The Guardian reports that Prime Minister Cameron is considering denouncing the ECHR on a temporary basis in order to facilitate the deportation of Abu Qatada. As tennis legend John McEnroe might have put it ‘you cannot be serious!’ In order to remove one man from the jurisdiction the government is contemplating removing the protection of human rights for all. One suspects that this announcement by Downing Street was little more than ‘dog-whistle’ politics with the local elections looming next week. But what if the government is really serious? Two quick thoughts come to mind.
Firstly, the UK is on the face of it able to denounce the ECHR under the terms of Article 58, though see below. But even after a denunciation the ECHR will remain fully applicable for six months. Presumably the government would wait for the six months to expire. It would then seek within domestic law to remove Qatada. As this would also require the suspension or repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 this would require an Act of Parliament. No doubt a political and constitutional storm would break as a result. This would of course not be the end of the matter because the decision would be judicially reviewable, no doubt under an enhanced form of anxious scrutiny. How further forth would the government be then?
What is the test the Court should apply in deciding whether an application is ‘totally without merit’? The question is prompted by the Lord Chancellor’s announcement on 23 April 2013 that he will press ahead with plans to reform judicial review procedure to target ‘weak, frivolous and unmeritorious cases’. A key change will be to give judges of the Administrative Court, when refusing permission to apply for judicial review on the papers, the power to certify a claim as ‘totally without merit’ (TWM), thus depriving the claimant of the right to renew the application before the court at an oral hearing.
This power is one that is already exercisable by judges when refusing applications for permission to appeal on the papers under Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) r. 52.3(4A), the effect of which is to prevent the appellant from renewing the application orally. However, it is better known – or, at least, more widely used – in the context of the courts’ jurisdiction to make ‘civil restraint orders’ under CPR 3.11. Indeed, the Administrative Court has had power to certify an application as TWM for the purposes of making a ‘civil restraint order’ since those rules were introduced in 2004 (see R (Kumar) v Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs  1 WLR 536). Although no statistics are currently available for this use of the power to certify a claim as TWM, according to Lynne Knapman, Head of the Administrative Court Office, these are now being collated for applications made since the beginning of 2013.
US Supreme Court : Kiobel et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co et al – Read Judgment
In a long-awaited judgment, the United States Supreme Court has decided unanimously that there was no jurisdiction for a US federal court to hear a claim by a group of Nigerians alleging that the respondents assisted the Nigerian government to kill, rape, beat and arrest individuals who protested against Shell’s environmental practices.
The judgment has already attracted a lot of commentary, from those claiming it is undermines US leadership on human rights to those who argue it is sensible or a mixed bag. The claimants, who resided in the United States, filed suit against the respondents (Dutch, British and Nigerian corporations) in federal court under the Alien Tort Statute (the “ATS”).
The consequences of Margaret Thatcher’s administration have been long lasting. In many areas of national life Thatcher took the British Bulldog by the scruff of the neck and house-trained it. In the context of the constitution her impact was no less significant.
But Lady Thatcher did not set out to reform the constitution. Although the 1979 Conservative Manifesto raised the possibility of a Bill of Rights nothing came of this proposal during her administration. In reality Margaret Thatcher was a traditional Conservative who believed in a strong state and had an aversion to any constitutional reform that might limit it. Yet her administration has left long lasting changes to the law and constitution. In fact there are too many to comfortably write about in a quick blog though a number of developments are of particular interest.
J1 v Secretary of State for the Home Department, 27 March 2013 – read judgment
A UKHRB editor, Angus McCullough QC, was a Special Advocate for J1 before the Court of Appeal, but not in SIAC below. He had nothing to do with the writing of this post
Hot on the Home Secretary’s loss of the Abu Qatada appeal, a reverse for her in another deportation case about someone whom the Court of Appeal described as “an important and significant member of a group of Islamist extremists in the UK,” and who was said to have links – direct or indirect – with men involved in the failed July 21 2005 bombing plot.
The general contours of the case will be familiar to Abu Qatada watchers, with claims under Articles 3 and 6 of the ECHR amongst others – that if J1 was returned to his country of origin (here, Ethiopia), his human rights would not be respected. There are however a number of interesting features about this decision of the Court of Appeal; firstly, it reversed a decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against J1 on Article 3 (recall the heightened regard for SIAC as a specialist tribunal in the Abu Qatada appeal) , and secondly (in dismissing the Article 6 claim) it illustrates graphically some of the dilemmas facing Special Advocates when representing their clients in the imperfect world of “closed procedures” (a.k.a secret trials).
Othman (aka Abu Qatada) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 277 – read judgment
The Home Office last night assured its 70,000 Twitter followers that “it is not the end of the road”. Yet by the time she had reached page 17 of the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of her latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada, it might well have seemed that way to Theresa May.
In November, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled that Qatada could not be deported to face a retrial for alleged terrorism offences due to the real risk of “a flagrant denial of justice”. Read my post on that decision here. Yesterday, Lord Dyson – the Masters of the Rolls and second most senior judge in England and Wales – together with Lord Justices Richards and Elias, rejected the Home Secretary’s appeal.
