Category: Politics / Public Order


We are not all Charlie Hebdo, but we are all afraid

8 January 2015 by

B6yHQVaCAAAsDNWLast night I tweeted that none of the UK newspapers has dared to show a single cartoon from the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine on today’s front pages. This has been retweeted over 1,500 times and counting. For the Twitter-unitiated, that is a lot. My tweet hit a nerve and I want to explain why I think that is.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre was, for me, even more affecting that the usual indiscriminate Islamist terror attacks. The gunmen targeted political satirists and cartoonists – they killed the clowns. At base it was, as has been said a million times already, an attack on freedom.

Charlie Hebdo is a left-wing satirical magazine. Safe to say it is anti-religious, amongst other things. It has printed many cartoons of religious leaders including of Mohammed. The magazine’s offices were firebombed in 2011 after it changed its title to Charia Hebdo (a play on Sharia, the Islamic system of law). Its staff were under constant threat but remained unbowed.

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Couple launch challenge to heterosexual bar on Civil Partnerships

9 December 2014 by

Charles-Keidan-and-Rebecc-012

Photo credit: guardian.co.uk

For some reason, this post originally appeared in the name of Colin Yeo. It is not by Colin Yeo, but by Martin Downs. Apologies for that.

The future of civil partnerships is again in the news. In October, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan tried to register a Civil Partnership at Chelsea Town Hall but were rebuffed on the grounds that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 reserves that status strictly for same sex couples. Their lawyer, Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors has announced their intention to seek a judicial review and the couple have also started a petition.

Steinfeld and Keidan have rightly identified that CPs provide virtually the same rights and responsibilities as marriage that it is within the gift of government to provide. One of the few differences concerns pension rights and even this will be considered by the Court of Appeal in February 2015.

However, the couple are attracted by civil partnership as a social construct that comes without the historical baggage of patriarchal dominance/subjection of women. They also take aim at the sexist customs that surround it such as “giving the bride away,” virginal white dresses and hen and stag do’s.

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Who’s afraid of Protocol 15? Not the Joint Committee on Human Rights – Alice Donald

4 December 2014 by

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights this week published a report of its inquiry into whether the UK should ratify Protocol 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As the report states, Protocol 15 is the culmination of the UK Government’s contribution to the process of reform of the European Court of Human Rights, which was the UK’s top priority during its Chairmanship of the inter-governmental arm of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers, in the first half of 2012.

The JCHR identifies as the most significant aspect of Protocol 15 the addition to the Preamble of the Convention of an express reference to the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ and the doctrine of ‘the margin of appreciation’. The Committee welcomes this amendment and recommends that the UK should ratify the Protocol – but only after it has been debated in both Houses as a means of raising members’ awareness of its significance.

This post focuses on the implications of Protocol 15 for the UK’s increasingly turbulent relationship with the Convention system, and for the wider debate about the purported ‘democratic deficit’ created by supranational judicial supervision of domestic democratically-accountable authority.

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Naked rambler gets no help from European Court of Human Rights – Diarmuid Laffan

27 November 2014 by

Naked-Rambler-Stephen-Gou-008Gough v UK (Application no. 49327/11), 28 October 2014 – Read judgment

The applicant in this case has been repeatedly arrested, convicted and imprisoned for breaching the peace by walking around naked in public. In a judgment handed down recently, the European Court of Human Rights found the UK authorities’ restriction of his rights under Articles 10 and 8 of the Convention, proportionate to the legitimate aim of preventing disorder and crime.

Stephen Gough has a strong conviction that there is nothing inherently offensive about the human body, and that he harms no-one by walking around naked. A really, really strong conviction. Since he set off on a naked walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2003, he has been nicknamed the ‘naked rambler’ and has spent most of the last eight years in prison, and most of that time solitary confinement.

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The European Court of Human Rights: anti-democratic or guardian of fundamental values? – Judge Robert Spano

19 November 2014 by

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297This post is adapted from a speech given by Judge Robert Spano of the European Court of Human Rights at Chatham House on 13 October 2014. It is reproduced here with permission and thanks.

There is currently a vigorous debate in the UK on the status and future of the European Convention on Human Rights in national law and also on the relationship between my Court, the Strasbourg Court (ECtHR), the UK Parliament and the domestic judiciary. 
In principle, democratic debates on such fundamental issues should always be welcome. Indeed, discussions on the role and functions of institutions of public power lie at the core of the democratic concept. It is therefore essential for the Court and its judges to engage in reasoned and informed debate about their work and its wider European implications. 


How Does the ECtHR Discharge Its Mandate? 


I have been asked to discuss the question of how the Strasbourg Court discharges its mandate. To give an answer, one must first respond to the fundamental question: What is the Court‘s mandate?

