The Supreme Court has found that Poole Borough Council did not owe a duty of care to two children, CN and GN, who it failed to re-house, despite the fact that they were suffering abuse from their neighbours. However, the court overruled previous authority and found that in some situations a duty of care might arise.
The Claimants, CN and GN, had been placed by the Council in
a house on an estate in Poole with their mother in May 2006. CN was aged 9 and GN
was aged 7. CN has severe mental and physical disabilities.
The family living in the neighbouring property were known by the Council to have engaged in anti-social behaviour persistently. Soon after their arrival, this family began a campaign of harassment and abuse against GN, CN and their mother which lasted for several years. This included vandalism, attacks on the family home, threats of violence, verbal abuse, and physical assaults. All measures, including eviction, anti-social behaviour orders, of sentences of imprisonment, etc. had failed to stop the abuse. Even a Home Office-commissioned independent report criticised the police and of the council’s failure to make adequate use of powers available under anti-social behaviour legislation.
Or “Human Rights and Wrongs”, as Jonathan Sumption’s third lecture is called, in his series on Law’s Expanding Empire, delivered in Edinburgh and broadcast on Radio 4 and BBC World Service.
Human rights are where law and politics meet. It can be an unfriendly meeting…”
Following these strong words, Lord Sumption briskly debunks the ideas of “natural” or “inalienable” human rights, in favour since Blackstone’s time. In principle, there is nothing so fundamental about certain rights that they cannot be overturned by democratic election. The idea of these inalienable human rights was perfectly straightforward in a world where rights were part of God’s law, or in communist societies where these rights were ordained by the ruling party. But in a secular democracy, Sumption asks, what is it that makes rights legitimate? Of course there are rights without which a community cannot function, like the right to be free of force, and the right to participate in fair and regular elections. Any further rights should be conferred by collective choice, and not because because they are thought to be inherent in our humanity, or derived from some higher law. Instead of the mystics and the totalitarians, he invites us instead to consider the 18th century enlightenment philosopher David Hume.
He rejected the whole concept of natural law … You cannot derive moral principles from abstract reasoning or empirical observation. They derive their legitimacy from collective moral sentiment.
Rights [continues Sumption] do not exist in a vacuum, They are the creation of law, which is a product of social organisation, and which is therefore necessarily a product of political choice.
The entanglement of law and ethics is always perilous when it involves the threat of prohibition. When Shenzhen scientists announced two years ago that they had edited the genes of twin human babies whilst still in vitro, voices of disapproval reverberated around the globe. Whilst it seems that gene modification of potential human life fills us with fear and loathing nothing has stood in the way of the race to refine this technology. Efforts to predict and restrict genetic engineering seem quaint and outmoded, from the UNESCO 1997 Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, to the Council of Europe’s Convention in the same year to restrict the modification of the genome to therapeutic purposes only. These agreements, as well as the 2015 call by UNESCO for a moratorium on germline modification, are well past their sell by dates.
What is the scope of a school’s duty to accommodate the religion of a parent whose children attend its schools? From September 2020, it will become mandatory for “relationship education” which includes lessons about LGBT relationships to be taught in English primary schools under the Children and Social Work Act 2017. According to a petition by Muslim parents in Birmingham, however, such teaching contradicts the Islamic faith, thereby violating their freedom of religion.
The ongoing protests raise a host of questions about the boundaries between religious rights and the obligation of the state to promote social inclusion through universal and non-discriminatory education.
In this article, it will be argued that the rigorous approach taken by the Canadian courts to this issue should serve as a template for possible future consideration by the English courts and also that uneven standards in the statutory guidance for maintained and independent (including faith) schools undermine the equality duty in the UK.
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
Credit: The Guardian
In the News:
The High Court has granted a without-notice injunction which bans protesters from gathering outside a primary school’s gates.
Protesters have been campaigning for weeks against Anderton Park Primary School’s decision to teach its pupils about LGBT issues. The activists argue that the children are ‘too young’ to understand the relationships. Some have also stated that it conflicts with Islamic teaching.
The Headteacher, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, told the media that she has received a number of threatening messages. The school had to close early for half-term due to the protests.
Birmingham City Council applied for the injunction last week on the basis that the protests were beginning to jeopardise the safety of staff, pupils and parents. The injunction will last until the 10th June.
A Clinical Commissioning Group v P (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) and TD  EWCOP 18
The lesson to be learned from this case is to be careful of the hands into which you may fall, should you become incapacitated and end up in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.
