Minimum standards of dignity must be upheld for asylum seekers

29 July 2010 by

R (on the application of ZO (Somalia) and others) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Appellant) [2010] UKSC 36 – Read judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled that the UK must provide minimum standards to asylum seekers, including the right to work, whether or not their first asylum application has failed. Asylum seekers will now be able to work if they have been waiting for over a year for a decision.

The ruling is the latest in a line of court defeats for the Government on its asylum policy, including the recent High Court ruling that part of the fast-track deportation system is unlawful, as well as the Supreme Court’s rejection of the policy of sending gay asylum seekers back to countries where they may face persecution for their sexuality.

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Strong reaction to universal jurisdiction rule change

29 July 2010 by

He can come now

The proposed change to the rules for bringing on who can apply for international war crimes arrest warrants has predictably generated some strong reactions

The changes will make it necessary to get the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be granted. The Ministry of Justice say they are changing the rules in order to prevent arrests happening after the presentation of “flimsy” evidence. Those who fear arrest under the current system range from Israeli ministers to the Pope.

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Watchdog calls for rule changes after barred voters fiasco

27 July 2010 by

The Electoral Commission has released its full report into the events surrounding the May 2010 election during which thousands of voters were barred from polling stations due to administrative problems.

The Commission, whose report can be  downloaded here, has used the fiasco as a chance to emphasise and bring forward its reform program. The watchdog reports that the Election was generally well run, but that:

Queues formed at several polling stations on polling day (6 May), and some people in those queues were unable to vote when the polls closed at 10pm. Just over 1,200 people were affected at 27 polling places in 16 constituencies. The main contributory factors were poor planning, the use of unsuitable buildings, inadequate staffing arrangements and the failure of contingency plans.

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Fast track asylum removal system ruled unlawful

26 July 2010 by

Medical Justice, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] EWHC 1925 (Admin) (26 July 2010)  – Read judgment

The High Court has ruled that a fast-track scheme for the removal of failed asylum seekers with little or no notice is unlawful as it does not provide sufficient access to justice.

Permission to appeal has been granted but the decision could put a stop to the policy being implemented for the time being.

The challenge was brought by Medical Justice, a charity which advises asylum seekers, represented by the Public Law Project, a legal charity which aims to improve access to public law remedies (see their press release here). The policy being challenged came into effect in January 2010, and gives individuals who fall into certain specified categories and who have made unsuccessful claims to enter or to remain in the United Kingdom, little or sometimes no notice of their removal directions.

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Lord Chief Justice bolsters right to trial by jury

26 July 2010 by

KS v R [2010] EWCA Crim 1756 (23 July 2010) – Read judgment

J, S, M v R [2010] EWCA Crim 1755 – Read judgment

The Lord Chief Justice has emphasised in two Court of Appeal judgments that the jury-less trials must be a last resort and take place only in truly extreme cases. His comments are clearly aimed at putting the breakers on an accelerating trend of requests for jury-less trials in prosecutions of serious crime, following the ground-breaking but controversial ‘Heathrow heist’ trial.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 limited for the first time the right to trial by jury in the Crown Court, where trials for serious crimes take place. Section 44 provides for the option of judge-only trials if there is a “real and present danger” of jury tampering.

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Human rights news and case-law roundup (23 July 2010)

23 July 2010 by

We recently started adding links to interesting new articles and case-law the sidebar under the heading “Selected news sources”. Below is a quick rundown of the most recent links. The full list of links can be found here.

  • 23 July | Government delays Bribery Act – again: Siobhain Butterworth writes in the Guardian This week the Ministry of Justice proudly announced that the long-awaited Bribery Act will become law in 2011. “The act will ensure the UK is at the forefront of the battle against bribery,” it said on Tuesday. The legislation follows a long-term Guardian investigation into allegations of corruption against BAE (vigorously denied), and some costly plea bargaining with the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic on the part of the arms company…. Hang on a minute. Wasn’t the act supposed to come into force in 2010? It received royal assent in April, nearly 18 months after the law commission’s “final report” on bribery recommended the introduction of the new corporate offences. Why the delay?”
  • 22 July | Ian Tomlinson death: lawyers challenge CPS over decision not to prosecute: Ian Tomlinson was caught up in the G20 protests in April 2009. A short while after being hit by a policeman with a baton, he collapsed and died. The CPS have decided not to prosecute the policeman involved, as they consider there is an irreconcilable difference of opinion between medical experts as to the cause of death, which would mean it would be highly unlikely that the officer would be convicted beyond reasonable doubt. Expect plenty of debate and acrimony over this issue, as the family accuse the police of a cover-up.

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Human rights universal jurisdiction arrest law to change [updated]

23 July 2010 by

Tsipi Livni - she can come back now

The Ministry of Justice is proposing to change the rules on who can apply for international arrest warrants for suspected war crimes. The changes will make it necessary to get the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be granted.

The present system means that the threshold for an arrest for war crimes is low, and as such visiting ex-ministers can be arrested if only limited (or “flimsy” as the MoJ puts it) proof of the alleged crime is presented to a magistrate. The highest profile cases have been those involving ex-ministers from Israel, and in particular Tsipi Livni. As a result of the threat of arrest warrants, Israeli ex-ministers have largely stayed away from the UK.

