In Northern Ireland, the Troubles are not the only part of its troubled past and present. In March this year, the Stormont administration found itself mired in controversy over women’s reproductive rights and access to abortion services. In April, a fresh controversy arose: a legislative ban on so-called “gay conversion therapy”. On 18 March 2021, Ulster Unionist Party MLAs Doug Beattie and John Stewart tabled a private member’s motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly calling for a legislative ban on the practice. The motion was debated on 20 April, with one amendment ringfencing religious activities from the proposed ban, taking centre-stage.
To characterise the debate which followed as polarising would be to put it mildly. The Assembly Hansard for 20 April records angry, frustrated exchanges between MLAs who called for safeguarding the LGBTQ community from harmful practices (condemned by the UN Human Rights Council as creating “a significant risk of torture”) and MLAs who called for safeguarding the free exercise of religion.
In the event, the DUP amendment failed and the UUP motion was passed unamended by 59 votes to 24, providing Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA with a strong mandate to bring legislation to ban conversion therapy in Northern Ireland. However, that was not the end of the matter. In the immediate aftermath of the Assembly vote, the DUP signalled its intent to block legislation unless “robust protections for churches” were included. Eight days after the vote, the Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA faced significant rebellion in the party against her leadership and announced her intention to resign both the leadership of the DUP and the First Ministership. The extent to which the motion to ban conversion therapy played a part in the rebellion against Foster remains a matter for debate, especially given concerns about the impact of the DUP’s political stance on the very recently enacted access to abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
As many around the world celebrated the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia on 17 May, the events of the past month were a reminder of how different the story of LGBT equality was in Northern Ireland, compared to Great Britain.
In the Queen’s Speech last week, the government presented its legislative programme for the next session of parliament, including a number of bills with important human rights implications. The speech was of particular interest because of the extent to which Brexit and COVID-19 have dominated the prime minister’s time in office so far.
Last Tuesday’s to-do list includes an enormous 31 bills, listed in full here and set out in greater detail here. Two bills with key implications are addressed below.
In October 2020 the App Drivers & Couriers Union (‘ADCU’) filed a legal challenge against Uber Technologies Inc. for the dismissal of drivers by an algorithm in the UK and Portugal. The District Court of Amsterdam heard claims by the ADCU on behalf of three drivers from the UK, and a fourth driver from Lisbon, Portugal, was represented by the International Alliance of App-based Transport Workers.
The claims were brought under Article 22 of the General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/679) (‘GDPR’). The drivers’ complaints related to dismissals resulting from, among others, Uber systems’ detection of irregular trips associated with fraudulent activities in one case, and the installation and use of software with the intention and effect of manipulating the Uber’s Driver App in another case. The drivers were dismissed, given no further explanation, and denied the right to appeal. The Court was asked to determine to what extent the GDPR could protect individuals from unfair automated decision-making, specifically, individuals have the right to certain protections from automated decisions which create negative affects but are carried out without meaningful human intervention.
Campaigners have warned that a loophole allowing children aged 16 or 17 to get married with their parents’ consent is enabling forced child marriages to take place across England. Current laws against forced marriage to do not specifically protect children, and there are no laws in the UK to prevent religious or customary child marriages. The organisation Girls Not Brides UK, who sent a letter to the Prime Minister warning of the impact of this loophole last week, have suggested that child marriages disproportionately affect girls, and often lead to fewer educational and employment opportunities and a higher risk of domestic violence. The government’s Forced Marriage Unit, which collects data on cases of forced marriage, shows that more than a quarter of cases involve children. The Conservative MP Pauline Latham is currently promoting a bill in Parliament aimed at criminalising child marriage completely.
Lawyers working on cases dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past know that this field of legal work develops slowly. Sometimes, however, developments occur at an unexpected and unwelcome speed. Such has been the case this week. From the collapse of a controversial trial to the reporting of a legislative “amnesty”, the legacy of the Troubles remains an indelible part of both judicial business and daily life.
The fatal shooting of Joe McCann (The Queen v Soldiers A & C)
Joe McCann had been a member of the Army Council of the Official IRA. In 1972, he was the Officer in Command, First Battalion of the Official IRA and in charge of the Markets area of Belfast. He was suspected to have been involved in the murders of two soldiers and the attempted murders of four police officers (among other serious incidents). In the afternoon of 15 April 1972, he was seen by a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police officer who alerted a nearby patrol of paratroopers which included soldiers A and C. The police officer tried and failed to arrest Joe McCann, who was running away from him and the paratroopers. The police officer shouted at him to halt but he kept running. There was then sudden gunfire from behind the police officer, where the paratroopers were standing. Joe McCann was struck by two or possibly three bullets and died quickly at the scene. No forensic analysis was undertaken to determine who had fired the fatal shot.
