The latest episode in the soap concerning our relationship with Strasbourg may end in a fizzle rather than a cliffhanger, but it has provoked some useful soul-searching about the vision of the good embodied in the ECHR, and its monopoly on the right to govern social life.
Derogating from the ECHR or even pulling out of Strasbourg altogether have ceased to be taboo subjects for discussion, but the fear seems to be that the consequence of such defection would mean reversion to selfish nationalism. Is this a bad thing?
This question is not as facetious as it seems and answering it is central to the long term maintenance of a set of principles by which states agree to live. Continue reading →
A collective submission made by special advocates (security-cleared barristers who appear in secret proceedings) has been cleared for publication. This document is a response to the review being performed by Sir Duncan Ouseley, looking into the operation of closed material procedures (CMPs) under the Justice and Security Act 2013. It gives an unprecedented insight into the workings and challenges of these procedures, which enable the State to rely on secret material not shown to the other side in court proceedings.
I have acted as a special advocate since 2002, and am one of the 33 special advocates who have subscribed to the submission. Together, we have experience of every case in which the procedures under the 2013 Act have been invoked, across the UK. I believe that the submission is an important contribution to the public understanding of CMPs, which are generally shielded from any scrutiny. The conduct of the Review itself is not only a safeguard which Parliament had imposed in the face of controversy and concerns at the time the proposals that led to the Act were being debated. It is also a prime opportunity for open discussion and debate in relation to these procedures. Sir Duncan Ouseley is a retired High Court Judge with extensive experience of CMPs so is eminently well placed to be undertaking this task.
In January 2020 I posted a piece on this blog, entitled “Secret Justice”: An Oxymoron and the Overdue Review. This sets out the background to these secret procedures, which I will not repeat here. In that piece I raised concern at the continuing failure by the Government to implement the review that Parliament had required to be performed “as soon as reasonably practicable” five years after the relevant procedures under the Justice and Security Act 2013 (JSA) came into force. That 5 year anniversary had come and gone in June 2018, and in January 2020 there was still no sign of the Government complying with the law in section 13 of the JSA. It was to be another year before the review was finally announced in February 2021. On 7 April 2021 the ‘Call for Evidence’ was issued on behalf of the reviewer, just short of three years after the end of the period that was to be reviewed.
BB, PP, U and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 9 (23 January 2015) – read judgment
This was an appeal by Algerian nationals who had been found by the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission (SIAC) to constitute a threat to UK national security, against deportation to Algeria.
The appellants had resisted attempts by various home secretaries to deport them via protracted litigation over several years. Despite several findings by the SIAC that their human rights would not be infringed in Algeria, doubts remained, particularly with regard to the period of up to twelve days of initial detention in Algeria, known as “garde a vue” detention, in a barracks run by the Algerian security services (DRS). The purpose of such detention was to interrogate prisoners to obtain evidence for future proceedings. SIAC had wholly accepted the evidence of an innocent British citizen (AB) detained there in a case of mistaken identity as “punitive in the extreme”, but determined that his treatment showed a lack of care over the detainee’s welfare rather than a breach of his human rights. It had conceded that the treatment of the appellants might well be no better, not least because DRS officers considered such treatment to be consistent with respect for human dignity.
The appellants submitted that, in the light of this, SIAC’s conclusion that their treatment would not violate Article 3 of the Convention was legally unsustainable; that SIAC had erred in law in its findings that the Algerian government’s assurances were capable of independent verification; and that the SIAC had also erred in law in maintaining, without any open evidence in support, that the DRS had been present during discussions about those assurances and had subscribed to them.
George Osborne is to announce the Government’s emergency budget today. Although the Government has been seeking to emphasise measures which will soften the blow to the poor, the fact remains that these are the biggest cuts in decades and that many will end up worse off, particularly if wages decrease and unemployment increases.
Update: The full budget can be downloaded here. The section on benefits starts at page 33.
