The debate over whether control orders will survive the anti-terrorism review has been rumbling on for the past weeks, with a surprising amount of internal discussions being aired in public.
The human rights organisation Liberty, which opposes the orders, has posted a useful summary of the recent back and forth, which it calls (allegedly quoting the Prime Minister) a “car crash”. Reading the summary, it seems clear that there are a number of strongly held but opposing views within the coalition, apparently split down party lines. There also appears to be no clear picture from within the security services either.
Protestors demonstrate outside the Famagusta district court in Paralimni, Cyprus, at the trial of a 19-year old girl convicted of public mischief after withdrawing a rape allegation in contested circumstances. Credit: The Guardian.
A quick look at the “recent decisions” page of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute’s (BAILII) website did not, at first glance, give this author much cause for optimism in the preparation of this blog. However, a more careful reflection on the week’s events provided a plethora of material to consider, notwithstanding the absence of any recent decisions from the Supreme Court or civil Court of Appeal.
When the domestic courts go on leave, it falls to their European counterparts to pick up the slack and churn out judgments to help keep us occupied. It was with surprise however, that a hopeful scroll through the week’s European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decisions revealed not only the familiar names paying a visit to Strasbourg (ahem, Russia), but also that our own United Kingdom had put in an appearance at Europe’s legal naughty corner. Some further creative searching on BAILII revealed that the UK paid nine visits to the ECtHR last year, compared to Russia’s one-hundred and seventy-three.
In Yam v United Kingdom  ECHR 41, a former MI6 informant and Chinese dissident failed in his attempt to have the ECtHR rule that his 2009 murder trial had been prejudiced by virtue of parts of it being held in camera, rather than in public. The applicant had relied upon the provisions of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically 6(1) and 6(3)(d):
“1. In the determination of … any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing … [T]he press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interests of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;”
The court held however that these provisions did not prohibit domestic courts from derogating from public hearings where special circumstances justified it. The measures adopted during his trial had met the requirement of necessity. Furthermore, the ECtHR considered itself poorly equipped to challenge national authorities’ judgement when assessing national security concerns. The court held that the trial judge had carefully balanced the need for openness against the national security interests at stake, and in so doing, had limited the private aspects of the trial to the minimum possible. Through such an analysis, he had satisfied himself that a fair trial was still possible. Consequently, there was no thus disadvantage to the applicant, who had suffered no breach of his Article 6 rights.
In other international developments, lawyers acting for a British 19-year-old in Cyprus filed an appeal against her suspended sentence for public mischief and fabricating an “imaginary crime”. The woman involved had initially made accusations of gang-rape against 12 Israeli youths before retracting her accusation in circumstances now disputed. Her defence have suggested that not only was she suffering from PTSD at the time her claims were withdrawn, but also that she was in fear for her life. The signed confession was in Greek rather than English and made after several hours of unrecorded questioning by detectives in the absence of a lawyer. Her legal team seek to have her conviction overturned.
Returning to purely domestic considerations, the week also saw the announcement that judicial sentencing remarks in high profile cases will in future be broadcast on television from Crown Courts. The move was lauded by broadcasters and the Lord Chief Justice as promoting transparency and as an aid to public understanding of the criminal justice system.
The move was not however uncontroversial. Concerns were raised by the Bar Council of England and Wales that the broadcast of sentencing remarks in the absence of fuller details of the trial could lead to a failure on behalf of viewers to appreciate why a particular sentence has been passed. They expressed anxiety that the audience will be deprived of relevant context, such as mitigation. Further fears included that increased disclosure of judges to the public eye could expose them to undue attack and criticism in circumstances where a given sentence proves unpopular. However regardless of the merits, the development was successful in affording current BBC radio 4 listeners one of the funnier moments so far of 2020, when Evan Davis introduced American lawyer Robert Shapiro to debate the topic with Lord Sumption, only to find that they had inadvertently invited an American political adviser with the same name to the PM show instead (listen here).
The week also saw:
The Mail of Sunday file its defence at the High Court on Tuesday in response to a claim brought by the Duchess of Sussex for breach of copyright, invasion of privacy and misuse of personal data. The case concerns excerpts of correspondence between the Duchess and her father published by the newspaper.
The ECHR deliver judgment in favour of nine Russians detained pending trial for as long as 7 years, some of whom remain incarcerated, in circumstances characterised by fragile reasoning of the courts and an absence of due process – DIGAY AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA  ECHR 54.