Episode 143 features Isabel McArdle and Sarabjit Singh QC of 1 Crown Office Row. Isabel practises in indirect tax, healthcare law, personal injury and public law. Sarabjit (“Sab”) specialises in tax, with a particular emphasis on all forms of indirect tax and the interface between tax and public law. They have both given seminars on the implications of Brexit for tax lawyers. In this episode, Rosalind English discusses with Sab and Isabel a number of laws containing Henry VIII powers, including the Childcare Act 2016, Section 8 of the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018, Section 31 of the EU Future Relationship Act 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020 and Section 51 of the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Act 2018. Emma-Louise Fenelon did of course explore this subject in depth with the Public Law Project and Lord Anderson of Ipswich QC in Episode 129: Brexit and the Flaws of Delegated Legislation ; this episode takes this important subject further.
Henry VIII powers enable a minister to amend primary law by secondary legislation, effectively bypassing parliament. They also touch on the popularity of so-called “skeleton bills”. These bills are favoured by those in power because they have no policy in them so there’s nothing to scrutinise by both Houses of Parliament. And Henry VIII clauses are what feed these bills.
Following Brexit, everything from financial services, immigration from Europe, fisheries, agriculture – can all be achieved under Henry VIII in skeleton bills. The concern, from a constitutional perspective, is that there’s a lack of parliamentary scrutiny. They give huge power to ministers to amend and repeal Acts of Parliament.
We have to apologise for the building works sound effects in the background of this episode. We welcome our listeners to perceive them as an appropriate metaphor for the government hammering home their policies under these Henry VIII powers.
People aged 42 and over are now able to book their Covid-19 vaccines, joining the more than 33.8 million people in the UK who have received their first dose. The news comes as the Joint Committee on Human Rights called for a review of all fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for lockdown breaches and called the system “muddled, discriminatory and unfair”. The committee chair, Harriet Harman MP, said the “lack of legal clarity” meant an unfair system which “disproportionately hits the less well-off and criminalises the poor over the better off”. The report highlighted concerns about FPN validity, an inadequate review and appeals process, the size of penalties and the criminalisation of those unable to pay. A CPS review found that 27% of coronavirus-related prosecutions that reached open court in February were incorrectly charged. The lack of an adequate means to seek review of an FPN, other than through criminal prosecution, significantly increases the risk that human rights breaches will not be remedied, according to the committee. The importance of ECHR Articles 7 and 8 (no punishment without law and right to family and private life, respectively) was highlighted in particular.
R (Lawal) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2021), Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), Unreported, JR/626/2020 (V)— read judgment
The death of an immigration detainee, as with all prisoners, is rightly subject to legal scrutiny. This is because detainees are completely under the state’s control. Article 2 ECHR requires that the state carry out an effective investigation into all deaths in detention where there is a reasonable suspicion that the death was unnatural. A coroner is required to hold an inquest into all deaths in custody, and specifically a jury inquest where there is reason to suspect the death is violent or unnatural.
In this case, a two-judge panel of the Upper Tribunal (President of the Upper Tribunal, Mr Justice Lane, and Upper Tribunal Judge Canavan) found that the respondent Home Secretary had breached her Article 2 procedural obligations in respect of deaths in immigration detention. In particular, she had failed to ensure that crucial witness evidence was secured for use at an inquest and had failed to halt the deportation of a relevant witness.
Mr Oscar Lucky Okwurime (‘OO’) was a Nigerian national. On 12 September 2019 he was found dead in his room at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, aged 36. The applicant in these proceedings, Ahmed Lawal, was also a Nigerian national and a good friend of the deceased. He was detained on the same wing at the time of the death.
On 8 April 2021, the Weimar District Family Court ruled in Amtsgericht Weimar, Beschluss vom 08.04.2021, Az.: 9 F 148/21) that two Weimar schools were prohibited with immediate effect from requiring pupils to wear mouth-nose coverings of any kind (especially qualified masks such as FFP2 masks), to comply with AHA minimum distances and/or to take part in SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests. At the same time, the court ruled that classroom instruction must be maintained.