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Letting in a chink of light to closed material cases : Bank Mellat again

5 November 2014 by

brown-blanket-ray-of-lightBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2014] EWHC 3631 (Admin), Collins J, 5 November 2014 –  read judgment UPDATED POST

Fireworks here from Collins J in making sure that Bank Mellat got some disclosure of information in its fight to discharge a financial restriction order against it.

Bank Mellat is an Iranian bank, initially singled out by an 2009 order which prohibited anybody from dealing with it.  The order was part of sanctions against Iran in respect of its nuclear and ballistic missiles programme. However, it bit the dust, thanks to the Supreme Court:  see judgment. I  did a post on that decision, and followed it up with one (here) on the (dis)proportionality arguments which led to the order’s downfall. 

However the Bank was subject to two further orders, made in 2011 and 2012. They led to the freezing of €183m held by it in London. The 2012 order has since been revoked, but the 2011 one remains. This is the subject of the Bank’s application to set it aside. On any view, as Collins J recognised, it had caused very serious damage to the Bank’s business.

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Three strikes and out? Major defeats for Government Judicial Review reform plans in the Lords

28 October 2014 by

Pannick Faulks

Lords Pannick and Faulks

Last night saw the important Report Stage consideration of Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill in the House of Lords. Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE provides a summary.

Widely – and quickly – reported as a “crushing” or an “emphatic” defeat – in a rare turn – the Government was last night defeated in three consecutive votes on its proposals to restrict access to judicial review. With a ‘hat-trick’ of blows, on three crucial issues, votes on amendments tabled by Lords Pannick, Woolf, Carlile and Beecham were decisive. On the proposal to amend the materiality test – the Government lost by 66. On the compulsory disclosure of financial information for all judicial review applicants, and again on the costs rules applicable to interveners, the Government lost by margins on both counts by 33. A fourth amendment to the Government proposals on Protective Costs Orders – which would maintain the ability of the Court to make costs capping orders before permission is granted – was called after the dinner break, and lost.

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The Monstering of Human Rights

22 September 2014 by

On Friday 19 September I spoke at a very interesting conference at the University of Liverpool on Human Rights in the UK Media: Representation and Reality. My talk was entitled The Monstering of Human Rights. You can download it by clicking here (PDF). It is also embedded below.

As always, comments are welcome. There is quite a lot in there tying together some of the themes I have been writing about over the past few years. As a number of people pointed out in Liverpool, it is too easy to point to errors in human rights reporting as proof that all criticisms of the human rights system are bogus, which is clearly wrong. But nonetheless, misinformation and exaggeration is an important feature of the public debate on human rights and it is interesting to consider why that might be the case, and – a question which has troubled me over the past few years – how to stop it happening.

I expect the issue of human rights reform will arise again now that the Scottish referendum process has concluded and the political parties are setting out their agendas for 2015. It seems pretty clear that the Conservative Party will promise to repeal the Human Rights Act but what they will do in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights is still very much an unknown. My expectation is that they will not promise to withdraw from the ECHR. Not yet, anyway. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are likely to retain the existing system, with a few tweaks. But whoever wins the election, there is a huge amount of work to be done to repair the reputation of human rights laws in the UK and convince the public that they are, on balance, a good thing.

PS. if any kind soul would like to turn the PDF version into a HTML linked blog-ready post, I would be eternally grateful! Email me if you would be interested, you would of course get full credit in the ensuing post/s.

View this document on Scribd

Have the Tricycle Theatre broken the law by refusing to host the Jewish Film Festival?

7 August 2014 by

TRICYCLE-UKJFFUpdated | It emerged on Tuesday the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) for the first time in eight years. The theatre told UKJFF that they must reject longstanding funding from the Israeli Embassy if they wanted to use the venue. UKJFF refused and the relationship ended.

There has already been some excellent writing: see Nick Cohen, Archie Bland and Dorian Lynskey. Cohen makes a powerful case for the decision being anti-Semitic. I’m not going to go there, although as I have been saying on Twitter, in my view this is a bad move by the Tricycle. I thought it would be interesting, however, to investigate whether the Tricycle may have broken any laws.

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School’s out? Peers ask Government to use summer holidays to reflect on controversial judicial review reforms – Angela Patrick

1 August 2014 by

RCJ restricted accessAngela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE provides a summary of the House of Lords debate on Government proposals to reform judicial review in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

As the House of Lords closes its gilded doors for the long recess, the Westminster village enters its equivalent of the school holidays. Yet, as Ministers pack their red boxes and MPs head diligently back to their constituency business, the House of Lords – debating the Committee Stage of controversial judicial review proposals in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – may have suggested that officials and Ministers yet have some homework to do.

