The judgment in Vardy v Rooney  EWHC 2017 can be foundHERE.
The case was a game of two other halves – Coleen Rooney, wife of Wayne, and Rebekah Vardy, wife of Jamie. Steyn J’s judgment left Rooney and her legal team punching the air and dousing themselves in champagne whilst Vardy cradled herself at the side of the pitch, reflecting on the moment she stepped up to take the stand, a moment that will give her nightmares for years. To be clear – I am speaking metaphorically, that didn’t actually happen. If there is one thing reading this judgment has taught me, it is not to make assumptions about whether you are going to be sued for libel, as some people have a really surprising take on the wisdom of doing that.
Last week, the EU launched new legal action against the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol. The four new claims, which concern a failure to apply the customs and tax rules as agreed in 2019, are prompted by the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill passing through parliament that plans to discard the arrangements. Under the bill, companies in Great Britain who wish to export to Northern Ireland could choose between meeting either the UK or the EU regulatory standards. The EU’s Brexit commissioner described such terms as “illegal”, and justified the action as a response to the UK’s “unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion since February”. The four new challenges come on top of three other cases already underway, all of which will come before the European Court of Justice.
Charles Bronson, “Britain’s most notorious prisoner”, is the first person to formally ask for a public Parole Board hearing following rule changes that came into force on Thursday. In deciding whether to grant a public hearing, the board’s chairman will take into account the victims’ wishes, the risk of trauma, the vulnerability of the prisoner, and whether any witness evidence would be affected. The reform followed a case in 2020 in which Bronson successfully argued that Ministry of Justice regulations preventing public hearings breached his right to a fair trial. While the normal position remains that hearings will be private, the new rules allow for prisoners to request publicity, and Bronson’s hearing is expected to be held publicly late this year or early 2023.
The UK Government has urged Supreme Court justices not to hear the Scottish government’s request for a ruling as to whether it has the power to hold ‘indyref2’ (a proposed second Scottish independence referendum). The request was referred to the UKSC by Lord Advocate Bain, who was not prepared to sign off on the independence referendum bill without a ruling which acknowledges the necessary power to do so. The UK Government has been expressive in its “clear view” that the bill would be beyond the competence of the Scottish Parliament, and that the matter is too “premature” for justices to rule on it. The case is currently in the hands of Lord Reed. If the Scottish Government wins the case, Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that the bill would be introduced promptly so as to allow the vote to take place before October 2023.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has reprimanded the Department of Health for the use of WhatsApp and private emails during the pandemic. The use of these cryptic platforms has meant that information regarding the handling of the pandemic has been lost. The issue was brought before the courts in April, where the claim was dismissed and the practice held to be lawful. This was because the use of such channels of communication did not in themselves breach the Freedom of Information or data protection rules, because sufficient controls were in place to allow the information to be retrieved upon request. The ICO investigation has discovered, however, that “such controls were lacking”. As a result, the Department of Health has been formally required to improve its communications operations so that “public authorities remain accountable to the people they serve”.
This poignant case tells a sad story, but an instructive one in terms of human rights and the ability of courts to interpret statutes in accordance with these rights under Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
The judge’s role in these difficult private cases is subject to the “stern test” laid down by Sir James Munby in Samantha Jeffries v BMI Healthcare Limited and others EWHC 2493 (Fam) . Respect for a statute’s obvious does not entail
that the judge must approach a case such as this bereft of humanity, empathy, compassion and sympathy. What it does mean is that the judge cannot allow his judgment to be swayed, or his decision to be distorted, by those very human emotions.
Background facts and law
The statute in question in that case and this was the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, as amended by secondary legislation and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. More on that later. Here, the applicant sought a declaration that it was lawful for him to use an embryo created using his sperm and the eggs of his late wife in treatment with a surrogate. The embryo was created in 2018 when the applicant and his wife (C) were undergoing fertility treatment to fulfil their wish to have children of their own. The embryo is currently stored at the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health.
The applicant and his wife had undergone several unsuccessful cycles of IVF, the latter being private. They had remortgaged their house to pay for the treatment. A positive pregnancy with twin girls was confirmed in November 2018. C developed complications in her pregnancy at 18 weeks, which resulted in a uterine rupture, and she died on 25 February 2019. There was one remaining embryo which the applicant wished to use with a surrogate, to fulfil their joint wish for this to take place in such circumstances. He accepted there was no written consent by C for that to take place but said that they had not been given sufficient information or opportunity to give that written consent. It was that remaining embryo that was the subject of this application.
The landmark decision handed down on 6 July 2022 by a majority of 3 to 2 in the Supreme Court held that a serving diplomat does not enjoy immunity in an employment tribunal claim grounded in allegations of modern slavery.
The biggest story filling the headlines this week was that Boris Johnson has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party following over 50 resignations from government ministers. Though predominantly a political development, there are potential legal implications to the decision. This is because, until the leadership campaign announces his successor, current policies are stagnated under the ‘lame-duck government’. There is, therefore, doubt over the future of three particularly controversial policies: the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill; the Bill of Rights Bill; and the Rwanda scheme.