This is the first time that expert evidence has now been presented before a German court regarding the scientific reasonableness and necessity of the prescribed anti-Corona measures.The expert witnesses were the hygienist Prof. Dr. med Ines Kappstein, the psychologist Prof. Dr. Christof Kuhbandner and the biologist Prof. Dr. Ulrike Kämmerer were heard. 2020NewsDe has published a summary of the judgment, the salient parts of which are set out in full below (translation by DeepL).
The reason for highlighting this judgment in such detail is because of the consequences reported by the news website to the judge of his decision. According to 2020NewsDe, “the judge at the Weimar District Court, Christiaan Dettmar, had his house searched today [26 April 2021]. His office, private premises and car were searched. The judge’s mobile phone was confiscated by the police. The judge had made a sensational decision on 8 April 2021, which was very inconvenient for the government’s policy on the measures.” In a side note on the fringes of proceedings with other parties, continues 2020NewsDe, “the decision in question has been described as unlawful by the Weimar Administrative Court without comprehensible justification.”
A cautionary note: I have been informed by Holger Hestermeyer, Professor of International and EU Law at King’s Law School (@hhesterm), that cases quashing administrative acts (like the one at issue in the AG Weimar case) go to administrative courts in Germany. The case, says Professor Hestermeyer
had, indeed, been brought to the administrative court, but the court had not quashed the administrative act. The attorney then (according to Spiegel reports) was looking for plaintiffs to bring the case before this particular judge via telegram (competence is based on first letters of surnames, so the attorney was looking for plaintiffs with the right surname). The judge then assumed his competence (unprecedented), ruled not just for the plaintiffs but all kids at the school (peculiar), excluded an oral hearing (hmmm), rejected all mainstream scientific advise to base the judgment exclusively on the minority of experts rejecting all such measures (again hmmm) and excluded an appeal.
So there are important procedural problems with this judgment which must be borne in mind when reading my summary with excepts both from the original judgment and the report by 2020De below.
The court case was a child protection case under to § 1666 paragraph 1 and 4 of the German Civil Code (BGB), which a mother had initiated for her two sons, aged 14 and 8 respectively, at the local Family Court. She had argued that her children were being physically, psychologically and pedagogically damaged without any benefit for the children or third parties. At the same time, she claimed this constituted a violation of a range of rights of the children and their parents under the law, the German constitution (Grundgesetz or Basic Law) and international conventions.
Informed consent to medical treatment is at the heart of the vaccine debate. Consent is also at the centre of most of the cases that come before the Court of Protection. So now we have a very specific problem: what happens, if someone lacks capacity under the Mental Capacity Act, and their family for whatever reason objects to the Covid vaccine?
In the latest episode of Law Pod UK, Rosalind English talks to Amelia Walker of 1 Crown Office Row about three recent cases that came before the COP where the “protected person” (incapacitous under the Mental Capacity Act) was due to be vaccinated, but family members objected. Here are the citations to the cases discussed and the relevant statutes:
E (by her Accredited Legal Representative, Keith Clarke), Applicant v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (Respondent) and W (2nd Respondent)  EWCOP 7
SD (Applicant) v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (Respondent)  EWCOP 14
NHS Tameside & Glossop CCG v CR (by his litigation friend CW)  EWCOP 19
The Court of Appeal in MR (Pakistan) and Anotherv Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 541 recently dealt with appeals regarding the absence of a process to assess the vulnerability of a person detained under immigration powers at Her Majesty’s Prisons (“HMPs”). This absence remains despite such a process existing for those detained under the same immigration powers in Immigration Removal Centres (“IRCs”) by virtue of Rules 34 and 35 of the Detention Centre Rules. These provisions enable a medical report to be prepared which is then considered by the SSHD when deciding on the management of the individual under relevant policy guidance.
The Court upheld the claim in part, holding that whilst this discrepancy did not give rise to systemic unfairness, in the individual two cases there was an irrational failure to obtain a Rule 35 report or equivalent. Despite this, however, it was held that these failures were not relevant to the decisions to detain the individuals in the particular cases.
The Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) has found that Priti Patel breached her procedural obligations under Article 2 of the ECHR in respect of deaths in immigration detention.
The application for judicial review arose following the death of Oscar Lucky Okwurime on 12 September 2019 in his cell at IRC Harmondsworth. Mr Okwurime had tried but failed to secure healthcare at the centre. He was not provided with his obligatory ‘Rule 34’ GP appointment within 24 hours of his arrival.
Priti Patel was subject to a legal requirement to assist the coronial inquest by identifying and securing evidence from potential witnesses. Instead, she elected to continue with her plans to remove a number of potential witnesses, including the Applicant, Mr Lawal, a close friend of Mr Okwurime.