Summing up the debate – and thanking Lord Faulks, the Minister responding to a barrage of criticism from all benches, for his efforts – Lord Pannick acknowledged that many of the Government’s proposals on judicial review had been driven by the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling. He suggested that both Ministers would do well to get together over the summer to digest the Peers’ concerns – perhaps on a convenient beach. There were so many flaws in the Bill that Lord Faulks should pack a red pen with his sunscreen (HL Deb, 30 July 2014, Col 1650).

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The Tory human rights “car crash”

17 July 2014 by

Car crash human rights

Imagine you are on the board of large corporation. You attend the Annual General Meeting and asked the chief executive about that controversial tax avoidance scheme the company had been considering, but which the in-house legal team had advised against. The Chief Exec smiles and says that has been dealt with: “we just sacked the lawyers”. 

The BBC is reporting what many suspected. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC was sacked in order to clear the path for major reform of the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. This is bad news, for the UK and potentially for the European Court of Human Rights too.

The Attorney General’s advice, which has been leaked to the BBC, was that plan to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights were “incoherent” and a “legal car crash… with a built-in time delay“. Intriguingly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson also reports that William Hague, the now-former Foreign Secretary, also raised doubts over the plans.

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The non-residents legal aid case – LC advised to go for the ball, not for his opponent’s shins

15 July 2014 by

roy-keane_1342720cPublic Law Project  v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary

Angela Patrick of JUSTICE has provided an excellent summary of this important ruling, which declared a proposed statutory instrument to be ultra vires the LASPO Act under which it was to have been made.  The judgment is an interesting one, not least for some judicial fireworks in response to the Lord Chancellor’s recourse to the Daily Telegraph after the hearing, but before judgment was delivered. 

But more of that after some thoughts on the discrimination ruling.

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Plan to stop non-residents getting Legal Aid is unlawful, rules High Court – Angela Patrick

15 July 2014 by

PLP v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWHC 2365 – Read judgment / summary

Residence Test UKHRBAs the House of Lords is scheduled to vote on the Government’s proposals for a residence test for access to legal aid, Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE considers today’s judgment of the Divisional Court in PLP v Secretary of State for Justice.

While we are all following the exciting live feeds on both the reshuffle and the progress of emergency legislation on surveillance, the freshly appointed Attorney General, Jeremy Wright MP, may want to cast his eyes to BAILLI.

The Administrative Court may this morning have handed him one of his first “to-do” list items.   In – PLP v Secretary of State for Justice  a rare three judge Divisional Court has held that the Government’s proposal to introduce a residence test for legal aid – where all applicants will have to prove 12 months continuous lawful residence in the UK – is both ultra vires and discriminatory.

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You cannot be serious! Peers call ‘out’ on Government’s judicial review reforms – Angela Patrick

1 July 2014 by

mcenroeLast night saw the House of Lords’ first reaction to the Government’s proposed changes to judicial review as the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill had its second reading.   Already dissected at some length in this blog, the proposals have been roundly criticised by both the senior judiciary and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.   Consultations responses, including from JUSTICE, expressed concern that the measures appear, by design or coincidence, to undermine the rule of law, inhibit transparency and shield the Government from judicial scrutiny. Two key concerns arise from the Government proposals: restricting access for individuals without substantial means and limiting the courts’ discretion to do justice in the public interest. Yesterday’s debate was robust and eloquent, with former Law Lords joined by bishops and backbenchers alike to condemn the new measures.  

Metaphors were rife. Descriptions of the Government’s proposals ranged from Lord Woolf’s invocation of the image of Governmental wolves among some unlikely judicial sheep, to the titular and topical tennis imagery used with devastating effect by Lord Brown of Eaton –under-Heywood:

“More and more areas of our lives are controlled by public authorities. At the same time we have become understandably, I suggest, less trusting and certainly less deferential towards those with authority over us. I sometimes wonder whether it did not all start with John McEnroe’s outraged questioning of line calls at Wimbledon way back in the 1970s. However, we should consider how in the long run his behaviour has contributed to the hugely improved policing of those lines that is in operation today…By the same token, the use of judicial review has to my mind undoubtedly raised the standards of public decision-making in recent years.” (Col 1591)
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Whose Magna Carta is it anyway?

17 June 2014 by

90291Yesterday was Magna Carta Day. It is now only 364 days until the 800th anniversary of the sealing of England’s oldest charter of rights, and one of the world’s most influential legal documents.

There will be much celebration in the coming year, and rightly so. Despite its age, Magna Carta is still partly on our statute books. It represents the first legal constraints imposed on the English king by his subjects. It has influenced every major rights law since – notably, the United States Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which are very much still in force.

According to the Magna Carta Trust, there will be eight century beer, festivities, new books, an opera, a calypso tribute and even a new roundabout on the A308 at Runnymede. And if a new roundabout isn’t “English” enough for you, there will of course be lots of dressing up in silly costumes.

But along with celebration, there will be disagreement. It has already started.
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