The patient in this case, P, was traumatised by a drug overdose in 2014. Since then she has been tracheotomy dependent and tube-fed. She is vulnerable to fitting, chest infections and other forms of ill-health. She was initially diagnosed as being in a vegetative state which was subsequently revised to that of a minimally conscious state.
At the time of the application she was in a unit specialising in rehabilitation for those suffering from neurological impairment. Staff at the Unit hold strong pro-life views. The CCG, the applicant in this case, was funding that treatment. There was no disagreement between the Official Solicitor, the CCG and the family as to the correct course of action; that Clinically Assisted Nutrition and Hydration (CANH) should be withdrawn. However, given the contrary views expressed by the staff who care for P, the CCG decided to bring this matter before the court. MacDonald J concluded that, whilst the application proceeded unopposed by all parties to it, it was appropriate to deliver a fully reasoned judgment.
The Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that a nurse’s dismissal for improper proselytising was not unfair and that the hospital trust’s decision was not in contravention of the claimant’s rights as guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The claimant, a committed Christian, had been employed as a band 5 nurse by the Trust since 2007. Following a medication error, she had been given a final written warning and transferred to work in a pre-operative assessment role. In this role the claimant was required to go through a pre-operative form with the patients. The form required the claimant to make a simple inquiry into the patient’s religious beliefs; importantly “it did not open the door to further religious discussion.” 
In March and April 2016 several complaints were made by
patients about the over-zealous religious preaching of the claimant, with one
patient being told shortly before major bowel surgery that he had a better
chance of survival if he prayed to God.
Following these complaints the matron gave the claimant both oral and written warning that her proselytising was not acceptable. The claimant confirmed that she would not engage in religious discussion unless prompted by the patient.
Two further complaints were made in May and the claimant was
suspended. Whilst suspended a further complaint was made alleging that the
claimant had forced a patient to sing Psalm 23 out loud in what he described as
a “very bizarre” encounter that was “like a Monty Python skit.”
The trust investigated the claims and after a disciplinary hearing the claimant was dismissed for repeated and inappropriate misconduct, including a breach of paragraph 20.7 of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code which prohibits nurses from expressing their own personal views in an inappropriate way.
District Judge Coleman, a judge sitting in the Westminster Magistrates Court, has issued a summons for Boris Johnson to appear in the Crown Court. He will face three charges alleging misconduct in a public office in a private prosecution brought by Marcus Ball. The offences alleged are indictable only which means that they can only be heard in the Crown Court.
Marcus Ball, a 29-year-old businessman who has brought the proceedings with the help of crowdfunding, alleges that the frontrunner for the Tory leadership lied about the amount of money which the UK sends to the EU both during the referendum campaign and during the general election campaign in 2017.
The controversial claim that £350m a week was sent by the UK to the EU and could better be spent on public services in the UK instead was a particularly eye catching aspect of the Leave campaign and attracted considerable criticism at the time and since. Some of that criticism particularly from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which branded the claim “absurd” and UK Statistics Authority whose chair described the claim as a misuse of statistics forms an important part of the case.
At issue in this procedural hearing was whether the court should issue a summons for Boris Johnson to attend court. He opposed the application and lost. He will be required to appear therefore be required to attend court for a preliminary hearing and the case will then be sent to the Crown Court.
The Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) recently hosted an event at UCL on the legal and human rights implications of Brexit on Northern Ireland, which we are delighted to be able to share with you on Law Pod UK. Listen to it on Audioboom here.
Theresa May resigns during a speech in Downing Street, May 24th 2019. Credit: The Guardian
It would be virtually impossible for readers of this blog, unless they have recently returned from the International Space Station, awoken from a coma or been rescued after two weeks in the Hawaiian jungle, to have failed to notice this week’s political developments. Dispensing with them briefly, this week saw the Prime Minister announce her departure, and the subsequent commencement of a Conservative leadership campaign to appoint a new PM. Into this mix was thrown Sunday’s European Parliament elections, which saw Nigel Farage’s World Trade Organisation terms advocating Brexit Party finish first, albeit in a poll that saw advocates of a “no-deal” Brexit obtain fewer votes than those committed to preventing Brexit, if you take the combined Brexit Party and UKIP vote compared to combined Liberal Democrat, Green Party and Change UK vote.
More on Britain’s political machinations can be found courtesy of wall-to-wall coverage available pretty much everywhere. Continue reading →
Biologists are fond of using the analogy of Alice and the Red Queen to explain why, in the real world of parasites and defence immune systems, you have to run to keep still. In this post I will be looking at a similar problem in the legal world, where the rule of law paradigm is subject to competition between parliament and the judiciary. You have to keep running to keep abreast of whichever one has the flame. Who will prevail as anointed guardian of the rule of law? Does it matter, and is the race even real?
