Commentary on the Court of Appeal’s Dr Singh libel Ruling

2 April 2010 by

We posted yesterday on Dr Simon Singh’s victory in the Court of Appeal. Unsurprisingly a number of interesting press comments have been published this morning:

  • Dr Simon Singh writes in The Guardian that “the battle for libel reform has only just begun.” He warns that “yesterday’s decision was only a ruling on potential defences and the meaning of my article, so I have not won yet. Indeed, the case could continue for another two years and run for four years in total.”
  • Francis Gibb writing in The Times says that “The ruling by Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice; Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Sedley may put an end to the idea that the courts are the first, rather than the last, resort.”
  • Ian Burrell, writing in the Guardian says that Dr Singh has “won a victory for freedom of speech in his cause célèbre libel battle with the body that represents Britain’s chiropractors.”
  • John Kampfner, the chief executive of Index on Censorshipwrites in the Independent that “Once in a while, in these days of antagonism towards the political-legal establishment, something happens that gladdens the heart.”

Court of Appeal mounts robust defence of intellectual freedom of expression

1 April 2010 by

British Chiropractic Association v Dr Singh [2010] EWCA Civ 350

(Read judgment)

Dr Simon Singh has won the first battle in the libel action, brought by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), in the Court of Appeal. Dr Singh was sued by the BCA in respect of an article he wrote in The Guardian in April 2008, in which he said there was not enough evidence to prove that chiropractic treatment is effective against certain childhood conditions including colic and asthma.

Mr Justice Eady ruled against Dr Singh in May 2009 in relation to two important preliminary issues. Dr Singh appealed to the Court of Appeal, and Lord Judge, Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley were asked to rule on the preliminary points relating to possible defences.

The Court has used the opportunity to mount a robust and somewhat lyrical defence of the right to freedom of expression.

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Accused should have been allowed to attend appeal against the grant of her bail

1 April 2010 by

Allen v. The United Kingdom (Application no. 18837/06), Date of judgment: 30 March 2010

(Read judgment)

    The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that, in the circumstances, it was a breach of the applicant Susan Allen’s rights under article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for a Deputy District Judge to refuse her permission to attend an appeal against the grant of her bail.

    In October 2005 Ms Allen was charged with two offences of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. She was produced at Liverpool City Magistrates’ Court. Following a contested bail application she was granted bail by the Deputy District Judge, and the prosecution subsequently appealed. Her counsel requested that the judge allow her to be present at the appeal. The judge declined the request, reasoning that the applicant could be given a full report of what had happened from her counsel. Moreover, her attendance would be undesirable as one of the applicant’s co-accused had not been present at the hearing of the appeal against the grant of bail to him, and it would therefore be unfair to treat the applicant more favourably.


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    Joint Committee on Human Rights calls for control order scheme to be discontinued

    31 March 2010 by

    The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (‘the Joint Committee’) has released its report on the Annual Renewal of Control Order Legislation 2010, in which it heavily criticised the control order scheme. The scheme, introduced in 2005, allows courts to put terror suspects under restrictions resembling house arrest by placing them under curfews of up to 16 hours a day and, typically, constraints on their movements and communications. There were 12 suspects subject to control orders in December 2009.

    Whereas the Joint Committee has previously criticised the scheme, this is the first time that it has recommended for it to be discontinued. The committee said:

    We have serious concerns about the control order system. Evidence shows the devastating impact of control orders on the subject of the orders, their families and their communities. In addition detailed information is now available about the cost of control orders which raises questions about whether the cost the system is out of all proportion to the supposed public benefit. We find it hard to believe that the annual cost of surveillance of the small number of individuals subject to control orders would exceed the amount currently being paid to lawyers in the ongoing litigation about control orders. Finally, we believe that because the Government has ignored our previous recommendations for reform, the system gives rise to unnecessary breaches of individuals’ rights to liberty and due process.

