These lawsuits started in the United States in the late eighties, but they’ve certainly been on the rise in the UK and in the EU. So much so that the EU has brought out a draft directive to attempt to deal with the problem. In July this year, the then Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, launched an urgent call for evidence in response to the challenges presented by SLAPPs.
SLAPPs are often framed as legal cases. But they represent an abuse of law and procedure as their principal objective is stifling public debate rather than pursuit of a legal remedy. In Episode 173 of Law Pod UK Rosalind English discusses this phenomenon with Greg Callus, defamation specialist from Five Raymond Buildings.
A full transcript of the interview is available here.
We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Prof Brice Dickson, Emeritus Professor of International and Comparative Law at Queen’s University Belfast, in which he sets out the international human rights monitoring mechanisms applicable to the UK and considers the UK’s engagement with the relevant monitoring processes (Eds).
On 10 November 2022 the UN Human Rights Council conducted its fourth Universal Periodic Review of the UK’s compliance with international human rights standards. The Council’s report was adopted just six days later and contained no fewer than 302 recommendations from other States on how the UK could improve its human rights record. That figure is up from 227 in 2017. For early accounts of the review meeting see the pieces by Marcial Boo and Robert Booth.
The UPR, of course, is just one of many international mechanisms for monitoring human rights in the UK. In a book published this month, International Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms: A Study of their Impact in the UK, I examine the full range of monitoring mechanisms to which the UK is subject and attempt to evaluate how they have operated to date, especially since 2000. In particular, I try to determine what difference they have made to the protection of human rights in practice. The analysis extends to monitoring conducted by a committee of the International Labour Organisation and by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), two bodies which do not usually attract the attention of human rights lawyers.
The proposed requirement for social media platforms to delete ‘legal but harmful’ content has been partly removed from the Online Safety Bill. While the change affects adult users, the requirement to prevent children being exposed to harmful content remains in the Bill. Culture Secretary, Michelle Donelan, denied that this change was ‘weakening’ the laws protecting social media users because there will be more control about what people see on specific sites. The kinds of material people will have control over include content promoting eating disorders or inciting hate on the basis of race, gender, or religion. The removal of the ‘legal but harmful’ element of the Bill has been welcomed by many who criticised it for ‘posing a threat to free speech’. Lucy Powell MP, however, states that the removal of the section gives a ‘free pass to abusers and takes the public for a ride’.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner has warned that a ‘deeply unjust’ postcode lottery puts victims of domestic abuse at greater risk depending on where they live in the country. The statistics demonstrate that regional inequalities exist in terms of accessing support for domestic abuse, with a 21% difference between the highest performing area (the North-East) and the lowest performing area (Wales). The report also found that black and minority ethnic victims of domestic violence struggle to access necessary support. Consequently, the Commissioner has urged that the Victims Bill place a duty on local authorities to conduct needs assessments along with a new central obligation to provide greater funding to meet those needs.
New data has revealed that 40 potential breaches of the ministerial code have never been referred for investigation by the ethics adviser. In discovering this, the report stated that it would be concerning if Rishi Sunak’s new adviser was not allowed to examine historical cases, which a parliamentary committee warned would be the case previously. One of the recommendations of the report is to make former ministers and civil servants who break the rules regulating the relation between government and the private sector face legal action.
The High Court has been asked to decide whether a teenager who is on life-support following an apparent suicide attempt can be allowed to die. Hospital bosses have prospectively asked whether it would be lawful to remove life-support treatment, but the trial has been adjourned until the new year so that the family could have ‘as normal and as peaceful’ a Christmas as possible.
In the courts
In The Good Law Project v The Prime Minister  EWCA Civ 1580, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal and a claim for judicial review regarding duties owed in relation to public records under section 3(1) of the Public Records Act 1958. S3(1) establishes a duty on ‘every person responsible for the public records… to make arrangements for the selection of those records which ought to be permanently preserved and for their safe-keeping.’ The substantive issues on appeal were (i) whether this duty extended to the preservation of records before they are selected; and (ii) whether there was a duty to comply with 8 published policies. In respect of the first issue, the Court held that Parliament did not impose a general duty to retain public records and did not specify that records were to be retained pending their selection. The Court was not willing to find that the duty was implied either, as to do so would mean the duty applied to all records which would overwhelm the Departments and the National Archives . In respect of the second issue, the Court found that there was no duty to comply with the policies. Importantly, they were directed to ministers and civil servants, not to the public. the Appellant could not, therefore, enforce it against the Respondent. The policies were internal and could not be framed as absolute duties not to use certain methods of communication.
