You may have missed…

22 May 2010 by

Posts on the UK Human Rights Blog that you may have missed in the last week:

Case law –

News –

Electoral commission report opens door for barred voter claims

21 May 2010 by

voter compenationThe Electoral Commission, an independent body which sets standards for the running of elections, has released its report on problems experienced by voters during the 2010 General Election. It calls for “urgent action” to ensure that “the restrictive rules which prevented participation should be changed”. This has probably opened the door to legal claims.

The Interim Report found that at least 1,200 people were still queuing at 27 polling stations in 16 constituencies at 10pm. It concludes that the main contributing factors to this problem were:

  • Evidence of poor planning assumptions in some areas.
  • Use of unsuitable buildings and inadequate staffing arrangements at some polling stations.
  • Contingency arrangements that were not properly triggered or were unable to cope with demand at the close of poll.
  • Restrictive legislation which meant that those present in queues at polling stations at the close of poll were not able to be issued with a ballot paper.

There are a number of possible legal remedies for barred voters.
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Coalition agreement calls for Human Rights Act Plus, but will it last?

21 May 2010 by

The full Coalition agreement is now available, and has made things a little clearer on the new government’s plans for the Human Rights Act. But will the promised review of the 1998 Act be anything more than a time-wasting exercise born of irresolvable disagreements between the partners on fundamental rights, and will the changes last?

“The Coalition: our programme for government” is available to download here. The civil liberties section is largely the same as in the draft agreement published last week, but with an added section on the recently announced Commission to

investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.

We posted earlier in the week on three possible outcomes arising from the Commission; first, full repeal of the 1998 Act, second, repeal and replacement with a Bill of Rights or, third, create in effect a “Human Rights Act Plus”, which would bolster the 1998 Act whilst maintaining the UK obligations under the European Convention. As predicted, it appears that the third option has been selected, but under the Bill of Rights banner.
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GMC to announce policy of striking off doctors who prolong the lives of terminally ill patients against their wishes [updated]

20 May 2010 by

If a terminally ill patient has made a “living will”, specifying in advance that they do not want to be resuscitated, doctors must respect these wishes or risk being struck off. The General Medical Council is to announce this guidance in response to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which gives “living wills” legal status. Doctors must not follow their own personal or religious convictions by prolonging treatment unless there is evidence that a patient may have changed his or her mind.

Update 25/05/10 – The Guidance has been published and can be found here

If a doctor is unwilling to follow the express verbal instructions of a patient – communicated through a friend or relative as legal proxy — they can withdraw from treating the individual. A second medical opinion must sought before hydration and nutrition is withdrawn. Telegraph Medical Correspondent Kate Devlin reports that

Doctors who flouted the guidelines would be forced to attend a fitness to practise hearing before the GMC and would be struck off if the case against them were proved. The rules affect patients deemed to be mentally capable of making these decisions. If they do not have this capacity, or have not designated someone to act on their behalf, doctors are required to make any judgment about treatment in the best interests of the patient. The guidance says that in these cases, when the decision over end of life treatment is “finely balanced”, the patient’s previously stated wishes “will usually be the deciding factor”.

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Rules on intercept evidence not breach of human rights, say European Court

20 May 2010 by

KENNEDY v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 26839/05 [2010] ECHR 682 (18 May 2010) – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has held that the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) does not breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to private life or Article 6, the right to a fair trial. The judgment is timely, with the new Government debating at present whether intercept evidence should be allowed to be used in court.

The case has a long and intriguing history. On 23 December 1990, Mr Kennedy was arrested for drunkenness and taken to Hammersmith Police Station. He was held overnight in a cell shared by another detainee, Patrick Quinn. The next day, Mr Quinn was found dead with severe injuries. Mr Kennedy was charged with his murder. He alleged that the police had framed him for the murder in order to cover up their own wrongdoing. He was subsequently was found guilty of the murder of Mr Quinn and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

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Mentally disabled prisoner discriminated against by authorities

20 May 2010 by

R (on the application of Dennis Gill) v Secretary of State for Justice – Read judgment

The Secretary of State for Justice should have done more to enable a prisoner with learning difficulties to participate in programmes which could have helped him gain an earlier release. In finding that the prisoner was discriminated against, the High Court has set down a precedent which will affect many other learning disabled prisoners.

