Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
In the News:
Internationally there were a number of developments which have significant consequences for human rights. In Russia a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin has allegedly been poisoned. Alexei Navalny, who is known for exposing corruption within the country, suddenly fell ill last week after drinking tea.
Supporters claim the Russian state has tried to silence Mr Navalny’s criticism of President Putin, and then attempted to cover up its actions by stopping Mr Navalny from being treated abroad. Despite initial resistance from doctors, who said that Mr Navalny was too ill to be moved, the leader has now been flown out of Russia. Critics say the developments are part of a wider crackdown on freedom of speech within the country.
There have been significant protests in the USA following the death of George Floyd. Mr Floyd, a black man, died after his neck was knelt on whilst he was being detained. Mr Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, but despite this the position was maintained for several minutes.
Derek Chauvin, the white officer who detained him, has been arrested and charged with murder. Three other officers have been sacked. The County Prosecutor has suggested it is likely they will also be charged in due course.
The case has triggered widespread protests about the treatment of black people by the police. Previous incidents, such as the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, exacerbate concerns. Thousands also protested in London, where the march moved from Trafalgar Square to the US embassy (located in South London).
In the US the largely peaceful protests have been marred by looting and arson attacks. The police station in Minneapolis was set on fire. A number of US cities have imposed curfews which have been defied. Police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to try and control crowds.
A black CNN journalist and his camera crew were arrested by police whilst reporting in a protest in Minnesota. The group was later released and the governor apologised for the arrest.
This post, along with those before it, summarises some of the main points of interest arising from the ALBA Conference 2019.
‘Reith Lecture (Judicial Power) Response’ – Chair: Mrs. Justice Thornton; Speakers: Lord Dyson, Sir Stephen Laws, Prof Vernon Bogdanor, Prof Meg Russell, Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC
A prestigious panel offered its response to Lord Sumption’s Reith Lectures, followed by a reply from Lord Sumption himself.
In his lectures for the BBC, Lord Sumption argued that judges have excessively increased their power and invaded into the political sphere. The Human Rights Act 1998 and Judicial Review attracted particular criticism.
Lord Sumption’s original lectures are available from the BBC here. A recording of the full discussion is available on LawPod here, so this post draws out some of the key points.
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
In the News:
Credit: The Guardian
The Government is considering whether to abolish prison sentences lasting six months of less.
Rory Stewart, the Prisons Minister, has argued that short jail terms are only serving to increase crime by mixing minor offenders with hardened criminals. He cited research suggesting that community sentences may help reduce the risk of reoffending when compared to short term prison sentences.
In Scotland there is already a presumption against such sentences. Re-offending has fallen to its lowest level for nearly two decades and the Scottish government are looking to widen the scheme.
The change would impact upon around 30,000 offenders, helping alleviate pressure on the overburdened prison system. Exceptions would be made for offenders who were violent or had committed sexual crimes.
The suggestion has already proven controversial. The Ministry of Justice has emphasised it is only exploring options and no decision has been made.
R (On the application of) DSD and NBV & Ors v The Parole Board of England and Wales & Ors & John Radford:in a landmark ruling, the High Court has quashed the Parole Board’s decision to release black cab driver and serial sex offender John Worboys, on grounds of irrationality. The Board acted irrationally in that it “should have undertaken further inquiry into the circumstances of his offending and, in particular, the extent to which the limited way in which he has described his offending may undermine his overall credibility and reliability” .
It’s about fighting the rise of extremism by standing up for human rights. Because social breakdown and even genocide don’t happen overnight – they are the result of the steady denial of rights over months or years. By protecting human rights, we also protect against the small cuts to liberty which can lead to far worse.
I have posted some of the key video content below the break, including a film featuring three genocide survivors spanning 70 years, a film featuring Professor Philippe Sands and a short video where I sum up the points of the campaign.
It has been widely reported that Theresa May will stay on as Prime Minister following the election on June 8th. The Conservative PM will seek to form a government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (the DUP).
A recent Round-Up by Poppy Rimington-Pounder highlighted some welcome changes in the parties’ approaches to human rights in the pre-election manifestos. With the recent shift in political climate it seems that changes may be on the horizon.
What does the election result mean for human rights?