Core Issues Trust v. Transport for London 22 March 2013  EWHC 651 (Admin) – read judgment.
In a judgment which is sure to provoke heated debate, the High Court has today ruled that the banning of an advert which read “NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD. GET OVER IT!” from appearing on London buses was handled very badly by Transport for London (“TfL”) but was not unlawful or in breach of the human rights of the group behind the advert.
The advert was placed in April 2012 by Anglican Mainstream, a Christian charity, on behalf of Core Issues Trust, another Christian charity which describes its aim as “supporting men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression” (see website here). It was intended as a response to another advert placed on London buses earlier in 2012 by Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, which was in support of the proposal to introduce same-sex marriage and read “SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY. GET OVER IT!”
In May 2012, the Home Secretary announced a review of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which came into force a year earlier in April 2011, as an outcome of the Red Tape Challenge. The review is focusing in particular on levels of understanding of the PSED and guidance, the costs and benefits of the duty, how organisations are managing legal risk and ensuring compliance with the duty and what changes, if any, would secure better equality outcomes. It is being overseen by a steering group, appointed by Government Ministers, largely drawn from public authorities.
The Review has recently launched a call for evidence, with a closing date of 12th April 2013. The call is particularly interested in ‘equalities paperwork and policies related to PSED (particularly in relation to public sector procurement processes) and the collection, retention and use of diversity data by public bodies, for example, in relation to goods, facilities and services.’
R (on the application of) Lord Carlile of Berriew and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department 20 March 2013  EWCA Civ 199 – read judgment
Last year the Divisional Court upheld the Home Secretary’s decision to prevent a dissident Iranian politician coming to the United Kingdom to address the Palace of Westminster: see that decision here and my post discussing the “Politics of Fear” here.
In this appeal, the parliamentarians contended that the Divisional Court had failed to consider the proportionality of the exclusion decision with sufficient scrutiny, and, by giving precedence to the possibility of unlawful actions by the Iranian regime, had given inadequate weight to the rule of law. It was perverse, they said, to justify the exclusion decisions by reference to risks to local staff and British government property in Tehran. Furthermore they argued that there had been unfairness in failing to consult the Parliamentary appellants. Continue reading →
This post by Roger Smith was originally the text of a speech to the Working Men’s College and is reproduced here with permission and thanks.
Human rights will be a politically live issue at the next election. Leading on the issue will by the Conservative Party, urged on by elements in the media such as the Daily Mail with a commercial interest in resistance to any law on privacy deriving from human rights.So, the Working Men’s College has done well to identify this topic for exploration. This evening is a celebration of the college’s stated aim to ‘engage positively with the past, while finding new ways to pursue its founders’ aims into the 21st century.’
The pace on human rights is being forced by Theresa May, seen by some as the Tory leader in waiting. She made it clear at the weekend that both the HRA and the European Convention which it introduces into domestic law are under fire:
Eon v France, no. 26118/10 14 March 2013- read judgment (in French only)
The applicant, Hervé Eon, is a French national, a socialist and anti-GM activist living Laval (France). The case concerned his conviction for insulting President Sarkozy.
During a visit by the President to the département of Mayenne on 28 August 2008, Mr Eon had waved a placard reading “Casse toi pov’con” (“Get lost, you sad prick”), a phrase uttered by the President himself several months previously when a farmer had refused to shake his hand at the International Agricultural Show. The utterance was widely disseminated in the media and on the internet, attaining the status of a slogan. Continue reading →
Today, the Scottish Government have introduced the “paving Bill” to Holyrood which will finally settle the franchise for the independence referendum in 2014. If passed, it will finally extinguish the hopes of expats, diaspora Scots and those living furth of Scotland who wanted to vote in the poll.
Much of the attention has zoomed in on the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds, which ministers hope to affect by establishing a Register of Young Voters alongside the local government register. It is envisaged that this young voters roll will not be published.
In a rare public intervention Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court, has flagged three important issues that should be of concern to us all.
Firstly, Lord Neuberger has quite rightly criticised the cuts to the Legal Aid budget. Denying litigants a chance to go to court will create ‘frustration and a lack of confidence in the system’, or people will be tempted to ‘take the law into their own hands.’ Lord Neuberger observed that “as one of the three remaining articles of the Magna Carta (1297) says “to no man shall we deny justice”, nowadays “to no man and no woman shall we deny justice”, and we are at risk of going back on that.’
While the press (and the rest of us) were preoccupied by the debate on equal marriage and the public dissection of the Huhne marriage, the Justice and Security Bill completed its next stage of passage through the Parliamentary process. Largely unwatched, a slim majority of Conservative members supported by Ian Paisley Jr., reversed each change made to the Bill by the House of Lords restoring the Government’s original vision: a brave new world where secret pleadings, hearings and judgments become the norm when a Minister claims national security may be harmed in civil litigation.
The Bill will return to the Commons for its crucial final stages on Monday. In anticipation of the debate, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has published a third damning critique of the Government’s proposals. The cross-party Committee was unimpressed by the Government rewrite of the Lords amendments. Most of Westminster was busy in Eastleigh and few political commentators flinched.
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