Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular smorgasbord 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.
There was a lot of reaction this week to the proposed Royal Charter on press regulation and the auxiliary legislation upon which it relies. Commentators are divided on whether the move will work or not, with most controversy surrounding the concept of a ‘relevant publisher’ and how this will affect small, online media. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has declared that it does have the power to read closed judgments of courts below, and therefore could, too, issue closed judgments. Debate continues about the shape of human rights in the UK, especially after the next election; whilst the ECHR slowly evolves with a new protocol ready for ratification.
Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) is the red button for the nuclear option of withdrawal from the EU, and in its design, it was never really, truly envisioned to be pressed. Without testing, and without precedent, we are left with no idea of the potential fallout of pressing that red button. Compared to the quasi-constitutionism of Article 2 TEU evoking the values ‘common to the Member States’ of ‘pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women’; or the brutal legalism of Title VII of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) on competition, tax and the approximation of laws; Article 50 TEU is anaemic. It is, essentially, a button triggering a countdown clock, which is on a comparable level of advancement to the 1980s floppy disk.
The two-year countdown
Triggering Article 50 TEU will begin a two-year countdown to the end of UK Membership of the Union. Within that two-year period an agreement determining the withdrawal arrangements and the future relationship with the Union must be made. Barring a unanimous decision to extend the period, at the end of two years from the point of notification, the UK will no longer be a Member. The Treaties, and all rights and duties therein, cease to apply.
But now, as the British political establishment play a game of “pass the red button”, we are faced with some confounding, and concerning questions from a rights’ perspective. Likely to be lost in the two-year scramble for a political and trade agreement between the UK and EU, which will attempt at all costs to avoid the fall-back position of the application of WTO trade rules, are the very rights and values held as common between the (ex-)Member State(s). During that two-year period, EU law and (pertinently) EU rights will continue to apply in the UK. Free movement will still be (from a legal perspective) free, and claimants may still rely on their EU rights in the Courts. But then what? What happens when the clock strikes zero? Continue reading →
On 11 August, a piece from Professor Richard Ekins KC (Hon) set out a case for the UK denouncing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and leaving the treaty system altogether. One of the main arguments in favour of this is that it would ‘restore Parliament’s freedom, on behalf of the British people, to decide what our laws should be’. This marks one of the more recent such calls, amid a growing chorus of Ministers in the UK Government and Conservative Party MPs to leave the ECHR. Also, it should be noted that we have been here before. The constitutional aspects of such a move aside, there are particular reasons why it would impact Northern Ireland. While Northern Ireland does not feature in Professor Ekins’ 11 August piece, he has previously written about the interaction between the ECHR and the Good Friday Agreement 1998 (GFA), which underpins the modern devolution settlement in Northern Ireland and which brought an end to a brutal and deadly conflict. This interaction is the subject of this post.
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular wholesome takeaway 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 Sarina Kidd.
Welcome to 2014 and Santa has brought us the Defamation Act 2013, which aims to reduce the ‘chilling effect’ of previous libel laws . But as we enter 2014, not all is new. The Conservative Party continues to complain about European human rights. They seek to challenge the ECtHR ban on prison life sentences. How to deal with this? With hundreds of years of imprisonment instead. Meanwhile, today criminal lawyers will refuse to appear at court in order to protest against legal aid and criminal barrister fee cuts.
We posted this morning on the case of the “Pathway students”, in which two suspected terrorists used human rights law to avoid deportation due to fear of torture. Almost immediately after the decision was announced, the BBC reported that a “commission” is to be set up to address the future of the Human Rights Act. Has the case prompted a swift reconsideration of the Coalition’s position on human rights?
Probably not. It would appear that a commission to review the 1998 Act will be set up, as part of a wide raft of civil liberties reforms to be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg later today. However, the timing of the announcement alongside the terror decision is probably coincidental and the commission is likely to have been planned since last week’s Coalition agreement.
2012 has been a busy year on the UK human rights front, never short of controversy, hyperbole and even some interesting points of legal principle along the way.
The Human Rights Act 1998, twelve years young, has been under fairly constant attack from politicians and newspapers. Meanwhile, the HRA has been operating pretty well in the courts, with judges producing a steady stream of interesting home-grown human rights judgments. The European Court of Human Rights has produced some fascinating and controversial judgments, and has also, thanks to the UK’s presidency, signed up to some significant reforms.
Here are a few highlights from January to March – hopefully I will have time to complete the rest of the year!
The evolution of international human rights law (IHRL) in the UN era has seen a paradigm shift away from a view of international law as applying solely to states and their relations with other states, to a focus on the rights of individuals and the duties states owe to citizens. As articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, certain rights are so fundamental as to be universal in scope based on our common humanity. As Reisman notes‘no serious scholar still supports the contention that internal human rights are “essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state” and hence insulated from international law.’
The question is how these inalienable rights, expressed so forcefully on the international level, can be transposed into domestic law. One way is through the process of judicial interpretation. However, this poses a challenge in dualist systems where, traditionally, courts do not take international law into account, unless implemented by national legislation. This reluctance to engage with unincorporated IHRL is what the 1988 Bangalore Judicial Colloquium—a group including such luminaries as Michael Kirby, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Lester and P.N. Bhagwati—sought to address. The resulting Bangalore Principles, concluded that:
It is within the proper nature of the judicial process and well-established judicial functions for national courts to have regard to international obligations which a country undertakes—whether or not they have been incorporated into domestic law—for the purpose of removing ambiguity or uncertainty from national constitutions, legislation or common law.