Later, the Area Coroner for West London required Mr Lawal to attend the inquest on the basis that he was “an important witness of fact.” The jury later found that “multiple failures to adhere to healthcare policy” and “neglect” contributed to Mr Okwurime’s death from coronary heart disease.
The court found that Patel acted unlawfully in deciding to remove the Applicant in that she failed to take to take reasonable steps to secure the applicant’s evidence concerning the death of Oscar Okwurime. Aditionally, the absence of a policy directing caseworkers on how to exercise immigration powers in a case concerning a witness to a death in custody was unlawful. This was contrary to her Article 2 procedural obligations.
A Home Office spokesperson has said that, in light of the judgment, its processes were being refreshed and a checklist was being introduced to ensure all potential witnesses are identified.
The decision comes as Patel faces criticism for “serious mistakes” and “fundamental failures of leadership and planning” by the Home Office in managing former military sites as makeshift accommodation for asylum seekers. The Home Office is also being sued by a female asylum seeker who claims that staff at her asylum accommodation refused to call an ambulance for three hours after she told them she was pregnant, in pain and bleeding. When she was eventually taken to a nearby hospital, she learned that her baby had died.
In Other News:
Helena Kennedy QC, a leading human rights barrister and author of Eve Was Framed, has been included on the list of those sanctioned by the Chinese government for criticism of the human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. Together with David Alton, a crossbencher, she helmed an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to persuade the UK government to create a procedure that would have enabled the English high court to make a determination on whether the evidence reached the threshold for genocide. China has imposed sanctions on 10 other UK organisations and individuals, including the former leader of the Conservative party Iain Duncan Smith, over what it called the spreading of “lies and disinformation” about human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which examines allegations that the state has misused its surveillance powers, has heard from an environmental activist who was deceived into a long-term sexual relationship by an undercover Metropolitan police officer that his managers knew about the deception and allowed it to continue. A judge-led public inquiry into the activities of undercover officers is ongoing; Phillipa Kaufmann QC, who represents women deceived into sexual relationships, has called the practice “endemic”.
In the Courts:
Hamilton & Ors v Post Office Ltd  EWCA Crim 577: the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions of thirty nine men and women employed by the Post Office as sub-postmasters, sub-postmistresses, managers or counter assistants; three other former employees’ appeals failed and were dismissed. All the appellants were prosecuted by their employer and convicted of crimes of dishonesty. The reliability of the computerised accounting system, “Horizon”, in use in branch post offices during the relevant period, was essential to the prosecutions. Despite repeated assertions by the Post Office that the system was robust and reliable, it has become clear that it was critically undermined by bugs and glitches which cause it to incorrectly record shortfalls. The court called the convictions “an affront to the public conscience.” A public inquiry chaired by Sir Wyn Williams, President of Welsh Tribunals, is currently trying to establish an account of the implementations and failings of the system.
Howard, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1023 (Admin): the High Court ruled that the Home Office’s handling of a Windrush citizenship application was irrational and unlawful. Hubert Howard was repeatedly denied British citizenship over the course of a decade, despite having lived in the UK since he arrived from Jamaica at the age of three in 1960, on the grounds that a number of minor convictions prevented him from meeting a “good character” requirement, which is an eligibility criteria for citizenship.
Elkundi & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Birmingham City Council  EWHC 1024 (Admin): the High Court has ruled that Birmingham City Council has been operating an unlawful system for the performance of its main housing duty under the Housing Act 1996. The Council had been operating on the basis that an applicant owed the main housing duty may be left in unsuitable accommodation while the Council takes a reasonable time to secure permanent suitable accommodation. Steyn J held that this was unlawful; the main housing duty is an “immediate, unqualified and non-deferrable” duty to secure suitable accommodation. Putting applicants on a waiting list was not a lawful means of performing that duty.
On the UKHRB:
Caroline Cross covers a recent case in which the boundaries of causation in mesothelioma deaths were tested and clarified.
Martin Forde QC summarises the High Court’s decision (set out briefly above) that the Home Office’s handling of a Windrush citizenship application was unlawful
R (On the Application of Hubert Howard (deceased, substituted by Maresha Howard Rose pursuant to CPR 19.2(4) and PD 19A)) vSecretary of State for the Home Department EWHC 1023 (Admin)— read judgment
Hubert Howard was born in 1956 and came to the United Kingdom in 1960, aged almost 4 from Jamaica. He was part of the Windrush Generation. No doubt like all West Indians of that time, including my parents, he thought he was a British Citizen.
