28 April 2010
Three interesting press articles on proposals for a Bill of Rights:
The Northern Irish perspective – Monica McWilliams, chief commissioner for Human Rights in Northern Ireland writes in The Guardian: “The Human Rights Act is central to the constitutional DNA of the UK. It underpins the devolution settlements while simultaneously elucidating the common values of the constituent nations. It also provides a necessary platform from which the sense of autonomy that devolution brings can be further built upon.” (see our post on the subject)
The NGO perspective: Qudsi Rasheed, Legal Officer for JUSTICE, the human rights NGO, writes in The Guardian: “The Conservative party’s approach to this issue has been cloak and dagger. The commission of lawyers set up by David Cameron to consider the bill of rights has been extremely secretive and none of its work has been published. Short of vague and often contradictory statements and political rhetoric by various members of the party, there has been very little in the way of concrete proposals and suggestions.”
The Australian perspective: The Australian Newspaper editorial on why the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was right to reject proposals for an Australian Bill of Rights: “The Rudd government’s decision last week to reject the idea of codifying rights is a recognition that Australia’s robust constitution, its strong parliamentary tradition of lawmaking, its independent judiciary, and its intelligent civic culture are the best protections for citizens. Far from protecting minority rights, statutory codification risked pitting the judiciary against the parliament by, in effect, becoming a third house of parliament.“
28 April 2010
A (BY HIS LITIGATION FRIEND THE OFFICIAL SOLICITOR) v INDEPENDENT NEWS & MEDIA LTD & ORS  EWCA Civ 343 – Read judgment
This appeal was bought on behalf of a severely disabled adult (known as “A”), against the order of Hedley J of 19 November 2009 that the media should be granted access to a hearing in the Court of Protection. The Lord Chief Justice has refused the appeal.
The case was unconventional, largely because of A’s own situation. A had been totally blind from birth and suffered from acute learning difficulties associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which meant that he was not able to lead an independent life and was dependent on others for his care. Despite this, however, A had taught himself the piano and had gone on to become an extraordinary gifted musician, and was described by the judge as ‘a man of remarkable accomplishment’.
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27 April 2010
A number of newspapers reported yesterday that the Council of Europe, is to criticise the UK for failing to introduce a total ban on smacking children. The coverage splits along predictable lines, with the Daily Express and The Star both referring to “meddling” bureaucrats telling British parents what to do with their children.
The foreshadowed comments will apparently come in a debate to be held later today on “The smacking ban 30 years on: international debate“, where advocates against the corporal punishment of children will take stock of how far the smacking debate has come since Sweden banned corporal punishment 30 years ago, becoming the first country to forbid all forms of violence against children, including at home.
The Council of Europe, which monitors States’ compliance with the European Convention, have recommended that all states should secure to everyone within their jurisdiction, including children, the right to be protected from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 ECHR), the right to liberty and security (Article 5), and the right to a fair trial (Article 6).
The Independent sums up the position in the UK, where smacking in most schools but not at home is banned:
Though we have a partial ban in place and are about to close an eccentric loophole in that law which allows private tutors to whack their pupils (“reasonably”) our right to cuff our own children is still protected. Sir Roger Singleton, the Government’s independent adviser on child safety, recently published a report – Physical Punishment: Improving Consistency and Protection – which essentially recommended that smacking should be banned everywhere except in the home, by parents and those in loco parentis.
- Council of Europe Integrated Strategy against Violence
- Independent report by Sir Roger Singleton, Chief Adviser on the Safety of Children
- Update 30/04/10 – Libby Brooks writing in The Guardian: “Only the Liberal Democrats have committed in their manifesto to incorporating the UN convention into British law, which is probably about as hopeless a daydream as proportional representation. But, in the meantime, we cannot rely on benign self-regulation by parents alone. Smacking is assault, however you dress it up. It brings with it all the guilt, shame and assumptions of weakness and power that come with any attack on another human.“
27 April 2010
Frodl v Austria (Application no. 20201/04) 8 April 2010 – Read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights has taken another opportunity to criticise a European state for not allowing a prisoner, in this case convicted of murder, to vote. Prisoners will not be voting in the upcoming UK General Election, which may yet lead to a slew of compensation claims against the Government.
