Category: Technology


My witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry – Part 2/2

1 March 2012 by

Not me giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry

Last month I was asked to provide a witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry into Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press. You can download the entire statement here, The questions in bold are those asked by the Inquiry in their request – read part 1 here.

On similar topics, I also recommend the statements of Francis FitzGibbon QC and David Allen Green.

(10) Does/Can blogging act as a check on bad journalism?

Yes. The primary reason UKHRB was set up was to act as a corrective to bad journalism about human rights, and in under two years it has become a trusted source of information for journalists, politicians, those in government and members of the public.

UKHRB operates alongside a number of other excellent legal blogs, run by lawyers, students and enthusiasts for free, which provide a similar service in respect of other areas of law. I would highlight, for example[2]:

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UK Supreme Court is tweeting, but where are the other courts?

7 February 2012 by

The UK Supreme Court began tweeting yesterday as @UKSupremeCourt to deserved international fanfare. Some even speculated that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition fate could now be revealed on Twitter.

The court is already being followed by almost 4,000 Twitter users (for the uninitiated, that is a lot) and has already beaten its own Twitter policy’s prediction of “2-3 tweets a week” with eight on its first day. The eventful debut tweets included seven live updates on the swearing-in ceremony of the court’s newest Justice, Lord Reed, and one relenting to Twitter user @FOImanUK‘s valid point that contrary to the court’s stated policy, it should be possible to put freedom of information requests to the court via Twitter.

This is all excellent news. The UK’s newest and highest appeal court is now setting the international standard for open justice, with its splendid press summaries of judgments, live transmission of hearings online (today’s is a very interesting case about the state’s financial responsibility towards disable people), accessible court facilities and generally public-facing approach. This is also as it should be: the Court has a statutory duty to be “accessible”. But the Supreme Court, which is largely independent from the rest of the court system, is now streaking ahead of it in terms of access to justice. And this open justice gap is becoming a problem.

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Small solar: Court of Appeal confirms that changes were unlawful

25 January 2012 by

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change v. Friends of the Earth and others, CA, 25 January 2012, read judgment 

So, after an anxious wait for the affected businesses, the Court of Appeal has confirmed today that the Minister was too hasty in the way he went about modifying the scheme for subsidising small solar power schemes. But, as often, the Court went about things differently from the judgment below (see my initial and follow-up posts on this)

The Court held that the Minister had no power to do what he did, which was to say he was going to modify the subsidy rules in respect of schemes which had become eligible prior to the modification coming into effect. The legislation and rules are characteristically impenetrable, but the Minister proposed in a consultation, which closed on 31 October 2011, to reduce the subsidies for schemes which became eligible after 12 December 2011. The key point is that he proposed that this modification should come into force on 1 April 2012, and that those who had signed up to such a scheme between December 2011  and April 2012 lost much of their subsidy from 1 April 2012. The original scheme paid participants 43.3p per kilowatt hour for 25 years. The proposed revised scheme for these new joiners would pay them that rate until April 2012, but thereafter 21p per kilowatt hour for the rest of the 25 years.

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Everything’s free in America (copyrighted material not included)

18 January 2012 by

The Government of the United States of America -v- O’Dwyer, Westminster Magistrates’ Court – Read judgment

It seems appropriate, on the day when Wikipedia shut down for 24 hours to protest against US anti-piracy legislation, to talk about piracy (in the copyright sense) and what role human rights law has to play in the perpetual battle against it.

It is a topic that polarises, with some considering piracy to be no more moral than any other theft, and others seeing those who commit piracy offences as fighting for freedom of expression and liberal copyright laws. In the case of Richard O’Dwyer, a young man who is accused of setting up a website which breaches US copyright law and who is facing extradition to the US for trial, he attempted to block his extradition by relying on a combination of human rights and other objections relating to the manner and circumstances surrounding the request.


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Gibson rendition and torture inquiry has been scrapped

18 January 2012 by

Canned

1 Crown Office Row’s Philippa Whipple QC was leading counsel to the Gibson Inquiry. She is not the writer of this post

 The Justice Secretary has told Parliament that the Gibson Inquiry tasked with considering whether Britain was “implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11” has been scrapped.