In fact, he was a Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies on arrival, and, by sleight of hand, in the author’s view, he lost that status upon Jamaica gaining independence in 1962 and he became a Commonwealth citizen.
The same reduction in status happened to my father in 1966, when Barbados gained independence. Having arrived in 1953, believing he was fully British and having been conscripted for two years’ National Service, he had nobody write telling him that his status had changed and that he effectively became Barbadian, thirteen years after his arrival here.
Hubert should have applied to be registered to be a British citizen before 1 January 1988, when that right lapsed, but like many Commonwealth citizens, particularly from the Caribbean, he did not.
Hubert did apply for a British passport in 2007 and 2010 but on each occasion, he was told that his application failed because he was not a British citizen. In February 2012 he was told by the Home Office that he would first need to apply for indefinite leave to remain, 52 years after he had been resident, and could then, if granted ILTR, obtain a passport after the required period of lawful residence.
In 2012 Hubert lost his job with the Peabody Trust, a job that he had held since 2003, and whose Director of Human Resources was to describe him, in 2018, as “reliable, hardworking and diligent in carrying out his duties”. But due to “an inspection from Immigration Services in 2012 … [he] was unable to produce a passport and we had to let him go”.
In June 2014, Hubert’s solicitors made an application for a No Time Limit status granted to those who have ILTR so that they can be granted a biometric card, which at the time cost £1,300.
The Home Office then required, as was the case with many Windrush applicants, one piece of evidence demonstrating residence from 1960 within 14 days. His application fee was retained when he did not furnish the information.
In April 2018, the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd made a Windrush Statement, which included the phrase
They are British in all but legal status, and this should never have been allowed to happen.
That sentence was to prove vital to the outcome of the case.
Wandsworth BC v HMC for Inner West London  EWHC 801 (Admin) — read judgment
Mesothelioma deaths arising from asbestos regularly come before coroners. This case, though, is of particular interest because it tests the boundaries of causation in relation to mesothelioma deaths – what evidence is needed to show that asbestos exposure led to that specific death?
The issue before the court was whether the coroner was entitled to conclude that it was probable, as opposed to merely possible, that the deceased had developed the mesothelioma that caused and led to her death as a result of exposure to asbestos while living in the council’s property.
It was concluded that in the circumstances, the evidence had been insufficient and the relevant findings in the Record of Inquest were altered.
Mrs Johns and her daughter moved into the council’s flat at 8 Eliot Court in July 1996. Twelve years previously, in 1984, asbestos had been detected in the flat. In October 2003 the council instructed contractors to remove the asbestos. While the work was being done, Mrs Johns and her daughter moved out. However, during the works a vacuum cleaner used by the contractors ‘exploded’, soaking a number of pieces of furniture, the carpet and personal possessions with a polymeric substance. On their return to the flat, they discovered the scene, as described by her daughter: “It looked as if something had happened whereby what [the vacuum] was meant to do was to vacuum dust up but what it had in fact done is blown it out…”. She could not recall whether her mother cleaned up the mess, but assumed she had. The contractors and council settled her claim for the damage to her possessions.
Mrs Johns lived at 8 Eliot Court until June 2017 before moving to a new address. In June 2018 she attended her GP, complaining of backache. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, and in July 2018 she was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma. She died on 27 August 2018 aged 51. The consultant pathologist concluded that she had died of bronchopneumonia, which had resulted from malignant mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs.
The rights of immigrants and asylum seekers have been at the forefront of the news this week, with the Home Secretary coming under fire both in the courts and in the political arena. On Wednesday, a landmark court ruling held Ms Patel accountable for failures properly to investigate deaths among asylum seekers at detention centres. The case concerned two Nigerian nationals, one of whom was found dead in Harmondsworth immigration centre in 2019. His friend, Mr Lawal, was a key witness in the investigation of the death, but the Home Office sought to deport him before he could give evidence. The court held that the Home Secretary’s initial policy, which sought to remove Mr Lawal, its replacement, applied from August 2020, and the current policy, were unlawful and breached human rights because they failed to ensure that those who had relevant information would be able to give evidence before removal proceedings were commenced, thus frustrating inquiries into immigration centre deaths. Days later it was reported that this may be a widespread problem, with suggestions that scores of people had been prevented from giving key evidence to police investigations as a result of early deportation. While Ms Patel was warned that this practice must be curbed by a coroner in August, it is suggested that her response did little to address the problem.
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