The entire Russian government resign in a move thought likely to pave the way for amendments to the country’s constitution favourable to current leader Vladimir Putin. The proposed reforms would strengthen the role of the Prime Minister and weaken that of the President. Mr Putin is constitutionally barred from standing again for the presidency but could transition into one of the roles in which the proposed constitutional changes are likely to vest more power. The reforms would also restrict the applicability of international law in Russia to circumstances where it did not contradict the constitution or restrict people’s rights and freedoms, a measure framed as one to increase national sovereignty.
The High Court refuse permission to appeal in a case brought by a soldier, who contracted Q-fever whilst serving in Afghanistan, against the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The claimant soldier had alleged failings on behalf of the MOD in not providing him with adequate chemoprophylaxis to protect him from the disease – Bass v Ministry of Defence  EWHC 36 (QB).
For non-Apple devices the podcasts are available via the Audioboom app.
For ease of reference the following three posts set out the introductions to each of the presentations and the case citations. Click on the heading for PDF copies of each of the presentations.
The Civil Courts have now been involved in cases of radicalisation brought before them by local authorities for very nearly three years (we are approaching the third anniversary of the first case). What was then innovative is now reasonably well-established (see President’s Guidance on Radicalization Cases in the Family Courts (8 October 2015) and the judgment of Hayden J in London Borough of Tower Hamlets v B  EWHC 1707.
Concern was stirred originally by the spectre of significant numbers of people travelling to Syria to demonstrate their support for ISIS or the Al Nusra Front. This problem is not novel as 80 years ago Britain and Ireland were similarly fixated with the problem of volunteers departing for Spain to fight on both sides in the Civil War. A portrayal of the indoctrination of school age children to fight in that war even seeped into popular culture courtesy of Muriel Spark’s novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The current situation is complicated by the relative ease of international travel, the tactics and targets used by extremists and the fact that the UK has already experienced domestic terrorism inspired by international examples.
The number of UK nationals travelling to Syria may have fallen but reports in 2016 of significant numbers of youths travelling from Kerala to Syria show that the problem has not fallen away and is truly international.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been on the run from the US authorities after being linked to a serious US national security breach, has come out of hiding in Belgium.
The Telegraph reports that trouble started for Assange after a US intelligence analyst bragged about sending 260,000 confidential state department cables about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the online whistleblower website. Washington tried to stop the classified information being posted online by arresting the analyst, Bradley Manning. Amid reports that he was the target of a US military manhunt, Mr Assange went to ground for one month. Continue reading →
[Updated] When blogging about the Great Strasbourg Debate, Adam Wagner recently reflected that he and I are”good cop, bad cop”. No prizes for guessing who plays which role.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here are a few pensées on the recent news that the Daily Telegraph is backing a reform campaign (see Adam’s post on this). Or rather, let’s start with Charles Darwin, who observed that the human animal is capable of continual extension in the objects of his “social instincts and sympathies” from the time when he had regard only for himself and his kin:
… later, he came to regard more and more ‘not only the welfare, but the happiness of all his fellowmen’, [then] ‘his sympathies became more tender and widely diffused, extending to men of all races, to the imbecile, maimed, and other useless members of society, and finally to the lower animals.
Laura Profumo considers the latest human rights headlines.
In the News
The High Court in Belfast today ruled that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHCR) brought the case to extend abortion to cases of serious foetal malformation, rape and incest.
The Abortion Act 1967 does not extend to Northern Ireland: abortion is only allowed there if a woman’s life is at risk, or if there is a permanent risk to her mental or physical health. In this judicial review, it was held that the grounds for abortion should be extended, though it is still to be determined whether new legislation will be required to give effect to the ruling.
Gradwick v IC and the Cabinet Office (EA/2010/0030) – Read decision
The Panopticon Blog has highlighted an interesting recent case in the General Regulatory Tribunal which may prove to be useful in the many different situations where documents are disclosed in redacted form.
The General Regulatory Tribunal (‘the Tribunal’) regulates information rights, amongst other things. Simply, the Tribunal held that if parts of documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 are to be redacted (blacked out), it is not good enough to transcribe a new document with the offending parts removed. This is because, as the Tribunal said:
President Putin has ordered his troops in Ukraine to cease fire for 36 hours over Orthodox Christmas and has urged Ukrainian forces to do the same. However, the move was rejected by Kyiv, and the US state department, as a “cynical trap” and propaganda move. Putin announced the truce, to begin at noon 6 January 2023, after a call by Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Ministers announced legislation that looks to enforce “minimum service levels” in six sectors, including the health service, rail, education, fire and border security. Unions that refuse to do so will face injunctions and could be sued for damages. Employers will be able to sue unions, and dismiss union members who are told to work under the minimum service requirement but refuse to do so. Prime minister Rishi Sunak, however, vetoed more far-reaching measures that would have increased the threshold for strike ballots, doubled the notice for industrial action from two weeks to a month, and banned ambulance workers from striking.