R (on the application of Privacy International) (Appellant) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal and others (Respondents)  UKSC 22.
In his analysis of the half century of argumentation on this point, Jonathan Metzer suggests that the question of who is actually in charge may be redolent of Alice in Wonderland. Anisminic replaced one confusion with another by merging errors of law and errors of jurisdiction. The effect of this ruling was, in Lord Sumption’s words,
to create what is nominally a power of review, but is in substance a right of appeal on points of law going to the merits.
For the facts and issues in this appeal, see Jonathan’s post Anisminic 2.0. David Hart QC’s post considers the Appeal Court ruling (which went the other way) here. In the paragraphs to follow I explore the dissent.
Pomphrey v Secretary of State for Health and Anor  4 WLUK 483 –— decision not yet on Bailii but available on Lawtel.
This case concerned an alleged failure to diagnose compression of nerve roots leading to cauda equina and alleged delay in operating urgently. It raises an important issue in relation to causation and the applicability of the famous decision of Chester v Afshar  UKHL 41.
The Claimant advanced a range of arguments on breach of duty
against a number of individuals in respect of a failure to refer for earlier
surgery for symptoms of early onset cauda equina, all of which failed having
regard to a careful analysis of the factual and expert evidence.
The judge did, however, find that there was a breach of duty
in respect of the delay between seeing the consultant neurosurgeon on 14
December 2011 and the actual operation which took place on 24 January 2012. The
negligent period of delay was found to be 10 days.
That breach of duty opened the door to the Claimant running an argument based on Chester v Afshar and Crossman v. St George’s NHS Trust EWHC 2878 that the same dice rolled on another day would not have resulted in ‘snake eyes’; viz. an injury which was an accepted complication of the operation, estimated at around 5%. This being a case where the consultant in question accepted that the injury had been “inadvertent” and therefore not one that necessarily would have occurred.
R (Maguire) v HM’s Senior Coroner for Blackpool and Fylde  EWHC 1232 (Admin) – Read Judgment
A three-judge panel of the Divisional Court has re-affirmed that, in general, medical inquests do not engage the State’s positive obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Jackie Maguire had Down’s Syndrome, moderate learning difficulties, and severely compromised cognitive and communication abilities. On 22nd February 2017, she tragically died from a perforated ulcer at the age of 52, having developed symptoms starting with a sore throat around one week previously. For around 20 years prior, she had been living in care, and at the time of her death, following a capacity assessment under sections 1 – 3 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, her place had been maintained by Blackool City Council in a care home from where she was not allowed to leave without supervision.
By a narrow 4-3 majority, the Supreme Court has ruled in R (Privacy International) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal  UKSC 22 that the extent of GCHQ’s powers to hack into internet services should be subject to judicial review, despite a powerfully-drawn ‘ouster clause’ which sought to prevent the decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal from being questioned by a court.
Lord Carnwarth, who delivered the majority judgement, noted the ‘obvious parallel’ with the seminal case of Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission  2 AC 147. Turning to the ouster clause in the present case, he considered that ‘a more explicit formulation’ might have ousted the jurisdiction of the High Court to consider a challenge to a decision by the IPT, but that, such as it was, the clause was not sufficiently clear to do so.
Lord Carnwarth also stated that: ‘It is ultimately for the courts, not the legislature, to determine the limits set by the rule of law to the power to exclude review.’ Although it was not necessary to decide on the general lawfulness of ouster clauses, he saw ‘a strong case for holding that, consistently with the rule of law, binding effect cannot be given to a clause which purports wholly to exclude the supervisory jurisdiction of the High Court to review a decision of an inferior court or tribunal, whether for excess or abuse of jurisdiction, or error of law.’ Lord Lloyd-Jones, another of the Judges in the majority, remained neutral on this statement.
Lord Carnwarth’s ‘rule of law’ argument was echoed by Caroline Wilson Palow, Privacy International’s general counsel, and Simon Creighton, of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, which acted for Privacy International. Megan Goulding, a lawyer at Liberty, which supported Privacy International, stated that the ouster clause was ‘not just undemocratic, but a sinister attempt to reduce the safeguards that protect our rights.’