A study raising concerns about journalists’ ability to protect sources and whistleblowers was launched in the House of Lords last Wednesday.
The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), in collaboration with the Guardian, has published the results of a research initiative into protecting journalists’ sources and whistleblowers in the current technological and legal environment. Investigative journalists, media lawyers, NGO representatives and researchers were invited to discuss issues faced in safeguarding anonymous sources. The report: ‘Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age’ is available online here.
The participants discussed technological advances which facilitate the interception and monitoring of communications, along with legislative and policy changes which, IALS believes, have substantially weakened protections for sources. Continue reading →
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  EWCA Civ 105, 23 October 2015 read judgment
Bank Mellat is an Iranian bank, initially subjected to a 2009 order which prohibited anybody in the UK from dealing with it – until the Supreme Court quashed it: here, and my posts here and here.
The Treasury tried again, by orders made in 2011 and 2012 addressed at all Iranian banks, not just Bank Mellat. The EU has now taken over regulation of these banks.
In the current proceedings, the Bank seeks to set the 2011 and 2012 orders aside. These restrictions are, the Treasury says, addressed at the financing of Iran’s nuclear programme, in which all Iranian banks are complicit. Bank Mellat denies this, and the conundrum in the case is how to make sure that the challenge is fairly tried. Collins J (my post here) thought that the Treasury had not revealed enough about its case, and, in substance, on appeal the CA agreed.
R (ota Lumsdon) v Legal Services Board  UKSC 41, 24 June 2015 (see judgment)
The Supreme Court has reminded us, in a tour de forceby Lord Reed, that there is no such thing as one-stop proportionality. It varies between ECHR and EU law, and the tests of EU proportionality then vary according to the nature of the EU issue in play.
And all this in a case about trying to improve standards for barristers’ advocacy.
Barristers challenged the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates or QASA, on EU grounds. QASA requires barristers in the criminal courts to be assessed by judges before they are allowed to take on certain categories of cases.
“We can be sure of one thing. A battle is coming.” The future of the Human Rights Act still dominates the news, and this quote comes from UKHRB’s Adam Wagner, who suggests five tactics to ensure that human rights are not eroded. Perhaps the most in-depth analysis to date comes from Jack of Kent, who isolates the “seven hurdles” facing the government, including Scotland, Tory backbench rebels, the House of Lords and the wording of the “British Bill of Rights” itself. He summarises:
So the current situation is: if the UK government can address the immense problems presented by Scottish devolution and the Good Friday Agreement, win-over or defeat Conservative supporters of the Act, shove the legislation through the house of lords, work out which rights are to be protected, somehow come up with a draft Bill of British Rights, and also explain why any of this is really necessary, and can do all this (or to do something dramatic) in “one hundred days” then…the Conservatives can meet their manifesto commitment in accordance with their ambitious timetable. But it seems unlikely.
Jack of Kent´s conclusion is echoed by Matthew Scott in the Telegraph (“Gove…faces almost insurmountable odds”), Mark Elliott in Public Law for Everyone (“the HRA…is far more deeply politically entrenched that the UK Government has so far appreciated”) and the Economist (“getting rid of the HRA will be tough – and almost pointless”). Continue reading →
As I am sure will not have escaped you, these are interesting times for human rights. We still await the detailed Conservative proposals for replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, so it is difficult with any certainty what will happen.
I wanted to gather together a few pieces of commentary and media appearances I have done in the past week, so here they are. We will, of course, be following closely what comes next.
BBC’s The Big Questions (iPlayer) on Sunday 10th was about human rights are religion. It was recorded before the Election results. Don’t hold your breath for me to speak – it happens about 30 minutes in.
There has been a huge amount more already. Some illuminating pieces (certainly not comprehensive):
A number of campaigning groups were recently informed by the Metropolitan Police that Scotland Yard would no longer provide traffic management at their planned demonstrations. Instead, these groups would be required to devise their own road closure plans and to pay a private security firm to carry out the task.
One of the groups, the organisers of the Million Women Rise rally, estimated that this would cost them around £10,000. The groups refused, arguing that this would amount to a breach of their right to protest.
The Met ultimately backed down – but what if it hadn’t? What is the legal position?
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