The British Medical Association have informed the government that junior doctors will strike for 72 hours in March if the action is supported in a ballot opening next week. Doctors would not provide emergency care during the strike. The union, which has 45,000 junior doctor members, wants their real-terms pay restored to 2008 levels: a 26.1 per cent increase. The scale of the strike proposed by the BMA is larger than those to be held by nurses and ambulance staff, and will inflame tensions between the unions and the government. The Royal College of Nursing strikes are for 12 hours at a time, and the ambulance unions are holding 24-hour strikes.
A number of campaigning groups were recently informed by the Metropolitan Police that Scotland Yard would no longer provide traffic management at their planned demonstrations. Instead, these groups would be required to devise their own road closure plans and to pay a private security firm to carry out the task.
One of the groups, the organisers of the Million Women Rise rally, estimated that this would cost them around £10,000. The groups refused, arguing that this would amount to a breach of their right to protest.
The Met ultimately backed down – but what if it hadn’t? What is the legal position?
The opening of the Strasbourg Court’s judicial year every January always provides an opportunity for reflection on the themes and challenges which will define the Court’s jurisprudence for the coming year. This year, the theme of the seminar held at the Court to mark that opening was “International and national courts confronting large-scale violations of human rights””. I should like to offer eight predictions as to the other themes which will define the work of the Strasbourg Court this year. Given the Court’s pending caseload is still over 64,000 cases, these predictions are necessarily impressionistic. It will be for readers to judge whether, by this time next year, they have proven accurate.
The Court will continue to grapple with the security situation in Eastern Europe. Foremost on its docket are the inter-state cases involving Russia and Ukraine, but the Grand Chamber will also return to the issue of jurisdiction in Transdniestria in Mozer v. Moldova and Russia, in which it held a hearing on 4 February 2015.
Jack Straw, the former New Labour Justice Secretary, has marked the 10th anniversary of the passing into law of the Human Rights Act with an article in the Guardian.
There are two points of interest from the article. The first is that, by my reading at least, the article runs close to an apology for the previous government’s much-criticised anti-terrorism policies. Straw, who amongst other front line roles was Home Secretary from 1997 to 2001 and Justice Secretary from 2007 to 2010, says “It is hard to exaggerate the pressures that those with responsibility encounter when a population, or part of it, is scared.” This meant that the government were under pressure and “sometimes the same people who might have been seeking greater controls on the intelligence services will want to know why we didn’t have more intelligence”.
Good news from the crisis front, although I’m afraid not the one we’re all thinking of: the government’s Agriculture Bill, which sets out its major post-Brexit agricultural policy, has recently passed committee stage and will soon (coronavirus permitting) be presented to the House of Lords. It shows ambition from the government to develop a post-Brexit agriculture policy with laudable commitments to harnessing the power of farmers to help address the climate crisis, and helps to address issues such as food security. Along with the Environment Bill, discussed here, it constitutes some of the core legislation aimed at achieving the government’s Net Zero by 2050 goal.
The government’s haunting refrain, since their 2018 ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation on post-Brexit agricultural policy, has been “public money for public goods”. The bill puts this into practice by giving the secretary of state power to dismantle the subsidy schemes of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and replace it with the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Under this scheme, farmers will be awarded for specific activities with ‘public goods’: good practices that further environmental goals in areas such as biodiversity and soil health that the market does not sufficiently incentivise.
Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls (head of the Court of Appeal), has only been in post for six months but has already made significant waves, particularly in a series of judgments on the impact of terrorism law on civil liberties. In a speech yesterday, he discussed the experience of having his judgment censored during the Binyam Mohamed appeal.
He used an old Woody Allen joke to describe the experience, saying that his “favourite of his aphorisms is I’m not afraid of dying – I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” He continued that the this has some resonance for him now, as “I’m not afraid of changing my judgments – I just don’t want to be there when I do.”
The tone of the speech was light – Lord Neuberger has been praised for his unusually (for a judge) affable manner – but it does provide an opportunity to take stock of the Master of the Rolls’ eventful first six months in post.