In Kays v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWCA 1593, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against the refusal of a claim for universal credit. The Appellant was a student with severe disabilities. He applied for universal credit under the understanding that students in receipt of disability living allowances are entitled. His claim was refused because he had not been assessed as having limited capability for work before the claim was made (as per the 2020 Regulations), which he claimed was unlawful. The grounds for appeal were that the Respondent acted irrationally in deciding not to consult before making the 2020 Regulations, and that it resulted in arbitrary results. It was held that no duty exists to consult on the making of regulations; the Respondent was not obliged to consult and did not see anything necessitating her to do so. It was held that there was nothing irrational in that approach . It was also held that the 2020 Regulations did not lead to arbitrary results because the issues complained of were not caused by the Regulations themselves. The opportunity to obtain an assessment of work capability was contained in the relevant regulations before the 2020 Regulations were made .
In Ware v French  EWHC 3030 (KB), the High Court found in favour of the Claimant in a defamation trial regarding the Panorama documentary ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’ that aired in July 2019. An article was published in Coldtype magazine by the Defendant entitled ‘Is the BBC Anti-Labour? Panorama’s biased AntiSemitism Reporting – A Case to Answer, an investigation by Paddy French’. The Claimant, the programme’s reporter, claimed that the article was defamatory because it caused him serious harm by describing him as a rogue and biased journalist. This position was described as ‘overwhelming’. The wide dissemination of the article, the large interest in antisemitism within the Labour Party, and the Claimant’s high profile as a journalist all contributed to a situation where the allegations directly impacted the Claimant’s ability to earn a living.
The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the Scottish parliament does not have the power to pass legislation that would allow for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Such legislation, the Supreme Court found, would touch on ‘reserved matters’, that is, matters affecting the United Kingdom as a whole. The Scottish government unsuccessfully argued that a referendum would be advisory, and as it would not have immediate impact on the existence of the UK, would not touch on reserved matters. Sturgeon, while respecting the ruling, commented that it confirmed that the UK can no longer be pictured as a voluntary partnership and noted that the next general election could serve as a ‘de facto referendum’.
Nurses are preparing to strike for the first time on the 15th and 20th of December. The issues in question include low pay and unsafe staffing levels. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has reported that experienced nurses are 20% worse off in real terms than in 2010, due to many pay increases below the rate of inflation, and that 25,000 nursing staff have left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register since last year. If ministers continue to refuse to engage in formal negotiations with the RCN, the strikes will go ahead across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and are expected to have a severe impact on care.
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has made headline news over the past few months. Attention firstly focused on whether it would happen at all. Once the acquisition was completed, public opinion turned to Musk’s plans for the platform: to make Twitter a bastion of free speech in opposition to an age of censorship. As these reforms have begun to unfold, news outlets have looked at the treatment of staff during this period of ‘transition’.
What is interesting, however, is that these episodes are not taking place in a contextual vacuum. At the same time that Musk brags that “the bird is freed”, the Online Safety Bill passes through Parliament with an aim to control information on social media platforms. The Bill sets out to regulate what Musk’s Twitter sets out to deregulate.
Does the Bill salt the bird’s tail, caging what has only just been freed? Where should the balance be struck between social media freedom and social media protection?
The deceased had died in her own flat in July 2018 whilst under long-standing psychiatric care for schizophrenia. At the time she was a voluntary patient in a unit operated by the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust who had failed to return to the unit when expected She had a history of illicit drug taking but had been abstinent from drugs for many months before her death. She had failed to return to the unit when expected. As noted by the Lord Chief Justice (delivering the judgment of all the court) at  there was no basis for suggesting that she had taken her own life.
The 22 year old patient in this case, X, was unconscious in intensive care during the course of this hearing, following a serious stroke. There was virtually no prospect that he would recover. This urgent application by X’s parents, out of hours, before Poole J was for a declaration that it would be lawful for a doctor to retrieve X’s sperm for storage after his death. The applicants also sought an order that X’s father V could sign the relevant consents under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (“The 1990 Act”). The applicants did not seek any orders in respect of the use of X’s sperm once collected and stored. That was for another day.
The Trust took a neutral position on whether the declaration and order sought were in X’s best interests.
