I watched the BBC’s flagship political debate Question Timelast week and saw a panel of senior politicians from the three main parties plus UKIP debate the implications of the Abu Qatada affair with the audience. You can watch it here (starts at 8 mins 27 seconds) and I urge you to do so. I found the debate illuminating and alarming in equal measure; it made me reflect seriously on how precarious Britain’s interwoven system of international and domestic protection for human rights may actually be these days.
It seems a long time ago that we naively thought that repeal of the Human Rights Act was “unthinkable” – now withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) itself must seemingly be taken as a serious possibility, depending on the outcome of the next election. The failure of the HRA to implant itself into our political, still less our popular culture was starkly apparent from the debate: I don’t think anyone even mentioned it. A statute that should surely be an important reference point in any discussion of a contemporary UK human rights issue has become so marginalised and misunderstood that it simply didn’t come up. Can one imagine American – or German – politicians discussing such an issue without mentioning their constitutional Bills of Rights – or Canadians, without mentioning the Charter?
Shirin Jisha v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 2043 (Admin) – Read judgment
When is a human rights claim a human rights claim in an immigration context? The High Court has recently considered this question in the case of a Bangladeshi citizen who had her visa cancelled when returning from a trip abroad.
This case related to the proper meaning of section 113(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The Secretary of State had argued that the claimant’s claim was not a “human rights claim” because the claim was not made “at a place designated by the defendant” but served as part of her appeal to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal against the defendant’s refusal to grant her leave to enter. It was held that the claim was a “human rights claim” within the terms of section 113(1).
The British public owes a lot to Ernest Davies. Few, if any, will have heard of him. A Londoner and scion of a Labour party councillor, he began a career in journalism, spent the war years at the BBC’s north Africa desk and, in the Attlee landslide of 1945, was elected as Member of Parliament for Enfield. After the 1950 General Election, he was appointed Parliamentary Undersecretary of State in the Foreign Commonwealth Office. And at 4 p.m. on 4th November 1950, together with ministers representing ten other European states, he walked into the Salone of the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, and signed the European Convention on Human Rights on behalf of the United Kingdom.
It is intriguing to imagine what Davies would have made of the current debate over the United Kingdom’s participation in the Convention system. Perhaps as a former journalist he would have known all too well that, at least for some sections of the British media, coverage of European affairs isn’t always to be taken at face value or too seriously. He would, no doubt, be surprised at the evolution of the Convention into the system it is today. But I think it would have been surprise mixed with a quiet sense of pride, for he would have known that the text he signed was the product of months of work by British lawyers.
Yesterday morning, in a speech to civic organisations in Glasgow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “no responsible government” would consider repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 due to the numerous negative consequences, both in the domestic and international sphere, that would result from such a move – (see a transcript of the speech here).
by Fraser Simpson
Proposals for Repeal of the Human Rights Act
It has been a longstanding Tory policy to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Such a policy is motivated by discontent over a handful of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) that have allegedly “undermine[d] the role of UK courts in deciding on human rights issues”. In October 2014, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced Tory proposals to treat Strasbourg judgments as “advisory” – irrespective of the potential incoherence between treating judgments in such a way and the UK’s obligations under Article 46, ECHR (see John Wadham’s post here). However, the 2015 Tory manifesto included less specific promises to “scrap the Human Rights Act” in order to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights”. Little substantive information has been provided on the development of these plans, apart from an intention, included in the Queen’s speech, to conduct consultations and publish proposals this autumn. Continue reading →
Manchester Ship Canal Developments v Persons Unknown  EWHC 645 (Ch) – read judgment
The High Court has ruled that Convention rights may be engaged in disputes between private landowners and trespassers, thereby making it incumbent on the court under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act to balance the trespassers’ rights under Article 8 against the landowner’s rights under Article 1 Protocol 1.
The claimants, who owned land adjacent to a single track road surrounded by farmland, sought a possession order against the defendant activists who had set up camp close to the road in protest at the drilling program being undertaken by a company to whom the claimants had granted a licence. The protest, which obstructed the road on a number of occasions, was intended to deter the controversial fracking process which the activists feared would ensue. Continue reading →
Following David Hart’s highly popular review of Alan Paterson’s book on the Supreme Court, here’s an account of the recent public speeches of Lord Sumption, Lord Justice Laws, and Lady Hale. I apologise in advance for the length of this post, but to do justice to all three lectures it has proved necessary to quote extensively from each. There are links to the full text of the lectures, if you want to digest them over Christmas. But whether or not that prospect appeals, here is a challenge for the festive season. Lord Sumption divides judges into three categories: the “parson”, the “pragmatic realist” and the”analyst” (quoted by Professor Paterson in Final Judgment: The Last Law Lords and the Supreme Court). Which of these labels fit the respective speakers? Continue reading →
The UK’s exit from the European Union raises many questions for continuing cross-border arrangements and the legal proceedings that follow. This is no less the case in the area of police and judicial cooperation. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) has governed all arrangements since January 2021. Since people accused of crime will continue to travel, what does this mean for an individual’s ability to challenge requests from EU member states to UK authorities? These arguments are well known in the UK: how can we return people to Poland for prosecution of such minor misdemeanours as dessert theft? Should we be returning people to Lithuania given the appalling prison conditions?
Part 3 TCA introduced a new “surrender” arrangement with the EU to replace the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). It also replaced the other measures that in 2014 the UK concluded were necessary for law enforcement when it exercised the Protocol 36 to the Lisbon Treaty option to depart from police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, and then opted back into 35. Alongside the EAW, these included the European investigation order, supervision order, instrument on transfer of prisoners and various others. These measures resulted from the mutual recognition project that sought to make law enforcement speedier and more effective. Part 3 TCA now provides for cooperation with Europol and Eurojust, operational information exchange and mutual assistance.
