Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and another (Appellants) v Yunus Rahmatullah (Respondent). (Read judgment)
The Supreme Court has ruled that the law of habeas corpus should not be used to order the US to return a Pakistani national held in US custody to the UK.
Yunus Rahmatullah was captured by British forces in Iraq in 2004 and later taken to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan having been the subject of “extraordinary rendition”. As a suspected insurgent he remains in US custody, without charge.
The charity Reprieve challenged the Court of Appeal decision to cancel a release order in favour of Mr Rahmatullah after they received notification from the US authorities that they intended to return him to Pakistan and would be dealing with the Pakistani authorities directly. The UK Government also appealed, arguing that the Court of Appeal erred in finding that a writ of habeas corpus can be issued where a respondent has sufficiently arguable control of an applicant, and failed to have proper regard to the implications for foreign relations in requiring a request for release to be made to a foreign sovereign state.
Tovey & Ors v Ministry of Justice  EWHC 271 (QB) (18 February 2011) – read judgment.
In a case heard the day before Parliament debated whether it should amend the law preventing prisoners from voting, the High Court struck out a claim for compensation by a prisoner in respect of his disenfranchisement.
Although it was “not part of the court’s function to express any view as to the nature of legislative change”, this ruling confirmed that as a matter of English law, including the Human Rights Act 1998, a prisoner will not succeed before a court in England and Wales in any claim for damages or a declaration based on his disenfranchisement while serving his sentence. Continue reading →
Frodl v Austria (Application no. 20201/04) 8 April 2010 – Read judgment
The European Court of Human Rights has taken another opportunity to criticise a European state for not allowing a prisoner, in this case convicted of murder, to vote. Prisoners will not be voting in the upcoming UK General Election, which may yet lead to a slew of compensation claims against the Government.
We posted recently on the continuing refusal of the UK Government to comply with the 2005 judgment of Hirst v UK, where the European Court held that the ban on prisoners voting in the UK was a breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.
In Frodl v Austria the Court said that any restriction on voting rights must be proportionate to the end pursued, and
“must reflect, or not run counter to, the concern to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of an electoral procedure aimed at identifying the will of the people through universal suffrage. Any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risks undermining the democratic validity of the legislature thus elected and the laws it promulgates.”
The Court went on to find a violation of the European Convention, for the reason that “it is inconceivable… that a prisoner should forfeit his Convention rights merely because of his status as a person detained following conviction“.
The Court added that a prisoner’s right to vote could in some cases be taken away, but only in the limited scenario where a prisoner was detained as a result of the abuse of a public position or a threat to undermine the rule of law or democratic foundations. In other words, there needs to be a “direct link between the facts on which a conviction is based and the sanction of disenfranchisement“.
In the UK, the Government have shown little willingness to enfranchise prisoners and convicts. This may well be because it prefers the risk of thousands of compensation claims, as well as continuing criticism from Europe, to taking the politically unpopular decision of allowing convicted criminals to vote.
The UK has seen an increasingly falling rate in arrests and prosecutions for cannabis possession over recent years, as police forces no longer see the point in enforcement. The Liberal Democrats have campaigned for its legalisation since 2016, and the first medically-prescribed cannabis was permitted in the UK in 2018. However, crucial NHS cannabis-based medicines for epilepsy remained prohibitively difficult to access for another year, with the majority of self-reported ‘medicinal’ users still turning to the black market. With growing numbers of US states, alongside Canada and South Africa decriminalising recreational use over the past three years, some UK MPs believe that cannabis legalisation will occur in the UK within five to ten years.
why should judges decide matters of social policy [thrown up by human rights cases] at all? The political rights, Article 8 – 12, with the right set out in the first part and the derogation in the second, create a structure which means that a very large number of legal debates is about how the balance between private right and public interest should be struck. But what authority, expertise, do lawyers have to strike that balance, that is special to them? Why are lawyers any better qualified to assess family ties in foreign criminal questions?
When the floor was opened to questions I suggested that these comments could be extended out more broadly: what was the proper role and function of the Strasbourg Court? This question, I suggest, lies at the heart of much of the recent controversy surrounding the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, especially in the context of the disagreement over whether prisoners should be able to vote.
The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) recently published a report on police and prison facilities in Scotland after its visit in 2018.
This was an ad hoc visit and it aimed to evaluate the developments made since the CPT’s last visit to Scotland in 2012. The CPT’s delegation visited five police custody facilities and five prisons across Scotland. The report covers several areas, including the treatment of detained persons in police facilities, the conditions of male prisons, inmates in segregation and those on remand. It also focused on female prisons in general, and healthcare.