Mr Justice Cranston held that participation in offender behaviour programmes would have made it easier for Mr Gill to persuade a Parole Board that he was suitable for release. His participation in them had been recommended but his learning difficulties had prevented him from taking part, and as such the Secretary of State for Justice had discriminated against him contrary to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

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Terror case reopens debate on repeal of Human Rights Act [updated]

19 May 2010 by

Debate reopened

We posted this morning on the case of the “Pathway students”, in which two suspected terrorists used human rights law to avoid deportation due to fear of torture. Almost immediately after the decision was announced, the BBC reported that a “commission” is to be set up to address the future of the Human Rights Act. Has the case prompted a swift reconsideration of the Coalition’s position on human rights?

Probably not. It would appear that a commission to review the 1998 Act will be set up, as part of a wide raft of civil liberties reforms to be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg later today. However, the timing of the announcement alongside the terror decision is probably coincidental and the commission is likely to have been planned since last week’s Coalition agreement.

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Terror suspects cannot be deported to Pakistan in case of ill-treatment

19 May 2010 by

Abid Naseer, Ahmad Faraz Khan, Shoaib Khan, Abdul Khan and Tariq Ur Rehman (Appellants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent), Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 18 May 2010 – Read judgment

Two men suspected of attempting to mount a mass casualty attack can stay in the UK because they risked ill treatment if they were to be sent back to Pakistan. Rosalind English examines whether the extra territoriality reach of Article 3 makes a mockery of the core protections provided by European Convention on Human Rights.

Risk of torture

The alleged operatives appealed against deportation orders/refusals of re-entry on the grounds that they risked ill treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights at the hands of the Pakistani security services. Appeals against deportation were upheld because the reassurances as to the safety of their return was based on evidence that could not be disclosed in open court.

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The British Airways strike and the human right to free assembly [updated]

18 May 2010 by

British Airways Plc v Unite the Union Queen’s Bench Division, 17 May 2010 Read judgment

Update (07/06/20) – this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal on 20/05/10. We will comment on the Court of Appeal decision when it is available.

The High Court has granted an injunction for the second time in 6 months against a strike planned by British Airways cabin crew, scheduled to begin today. Those who had trips planned will be delighted, but the Unite trade union who represented the workers have called the decision a “landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action” and are to appeal the judgment.

The union argued that a recent series of similar injunctions against strike action ran foul of the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights grants the right to freedom of assembly. However, the right can be restricted in certain limited circumstances, as it was in this case.

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Claims against the police still difficult, and no help from human rights law

17 May 2010 by

Moulton v Chief Constable of the West Midlands [2010] EWCA Civ 524 (13 May 2010) – Read judgment

The Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal by a man acquitted of rape as well as his argument that the law of malicious prosecution should be changed in order to bring it into line with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to liberty.

In 2000, Kirk Moulton spent Christmas in jail due to administrative errors by the police. However, unlike in other jurisdictions it is not possible in England to sue the police for damages for negligence. Claims for ‘malicious prosecution’ are possible, but they are notoriously difficult to prove as the aggrieved person has to show the police acted with malice. Mr Moulton’s lawyers argued that the lack of a remedy for police maladministration meant that English law ran contrary to human rights law. But the court, whilst showing sympathy, rejected the argument. As a result the bar for claims against the police remains dauntingly high.

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You may have missed…

16 May 2010 by

Posts you may have missed last week on the UK Human Rights Blog:

Case law –

News –

As dust settles, Coalition gets cautious welcome on human rights

14 May 2010 by

The Coalition Government is only a few days old but it is already receiving a cautious welcome from civil liberties commentators and bloggers, with all eyes on significant policy commitments in the Con-Lib deal. The previous government enacted major civil liberties legislation within a year of taking power; the question now is whether the Coalition has the time, will and co-operative potential to fulfil its lofty promises.

In its final years, New Labour was regularly criticised on civil liberties issues, particularly in relation to anti-terrorism law. But it is undeniable that within around a year of coming to power it had enacted a major piece of civil liberties legislation in the Human Rights Act 1998, which was followed shortly after by two others; the Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information Act 2000. Some, such as the Human Rights in Ireland Blog, say that sadly this was a high water mark and not to be repeated.