In this first Judgment, the Court analysed powers granted by the Immigration Acts 1971 and 2016 and rejected the Defendant’s erroneous interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions. It then made consequential orders (also reported) including steps to publicise its ruling, given that over 400 phones, still held, could not be linked to any individual migrant.
A second Judgment (delivered on 14 October 2022) was recently published ( EWHC 2729 (Admin)). This Judgment addresses the question “how did this happen?” How did the Defendant come to operate an unlawful policy and why was its existence initially denied, leading the Defendant to breach her duty of candour within the proceedings?
A historic deal has been agreed at the United Nation’s Cop27 summit which will provide funding to vulnerable countries to cope with the impact of climate change. The final cover document did not include commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuels. The deal also used new ambiguous language about “low emissions energy” which experts suggest could refer to fossil fuels including gas.
There has been an investigation following the appearance of sexual abuse victims’ personal details on the Suffolk Police website. Police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore issued an “unreserved apology” for the breach. The published information included victims’ names, addresses, dates of birth and details of the offences committed against them.
On Monday 14 November, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a report which including 302 recommendations demanding that the UK must tackle rising poverty. The report follows new figures revealing that four million children in households on universal credit face big cuts in income if benefits are not increased in line with inflation. Oxfam and the Healthcare Trade Unison, amongst other organisations, have said the UK is “failing to meet its international legal obligations”.
In other news:
The Refugee Council called on ministers to introduce a range of measures to deal with the record delays in processing asylum claims. Currently, government spending is at around £6.8million for housing migrants in hotels. It has also been revealed that at least forty child asylum seekers were placed in a Home Office hotel designated for adults; last month, one child was the victim of a serious stabbing.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has revised its guidance on age-restricted ads online. The new guidelines provide greater protection to children and young people by introducing content, media placement and audience targeting restrictions. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) provided a principles-based checklists to help limit the exposure of young people and children to age-restricted ads. Advertisers have ultimate responsibility for ensuring compliance with the rules.
Analysts at the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) revealed they found nearly nine-hundred instances of Category A child sexual abuse material in just five days. The research revealed children as young as seven are being coerced by abusers into filming themselves carrying out the most severe forms of child sexual abuse material. The data publication has been used to highlight the need for the delayed Online Safety Bill.
In the courts
In X, Re (Catastrophic Injury: Collection and Storage of Sperm)  EWCOP 48, the Court of Protection dismissed an application by X’s parents, V and W, for a declaration that it would be lawful for a doctor to retrieve X’s gametes to be stored both before and after his death, and an order that V may sign the relevant consents in accordance with the provisions of sub-paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 3 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (“The 1990 Act”). Schedule 3 of the 1990 Act deals with the use or storage of gametes, as does Section 4(1) of the 1990 Act; both stress the importance of consent in order that this activity be effectively regulated. X was potentially to be assessed as brain dead within 24 hours of the hearing. Citing Parrillo v. Italy (Application no. 46470/11) the Court held that the ability to give consent in regards to gametes or embryos constitutes a facet of private life. The Court relied upon K v LBX and others EWCA Civ 79 in establishing that for an interference with X’s Article 8 rights to be lawful, it must be necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate aim. Having considered all the circumstances, and applying section 4 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the Court held that it would not be in X’s best interests to make the declarations sought. The Court was not persuaded that the significant interference with X’s Article 8 rights would be necessary or proportionate.
On 18 November, judgement was handed down in AG (A Child), Re  EWCA Civ 1505. The Court dismissed an appeal against the decision of the Divisional Court to refuse to make a declaration of incompatibility between certain provisions of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 (DPA) and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 (VCDR) with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). The key issue in the appeal was whether the Divisional Court was right to decide that neither Article 3 nor ECtHR jurisprudence required the UK to breach the VCDR. The Appellant, AG, and her 5 siblings were subjected to abuse by both their parents. Their father was an accredited diplomat at the time and thus had immunity from the criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving state under DPA and the VCDR. Barnet, the London Borough where the family lived, tried to intervene on the children’s behalf, and supported AG in the appeal. The Appellant contended, referencing Z v United Kingdom (Application no. 29392/95), that Article 3 includes a systems duty on the state to take effective measures to prevent private acts of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Court were unpersuaded by this. Relying upon Lord Reed’s judgement in R (AB) v Secretary of State for Justice AC 487, the Court held that they could not be confident that the ECtHR would regard the systems duty in Article 3 as overriding the long-established international law principles enshrined in the VCDR and it was not open to the court to declare Article 3 and the VCDR incompatible.
