own speech to the Council of Europe can be found here). However, it was interesting to compare his comments with those of David Cameron just a day before.

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The god of free trade: why Austria cannot stop big lorries from using its motorways

21 January 2012 by

C-28/09, European Commission v. Austria, 21 December 2011 – read judgment 

Many countries in the EU are struggling to comply with its laws about air pollution. The UK is in continuing breach of its nitrogen dioxide emission limit: see my post just before Christmas. But one way a country can try to comply with these laws is by banning or limiting heavy traffic. And that is exactly what Austria did in respect of an important bit of its motorway network; it prohibited lorries of over 7.5 tonnes carrying certain goods from using a section of the A 12 motorway in the Inn valley. And just before Christmas, it paid the price.

The EU Court told Austria it was infringing EU law, in particular, Articles 28 and 29 of the EC Treaty (now Arts 34 and 35 of TFEU) which are the core provisions protecting free movement of goods. Why, given that it was trying to comply proactively with another requirement of EU law?

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Extension of secret hearings would be “fundamentally unfair”, say Special Advocates

5 January 2012 by

Government proposals to increase the number of court hearings held in secret, and in which parties can only see minimal evidence relied upon by the court, have been severely criticised by the “Special Advocates” who play the central role in closed hearings.

The group of 57 barristers, including 19 Queen’s Counsel, argue that despite attempts, for example, to give those subject to “Closed Material Procedures” a summary of the evidence against them, they remain “fundamentally unfair” and

represent a departure from the foundational principle of natural justice that all parties are entitled to see and challenge all the evidence relied upon before the court and to combat that evidence by calling evidence of their own.

The document is a response  to the Government’s Consultation (see my and Angus McCullough QC’s previous posts) which have to be sent via email or post by tomorrow, Friday 6 January 2012. I will be collating summaries of responses as I did with the Bill of Rights Commission consultation. If you would like your response to be included, please send it to 1crownofficerow@gmail.com, with the subject “Consultation response”.

In summary, the special advocates argue:

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Terrorist asset-freezing: an intrusion too far – Dr Cian Murphy

21 December 2011 by

Freezing

One could be forgiven, amidst the furore over the European Court of Human Rights’ Al-Khawaja judgment last Thursday, for missing the first report of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation on the operation of the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc Act 2010. The Report runs to over 100 pages and is the most comprehensive account of UK terrorist asset freezing in print.

It is the third report of the current Independent Reviewer, David Anderson Q.C., since he took up the post in February. Asset freezing is something of a speciality of his, as he has appeared in litigation in both EU and UK courts on the matter. It is therefore unsurprising that the Report exhibits the same attention to detail that made the Anderson’s previous two efforts essential reading.

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Lord Irvine: British judges should decide human rights cases for themselves – Carl Gardner

15 December 2011 by

Lord Irvine tonight weighed in to the debate about Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights – and effectively accused the Supreme Court of having surrendered its intellectual independence, and shirked its judicial responsibility.

His at times toughly-worded lecture to the UCL Judicial Institute and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law chimes with what the Attorney General Dominic Grieve has been saying recently about the need for primary responsibility for human rights protection to lie with states, not Strasbourg – and Grieve will surely approve of both the content and timing of Lord Irvine’s intervention, on the eve of the European Court’s ruling in Al-Khawaja and Tahery v. UK and in the context of Britain’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe. I’ll link to the text of his speech when it’s available.

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Gay marriage on the way… but not quite yet

10 October 2011 by

In his Conservative Party Conference speech the Prime Minister David Cameron signalled his strong support for the legalisation of gay marriage. He said:

Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.

We have covered the slow progress towards legalised gay marriage in a number of posts since this blog launched in March 2010: see the links below. Where are we up to now?

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Prisoner votes and the democratic deficit

20 September 2011 by

I posted recently on the ongoing saga surrounding the UK’s implementation of the Hirst No. 2 case, in which the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The correspondence between the court and the UK Government is now available and I have reproduced it below.

In short, the UK previously had until 11 October 2011 to “introduce legislative proposals” to end the ban. But it has now been given a reprieve as a result of seeking to intervene in another case, Scoppola v Italy (No. 3(available in FrenchEnglish press release here), which is going to the court’s Grand Chamber  This is another prisoner voting case.

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Public purse stays closed for morbidly obese man

28 July 2011 by

Condliff, R (on the application of) v North Staffordshire Primary Care Trust [2011] EWCA Civ 910 – Read judgment

A morbidly obese man has lost his appeal against his local Primary Care Trust’s (PCT’s) refusal to fund his anti-obesity surgery. The Court of Appeal ruled that the PCT had no obligation under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to consider social or non-clinical factors when deciding whether to grant a request for exceptional funding.

In his discussion of the case, Lord Justice Toulson began by saying that “Human rights law is sometimes in danger of becoming over complicated“. Underlying this point is the fact that it is already complicated enough. This is a good example: how could a court find that this case, which clearly involves the dignity and family life of a man whose life is difficult and miserable, not engage the protection of human rights law? I will try to explain.

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Strasbourg judge: “Those who export war ought to see to the parallel export of guarantees against the atrocities of war”

7 July 2011 by

Updated | The legal blogs have been busy reporting on this morning’s important decisions of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Al-Skeini and Al-Jeddasee my post.

There has been coverage already from PHD Studies in Human Rights, the Human Rights in Ireland Blog (update – see also EJIL: Talk: “Let me put this as strongly as I can: this is as close as we’ve ever come to the European Court overruling Bankovic. And good riddance – except, as we will see, the Court’s disavowal of Bankovic is only half-hearted at best.”). The Guardian has also published an article on the case in which Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers claims that the decisions will reopen the case for a wider public inquiry into alleged detainee mistreatment in Iraq; the firm recently failed in a judicial review of a decision not to hold a public inquiry on behalf of 127 Iraqis.

Many thanks to Antoine Buyse of the ECHR Blog for highlighting the lyrical and eminently quotable concurring opinion of Maltese Judge Giovanni Bonello, who since writing the judgment has retired from the court. Bonello said that he would have applied a slightly different “functional jurisdiction” test to decide whether the applicants fell within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

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European Convention on Human Rights applied in Basrah, UK failed duties to Iraqi civilians

7 July 2011 by

Al-Skeini v. United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber (Application no. 55721/07) – Read judgment / press release

Al-Jedda v. the UK (Application No. 27021/08)- Read judgment / press release

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that from 1 May 2003 to 28 June 2004 the UK had jurisdiction under Article 1 (obligation to respect human rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of civilians killed during security operations carried out by UK soldiers in Basrah.

The court went on to find in Al-Skeini that there had been a failure to conduct an independent and effective investigation into the deaths of the relatives of five of the six applicants, in violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention. The court awarded 17,000 euros to five of the six applicants, in addition to 50,000 euros in costs jointly.

In Al-Jedda, the court found a violation of Article 5 (1) (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention in relation to the internment of an Iraqi for more than three years (2004- 2007) in a detention centre in Basrah.

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