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    Shadow Justice Secretary speaks to lawyers on “The State of Human Rights”

    30 March 2010 by

    We have been following with interest the debate over the proposed “Bill of Rights” which all of the major parties are considering in some form. Dominic Grieve QC, the Shadow Justice Secretary, gave a speech last week to the Human Rights Lawyers Association which touched upon the Conservative Party’s proposals. Francis Klug wrote in The Guardian that:

    Some of us asked Grieve to clarify the effects of these proposed interpretation clauses at yesterday’s meeting. I am not sure we were any the wiser. The purpose appears to be to free our judges from the approach of the Strasbourg court (they are already free from slavishly following the case law) where rights are not absolute. The text of the ECHR could still be used, Grieve says (although he suggests this is only his personal preference, not necessarily his party’s). But it is not at all clear that the human rights framework for balancing or limiting rights – based on preventing harm rather than creating eligibility criteria – will survive these suggested “interpretation clauses”.

    The text of the speech has not been published, but Mr Grieve has published a speech on the same topic on his website, given in November 2009. In that speech he made clear that the Human Rights Act would not be replaced without a wide public consultation. However, he did provide some clues as to the nature of the “interpretation clauses”, saying:

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    Education not recognised as a “civil right” under Convention due process rules

    29 March 2010 by

    R (on the application of LG) (Appellant) v Independent Appeal Panel for Tom Hood School (Respondent) & Secretary of State for the Department for Children, Schools and Families (Interested Party) [2010] EWCA Civ 142

    (Read judgment here)

    CA (Civ Div) (Rix LJ, Wilson LJ, Sir Scott Baker) February 26 2010

    An exclusion hearing by a school does not engage the pupil’s Article 6 of the Convention since there is no “civil right” to education recognized as such either by the Convention or by domestic law.

    Summary

    The appellant pupil (VG) had been involved in a fight at the school. He was accused of having a knife, which he denied. The school permanently excluded VG and he appealed. The panel, in accordance with the Education (Pupil Exclusions and Appeals) (Maintained Schools) (England) Regulations 2002 reg.7A, found on the balance of probabilities that he had carried a knife, and upheld his exclusion. VG appealed against a decision ((2009) EWHC 369 (Admin), (2009) BLGR 691) to refuse his application for judicial review of the decision of the respondent panel to uphold a decision to permanently exclude him from a school. He argued that his right to a fair hearing under Article 6 was engaged, either on the basis that the panel had determined his civil right not to be excluded from the school without good reason, or on the basis that the panel had determined a criminal charge against him, and that right had been infringed by the decision to exclude him having been based on allegations established against him on the balance of probabilities rather than on the criminal standard of proof. He also contended that regulation 7A(c), although purportedly made pursuant to the Education Act 2002 s.52, was ultra vires in that a rule about standard of proof was one of evidence and not procedure as permitted by s.52(3)(d).

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    Recent posts roundup

    29 March 2010 by

    European Commission warns the UK about unfair cost of challenging environmental decisions

    28 March 2010 by

    The European Commission has sent an official warning letter to the UK regarding the prohibitive expense of challenging the legality of environmental decisions.

    The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention) was signed by the United Kingdom in 1998, and came into force in October 2001.  It was ratified by the United Kingdom in February 2005, at the same time as its ratification by the European Community.  Article 9(4) of the Convention provides that access to environmental justice must be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive.

    The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not provide for a specific human right to a clean environment, nor a right to environmental justice, although Article 2 (right to life), Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 8 (respect for family and private life) do provide some scope for environmental protection, Conventions such as Aarhus are important in supporting these rights in an environmental context, particularly where the ECHR may provide inadequate protection. This connection is recognised in the preamble to the Aarhus Convention which identifies that, “the adequate protection of the environment is essential for human well-being and the enjoyment of basic human rights, including the right to life itself.”