As the MoJ statement says, war crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, and a small number of other grave offences, are subject to universal jurisdiction. This enables prosecution to take place here even though the offence was committed outside the United Kingdom, and irrespective of nationality.

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Courts entitled to ignore European Court decision on DNA and fingerprint retention

23 July 2010 by

DNA database impact on human rightsUpdated, 1/9/10 | R (C) v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis [2010] WLR (D) 193 – Read judgment

When faced with conflicting authorities from the European Court of Human Rights and the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) on the indefinite retention of DNA profiles and fingerprints by the police, the Divisional Court held that they were bound to follow the House of Lords.

This was so despite clear indications from the previous and current governments that the law would be changed to take account of the Strasbourg decision. However, as leave to appeal was granted, the Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to revisit the issue and determine the law in this controversial area.

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Deprivation of liberty best interests test compatible with human rights law [updated]

23 July 2010 by

G v E and others [2010] EWCA Civ 822 – Read judgment

This post was written with the kind help of Jaime Lindsey

The Court of Appeal has held that a person who lacks mental capacity can be detained if the Court of Protection considers that it is in their best interests, without having to meet additional conditions under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This case was a challenge to the decision of Jonathan Baker J in the Court of Protection and raises issues about the relationship between ECHR Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA). It reinforces the point that it is for the Court to decide what is in an incapacitated patient’s best interests, and that Article 5 imposes no further requirements.

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Opening of secret evidence rules not limited to terrorism cases

22 July 2010 by

A (A Child) v The Chief Constable of Dorset Police [2010] EWHC 1748 (Admin) (16 July 2010) – Read judgment

The High Court has ruled that the gist of sensitive evidence in a case involving a child being picked up for being spotted with an “inappropriate adult” must be disclosed in order that the child can bring a claim against the police.

The case is probably the first to follow the significant restriction of the use of secret evidence resulting from the Al Rawi decision (see our previous post), in which the Court of Appeal rejected a request by the Government that evidence in a torture compensation claim be kept secret from the public, and emphasised that the interests of open justice would be seriously compromised if this kind of request were ever granted in a civil case, even in very limited circumstances.

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Press freedom defeat continues to sting

22 July 2010 by

Gary Flood

The fall-out from last week’s Court of Appeal judgment in Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd continues as the Times’ long-standing in-house lawyer parts company with the newspaper, and commentators remain unsure as to whether the case marks a significant blow for press freedom.

We posted last week on the Flood case, in which a police officer accused of taking bribes won his battle to prevent the Times relying on the Reynolds defence, which allows allegations to be reported even if they turn out to be wrong. The well-known and much used defence arises from the 1999 case of Reynolds v Times Newspapers in which the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) extended the defence of qualified privilege to cover the media. Lord Nichols also provided 10 criteria which should be taken into account when deciding whether the defence applies (see the end of his judgment). Since 1999, the defence has been an important weapon in the press’ armoury in libel cases, and has undoubtedly led to greater press freedom.

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Ministry of Justice a “nest of liberals”

21 July 2010 by

Simon Hoggart has written an entertaining sketch in the Guardian, suggesting that the new Ministry of Justice is in fact a “nest of liberals”, and may end up being a fifth column inside the Coalition Government.

We posted earlier this week on the mixed reactions which have been inspired by the government’s early civil liberties agenda, although the majority opinion seems fairly positive. Hoggart suggests that in fact a dose of liberalism is sorely needed in the current government:

The Ministry of Justice turns out to be a nest of liberals in the coalition government. They need a few – the current Lib Dems are roughly as liberal as combination of Ayn Rand and Hanging Judge Jeffreys.

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50 Best Blogs for Following Human Rights News

21 July 2010 by

The United States-based Onlinedegrees.net has published a list of the top 50 best blogs for following human rights news.

The list can be found here. It is very useful, particularly for international sites. We are at number 19 and top of the “Location Specific” list. We have now placed a permanent link to the list in the “Links” list below and to the right.

Has the time come for gay marriage in the UK?

21 July 2010 by

The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats has said that gay couples are likely to gain full rights to marriage under the current Parliament. This would represent a revolution for gay rights, but there is still a long way to go before same-sex couples achieve full rights to marriage as they are arguably entitled to under human rights law.

Simon Hughes MP has told Yoost.com, a question and answer website, that Liberal Democrat MPs would be consulted on the rights of gay couples. He said “I don’t know the answer because we haven’t had the discussion“, but that

I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t all be able to support what Nick Clegg said, which is that it would be appropriate in Britain in 2010-11 for there to be the ability to have civil marriage for straight people and gay people equally.

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Government pushing on with civil liberties policies?

19 July 2010 by

The Coalition Government promised in the first days of its rule to “reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion“. This policy is now in play and appears to be making quick progress.

The Coalition’s Program for Government contains a long shopping list of civil liberties promises. Some are specific; scrapping ID cards, restricting DNA retention by police and reviewing libel laws. Some more vague, such as the Freedom / Great Repeal Bill, for which Deputy Prime Minister has just launched an online public consultation. As we posted last week, even the Lord Chief Justice is getting in on the act.

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