The court is already being followed by almost 4,000 Twitter users (for the uninitiated, that is a lot) and has already beaten its own Twitter policy’s prediction of “2-3 tweets a week” with eight on its first day. The eventful debut tweets included seven live updates on the swearing-in ceremony of the court’s newest Justice, Lord Reed, and one relenting to Twitter user @FOImanUK‘s valid point that contrary to the court’s stated policy, it should be possible to put freedom of information requests to the court via Twitter.
This is all excellent news. The UK’s newest and highest appeal court is now setting the international standard for open justice, with its splendid press summaries of judgments, live transmission of hearings online (today’s is a very interesting case about the state’s financial responsibility towards disable people), accessible court facilities and generally public-facing approach. This is also as it should be: the Court has a statutory duty to be “accessible”. But the Supreme Court, which is largely independent from the rest of the court system, is now streaking ahead of it in terms of access to justice. And this open justice gap is becoming a problem.
Vidal Hall and Ors v Google Inc  EWHC 13 (QB) – read judgment
A group of UK Google users called ‘Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking’ have claimed that the tracking and collation of information about of their internet usage by Google amounts to misuse of personal information, and a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. The Judge confirmed that misuse of personal information was a distinct tort. He also held that the English courts had jurisdiction to try the claims.
Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision was on the basis that (1) there was a distinct tort of the misuse of private information (2) there was a serious issue to be tried on the merits in respect of the claims for misuse and for breach of the DPA; (3) the claims were made in tort and damage had been sustained in the jurisdiction and (4) England was clearly therefore the most appropriate forum for the trial.
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.
The criminal justice system is “close to breaking point”, according to a report released by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week, Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System. The report finds that the criminal justice system is “bedevilled by long standing poor performance” including delays and inefficiencies, where costs are shunted from one part of the system to another.
Last year there was a backlog of 51,830 cases awaiting a hearing at the Crown Court. The average wait between a case leaving the Magistrates’ Court and reaching the Crown Court is 134 days, compared with 99 days two years ago. The “disjointed” nature of the system – which is administered by different parts of government with different budgets – results in decisions taken by one part increasing inefficiencies in another area. The service received by victims and witnesses is not good enough, and there are “unacceptable variations” in the length of time victims have to wait for access to justice in different areas of the country.
The report unequivocally concludes that the Ministry of Justice has been “too slow” to recognise that the system is under stress and to do anything about it. The MoJ has exhausted the scope to cut costs without pushing the system beyond breaking point – since 2010-11, the criminal justice system has suffered a massive 26% cut. Even if courts sit on all days in their allowance, there are still not enough judges to hear all the cases. Since the criminal bar has reduced in size as a result of reductions in legal aid spending, the CPS struggle to find counsel to prosecute cases.
Though the MoJ have developed an “ambitious” reform programme which aims to address the inefficiencies in the system, partly through digitising paper records and enabling flexible digital working, the PAC were told it would take four years to see the benefits. Court users should “not have to wait this long to see real change”, they say, noting that “Government does not have a good track record of delivering projects that involve significant changes to IT”. They recommend that the MoJ do more in the meantime by better sharing the small practical improvements introduced by hard-working staff in individual courts.
The Bar Council have said in response to the report that while it sends an “important message” to the Government, the proposed digitisation reforms are not enough to address the challenges faced by the system. The “precious asset” of Justice should be ring-fenced from cuts.
The Supreme Court last week upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal in finding that British expatriates of more than 15 years are not eligible to vote in the EU referendum on 23 June. Harry Shindler, 95, who has resided in Italy for 35 years, and Jacquelyn MacLennan, 54, who has lived in Belgium since 1987, had argued unsuccessfully that the 15-year rule contained in Section 2 of the EU Referendum Act 2015 was an unjustified restriction on their freedom of movement, in that it penalised them for exercising their right to move and reside in another Member State. Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, emphasised that the relevant question was not whether the voting exclusion was justifiable as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, but rather whether European Law applied at all, since only if it did was there any possibility of attacking an Act of Parliament. Assuming for the sake of argument that it did apply, the Supreme Court decided that it was not arguable that there was an interference with the right of free movement, for the reasons given by the Court of Appeal and Divisional Court. See David Hart QC’s previous post on the Court of Appeal decision here.
An inquest has found that police unlawfully detained a 22-year-old man with mental health issues who was later found hanged. Logan Peters had been held in an unauthorised headlock and illegally strip-searched by police who stopped him on suspicion of criminal damage at a takeaway. The inquest heard that whilst in his cell Mr Peters had battered the walls with his head and tried to strangle himself, but was considered “attention-seeking” rather than suicidal. There was no plan put in place for his care following his release. The panel concluded there were “errors, omissions, failures” in the way Mr Peters was seized on the street, finding that it was “extremely likely” that the events and the “unreasonable, disproportionate and unnecessary force used… had a negative impact on Logan’s physical and psychological well-being”. This follows several high profile failings by police to look after people with mental health issues whilst in custody, such as the death Sarah Reed at Holloway prison earlier this year and Sheldon Woodford at HMP Winchester in 2015.