The proposed Bill of Rights Bill is Dominic Raab’s effort to replace the Human Rights Act, with the vision to allow the UKSC to take little account of rulings by the ECtHR. While Raab still remains in office, there are question marks over whether the controversial Bill will survive the administrative overhaul that is soon to unfold. See the reference below to the latest episode of Law Pod UK, which discusses the Bill in detail.
With the current turmoil in Westminster, attention to the government’s proposed Bill of Rights Bill has temporarily fallen away. But whatever the leadership contest throws up, the debate still rages: do we repeal and replace the Human Rights Act 1998? Leave it in place, or update it? Dominic Raab’s Bill will probably have to wait a while for its second reading in the Commons; in the mean time, Rosalind English combs through its provisions with Andrew Warnock QC, whose practice at 1 Chancery Chambers involves many cases involving claims based on the European Convention of Human Rights and the 1998 Act. Listen to Episode 167 for an in-depth survey of the new Bill’s proposals.
Here are the citations for the cases referred to in the interview:
R (On the application of Elan-Cane) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 56
Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police  UKSC 4
I was gripped by the Britney Spears saga. This phenomenally successful pop star was deemed to lack capacity in relation to most aspects of her life and finances for more than 13 years allowing her father full control over her considerable fortune and her person and critically, she was unable to object until the “Free Britney” movement highlighted the rampant injustice of the situation. Only then was she was permitted to appoint her own lawyer and “freed”. In this we consider briefly the similarities and differences between the US conservatorship and the UK deputyship.
Britney’s situation has thrown a glaring light on conservatorships and the potential for abuse. A number of famous people have had conservatorships – often temporary and some of their own volition. Randy Meisner (The Eagles) requested a conservatorship after the sudden death of his wife. Mickey Rooney (actor) had one imposed on account of being the subject of horrible physical and financial abuse from his 8th wife and her son. Joni Mitchell (singer songwriter) had a temporary conservatorship after a severe brain aneurysm until she recovered. As stated in the NY Times on 22 June 2021,
Experts say conservatorships should prioritize the wishes of the conservatee and help them regain their independence. The arrangements are supposed to be a last resort for people who cannot take care of their basic needs, such as those with significant disabilities or older people with dementia, yet Ms. Spears has been able to perform and profit for more than a decade.
Basics of US Conservatorships
Conservatorships, known in many states as guardianship, are put in place for people who are significantly disabled by mental illness, elderly individuals who lack mental capacity due to medical conditions such as dementia, or individuals with developmental disabilities who lack the capacity to manage their own affairs. They are often temporary. In typical conservatorship proceedings, an allegedly mentally incapacitated person is evaluated by a qualified physician or psychiatrist who prepares a report documenting the person’s mental capacity that is provided to the court and may be used as evidence. The court must be satisfied that the individual must be unable to make decisions regarding food, clothing, shelter or medical decisions and/or they must be unable to manage financial affairs or resist undue influence. For conservatorships of the person (managing all aspects of daily life and medical care as opposed to finance) the bar is apparently a high one with these being reserved for those most seriously ill. There is also a power to grant limited conservatorships by which the person subject to it can still make some decisions for themselves e.g., where to live. Britney Spears was subject to both types and for a period of 13 years.
UKHRB followers of a certain age may remember this advertisement for breakfast cereal, which went “viral” in the days before the internet:
Those were innocent times, when we believed that the combination of wheat, fat and sugar in a breakfast cereal was a good start to a child’s day. Now we know that foods high in sugar are major contributors to the child obesity epidemic in this country. Hence the government’s regulations on nutritional foodstuffs, introduced last year.
Background law and facts
The Food (Promotions and Placement) (England) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/1368 – “the 2021 Regulations”) are part of the Government’s strategy to tackle childhood obesity. They introduce restrictions on the promotion, in supermarkets or other large outlets and online, of food which is classified as high in fat, sugaror salt.
Under these Regulations breakfast cereals are included in the categories of food which may be “specified food” and therefore subject to the relevant restrictions. Whether a given product within one of these categories is in fact classified as “less healthy” depends on the score which it is given under the Food Standards Agency’s Nutrient Profiling Model (“NPM”). The NPM requires that the nutrient content of a given product is analysed per 100g of the food or drink itself, rather than taking account of what the food or drink may be consumed with.
Kellogg’s – one of the main players in the breakfast market – relies on agreements with retailers to place its products in parts of stores (e.g. near the checkout, in a queuing area, at the end of an aisle) which maximise sales and to promote its products on the retailers’ websites.
Arguments before the Court
Kellogg’s pleaded claims were based on a number of grounds, the main one being that the Defendant failed to have regard to a relevant consideration, namely the fact that breakfast cereals are typically consumed with milk. This, they maintained was part of the nutrient profile of breakfast cereals.
Kellogg’s fundamental complaint about the 2021 Regulations was that, under the NPM, the fact that a portion of, for example, Kellogg’s “Frosties” would typically be consumed with milk, was not taken into account in assessing whether this product was food which is classified as high in fat, sugar or salt (“HFSS”). If the consumption of milk with breakfast cereal were taken into account, fewer Kellogg products would be classified as HFSS because the nutrient values of the added milk would contribute to the scoring. Kellogg argued that an approach which measured the relative levels of fat, sugar or salt in the product itself, rather than the health impact of the product as typically consumed, was disproportionate and irrational.
Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the Scottish government intends to hold an independence referendum on 19th October 2023. Her government has requested that the Supreme Court give a ruling on whether they can legally call such a referendum without authorisation from Westminster. Sturgeon commented that if the court’s response is negative, the next general election could provide a ‘de facto referendum’ on independence.
In other news
According to a recent analysis, the proportion of judicial reviews in England and Wales in which claimants have won has fallen by 50% since 2020. Last year, 31 judicial reviews (excluding immigration) found for the claimant in the High Court, the lowest number since 2001, when records began. Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, responded with a warning that the rule of law ‘could easily become a relic for the history books’
The Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office have called on the Law Commission of England and Wales to review the law regarding contempt of court. This comes amidst concerns that the current system is ‘disordered and unclear’. The review will aim at simplification, clarification, consistency and greater effectiveness within the law regarding civil and criminal contempt of court. It will address, among other things, Article 10 ECHR in relation to publishing information about court proceedings, potential procedural issues, responsibility for adjudication, investigation and prosecution, and the appropriateness of current penalties.
The UK Information Commissioner has announced that public authorities will only be fined for data breaches in ‘the most egregious cases’. The effectiveness of fines as a deterrent was doubted by the Commissioner. Public reprimands will be used more frequently, alongside enforcement notices, as part of ‘a more proactive and targeted approach’.
In R (Gorani) v HM Assistant Coroner for Inner West London  EWHC1593 (QB), a Divisional Court comprising Macur LJ and Garnham J rejected on all grounds a wide-ranging challenge to the conduct of in inquest into a suicide. Of particular interest were the Court’s observations on the effect of a finding that the investigative duty under article 2, ECHR was engaged, and their clarification that a coroner does not need to hear submissions before refusing to make a ‘preventing future deaths’ report. That said, it is a broad and interesting judgment and deserves reading in full by those with an interest in coronial law.
On Wednesday, a new Bill of Rights was introduced to Parliament. While the Government claims that the Bill ‘will strengthen traditional UK rights’ which are ‘under attack’ from ‘stifling political correctness’, critics say the Bill dilutes domestic human rights protection and seeks to diminish the powers of domestic courts. Key aspects of the Bill are as follows:
it gets rid of the interpretive obligation under s3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, with no analogous replacement;
it prevents UK courts from adopting new interpretations of ECHR rights that would require a public authority to comply with a positive obligation and limits their ability to enforce existing positive obligations;
it introduces a permission stage requiring people to show they have suffered a significant disadvantage before their claim can go ahead;
it prevents domestic courts from finding legislative provisions concerning deportation to be incompatible with the Article 8 right to respect for private and family life unless the provision would require the relevant person to be treated in a way that would occasion ‘harm’ so ‘extreme’ that it would ‘override the otherwise paramount public interest’ in removal from the UK; and
it requires courts, when deciding ‘incompatibility questions’, to treat Parliament as having ‘decided’ that the Act strikes an appropriate balance between the relevant competing factors.
The Bill’s detractors have suggested that, despite its stated aim to ‘bring rights home’, the Bill will in fact result in the UK being in breach of its obligations under the ECHR more often, making it more vulnerable to adverse rulings by the ECtHR.
On Friday, the US Supreme Court overturnedRoe v Wade, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion. Going forward, abortion rights will be determined by states, unless Congress acts. President Biden commented: “The Court has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.”
After almost five really enjoyable years as commissioning editor of the UK Human Rights Blog, I will be stepping back from that role and joining the Blog’s editorial board. I am delighted to announce that replacing me as joint commissioning editors will be Darragh Coffey and Jasper Gold.
The last few years have been very good ones for the Blog and it has been a great privilege to be the commissioning editor. I am hugely grateful to all the contributors, the round-up writers and, of course, the editorial board, for all of their hard work, help and support. I know that Darragh and Jasper will be excellent set of hands for this role. If you are interested in writing for the Blog, please contact them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first flight attempting to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been cancelled at the last minute following a ECtHR ruling that granted an ‘urgent interim measure’ to stop the deportation. This is in contradiction to the UK High Court and Court of Appeal, which found that, while there should be a full review of the policy, the Home Secretary would not be acting unlawfully by deporting asylum seekers in the meantime. The UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal. The ECtHR stated that the decision was influenced by the UN’s refugee agency, who raised concerns that those being deported may not receive a fair hearing and could be left in unsafe conditions.
The Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the US. Assange has been charged under the US Espionage Act for publishing leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars on his whistle-blowing platform ‘WikiLeaks’ and faces up to 175 years in jail if found guilty. Assange has been in prison since he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2019 after his asylum status was removed. His extradition had previously been blocked for concerns regarding his mental health, but the current decision marks the most important stage in his legal battle. Assange has 14 days to appeal the decision, but his brother expressed that if this is not successful the case will be brought before the ECtHR.
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.