It took until 1998 for the UK Parliament to incorporate human rights directly into the domestic legal system. In light of the dangers posed by climate change, is it time to go one step further and grant rights to the Earth herself?
Bolivia has done just that – the Mother Earth Rights Law (Ley 071(21 December 2010)) has now come into force. Congratulations to everyone involved in drafting and promoting this law. With Evo Morales’ Party (the Movement Towards Socialism) having a majority in Congress and the Senate, this law passed without much opposition. It is a wonderful legal milestone, which I have been advocating for a number of years as the only way to balance the rights that humans have with the protection of the Planet and ultimately the human race.
Benkharbouche v Embassy of the Republic of Sudan (Jurisdictional Points: State Immunity)  UKEAT 0401_12_0410 4 October 2013 – read judgment
These appeals, heard at the same time, raise the question whether someone employed in the UK by a foreign diplomatic mission as a member of its domestic staff may bring a claim to assert employment rights against the country whose mission it is, despite being met by an assertion of State Immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978. The EAT regarded itself bound by the supremacy of EU law to disapply the SIA, despite the fact that it had no jurisdiction to do so under the 1998 Human Rights Act.
This is the first time that the full force of the rights contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms has made itself felt in a domestic dispute between private parties (although the embassies themselves are state institutions, as an employment dispute the matter is one of private law only). If upheld on appeal, this ruling will have consequences that extend far beyond the somewhat esoteric area of the immunity of diplomatic missions, and will make the effect of the Human Rights Act look puny by comparison (as pointed out by Joshua Rozenberg in his post on this case). Continue reading →
The Supreme Court recently dismissed two appeals concerning the role and rights of siblings in children’s hearings in Scotland. It held that the provisions of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 in question were compatible with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The appeals concerned whether a sibling is a “relevant person” for the purposes of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (‘the 2011 Act’), which governs the children’s hearings system in Scotland.
A relevant person is defined as including a person who has parental responsibilities or rights in relation to the child (section 200(1) of the 2011 Act). If a person does not fall under this definition, they may still be classed as a relevant person under a procedure set out in sections 79-81. Section 81(3) provides that a person can be deemed a relevant person if it is decided that the person has, or recently had, a significant involvement in the upbringing of the child. In most circumstances, this would not include a sibling.
Last Wednesday, the European Court of Justice issued a flurry of judgments just before the Christmas break. Indeed, there were so many interesting and important decisions amongst the twenty or so handed down that seems foolish to consider any of them the ‘most important’. Nonetheless the judgment in NS and Others v SSHD(C-411/10) must be a contender for the title.
The case concerns an asylum seeker in Britain who first entered the EU through Greece. The Dublin Regulation, which governs this aspect of EU asylum law, would ordinarily dictate that the applicant should be sent to Greece to have his asylum claim considered there. However, Mr Saeedi challenged his transfer to Greece, claiming that his human rights would be infringed by such a transfer as Greece would be unable to process his application. NS was joined with an Irish case, ME & Others v Refugee Applications Commissioner & MEJLR (C-493/10), which raised similar questions for EU law.
It’s a busy week for the debate on human rights reform. Today at 2:15pm, the Joint Committee on Human Rights will question the UK judge and current President of the European Court of Human Rights, Sir Nicolas Bratza. Sir Nicholas returns to the UK in a hailstorm of UK reporting – accurate and inaccurate – on the perceived failings of the Strasbourg Court and its judges.
His visit coincides with the expected production of the second draft of the Brighton Declaration which will set out the latest list of reforms to the Strasbourg Court the UK Government asking the Council of Europe to consider. It also follows the departure of Michael Pinto-Duschinsky from the Commission on a Bill of Rights, citing irreconcilable differences and his concern that criticism of the Strasbourg court’s lack of democratic legitimacy was falling on deaf ears.
The commission’s establishment and composition provoked adverse comment. The mood of open hostility to existing human rights law merged with the potential for engineered political standoff, as the commission members are split between those who support the Human Rights Act and those who oppose it. A commission born from political compromise looks primed for stalemate. Not the best way to initiate a new constitutional conversation.
Lester and Kennedy are both well-known human rights experts. Howe has long-standing proponent of replacing of the Human Rights Act with a bill of rights.
According to The Sun, which says the “probe on how to tackle power-crazy Euro judges is being held up by bickering Tories and Lib Dems“, the 7-strong commission will also include another Liberal Democrat nominee (in addition to Lester), two more members appointed by the Tories and a senior Ministry of Justice civil servant. It will have to report by December 2012.
Welcome back to the human rights roundup, a regular bulletin of all the law we haven’t quite managed to feature in full blog posts. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
by Graeme Hall
In the news
Monstering of the innocent?
Once again the Press finds itself in the spotlight, this time over the reporting of former suspect Rebecca Leighton and the deaths at Stepping Hill Hospital. Obiter J sets out the charges against Leighton and also the tests which prosecutors must meet for charges to remain in place. Describing the test as “quite remarkable” given the gravity of the charges, as well as noting the “immense damage” which has undoubtedly been done to Leighton’s reputation, Obiter J predicts a complex human rights challenge to the police’s conduct and calls for Parliament to take a closer look at the existing powers for charging people.
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