In the Courts
IC v Romania – the inadequacy of the investigation into a young girl’s allegation of rape was a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment). A 14-year old girl with an intellectual disability had alleged that whilst at a wake she had been grabbed by three teenage boys who took her to a man, MC, waiting in the garden of a deserted building, who then raped her. Two other men were also present. During the police investigation the six men involved claimed the girl had consented to the intercourse. The prosecutor accepted this explanation, indicting MC only for sexual intercourse with a minor. The Court held that the authorities had put undue emphasis on the lack of proof that the girl had shown resistance during the incident. The prosecutors had based their conclusions on the statements given by the alleged rapists along with the fact that the girl’s body did not show any signs of violence and she had not called for help. The Romanian authorities had failed to give particular attention to IC’s intellectual disability, in light of which her ‘consent’ to the acts should have been analysed.
Biao v Denmark – The Court held in this case that Danish legislation on family reunion is discriminatory, finding a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life). The applicant was a naturalised Danish citizen of Togolese origin who complained that he and his Ghanaian wife could not settle in Denmark. The Danish authorities had refused to grant them family reunion on the basis that they did not fulfil the “attachment” requirement that they did not have stronger ties with another country – Ghana, in this case. They complained that an amendment to the legislation which lifted the “attachment requirement” for those who had held Danish citizenship for at least 28 years resulted in difference in treatment between those born Danish nationals and those who had acquired Danish citizenship later in life. The Court held that this rule favoured Danish nationals of Danish ethnic origin, and placed those who had acquired Danish citizenship later in life at a disadvantage.
R (o.t.a HS2AA, Buckingham County Council and others) v. Secretary of State for Transport,  UKSC 3 – read judgments
So the challenge to the way in which the Government wished to push the HS2 project through Parliament has failed before the Supreme Court, though not without clarifying the way in which key EU environmental provisions are meant to work. And we will also see a further flexing of the Court’s muscles against a too straightforward reading of the supremacy of EU law when seen against our constitutional principles.
The objectors said the command paper which preceded the Parliamentary hybrid bill, in which the Government set out its proposals for HS2, fell within the scope of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive 2001/42/EC and that an SEA ought therefore to have been carried out. The directive applies to plans or programmes which set a “framework” (Art.3(2)(a)) for future decisions whether to grant development consent for projects, and it was said that the command paper set the framework for the decision whether to grant consent for HS2.
Secondly, the objectors said that the legislative procedure in Parliament does not meet the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 2011/92/EU. The EU Court of Justice has interpreted that directive as imposing a number of requirements, including that the legislature must have available to it the information required by the directive, and a requirement that national courts must be able to verify that the requirements of the directive have been satisfied, taking account of the entire legislative process, including the preparatory documents and the parliamentary debates. Continue reading →
The Inner House of the Court of Session has ruled that Serco Limited acted lawfully when evicting a failed asylum seeker from temporary accommodation in Glasgow without first obtaining a court order. This is the same conclusion that was drawn by the Outer House of the Court of Session in April. Daniel McKaveney has posted on the main points in this judgement here.
Whilst each judgment reached the same end result, one striking difference between the two is the reasoning that the Lord Ordinary and the Lord Justice Clerk deployed to answer the question of whether Serco should be classified as a “public authority” under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (“the HRA 1998”).
The persuasiveness and significance of each courts’ reasoning will be considered below.
TTM (By his Litigation Friend TM) v London Borough of Hackney, East London NHS Foundation Trust; Secretary of State for Health – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the local authority, but not the detaining hospital, was liable to pay compensation to a person who had been unlawfully detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983. The case provides important guidance on the liability of mental health and medical professionals in the difficult area of detaining patients, as well as the ability to recover damages where a claimant is unlawfully detained.
The Court held that the patient’s detention had been unlawful from the start when the approved mental health professional [‘AMHP’] erred in whether the patient’s relative objected to admission. The local authority responsible for the AMHP could not rely on the Section 139(1)of the Mental Health Act 1983 [‘the Act’] statutory protection from civil liability, which had to be read down by virtue of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to give effect to the patient’s right to liberty under Article 5 of the ECHR.
The Queen on the Application of Medical Justice v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1710 – read judgment
People who make unsuccessful claims to enter or remain in the United Kingdom cannot be removed without being given sufficient time for a lawyer to prepare a proper challenge to their claim. The government has failed in its appeal against the Administrative Court’s finding that government policy unlawfully provided for expedited removal procedures in certain pressing circumstances – for example where there was a risk that the person concerned, if given advanced notification of his removal, might attempt to frustrate those measures of removal. The policy was quashed because it interfered with people’s right of access to a lawyer.