We posted recently on the continuing refusal of the UK Government to comply with the 2005 judgment of Hirst v UK, where the European Court held that the ban on prisoners voting in the UK was a breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.
In Frodl v Austria the Court said that any restriction on voting rights must be proportionate to the end pursued, and
“must reflect, or not run counter to, the concern to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of an electoral procedure aimed at identifying the will of the people through universal suffrage. Any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risks undermining the democratic validity of the legislature thus elected and the laws it promulgates.”
The Court went on to find a violation of the European Convention, for the reason that “it is inconceivable… that a prisoner should forfeit his Convention rights merely because of his status as a person detained following conviction“.
The Court added that a prisoner’s right to vote could in some cases be taken away, but only in the limited scenario where a prisoner was detained as a result of the abuse of a public position or a threat to undermine the rule of law or democratic foundations. In other words, there needs to be a “direct link between the facts on which a conviction is based and the sanction of disenfranchisement“.
In the UK, the Government have shown little willingness to enfranchise prisoners and convicts. This may well be because it prefers the risk of thousands of compensation claims, as well as continuing criticism from Europe, to taking the politically unpopular decision of allowing convicted criminals to vote.
26 April 2010
The UK Supreme Court Blog has posted on United States v Stevens, a US Supreme Court decision on animal cruelty videos, involving “freedom of expression in the extreme”. The decision provides for an interesting comparison with the approach to freedom of expression in the UK courts.
If the Human Rights Act 1998 is replaced by a Bill of Rights, the Bill’s drafters are likely to look at other legal systems in order to see how best to recalibrate the balance of the various protections. The drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights themselves had the US Bill of Rights, which has been in force since 1791, as inspiration.
Similar but different
Arguably, the US Bill of Rights places a stronger emphasis on freedom of expression than our domestic law. Freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention is subject to a number of qualifications. There is a long list, including the interests of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals, and the protection of the reputation or rights of others.
Section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 shifts the balance slightly, by stating that a court must pay “particular regard” to cases involving the public interest in disclosure of material which has journalistic, literary or artistic merit.
By contrast, despite the US Bill of Rights’ 219 years on the statute books, there remains only a very limited list of forms of expression which are not
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26 April 2010
Lotfi Raissi, a pilot accused of being one of the 9/11 plotters, has been told by the Ministry of Justice that he is entitled to compensation for the effect that the accusations have had on his life. The announcement comes 9 years after his prosecution began.
Commentators have been scathing of the Government’s handling of the case. Afua Hirsch in The Guardian says that the case highlights “the unrestrained assaults on individual rights in response to allegations of terrorism and the long, drawn-out process of establishing the truth in the courts” and
The row over proposals to detain terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge takes on a surreal quality when looking at a case such as Raissi’s. The US authorities’ use of extradition proceedings – ensuring the co-operation of the CPS – became “a device to circumvent the rule of English law that a terrorist suspect could (at that time) be held without charge for only seven days”, the court of appeal said in a judgment of the case in February 2008.
Sean O’Neil, The Times’ Crime Editor, says:
Finally, eight years after he was released by order of the courts, the Ministry of Justice has said that he is to be regarded as “completely exonerated”. The length of time it has taken the Government to reach that conclusion is nothing short of disgraceful.
24 April 2010
UK Human Rights Blog posts from last week that you may have missed
23 April 2010
Lord Phillips, the head of the Supreme Court, spoke to lawyers this week on the future of the Human Rights Act 1998, which the Conservative Party have threatened to repeal. He said that now that the Act is in place, it would be very difficult to imagine a court ignoring the rights enshrined by it, even if it were repealed.
We will post the full speech if and when it becomes available. In the mean time, Afua Hirsch writing in the Guardian summarises his argument (reproduced after the page break below).
On a second-hand reading, it does seem somewhat hopeful to assume, as Lord Phillips appears to, that if the Act were repealed courts would still place rights in anything like the central position they have been since the its passing, largely through momentum. Lawyers tend to concentrate on points which win cases, rather than on first principles, and whilst human rights were a relevant consideration before the Act’s passing (judgments of the European Court of Human Rights were persuasive but not binding), they amounted to little more that.