A woman living with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”), absence epilepsy and learning difficulties succeeded in a claim for judicial review against the London Borough of Croydon after a deputy High Court judge ruled that the council had failed to meet her needs contrary to the requirements of the Care Act 2014. The claim in P, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Croydon EWHC 2886 (Admin) contended that the council’s decision to fund 35 hours per week of support was unlawful as it failed to meet her needs, and succeeded on three of four grounds.In relation to Ground 1, the Judge observed that it was arguably unlawful for the Defendant to have set a level of required care in an assessment, and then to have provided a Care and Support Plan making assumptions that the required care could be provided by her parents. Grounds 3 and 4 both concerned a failure to comply with The Care and Support Statutory Guidance. The Court held, referring to the standard of proof established in R (Cava Bien Ltd) v Milton Keynes Council EWHC 3003, that the Defendant’s apparent failure to asses the level of care which could and would be provided by the Claimant’s parents did make a substantial difference to the outcome of the Claimant’s care assessment. The Court ordered the quashing order of the Defendant’s February 2022 decision to provide or fund 35 hours of support per week, and the Defendant’s Care and Support Plan dated 14 February 2022. With reference to R (CP) v North East Lincolnshire Council EWCA Civ 1614, the Court maintained that it was not unconcerned with “historic” breaches and the Claimant was entitled to declaratory relief on this aspect of Ground 1.
World Cup opening ceremonies can be head-scratching affairs. Chicago, 1994, is perhaps as helpful an example as any. This was the setting for Diana Ross’s attempt to burst the net with a choreographed spot kick. She didn’t quite find the target – there ain’t no goal mouth wide enough – but it didn’t stop the mock woodwork from splitting theatrically into two halves as the goalkeeper dived redundantly to his right.
The High Court has granted an injunction preventing M25 protests in response to Just Stop Oil activists gluing themselves to motorways in the past weeks. The injunction means that anyone fixing themselves to the road, or anyone assisting someone else in doing so, can be held in contempt of court and thus face imprisonment, an unlimited fine, and the seizure of assets. The decision follows a previous court order obtained against Insulate Britain who partook in similar protests earlier in the year. The existing injunctions now cover the M25, the M25 feeder roads, and major roads in Kent and around the Port of Dover until May 2023.
The proposed bill to overhaul EU law, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, could have devastating impacts on legal certainty in the UK, the Law Society have warned. The measures would allow ministers to overhaul laws without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny or public oversight, raising concerns over parliamentary sovereignty, legal certainty, and the rule of law, according to Society president Lubna Shuja. A clause in the bill would mean that many retained EU laws will expire at the end of 2023, with them going many basic protections. The Society has called for this ‘arbitrary and unrealistic’ 2023 deadline to be removed in order to allow a more measured review of the laws and what reform is necessary.
The UN Human Rights Council have reminded that the UK’s treatment of asylum seekers must comply with international law in their review of the human rights situation in the UK. The statement came alongside a call on the Government to give some certainty to asylum seekers by speeding up approvals instead of housing people in motels, stating the temporary accommodation they are kept in is ‘grim’. The examination was against the backdrop of plans to send migrants to Rwanda.
The Government have been accused of ‘rolling back’ on tackling modern slavery by the charity Anti-Slavery International. It is claimed that the UK has attempted to reclassify modern slavery as an immigration issue and that a rhetoric of ‘abusing the system’ diverts attention from the important issues. The charity says that the Rwanda scheme, for instance, fails to provide safeguards to prevent victims of modern slavery being targeted for relocation.
In the courts
In Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis v A Police Conduct Panel  EWHC 2857 (Admin), the High Court ordered that a new panel redetermine whether an officer’s behaviour amounted to gross misconduct in relation to the unauthorised use of firearms. The officer in question falsely stamped his personal firearms authorisation, meaning whenever a weapon was withdrawn by him, he used a false document authorising him to carry it. The Commissioner claimed judicial review of the panel assessing his conduct (who did not dismiss him) on 2 grounds: (i) the process by which his sanction was reached was unlawful; and (ii) the sanction awarded was irrational. Ground 1 was accepted on the basis that the Panel erred in law by considering testimonials when assessing the misconduct. Ground 2 was accepted on the basis that the only reasonable sanction was dismissal, whereas the panel only issued a written warning.