The Con-Lib coalition has already made significant early promises. The focus of commentators has been on the cabinet appointees who will influence law and order policy, as well as the surprisingly full civil liberties section in the Con-Lib Coalition agreement. Just as important, however, is what has been left out.

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UK Human Rights Blog joins the Guardian Legal Network

13 May 2010 by

We are pleased to announce that the UK Human Rights Blog has joined the new Guardian Legal Network.

The Guardian’s website launches its Legal Network today.  This “brings together the best blogs and sites that cover legal affairs and developments from around the world” and we are delighted to have been asked to be a partner in this project.

The Guardian will be featuring content from our blog, and we welcome new followers who have arrived here by this route. You can subscribe to free email alerts by entering your address in the ‘Email Subscription’ box (below and to the right), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Update 18/05/10 – our article featured on the new site, and another one here


Voters seeking compensation will face uphill climb

13 May 2010 by

Not for everyone

We posted earlier this week on whether those who were locked out from voting in the 2010 General Election can claim for compensation under the Human Rights Act 1998 (read our post here). Liberty are asking spurned voters to contact them with a view to further legal action. But Joshua Rozenberg argues in this morning’s Law Society Gazette that those voters will face significant difficulties finding a legal remedy.

Our post concentrated on potential remedies under the Human Rights Act 1998, highlighting that the European Court of Human Rights has been reluctant to award monetary compensation in the past. The European Court has generally held that the “just satisfaction” remedy under human rights law was fulfilled by the fact that criticism from the court would lead to a change in the respective State’s voting system. As such, financial compensation to reflect the breach of the voters’ rights was not seperately awarded. It should be noted, however, that many of the recent cases involved prisoners and ex-convicts being barred from voting. We concluded that

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, has already said that the problem “shows a lack of foresight and preparation”, so it seems unlikely that voters will be left without a remedy, and that may come in the form of compensation probably by way of an out of court settlement… However, how much that will be is by no means clear, and it may be difficult to prove in practice that a person was prevented from voting as a direct result of administrative difficulties.

Rozenberg addresses potential remedies under the Representation of the People Act 1983, and in particular the potential that some ballots may have to be re-run:

What about trying to get the election re-run in a constituency where a lot of people were unable to vote? A dissatisfied voter may present a petition which may be tried by an election court. But there is little chance of a second poll unless the number of people who were locked out in a particular constituency is more than the winning candidate’s majority. Even then, there might need to be some evidence that the non-voters were likely to have supported the candidate who came second rather than, as seems more likely, that they would have voted in proportion to the constituency as a whole.

That is because section 23 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 says that ‘no parliamentary election shall be declared invalid by reason of any act or omission by the returning officer or any other person in breach of his official duty… if… the election was so conducted as to be substantially in accordance with the law as to elections and the act or omission did not affect its result’.

It will be clearly be difficult for spurned voters to bring claims. However, there is a strong duty imposed by human rights law on the State to conduct free and fair elections. Further, it seems that at least some of the constituencies where voters were turned away were ultimately decided by a small majority. This is unsurprising, as one would expect turnout to be higher in places where people expect the vote to be close. So, the uphill climb which spurned voters face may still lead to some kind of legal remedy.

Read more:

Families of asylum seekers entitled to advantageous entry clearance requirements says Supreme Court

13 May 2010 by

ZN (Afghanistan) (FC) and others (Appellants) v Entry Clearance Officer (Karachi) (Respondent) and one other action, UKSC 21. Read judgment

The Immigration Rules, which applied lighter requirements for entry clearance for the dependants of persons granted asylum than for other British Citizens, should be interpreted to mean that a person should always be a refugee for the purposes of Rule 352D even though that status has technically expired on grant of citizenship.

This appeal raised a question  the true construction of the Immigration Rules, House of Commons Paper 395 (‘HC 395’): what rules apply to family members seeking entry to the United Kingdom, where the sponsor has been granted asylum and has subsequently obtained British citizenship. Put another way, the issue was whether the sponsor must enjoy refugee status at the time his spouse or child seeks to join him under the paras 352A and 352D.

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