The Home Secretary is responsible for granting or refusing leave to remain in the United Kingdom for those who do not have the right of abode in this country in accordance with the Immigration Rules. It is an important aspect of maintaining immigration control that a credible enforcement process is in force and that those with no right to remain in the United Kingdom are removed from the jurisdiction while not infringing the accepted rights of those about to be removed. Continue reading →
As the Cearta.ie blog reminds us this morning, the late Lord Bingham saw accessibility, intelligibility and predictability as central requirements for the effective rule of law. It is also central to the human right to a fair trial. On that theme, Lord Neuberger, the head of the court of appeal, gave a speech last week which sought to push that agenda forward in the internet age.
But what comes next? In order to push forward the open justice agenda, ideas will have to be practically worked through, and funded. Please use the comments section of this post to let us know what you think, what you make of the ideas in Neuberger’s speech and whether you have any ones of your own.
Aside from lazy sub-editors (one of whom was me), what is causing this proliferation of Top Judges? It may be that senior judges are speaking out more, even on controversial topics which could create problems for them in the future.
Or perhaps Top Judge has always been outspoken, but fewer people were listening. In the internet age judges’ pronouncements are more quickly and widely reported. Speeches are often published instantly (sometimes, even before being made) on websites such as judiciary.gov.uk. Previously obscure Parliamentary committee hearings are broadcast live on the internet. The increased profile of the still-new Supreme Court adds to this dynamic.
Last week’s decision of the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v Hodges has been lauded across the world as a quantum leap for equality and human rights – “a victory for America”, according to President Obama. The Court held by a 5-4 majority that, pursuant to the 14th Amendment, same-sex couples across the United States have a constitutional right to marry. You can read my colleague Matthew Flinn’s analysis of the ruling here. Continue reading →
What’s a judge to do when the Magna Carta/Freeman on the Land crew threaten you with hanging and start menacing court clerks as well?
As Rosalind English noted in a previous post, Canada’s latest Freemen judicial decisions in AVI and MHVB and Jacqueline Robinson (I and II) have had to answer those pointed questions.
Rosalind’s note canvassed the first decision by Justice Robert Graesser of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench calling out the actions of Jacqueline Robinson who had inserted herself into a high-conflict child custody case with disastrous results for the mother she was ‘helping’. Robinson’s efforts included invoking Article 61 of the 1215 Magna Carta despite it having been repealed some 800 years previous and a demand for the return of the mother’s “property” (read ‘child’). With Robinson’s Magna Carta Lawful Rebellion help, the mother went from having shared child access to no access and being removed as a guardian.
Emmet Coldrick is a barrister at Quadrant Chambers, London. The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of its author. Legal scrutiny of the provisions discussed in this piece is warranted but should not be taken to question the requirement to obey the regulations.
This first article will examine whether the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 fall within the Minister’s powers under section 45C(4)(d) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to impose “a special restriction or requirement”.The second article will discuss the proper approach that the court should take where fundamental rights are in issue and argue that the Regulations were in fact ultra vires.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (“the Regulations”) contained the most draconian restrictions on the liberty of the general population ever imposed in England. They purported to create several new criminal offences (see reg. 9), including an offence of contravening a regulation that “… no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse” (see reg. 6) and an offence of contravening, without reasonable excuse, a regulation that (subject to limited exceptions) “no person may participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people” (see reg. 7).
These extraordinary new laws were made without prior debate in Parliament. The published text of the Regulations records that they were made and came into force at 1.00 p.m. on 26th March 2020 and were laid before Parliament only thereafter.
On any view, a power to make – by the stroke of a minister’s pen – such new laws would be an awesome one. The Secretary of State claims that he had the power to make the Regulations under Part 2A of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (“the 1984 Act”). That has been challenged by Mr Simon Dolan, who has brought judicial review proceedings contending that the Regulations were ultra vires.
Mr Dolan’s challenge is pending in the Court of Appeal. It was dismissed as unarguable by Lewis J at first instance (Dolan v Secretary of State for Health EWHC 1786 (Admin) (6th July 2020). But the Act presents difficulties in interpretation that were not grappled with in the judgment. I make a case below that the Regulations are ultra vires and that Mr Dolan’s appeal should be allowed.
In Secretary of State for the Home Department v Sergei Skripal  EWCOP 6, Mr Justice Williams made a best interests decision that blood samples could be taken by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from Sergei and Yulia Skirpal in order that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) could undertake their own analysis to find evidence of possible nerve agents. Both Sergei and Yulia were and remain unconscious and in a critical condition, and were unable to consent to such blood samples being taken.
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.