That said, the Conservative party have pledged to replace the Act with something similar, a Bill of Rights. It is not yet clear what form it will take, but it is highly likely that the European Convention on Human Rights will be the starting point for its drafting, and it is likely to be a recalibration rather than a replacement. As such, human rights are most probably “here to stay”, but we should not overestimate the constitutional power of judges, or underestimate the power of Parliament to set the legal agenda.
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23 April 2010
Adetoro v United Kingdom (Application no. 46834/06, ECtHR)
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that there was no violation of of the European Convention on Human Rights when a man was convicted after the judge failed to direct a jury properly in relation to the Defendant’s silence in a police interview.
The Court found there was no violation of Article 6 as the Defendant had not been convicted on the strength of his silence alone and there had been no unfairness in the trial as a whole.
The Applicant had been convicted of offences relating to a string of robberies. When interviewed by the police he had answered “no comment” to questions in relation to his movements recorded by police surveillance, association with other persons and whereabouts when the robberies were occurring. At trial, he admitted involvement in dealing in stolen cars and claimed that this explained the matters which the police had observed. He explained his silence on the basis that he did not wish to incriminate others.
In summing up, the judge omitted from his direction to the jury words to the effect that no inferences could be drawn from the Applicant’s silence unless its members were satisfied that the reason for his silence was that he had no answer to the questions asked or none that would stand up to scrutiny.
The Applicant argued that
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22 April 2010
Google have announced the launch of a new Government Requests tool, which according to the Official Google Blog aims to “give people information about the requests for user data or content removal we receive from government agencies around the world.”
According to the tool, the UK currently ranks number 2 in Europe for information removal requests, behind Germany, and 3rd in the world for data requests, behind the US and Brazil.
It appears that the internet search company, whose unofficial corporate motto is “Don’t be Evil“, is attempting to make up for recent public controversies over censorship in countries where rights to freedom of information and expression are lacking. Google has had a particularly rocky relationship with China, who insisted that certain sites were blocked from Google search. After public pressure and a number of public confrontations, Google have recently moved operations to Hong Kong and shut down the search service completely.
Yesterday’s announcement begins by quoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is similar to the European Convention on Human Rights. It says:
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22 April 2010
A prisoner is suing the UK Government in the European Court of Human Rights for the right to vote in the upcoming General Election. With voting registration already closed, he won’t be voting in the election, but he may receive compensation. This could open the door to claims from tens of thousands of prisoners in the UK.
The BBC reports that Leon Punchard, 19, who is serving an 18-month sentence at Norwich prison for burglary, has filed an application to the European Court for a declaration and compensation.
We have already posted on the ban on prisoners voting (see here and here). Four years ago, the European Court of Human Rights criticised the policy in Hirst v UK, which arose out of the 2002 case of R v Home Secretary ex parte Hirst. The European Court held that Section 4 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 which prevents prisoners from voting is in breach of the electoral right under Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Government insists that it is still considering the responses to its second stage consultation on the issue, despite it closing over six months ago. With voter registration for the 2010 General Election closing on 20 April, prisoners will not get their chance to vote in a general election for at least a few more years.
However, Mr Prichard may well win a compensation payment from the UK Government, which the European Court of Human Rights has the power to award in cases where a contracting state has breached a citizen’s human rights. This could open the door to the other 87,883 serving prisoners to bring their own legal actions.
21 April 2010
R (JF (by his litigation friend OF)) & Anor v SSHD  UKSC 17
(Read Judgment or Supreme Court press summary)
The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that lifelong requirements for sex offenders to notify the police when they move house or travel abroad are a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 24,000 former offenders will potentially be affected by the decision.
Under section 82 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 all persons sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment or more for a sexual offence become subject to a lifelong duty to keep the police notified of where they are living and when they travel abroad. Crucially, there is no right to a review of the necessity for the notification requirements.
The Respondents were convicted sex offenders. Both challenged the notification requirements by way of judicial review, on the basis that the requirements were a disproportionate manner of pursuing a legitimate aim of preventing crime and therefore breached their rights under Article 8.