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly bulletin of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
In the news
This week saw the final Brighton Declaration, containing the Council of Europe states’ proposals for reform of the European Court of Human Rights, published, in extremely important news for the future of the Court. Other hot topics this week include perennial gems such as the deportation of terrorist suspects, the right to liberty, fears over the democratic legitimacy of judicial “lawmaking” and cameras in court.
On 25 January 2012 Justice Edwin Cameron, Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, delivered an emotive and thoughtful talk entitled “What you can do with rights”. The Law Commission’s annual Lord Scarman Lecture covered apartheid, AIDS denialism, LGBT rights and delved into the essence of moral humanity. It was a lecture delivered with skill and fluency, with only the slight dissatisfaction being the vagueness of Justice Cameron’s conclusion: that legal rights allow people to achieve some progress, but they don’t solve every problem.
Justice Cameron has occupied a seat on the highest judicial bench of South Africa for three years. He was made a judge by President Nelson Mandela in 1994, when his country was emerging from the systemic violence that the apartheid system had wrought on human rights. This position gives him authority, but it is his personal experience that lent the lecture gravitas. The Justice was diagnosed as HIV positive at a time when the true scale of the epidemic was being realised, and publicly fought for access to the anti-retroviral drugs that saved his life at a time when the scale of his government’s folly in denying them to millions was becoming equally clear.
There is a scene in the film Milk in which Harvey Milk, a gay rights leader and politician, counsels his young protegé Cleve Jones on how to rally an angry crowd. Cleve has been reading a convoluted speech to little effect, when Milk steps in to show him how it’s done.”Lose the note cards next time”, he tells Cleve, “your job is to say into that bullhorn what they’re all feeling”.
Geoffrey Robertson QC has taken Harvey Milk’s advice in a recent article in the Daily Mail in support of a British Bill of Rights. We can be angry about European human rights judges and the European Convention, says Robertson, because “human rights can be delivered without Europe infringing the sovereignty of the British Parliament” through a British Bill of Rights. He feels the pain of the Euro-sceptic case.
Six decades ago today, the European Convention on Human Rights came into force. It all started brightly, as a post-war, British-led pact against Fascism and Communism. Now, human rights are under heavy, relentless attack. Politicians, press and public seem to have an endless appetite for tales of human rights gone wrong. The Justice Secretary has recently said “all options are on the table” for “major change” on human rights, and it is likely that the future of the ECHR will be a major general election issue in 2015. In short, the UK may soon withdraw from the longstanding international human rights system which it was instrumental in creating.
That would be a great mistake. It is often said that human rights are something foreign to the UK, whose proud common law tradition negates the need for these “European” protections. But even a brief consideration of the ECHR’s history shows how wrong that perspective is. The ECHR was a fundamentally British document which has had an enormous, beneficial effect. We should be proud of its history, and would be quite mad to reject it now, six decades on.
Updated, 19 May 2013 | Last night, lawyers, academics, NGOs and even the President of the Supreme Court gathered in a basement conference room in central London. Their purpose was to discuss the UK “without Convention Rights”, a possible future that some might view as post-apocalyptic, and others as utopia. Either way, given recent political developments, the event could not, in the words of the Chair, Lord Dyson, “be more timely or topical.”
Last week the UN Human Rights Commissioner published the draft report of the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UK’s human rights record (draft report here, webcast of the UPR session here). The UPR involves delegations from UN member states asking questions and make recommendations to the UK government on the protection of human rights, which the government will consider before providing its response. The report is extremely wide-ranging, perhaps to its detriment, though many valuable and interesting insights are provided.
The UPR process was established in 2006. It involves a review of all 192 UN member states once every four years. As readers of this blog will know, the protection of human rights has a troubled recent history in the UK, with newspaper campaigns against “the hatedHuman Rights Act” providing the background to government pronouncements on human rights that veer from the sensible to the ridiculous. In this context, the UPR provides a valuable attempt at a serious assessment of human rights in this country.
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular party gathering of human rights news and views. The full list of links can be found here. You can find previous roundups here. Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Celia Rooney.
This week, the Conservative Party will unveil its plans for human rights reform in the UK. In other news, Chris Grayling’s decision to drastically reduce the number of legal aid contacts granted is successfully challenged, while a prosecution for assisted suicide keeps the assisted dying debate alive.
AB, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 3453 (Admin) – read judgment
Here unfolds a story of sophisticated abuse of the asylum system in this country by an individual skilfully shamming persecution. Nor did the security agents who escorted the claimant on his departure come up smelling of roses: it emerged during the course of these proceedings that they had falsified a room clearance certificate to boost the defence case.
The judgment also points up the potentially far-reaching effect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and how this might render all the handwringing about the European Convention on Human Rights irrelevant, and a home grown Bill of Rights otiose.
The claimant, whom Mostyn J describes as “a highly intelligent, manipulative, unscrupulous and deceitful person”, arrived in this country in 2005, was refused asylum and was deported in 2010. He sought judicial review of the Home Secretary’s decision to refuse his claim and return him to his state of embarkation, “Country A” (so designated because there was a reporting restriction order made in the original proceedings anonymising both the claimant, his country of origin, and the political organisation of which he claimed to be a member. Mostyn J “reluctantly” went along with that order in this proceedings, since neither of the parties applied to have it reviewed.)
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