In contrast, Professor Richard Ekins, a Tutorial Fellow in constitutional law at Oxford University, has stated that the ruling ‘violated the sovereignty of parliament.’ Ekins credited the three dissenting judges for their willingness to ‘[give] effect to parliament’s authoritative choice’ to limit judicial review by creating a specialist tribunal to consider complaints against the intelligence services.
In the News
The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has appointed Rita French, formerly his principal private secretary, to a post as the UK’s first human rights ambassador. Hunt put the appointment implicitly in the context of Brexit, stating that ‘as the UK enters a new chapter in its history’ he will ensure human rights are not forgotten in the rush to secure desperately needed free trade deals. Shami Chakrabarti, shadow attorney general, made her skepticism clear: ‘Rita French’s task will be an uphill struggle in a party that has consistently campaigned to scrap human rights instruments and cosied up to every despot in the pursuit of trade.’
The appointment came shortly after Human Rights Watch published a 115-page report condemning the UK government for breaching its duty to protect citizens from hunger by pursuing ‘cruel and harmful policies’ with little regard for children living in poverty. While a government spokesperson dismissed the findings, school staff and food bank volunteers confirmed that the report tallied with their experiences.
On Wednesday, the defence secretary, Penny Mordaunt, announced ‘a statutory presumption against prosecution’ for alleged offences committed in the course of duty more than ten years ago, covering wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following the announcement, Mordaunt went further, stating that she would like to see the proposed exemption extended to period of the Troubles in Ireland. Mordaunt’s comments were quickly met with criticism from human rights groups, a string of Conservative MPs, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney, and Sinn Féinn’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill. An editorial in The Independent argued that the move would set human rights back by decades, allowing ‘the UK [to] opt in and out of the ECHR, depending on whether it is at war,’ while Amnesty UK’s campaign manager for Northern Ireland argues that the move undermines victims’ ‘fundamental rights to justice.’
In Other News
Ukraine responded angrily after ministers of the Council of Europe voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing Russia to ‘participate on an equal basis’ in the council’s committee of ministers and parliamentary assembly, five years after the country was stripped of its voting rights over the seizure of Crimea. Ukraine’s envoy to the Council stated that the decision was not ‘diplomacy’ but rather ‘a surrender’.
US President Donald Trump has outlined his ‘strongly pro-life’ views on abortion days after Alabama passed a law banning abortion in almost all cases. In a series of tweets, Mr Trump stated that he was against abortion except in cases of rape, incest or ‘protecting the life of the mother’. While Republicans eager to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling welcome the ban and Trump’s approbation of it, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren characterised the prohibition as ‘dangerous and exceptionally cruel’, and Human Rights Watch described the legislation as ‘a shocking abdication of responsibility by Alabama law makers’.
In the Washington Times, Neil Bush called for the release of Marsha Lazareva, a prominent Russian businesswoman imprisoned in Kuwait since May 2018 after being found guilty of embezzling 17 million dinars from the Kuwaiti Port Authority. Her latest hearing has been delayed until 9 June, after the judge recused himself unexpectedly. The manner in which Lazareva was tried and sentenced has been criticised by a number of human rights groups and diplomatic figures, including the former US Representative Ed Royce. Louis Freeh, a former judge and Director of the FBI, expressed concern for Lazareva’s health and wellbeing, and called the refusal of the Kuwaiti authorities to release her on a $33 million cash bail something he had ‘never heard of’ in his years as a judge and advocate. Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, senior counsel for Lazareva, has said that the ‘expert auditor’ on whose testimony much of the evidence relied has since been charged with the forgery of the three documents on which he depended during the case.
Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 818: The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal for wrongful dismissal by a nursing sister employed by the Trust. The sister was a ‘committed Christian’ fired for breaching an undertaking not to have inappropriate religious discussion with patients. One of the patients who lodged a complain was told by Mrs Kuteh that if he prayed to God he would have a better chance of surviving a major surgery for bowel cancer which he was about to undergo. ‘Even having regard to the importance of the right to freedom of religion,’ the court concluded that the Employment Tribunal’s decision was ‘plainly correct’, and the Trust’s decision to dismiss Ms Kuteh for misconduct ‘fell within the reasonable band of responses’ in this case.
In Episode 79 Emma-Louise Fenelon talks to Christopher Mellor about causation in inquests, and the findings of the Divisional Court in R (Chidlow) v HM Senior Coroner for Blackpool and Fylde  EWHC 581 (Admin).
This episode was recorded shortly before the Court of Appeal decision was handed down in R (Maughan) v HM S Coroner for Oxfordshire  EWCA Civ 809, upholding the civil standard of proof in relation to findings of suicide in inquests.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.