Police custody facilities
Overall, the CPT’s delegation was satisfied by the conditions and treatment in the police facilities that it visited. Every detained person that they interviewed reported that they had been correctly treated whilst in custody. However, an area of concern was the number of detainees who made allegations that they had suffered ill-treatment at the time of their arrest. Around one third of the detained persons alleged that they experienced excessively tight handcuffing and physical abuse by police officers. Several also claimed that they experienced this treatment despite not resisting arrest. The delegation reported that many of those making the allegations had visible signs of injury, such as bruises, scratches, and swelling.
In his speech earlier this week the Attorney General announced that he would appear in person before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in two weeks’ time, when it hears Scoppola v Italy No2, a case concerning prisoner voting. The United Kingdom is due to intervene in this case, for reasons that readers of this blog will be fully aware of.
I agree with Adam Wagner’s comments that the Attorney General’s speech should (if I may respectfully say so) be applauded for the mature and positive way it addressed some very important issues regarding the future protection of human rights at both the domestic and European level. Here I would like to focus in particular upon what Dominic Grieve said about prisoner voting, and his forthcoming appearance at Strasbourg. On page 9 of his speech he stated:
Last week the Queen revealed that the newly-elected government had delayed its promised proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act. If this signals a willingness to listen and reflect, rather than an opportunity to bring potential rebels into line, then so much the better. Let us keep talking.
In this post, I want to talk about the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The government’s key concern – judging by the Grayling paper published last October – is that the Strasbourg Court has got too big for its boots and won’t stop telling us what to do. Hence the manifesto commitment to introduce a British Bill of Rights. The Prime Minister’s personal gripe – with some justification – is the Court’s 2005 ruling on prisoner voting: Hirst v UK (No.2) (2005) 42 EHRR 849. Continue reading →
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular legal melting pot 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.
Not the right to life, but the right to die dominates the human rights headlines this week, with separate litigation in Strasbourg and the Strand. Commentary abounds on not just the ECHR’s role in domestic law, but how proposed reforms comply with EU law, particularly on the immigration front. Finally, a wide range of human rights approaches to much of the coalition’s plans for this Parliament.
Kaiyam v Secretary of State for Justice and Haney v Secretary of State for Justice (9 December 2013)  EWCA Civ 1587 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that continued detention in prison following the expiry of the “minimum terms” or “tariff periods” of their indeterminate terms of imprisonment did not breach prisoners’ Convention or common law rights, but has left it to the Supreme Court to determine the substance of the Convention claims in detail.
Manning, R. v (Rev 1)  EWCA Crim 592 (30 April 2020) — judgment here
On 30 April 2019, giving the lead judgment in the Court of Appeal, the Lord Chief Justice considered that the impact of a custodial sentence is likely to be heavier during the coronavirus pandemic than it would otherwise be, and that this was a factor that judges and magistrates can and should keep in mind when sentencing.
Updated | The relationship between the UK and the European Court remains turbulent and fractious. The Court has been the subject of significant criticism, notably from some politicians and commentators in the UK, relating to its supposed interference in domestic, sovereign questions and the quality of its judges.
Some commentators say that the UK may have to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the court. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky argues that if (as is highly likely) the Council of Europe refuses to institute a “democratic override” for states of European Court of Human Rights decisions, withdrawal should be seriously considered. MP Nick Herbert argues that the UK should withdraw immediately.
Others have proposed withdrawing from the European Convention altogether. For example, in April, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that temporary withdrawal from the Convention was one option being considered by the UK government in its efforts to deport the Islamic cleric Omar Mohammed Othman (also known as Abu Qatada). Two members of the Commission tasked with investigating the creation of a UK Bill of Rights advocated withdrawal from the Convention unless the Court ceased its ‘judicially activist approach’ (p. 182).
O’Neill and Lauchlan v Scottish Ministers  CSOH 93, 28th October 2015 – read judgment
The Outer House of the Court of Session has dismissed challenges brought by two convicted paedophiles to the Scottish Prison Service’s refusal to allow them to visit each other in prison. The decisions were challenged under articles 8 and 14 ECHR, as it was claimed that the prisoners were in a homosexual relationship. Continue reading →
Two prisoners have failed in their human rights protest against prison rehabilitation courses in the United Kingdom.
The applicant Dillon, currently detained in HMP Whatton, had been given an indeterminate sentence following his conviction for sexual assault. He was given a tariff period of four years. His release after the expiry of this tariff period was subject to the approval of the Parole Board.
He completed the core Sex Offenders Treatment Programme (“SOTP”) in March 2009 and had been assessed as suitable for the extended SOTP in 2010. But then the prison authorities concluded that he was insufficiently motivated to undertake the extended course. He complained that the only way that he could address the risk he presented to the public was by completing the extended SOTP, but his access to this course had been delayed. Continue reading →
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