Lord Philips gave the leading judgment. He emphasised that the question (as in the case of all human rights claims involving a “qualified” right in general and Article 8 in particular) was one of proportionality, and that the correct test, as had been set out in previous decisions, was:
whether: (i) the legislative objective is sufficiently important to justify limiting a fundamental right; (ii) the measures designed to meet the legislative objective are rationally connected to it; and (iii) the means used to impair the right or freedom are no more than is necessary to accomplish the objective (para 17)
The Court went on to discuss UK and European authorities, and in particular referred to the Marper judgment, which we discussed earlier this week in relation to the retention of DNA samples (para 31). The European Court of Human Rights had been particularly concerned that in cases involving DNA there was no provision for independent review, as was the case with the notification requirements in this appeal.
The Court were concerned about risks of disclosure to third parties inherent in offenders having to visit police stations to report. They said:
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21 April 2010
MAK and RK v United Kingdom (Application Nos 45901/05 and 40146/06) European Court of Human Rights March 23, 2010 – Read judgment
The taking of blood samples and photographs of a child by the medical authorities in the absence of the parents violated the child’s and parents’ rights to respect for their private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention, and the inability of the parents to take an action for damages at common law against the hospital breached their right to a remedy under Article 13.
The applicant M.A.K was the father of R.K., who was born in 1989. In 1997 and again in 1998 M.A.K. took her to their family doctor because he, his wife and their daughter’s swimming teacher were concerned about what appeared to be bruising on her legs. This was followed by a visit to a paediatrician who had blood samples and pictures of the girl taken in the absence of either of the parents and despite the father’s indication that any tests should be done in the mother’s presence or with her explicit consent. The paediatrician concluded, after examining the girl’s genitalia and legs, that she had been sexually abused and informed the social workers.
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21 April 2010
One of the main human rights debates of the General Election is whether the Human Rights Act 1998 will be replaced with or bolstered by an American-style Bill of Rights. One aspect of the debate which has been mostly ignored in the British media has been the impact which a Bill of Rights would have in Northern Ireland.
In November 2009, the Northern Ireland Office published A Bill of Rights For Northern Ireland: Next Steps, an interim report proposing that a separate Bill of Rights be drafted for Northern Ireland, on the basis that:
The need for an additional human rights framework that reflects the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland was recognised in the Belfast Agreement and given shape through the commitment to set up a Bill of Rights Forum as part of the St Andrews Agreement… The fundamental principle of mutual respect for the rights and freedoms of all the people of Northern Ireland has been at the heart of this progress, and still has a crucial role to play in its future success.
The Northern Irish Human Rights Commission responded in February, welcoming the proposal to produce a separate Bill of Rights. However, the Commission was sharply critical of the tone and content of the substantive proposals. Amongst other things, it accused the proposal of failing to take appropriate account of international standards and of suggesting that existing human rights standards are actually lowered.
The Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ), an independent human rights organisation, have also recently published their own response to the interim report, and have also argued that the proposals are too weak and do not go far enough in increasing human rights protections. CAJ say:
A Bill of Rights is one of the final parts of the human rights jigsaw; it ensures that rights currently enjoyed cannot be taken away at the whim of any government. It is intended to ensure, in a divided society, that whoever exercises governance over this disputed ground cannot rule without respecting the rights of everyone who lives here. It also ensures that those who are not or do not identify primarily as part of the two main communities will have their rights respected also.
The Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is clearly in its early planning stages, and may not go ahead at all. That said, it is more advanced than English and Scottish proposals, which, if they ever happen, will certainly not do so until long after the Election.
- Well informed posts on the topic on the Human Rights in Ireland Blog can be found here, here, here, here, here and here
- Relatedly, the Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission writes in the Guardian about the Bill of Rights and his fears that it may create a “two-tier” system
20 April 2010
EH v London Borough of Greenwich and AA and REA and RHA (through their guardian), A (children)  EWCA Civ 344
This was an appeal against the decision of the judge at first instance granting the local authority a full care order and placement order in respect of the appellant mother’s children. One of the children had been admitted to hospital as a baby with a fracture injury that was diagnosed as being non-accidental, following which both children were immediately taken from their parents’ care and placed with their maternal grandmother.
A later fact finding hearing determined that the baby’s injury had probably been caused by her father and that the mother had failed to protect the baby, although the judge did find that the mother had very many good qualities and her parenting abilities, per se, were not in issue, and that apart from the fracture injury there was no evidence that the children had suffered any harm.
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