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    European Court rejects UK pensioners’ top-up claim

    28 March 2010 by

    Carson and Others v The United Kingdom (Application no. 42184/05)

    The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a claim by British pensioners living abroad that their pension payments should be uplifted to take into account inflation. The case was supported by Pension Parity UK, a pressure group. The majority in the Court held that the pensions system was not a breach of ECHR Article 14 (non discrimination), saying at [86]:

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    Sharper teeth for the European Court of Human Rights?

    24 March 2010 by

    According to Alex Bailin QC and Alison Macdonald writing in The Guardian, the European Court of Human Rights will soon have much needed power to filter cases at an early stage, and therefore begin to clear its huge backlog of cases:

    Fortunately, in January a significant stalemate was broken when Russia finally ratified a six-year-old provision which will speed up the court’s processing of cases. Protocol 14 provides for a more robust and rapid filter of weak cases, with a single judge having the power to declare wholly unmeritorious cases inadmissible, without any right of appeal. “Repetitive cases” can also be blocked if a relevant ruling on similar issues has already been given. Most controversially, the court can also refuse to hear cases in which the applicant has suffered “no significant disadvantage”, providing the case was properly considered by the domestic courts in the relevant state. Russia had previously blocked the entry into force of Protocol 14 in protest at what it considered were “political rulings” of the Strasbourg court, primarily relating to the conduct of its operations in Chechyna.

    One immediate effect which the change will have on the UK, according to the authors, is in relation to prisoners voting rights. Until now, even though the Court has criticised the UK in relation to this issue, the criticisms have not led to an actual change in UK policy. However, as a result of Protocol 14:

    The Committee of Ministers can refer a case back to the European court if it considers that the state has not fully complied with a decision of the court. If the court agrees, the committee can decide to take action against the state for noncompliance – including, in theory, suspension or expulsion from the Council of Europe

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    Recent case summaries

    20 March 2010 by

    Not unlawful for a Roman Catholic adoption agency to reject same-sex couples

    19 March 2010 by

    Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission for England and Wales (Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening) [2010] EWHC 520 (Ch)

    The High Court have found that a Roman Catholic adoption agency (Catholic Care) could rely on regulation 18 of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 in refusing same-sex couples adoption services.


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    Are civil partnerships compatible with human rights law?

    17 March 2010 by

    Baroness Deech, the Chair of the Bar Standards Board, has given the second lecture in her series on family law at Gresham College. In this lecture she questions whether the current law of marriage is compatible with human rights law. In particular, homosexual couples cannot legally marry, and hetrosexual couples are disbarred from entering civil partnerships. She said:

    “Since [the] acceptance and recognition [of gay rights] has grown, advanced by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Bill 2010. Gay couples may adopt children (Adoption and Children Act 2002); they have access to fertility services and full parentage of donor conceived children (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008). Same sex childless couples are deemed to be a “family” for the purpose of succeeding a deceased partner to a tenancy (Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association [1998] Ch.304). This trend culminated in the legislative establishment of civil partnerships in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, creating a union almost identical to, but not marriage.”

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    Key armed forces case opens in the Supreme Court

    16 March 2010 by

    Private Jason Smith

    The case of R (on the application of Smith) (FC) (Respondent) v Secretary of State for Defence (Appellant) and another is being heard today in the Supreme Court.

    The Secretary of State is appealing the 2009 decision of the Court of Appeal: See our case comment from the Court of Appeal judgment.

    In short, the respondent’s son Smith was a member of the Territorial Army who had been posted to Iraq in June 2003. He had spent eight days in Kuwait for the purpose of acclimatisation. The room he occupied in Iraq did not have air conditioning. In August 2003 temperatures in the shade reached in excess of 50 degrees C, which was the maximum that available thermometers could measure. He reported sick complaining that he could not stand the heat. Some days later he suffered a cardiac arrest.

    In this appeal the secretary of state appeals against the decision of the Court of Appeal ([2009] EWCA Civ 441) that the deceased had been within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom for the purposes of the Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 and the Human Rights Act 1998 and that, consequently, the inquest into his death had to comply with Article 2.

    The hearing is expected to last for four days. See coverage in The Times and the The Guardian.

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