This Government’s key message has been its ability get things done, whether it be Brexit, HS2 or stopping the spread of Coronavirus.
Indeed, if the new high speed trains move as swiftly as the Health Secretary did on Monday, then they might break the sound barrier: the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 were enacted at 6.50am on Monday and laid before Parliament by 2.30 that afternoon. Their preamble states that
the Secretary of State is of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, it is necessary to make this instrument without a draft having been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
One can appreciate the desire to bypass the cumbersome mechanics of Parliament to save the country from a potentially deadly virus. But in the fullness of time, the resulting Regulations might well be held up as an excellent advertisement for Parliamentary scrutiny.
Law creates artificial relationships between non-related people and entities. It even gives person-hood to non-biological beings such as companies and partnerships (although not yet to non-human species). Genetics describe the underlying relationship of all biological beings. For centuries, law and genetic science developed in parallel with very little overlap. But as genetic discoveries ride the crest of the technological revolution, law finds itself on the back foot. Legal instruments, such as property law and the law of obligations between non-related individuals were crafted in feudal times with the aim of protecting property beyond the death of the owner. With genetic discoveries, we face a myriad of questions, from ownership of gene editing techniques to the dangers of discrimination based on genetic predisposition for disease.
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
Credit: The Guardian
In the News:
Lord Sumption, the recently retired Supreme Court judge, has suggested that the law on assisted suicide ought to be broken.
Lord Sumption said that whilst assisted suicide should continue to be criminalised, relatives of terminally ill patients should follow their conscience and not always abide by it. As he put it, “the law should be broken from time to time”.
The former judge argued that the law’s current position helps prevent abuse, and that any change to it could only be produced by a political process.
His comments were made as part of the Reith Lectures, a series of annual radio lectures on BBC Radio 4. Lord Sumption’s lectures ask whether the legal process has begun to usurp the legislative function of Parliament. His first lecture will be made available on the 21st May.
In Other News….
Research has revealed that 55,000 pupils have changed schools for no clear reason during the past five years. A report from the Education Policy Institute suggests some schools have been unofficially excluding students with challenging behaviour or poor academic results, as part of a practice known as “off-rolling”. One in 12 pupils who began education in 2012 and finished in 2017 were removed at some stage for an unknown reason. Just 330 secondary schools account for almost a quarter of unexplained moves. The Department for Education said it was looking into the issue, and that it had written to all schools to remind them of the rules on exclusions. More from The Week here.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has warned that the rights of detained children are being repeatedly breached. In a report published last Thursday, it recommended that Young Offenders’ Institutions should be banned from deliberately inflicting pain on young offenders and from putting them in solitary confinement. It found that hospitals and jails are restraining children too frequently, and that such techniques are being used disproportionately against ethnic minorities. Around 2,500 young people are in detention at present. More from the Guardian here.
The activities of Extension Rebellion, the climate change group, sparked discussion and controversy this week. The organisation has three core demands: greater transparency about climate change, a legally binding commitment to zero carbon emissions by 2025, and the creation of a citizens’ assembly to oversee the issue. The group has staged protests in London for the past week, which has included shutting down a large portion of Oxford Street. Over 800 people have been arrested. The group has been criticised for adding pressure on already overburdened police force, and for the disruption caused to people’s lives and businesses. Extinction Rebellion has announced that it will pause its protests for the duration of next week. More from the BBC here.
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
In the News:
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard evidence about Sir Cyril Smith, the former MP for Rochdale. It has been alleged that Sir Cyril Smith abused boys in the 1960s at a school and hotel. The allegations were investigated by the police, but no further action taken.
Lord Steel, the former Liberal leader, gave evidence to the Inquiry. He explained that an article in Private Eye caused him to approach Cyril Smith about the allegations. Lord Steel said that, following this conversation, he “assumed” the allegations were true.
Lord Steel explained he had decided not to act because the accusations were “nothing to do with me”. He “saw no reason to go back to something that happened during his time in Rochdale” and the events happened “before he was even a member of the Liberal Party or an MP”.
Lord Steel’s comments sparked anger and he has been suspended from his party. He has since stated that the matter was properly an issue for the police and the council, and that he was not in a position to re-open the investigation.
Conway, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice  – read judgment
A man suffering from motor neurone disease has been refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court in his bid to be allowed to choose when and how to die. He is now wheelchair bound and finds it increasingly difficult to breathe without the assistance of non-invasive mechanical ventilation (NIV). His legal campaign to win such a declaration, on his own behalf and others in a similar position, has met with defeat in the courts (see our previous posts on Conway here,here and here). As the Supreme Court noted in their short decision, Mr Conway
could bring about his own death in another way, by refusing consent to the continuation of his NIV. That is his absolute right at common law. Currently, he is not dependent on continuous NIV, so could survive for around at least one hour without it. But once he becomes dependent on continuous NIV, the evidence is that withdrawal would usually lead to his death within a few minutes, although it can take a few hours or in rare cases days.
But Mr Conway doesn’t see this as a solution to his difficulties, since he cannot predict how he will feel should ventilation be withdrawn, and whether he will experience the drowning sensation of not being able to breathe. Taking lethal medicine, he argued, would avoid all these problems.
In his view, which is shared by many, it is his life and he should have the right to choose to end it in the way which he considers most consistent with his human dignity.
“ After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
– Morpheus, The Matrix
The explosion of genetic testing in the last half century has produced unquantifiable benefits, allowing scientists to understand the constitution of genetic disorders and dramatically improve disease diagnosis, avoidance and treatment. Consider the near-eradication of Tay-Sachs, a fatal neurodegenerative disease, since the introduction of screening in the 1970s; the standardisation of newborn testing; and the introduction of BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing for inherited cancer genes.