In Modi v Government of India  EWHC 2829 (Admin), the High Court dismissed an appeal against a ruling ordering the Claimant to be extradited to India, who seek him for criminal proceedings. The appeal submitted that the extradition was oppressive within the meaning of s91 of the Extradition Act 2003 by virtue of his physical or mental condition. The court determined that while the risk of suicide is high, there are suitable medical provisions and an appropriate plan in place to mitigate this risk. The risk therefore did not cross the high threshold required to satisfy that the claimant’s condition is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him.
In AB v Chief Constable of British Transport Police  EWHC 2749 (KB), the High Court dismissed an appeal against a judge’s declaration that the retention of records in relation to an incident involving the claimant was unlawful. The claimant has Asperger’s and experiences high levels of anxiety. Two women complained to the police that he had touched them inappropriately, but he was not charged with any offence. The police retain information about the complaints, which the claimant submits is unlawful on 2 grounds: (i) it is inaccurate, and the retention is therefore in breach of data protection; and (ii) it is a disproportionate interference with his Article 8 Convention rights. The appeal was dismissed for the fundamental reason that the records were intended to reflect the information provided to the police, rather than detailing the underlying facts of what happened.
Elsewhere on the UKHRB
Rosalind English discusses the HS2 protest injunction here.
A report has found that the newly introduced practice of GPS tagging migrants has left people feeling suicidal and stigmatised. Since August 2021, those on immigration bail facing deportation have been monitored by the State, but in January of this year the measures were increased to GPS tracking their every move. The report raises the following concerns: (i) it causes serious damage to mental and physical health; (ii) it is a form of surveillance that goes beyond what is necessary; and (iii) the tags must be charged for up to 4 hours per day and cannot be removed to do this. In the round, the report characterised the practice as ‘psychological torture’ and recommended that it be stopped.
Thousands of students have decided to bring legal claims against universities over their education during the Covid-19 pandemic. The claims complain that the tuition fees for education remained the same despite everything moving online, the result of which being that resources were vastly reduced. Some students paid £40,000 for the year despite lessons frequently being cancelled and timetables slashed. Part of the issue, according to one student at the University of Nottingham, was that students were not told when the period of online teaching would end, and so were forced to pay rent for no reason. No claim has been brought at present, but the calls have rallied nearly 20,000 students in support.
This case involved the application, and grant, of an interim injunction in the “unknown” as well as “known” protester context by Knowles J in the Birmingham District Registry.
The first claimant was the company responsible for construction HS2, the high speed railway line between London and the North of England via the Midlands, part of which is already under construction. The second claimant was the company responsible for the successful delivery of the HS2 scheme.
A legislative scheme gave the company wide powers to acquire and take temporary possession of land for the purposes of construction and maintenance. This land covers the whole of the proposed HS2 route, and other land providing access.
Both claimants applied for an interim injunction to restrain trespass and nuisance by a large number of defendants who were opposed to the construction of HS2. Some of these defendants were named, most unnamed.
The storm raging around small boats arriving on the south coast has been brewing for some time. In early summer the focus was a policy to send arrivals to Rwanda. Intervention by the European Court of Human Rights effectively suspended flights while a domestic ruling on the policy’s legality is awaited. Meanwhile, in Dover a migrant processing centre has been firebombed, another is dangerously overcrowded, and the new Home Secretary raises tensions by speaking of an “invasion”.
The Law Commission has recently brought out its consultation paper on these new forms of assets, and how they might be aligned with the ancient law on property. In Episode 171 of Law Pod UK Rosalind English talks to Robert Kellar KC about the challenges this novel arrangement of ownership presents to English property law. What do we mean, exactly, when we talk about the idea of digital assets?
We’re all very used to the idea of electronic money: for decades, money has been represented electronically on in our bank accounts. But the the Law Commission’s paper deals with quite different issues, when it comes to digital assets.
The consultation paper is at pains to stress that property law must encompass these new forms of ownership. As Robert points out in this episode, property rights are useful because they can be enforced against the whole world, whereas other legal rights can be enforced only against someone who has assumed a relevant duty in contract or tort.
Furthermore, the concept of property is widely used in statutes and case law, assuming a central role in proceedings concerning bankruptcy or insolvency, tortious or criminal interference with property, and death and succession.
The Law Commission’s conclusion thus far is that digital assets should be treated as a new category of property.
Listen to the episode and follow @LawPod_UK on Twitter if you have any feedback, ideas and comments for the team.
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