Ken Clarke announced that the police investigations into rendition, which were always to come before the formal start of the inquiry’s hearings, would take so long that the current inquiry could not continue. He said the Government remained committed to a judge-led inquiry, but presumably the current inquiry team could not be kept twiddling their collective thumbs for years longer.

The Crown Prosecution Service announced last week that it would not be bringing charges in relation to some of the historic allegations – particularly in relation to Binyam Mohammed and a 2002 incident at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. It would, however, begin to investigate more recent allegations in relation to Libya and “a number of further specific allegations of ill-treatment“. 
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Small solar systems on tenterhooks: Court of Appeal deliberates

17 January 2012 by

R (on the application of (1) Homesun Holdings (2) Solar Century Holdings (3) Friends of the Earth) v Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change , Mitting J, 21 December 2011, hearing in the CA 13 & 16 January 2012 

Avid readers of this blog (posted unpromisingly between Christmas and New Year) may recall this successful challenge to a proposal to modify solar power subsidies for small photovoltaic proposals (called by the judge, charmingly, “small solar systems”). At that stage, all I had was a short summary of the decision. Now a full transcript is available, albeit from behind a paywall. As importantly, the case has already bounded its way to the Court of Appeal, who have just finished hearing it, and are due to give judgment in February. I shall therefore not deal with the basis upon which the judge ruled that the change of policy was unlawful, but the broader point in my last post –  when can you challenge a proposal?

The judgment is pithy and helpful for those tussling with such a problem. The Minister contended that he could consult on any proposal, and provided he had not made up his mind, he could not be judicially reviewed whilst this process was happening. Yes, said Mitting J, I agree with all that…

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Terrorist suspect BBC interview can be shown, rules High Court

15 January 2012 by

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) & Anor, R (on the application of) v Ahmad (Rev 1) [2012] EWHC 13 (Admin) – Read judgment

The High Court  ruled  that the Justice Secretary’s refusal to grant the BBC permission to have and to broadcast a face-to-face interview with terrorism suspect Babar Ahmad was unlawful.

The BBC and one of its home affairs correspondents, Dominic Casciani, had applied for permission to conduct the interview with Mr Ahmad, who is currently detained at HMP Long Lartin, and is fighting extradition to the USA. The BBC also wished to broadcast the interview. The Justice Secretary refused the permission, which refusal the BBC challenged in a judicial review claim.


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Injunction 4 sex pics on mob

12 January 2012 by

AMP v Persons unknown – read judgment

If you lose your mobile phone with highly confidential and private information on it, all may  not be lost. The unscrupulous finder may be prevented from blurting its contents all over the web, even if the identity of that person is unknown to you or the court. It requires considerable input of computer expertise, but it is possible, as this case (cleverly taken in the Technology and Construction Court) illustrates. 

The applicant’s mobile phone was reported to the police as stolen after she lost it at university in 2008. It contained digital images of an explicit sexual nature which were taken for the personal use of her boyfriend at the time. The applicant was alone in the photos and her face was clearly visible.

Invoking the right to privacy under Article 8, and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, she applied for an interim injunction to prevent transmission, storage and indexing of any part or parts of certain photographic images taken from the phone, and an anonymity order under CPR r.39.2(4), which meant that the application, which was heard in private  on the basis that publicity would defeat the object of the hearing, would preserve the anonymity of the applicant. Both applications were granted.
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Is internet access a human right?

11 January 2012 by

A recent United Nations Human Rights Council report examined the important question of whether internet access is a human right.  

Whilst the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions are nuanced in respect of blocking sites or providing limited access, he is clear that restricting access completely will always be a breach of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to freedom of expression.

But not everyone agrees with the United Nations’ conclusion. Vinton Cerf, a so-calledfather of the internet” and a Vice-President at Google, argued in a New York Times editorial that internet access is not a human right:

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The solar power subsidies case : when can you judicially review a proposal?

29 December 2011 by

R (on the application of (1) Homesun Holdings (2) Solar Century Holdings (3) Friends of the Earth) v Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 

Admin. Ct, Mitting J, 21 December 2011, extempore judgment, so no transcript available

This successful challenge to a proposal to modify subsidies for solar power arose out of the decision by the climate change Department to amend the rules under which the subsidies were to be payable. The essential questions were whether DECC could do this whilst a statutory consultation period was running, and further whether judicial review lay against a proposal to change the system, as distinct from a challenge to the change itself.