The Government is to cut benefits by £11bn by 2014-15. The huge cost of benefits (“spending on social security and tax credits has increased by 45 per cent, around £60 billion, in real terms over the past 10 years.), the Chancellor told Parliament, were one of the reasons why there isn’t any more money in the Government coffers. The Health in Pregnancy grant will be abolished from 2011 and Sure Start will be limited. Child Benefit is to be frozen for the next three years. Disability Living Allowance will be restricted by a new medical check from 2013. The Chancellor has said he will “increase the incentives to work” and will reassess benefits on the basis of the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index. Housing benefit will be limited significantly and maximum limits on what can be claimed are to be introduced for the first time.
Rosalind English posted two weeks ago on whether budget cuts will lead to revised calls for “socio-economic” human rights; a concept which is as old as the European Convention on Human Rights and just as controversial. We will now revisit that post.
For several years, China has been enacting a policy of repression and brainwashing against over a million Uyghur Muslims in its northwest Xinjiang province. Reports include instances of forced sterilisation. Its hundreds of ‘re-education’ camps have been revealed as places where contact with relatives, the ability to pray and even when to use the toilet are tightly controlled. A leaked document reveals the state’s use of algorithms to score inmates on a ‘behaviour-modification’ points system, which tells guards when to mete out rewards and punishments. Absent from their homes, Uyghur places of worship are secretly bulldozed en masse.
On Tuesday, the UK government announced new rules that seek to prevent UK companies profiting from forced Uyghur labour. Companies will have to demonstrate that their supply chains are free from slavery. Public procurement rules will also attempt to exclude suppliers with links to human rights violations. This new policy appears to implement Key Proposal no. 5 of the newly created China Research Group, a think tank set up by Tory MPs to ‘counter violations of international universal human rights’. The ERG-style group was formed after China’s coronavirus cover-up operation became clear.
In Privacy International v Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the Divisional Court held that s.5 Intelligence Services Act 1994 does not permit the government to issue general warrants to engage in computer network exploitation (“CNE”) – more commonly known as computer hacking. The court also offered valuable guidance on warrants and what is required to make them lawful.
There were three issues:
1. Does s.5 Intelligence Services Act 1994 (“the 1994 Act”) permit the Secretary of State to issue ‘thematic’ or ‘general’ warrants to hack computers? General warrants are those which purportedly authorise acts in respect of an entire class of people or an entire class of acts (e.g. ‘all mobile phones in London’).
2. Should the court allow the claim to be amended to include a complaint that, prior to February 2015, the s.5 regime did not comply with Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights?
3. If permission is given to amend the claim, should the new ground succeed?
Comparing different countries’ legal systems is a dangerous game, but three cases came to light this week which beg to be compared. The criminalisation of criticising political leaders has always been a hallmark of illiberal societies, and it seems that the tradition is still going strong today: in France, the West Bank and the UK too.
First, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a man should not have been convicted of a criminal offence for waving a placard at (as he was then) President Sarkozy reading “Casse toi pov’con” (“Get lost, you sad prick”). He was prosecuted for insulting the president, an offence under an 1881 Act, even though the phrase was one of Sarkozy’s own, uttered a few months previously. The Court rightly found a violation of the applicant’s rights to free expression protected under Article 10 ECHR, stating that satire, including satirical impertinence:
R (on the application of Keyu) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs  UKSC 69 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has ruled that the United Kingdom was not obliged to hold a public inquiry into the shooting in December 1948 during the Malayan Emergency by British troops of 24 unarmed civilians at Batang Kali. The Court held that (1) the lapse of time meant that there was no Article 2 requirement to hold an inquiry; (2) a duty to hold an inquiry could not be implied into common law under the principles of customary international law; and (3) the decision not to hold an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 was not open to challenge on ordinary judicial review principles. However, the Supreme Court did hold that the deaths were within the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction for the purposes of the application of the ECHR.
The shootings had originally been described by the Army in 1948 as resulting from an attempted mass escape by ‘bandits.’ Limited contemporaneous investigations were conducted following a growing public outcry in Malaya into the deaths of the unarmed men at Batang Kali. Their approach and conclusions was summed up in a written answer to a Parliamentary Question about the incident given by the then Colonial Secretary in January 1949. This stated:
The Chinese in question were detained for interrogation under powers conferred by the Emergency Regulations. An inquiry into this incident was made by the civil authorities and, after careful consideration of the evidence and a personal visit to the place concerned, the Attorney General was satisfied that, had the Security Forces not opened fire, the suspect Chinese would have made good an attempt at escape which had been obviously pre-arranged.