These advances have created challenging ethical and legal questions, however: How much information does each of us want to know about our genetic makeup?; Do we have a responsibility to seek such information out? What should we do with the information once we get it? What about the significant risks of stigmatisation and discrimination?; And, where do doctors’ duties begin and end insofar as they are, or ought to be aware of testing outcomes?
In the High Court last week (judgment available here) McKenna J dealt with the latter question, striking out a claim by a patient’s relatives over a missed diagnosis of a genetic disorder and holding that a third party cannot recover damages for a personal injury suffered because of an omission in the treatment of another. Continue reading →
Judgments in best interests cases involving children often make for heart-wrenching reading. And so it was in Bolton NHS Foundation Trust v C (by her Children’s Guardian) EWHC 2920 (Fam), a case which considered Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health guidance, affirming its approach was in conformity with Article 2 and Article 3 ECHR. It also described, in the clearest terms, the terrible challenges facing C’s treating clinicians and her parents. Continue reading →
Where a coroner has reason to suspect that a person has died in custody or “otherwise in state detention” and that the death was violent, unnatural or by way of unknown cause, the coroner must hold an inquest with a jury (section 7 Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (“CJA”)). The interesting issue in this case was whether and/or in what circumstances a person who has died whilst in intensive care will be regarded as having died “in state detention”, thus triggering a jury inquest. Continue reading →
Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill: reference by Counsel General for Wales  UKSC 3, 9 February 2015 – read judgment here
Sounds like a rather abstruse case, but the Supreme Court has had some important things to say about how the courts should approach an argument that Article 1 of Protocol 1 to ECHR (the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions) is breached by a legislative decision. The clash is always between public benefit and private impairment, and this is a good example.
The Welsh Bill in issue seeks to fix those responsible for compensating asbestos victims (say, employers) with a liability to pay the costs incurred by the Welsh NHS in treating those victims. It also places the liability to make such payments on the insurers of those employers.
In short, the Supreme Court found the Bill to be in breach of A1P1, as well as lying outside the legislative competence of the Welsh Assembly. Let’s see how they got there, and compare the conclusion with the failed A1P1 challenge brought in the AXA case (see  UKSC 46, and my post here) concerning Scottish legislative changes about respiratory disease. Continue reading →
Greater Glasgow Health Board v. Doogan and Wood  UKSC 68 – read judgment here.
The Supreme Court recently handed down its judgment in an interesting and potentially controversial case concerning the interpretation of the conscientious objection clause in the Abortion Act 1967. Overturning the Inner House of the Court of Session’s ruling, the Court held that two Catholic midwives could be required by their employer to delegate to, supervise and support other staff who were involved in carrying out abortion procedures, as part of their roles as Labour Ward Co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.
We set out the background to the case and explained the earlier rulings and their ramifications on this blog here and here. The key question the Supreme Court had to grapple with the meaning of the words “to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection” in section 4 of the 1967 Act.
The High Court has ruled in favour of a 28-year-old woman who wanted her late husband’s sperm to be retained even though the correct written consent was not in place. Mrs Justice Hogg (‘Hogg J’) ruled that Mrs Warren has a right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life) to decide to become a parent by her deceased husband.
Mr Brewer had put his sperm into storage in April 2005 in order to enable his wife, Elizabeth Warren, to conceive a child by him after his death. However, he was not advised by his Clinic as to the statutory steps he needed to take in order for his sperm to be stored for longer than 10 years. In the event, he sadly passed away shortly before the lawful expiry of his consent, leaving his widow insufficient time to decide whether she wished to conceive his child.
West London Mental Health NHS Trust (Respondent) v Chhabra (Appellant)  UKSC 80 – read judgment
It is not unknown for lawyers or doctors to speak on a mobile phone about confidential details of a case while travelling by train. Some of you may even have left case papers out on your seat or table while you hunt down a bacon baguette from the Travelling Chef (formerly known as “Toastie Geoff” prior to rebranding). If so, read on, for this is a cautionary tale…
This appeal by Dr Chhabra was concerned with the roles of the case investigator and the case manager when handling concerns about a doctor’s performance under the disciplinary procedures introduced over eight years ago for doctors and dentists in the National Health Service. The national policy framework is known as ‘Maintaining High Professional Standards in the Modern NHS’ (MHPS), which the Trust had implemented through its own policies.
Trust Special Administrator appointed to South London Healthcare NHS Trust v. LB Lewisham & Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign  EWCA Civ 1409, 8 November 2013 – read judgment
Jeremy Hyam of 1 Crown Office Row acted for Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign. He was not involved in the writing of this post.
It takes a bit of time to close a hospital or make major changes to it. This is because you must go through a complicated set of consultations with all those likely to be affected before action can be taken. Many, if not most, people say this is a good thing, and Parliament has embedded these duties of consultation in the law.
In this case, the Department of Health said it could close the A&E Department of Lewisham Hospital, as well as limiting maternity services to midwives alone and reducing paediatric services – without going through the formal consultation process. The Borough of Lewisham, and a local campaigning group, said that the DoH had no power in law to do this.
The judge, Silber J, agreed with them, and so now does the Court of Appeal. It dismissed Jeremy Hunt’s appeal 10 days ago, and published its reasons today.
If Mr Grayling has his way, it seems unlikely that the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign would have had “standing” to bring this claim, however meritorious in law it may have been: see my post on this. I dare say this lesson will not be lost on him, though, sadly, many think that such wins against the government make it more rather than less likely that he will implement his changes to the rules in judicial review.
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