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Will neuroscience revolutionise the law?

13 December 2011 by

You don’t need to be a brain scientist to see that lawyers would benefit from a more sophisticated understanding of the human brain. Neuroscientists seek to determine how brain function affects human behaviour, and the system of law  regulates how those humans interact with each other. According to a new Royal Society report, lawyers and neuroscientists should work together more.

The report, Neuroscience and the law, argues that neuroscience has a lot to offer the law, for example:

might neuroscience fundamentally change concepts of legal responsibility? Or could aspects of a convicted person’s brain help to determine whether they are at an increased risk of reoffending? Will it ever be possible to use brain scans to ‘read minds’, for instance with the aim of determining whether they are telling the truth, or whether their memories are false?

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Investigation team “lacks necessary independence” for MOD ill-treatment allegations

23 November 2011 by

Ali Zaki Mousa v Secretary of State for Defence & Anr   [2011] EWCA Civ 133   – read judgment

Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office Row represented the respondent secretary of state in this case. He is not the author of this post.

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, set up to investigate allegations of ill-treatment of Iraqi detainees by members of the British armed forces, lacked the requisite independence to fulfil the investigatory obligation under Article 3  of the Convention.

The claimant was representative of a group of Iraqis numbering about 100 who brought judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State for Defence alleging that they were ill-treated in detention in Iraq at various times between 2003 and 2008 by members of the British Armed forces – see our post on the permission hearing.

The so-called “Iraq Historic Allegations Team” (IHAT) was set up to investigate these allegations. The IHAT included members of the General Police Duties Branch, the Special Investigation Branch and the Military Provost Staff. A separate panel, the Iraq Historic Allegations Panel (IHAP), was appointed to ensure the proper and effective handling of information concerning cases subject to investigation by the IHAT and to consider the results of the IHAT’s investigations, with a view to identifying any wider issues which should be brought to the attention of the Ministry of Defence or of ministers personally.

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Leveson goes live

14 November 2011 by


Updated |Today marks a minor landmark for open justice. For the first time, a public inquiry is being  shown live over the internet.

The Leveson Inquiry into Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press has taken over Court 73 in the Royal Courts of Justice, so when Counsel to the Inquiry Robert Jay QC begins his cross examination, you could even imagine you are watching a live trial – on that note, watch this space.

The Iraq (Chilcott) Inquiry was broadcast live but it was not a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, as Leveson’s is. The Inquiry’s website has been relaunched and will be hosting the live stream of hearings on this page. My only grumbles about the new website are that the live coverage should be more prominently advertised on the main page.

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A blueprint for a simpler, fairer justice system

11 November 2011 by

The Civil Justice Council (CJC) has just released a major new report: Access to Justice for Litigants in Person (or self-represented litigants). The report attacks head-on the prospect of thousands more people having to represent themselves in court once civl legal aid is mostly taken away.

The 94-page report, written by a group including a QC and a High Court judge, is a major and ambitious attempt to make the justice system fairer and simpler for people who go to court without a lawyer. A huge amount of research and thought has gone into it, building on the process begun by Lord Woolf in 1997 with the Civil Procedure Act. The CJC was itself a creation of the 1997 Act, its function being to figure out how to make the civil justice system more accessible, fair and efficient.

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Snooping councils, phone hacking, CCTV… time to reform surveillance laws?

4 November 2011 by

JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organisation, has today published a significant and wide-ranging critique of state surveillance powers contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

The report – Freedom from Suspicion – Surveillance Reform for a Digital Ageis by Eric Metcalfe, former director of JUSTICE and recently returned to practise as a barrister. It reveals some pretty stunning statistics:  for example, in total, there have been close to three million decisions taken by public bodies under RIPA in the last decade.

The report is highly critical of the legislation, which it argues is “neither forward-looking nor human rights compliant“. Its “poor drafting has allowed councils to snoop, phone hacking to flourish, privileged conversations to be illegally recorded, and CCTV to spread.” Metcalfe recommends, unsurprisingly, “root-and-branch” reform.

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