After newspaper interviews in 1970 were given by some of the soldiers involved in which the shootings were described as cold blooded murder, the Metropolitan Police was ordered by the DPP to investigate the incident. Four soldiers stated under caution that they had been ordered to shoot the men, who had not been attempting to escape, as suspected bandits or sympathisers. However, the Police inquiry was terminated by the DPP before it had been able to make any investigations in Malaysia, on the basis that it was unlikely that sufficient evidence would be obtained to support a prosecution. Continue reading →
W (Algeria) (FC) and BB (Algeria) (FC) and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 8 – read judgment
The court is entitled to make an order for a witness to give evidence before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in such a way that the identity of the witness and the substance of the evidence remains confidential. Such an order will only be granted if the court is satisfied that a witness can give evidence which appears to be capable of belief and which could be decisive or at least highly material on the issue of safety of return and it has no reason to doubt that the witness genuinely and reasonably fears that he and/or others close to him would face reprisals if his identity and the evidence that he is willing to give were disclosed to the relevant foreign state.
To what extent can the government be held liable for facilitating the imposition of the death penalty in a foreign state?
Since signing the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention in 1999, the UK has refused to extradite or deport persons to countries where they are facing criminal charges that carry the death penalty.
There is no judicial precedent, however, which prohibits the sharing of information relevant to a criminal prosecution in a non-abolitionist country. Therefore, in Elgizouli v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 10, there were two questions before the Supreme Court:
1. Whether it is unlawful at common law for the Secretary of State to provide mutual legal assistance (in the form of evidence) that will facilitate the death penalty in a foreign state against the individual in respect of whom the evidence is sought; and
2. Whether and in what circumstances it is lawful under Part 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018, as interpreted in light of relevant provisions of European Union data protection law, for law enforcement authorities in the UK to transfer “personal data” to law enforcement authorities abroad for use in capital criminal proceedings.
In a judgment which showed tremendous sensitivity to the primacy of the legislature, a majority of the Supreme Court (with Lord Kerr dissenting) held the provision of mutual legal assistance (MLA) was not unlawful under the common law.
Nonetheless, the Court unanimously allowed the appeal on the second ground under Part 3 of the DPA 2018, overturning the ruling of the Divisional Court.
Together with anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the coronavirus pandemic has continued to dominate the news. Two recently published reports have highlighted flaws in the government’s response in relation to the provision of social security and domestic abuse support during the crisis.
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.
Protesters in Los Angeles on Saturday. Credit: The Guardian.
The usual purpose of these round ups is to try and avoid repeating the headline news of the previous week whilst instead summarising the key legal developments. There are some weeks, however, in which events tend to put the judgments of the Court of Appeal into the shade.
The death of George Floyd on May 25th not only placed concerns about policing attitudes and deaths in custody onto the front pages, but also shone a light on to wider systemic racism. Protests in response were ongoing as of Sunday, both in the USA and around the world. The use of force by police in the aftermath of demonstrations has been widely reported upon, particularly in the United States, where the extent of force deployed against the British media led to a formal raising of the matter by the British embassy in Washington. Continue reading →
Campaign against Arms Trade, R(on the application of) v The Secretary of State for International Trade  EWHC 1754 (Admin) – read judgment
Angus McCullough QC acted as Special Advocate supporting the Claimant in this case. He is not associated with the writing of this post.
A challenge to the legality of UK’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia has failed. The claim sprang from the conflict in Yemen and the border areas of Saudi Arabia. It focussed on airstrikes conducted by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia in support of the legitimate government of Yemen against the Shia-led Houthi rebellion. UK arms export policy states that the government must deny licenses for sale of arms to regimes if there is a ‘clear risk’ that the arms ‘might’ be used in ‘a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law. This in turn is based on the EU Common Position 2008/944/CFSP on arms export control, which explicitly rules out the authorising of arms licences by Member States in these “clear risk” circumstances.
The claimant argued that the body of evidence available in the public domain not only suggested but dictated the conclusion that such a clear risk exists. It was therefore no longer lawful to license the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.
The High Court dismissed their claim. The CAAT intends to appeal this decision. Continue reading →
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.