An eventful six months
Lord David Neuberger turned down the chance to be an inaugural member of the UK Supreme Court in order to head up the Court of Appeal, the second highest appeal court. He had already been highly critical of the evolution of the House of Lords to the Supreme Court. Six months later, it already seems clear that the Court of Appeal under its new Master of the Rolls is to be an activist court, and particularly in relation to civil liberties.
We posted last week on the three provocative linked judgments, each written by Lord Neuberger and Lord Justices Maurice Kay and Sullivan, released as a triptych on the same day. The appeals all related to terrorism legislation, and each judgment sought to limit the ability of the Government and security services to keep evidence secret – from the public and even the parties to the litigation – in civil trials. A fourth, relating to control orders in a criminal context, was also released on the same day.
The security services will see the judgments as a fly in their ointment, arguing that the protection of the public from terrorism sometimes trumps the principle of open justice, that justice is done but is also seen to be done. The Government will say in the inevitable appeals to the Supreme Court that the Court of Appeal judgments have stymied their ability to fight terrorism, making it impossible in future for the security services to keep sensitive information from the public domain.
Censorship and the Binyam Mohamed affair
Whilst the three linked judgments were important, by far the most controversial incident involving Lord Neuberger’s court was the censoring of part of a judgment in an appeal relating to Binyam Mohamed (see our post). The court ordered that an email concerning MI5’s knowledge of Mr Mohamed’s alleged torture be disclosed. But part of Lord Neuberger’s judgment, the now notorious paragraph 168, was sharply critical of MI5’s involvement in the material events as well as their conduct in the litigation. Upon an application by the Government, the paragraph was briefly sanitised, and then eventually restored to its original wording.
Lord Neuberger spoke about the experience of “seeing one paragraph of a judgment being discussed in op-ed pieces, headlines. TV and radio bulletins and interviews, and, I imagine, the tweets.” He continued:
One thing the Binyam Mohamed case did teach me was that even a Master of the Rolls should not tempt fate. The day before we initially handed down judgment in the case, the Lord Chief Justice asked me how I was getting on with the new job after my first 20 weeks. Blithely ignorant of what was to happen the following day, tempting fate, I said that, for the first time I was beginning to feel in control of things. Let me tell you: one is never in control of things, above all when one thinks one is. As Woody Allen said, If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans. Although my favourite of his aphorisms is I’m not afraid of dying – I just don’t want to be there when it happens. I suppose that that has some resonance for me now: I’m not afraid of changing my judgments – I just don’t want to be there when I do.
The case arose from the Snowden leaks, which unveiled a vast communications interception program led by the US National Security Agency (‘NSA’). Intercepted communications can include the content of emails as well as ‘metadata’, and can extend to purely internal communications as well as communications with a US connection. For example, an email exchange between Leeds and London may be liable to interception by the NSA simply because it happens to be routed through a US server at some stage along the line. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (‘RIPA’) establishes a framework for interception of communications by UK authorities, but of course those provisions don’t apply to interceptions by foreign state authorities in their own territory. Once intercepted by the NSA, mutual intelligence sharing arrangements can lead the same Leeds-London email to be handed over to the UK authorities, notwithstanding that the UK authorities would have needed a RIPA warrant had they wished to conduct the interception themselves. Continue reading →
Dominic Raab has resigned as deputy prime minister after a bullying inquiry vindicated a number of civil servants’ claims about his behaviour as a minister in the cabinets of Boris Johnson and Theresa May. The report of Andrew Tolley KC held that Raab’s behaviour constituted an “abuse or misuse of power,” citing instances of an intimidating and discouraging attitude towards the civil servants he worked with. Tolley referred to the ruling of the High Court in the 2021 case concerning the behaviour of Priti Patel towards civil servants, in which it was provided that harassment and bullying through intimidating and insulting behaviour were not consistent with the Ministerial Code. In his resignation letter, Raab said that Tolley’s findings were “flawed and set a dangerous precedent for the conduct of good government … it will encourage spurious complaints against ministers.”
The lawsuit between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News was settled before trial with a $786.5m pay-out. The voting machines company alleged that Fox news presenters knowingly made false claims that it had rigged the 2020 presidential election result for Biden, while the news corporation framed their defence as a protection of free speech. To win at trial, Dominion’s claims faced a high bar: they would have had to prove that Fox’s statements were made in ‘actual malice,’ meaning either the corporation knowingly made the false statements or acted with reckless disregard for their falsity. Documents released to the public revealed the commercial pressures on executives and presenters to appeal to pro-Trump viewers. Commentators suggest Fox owner Rupert Murdoch wanted to avoid cross-examination of himself and his news stars at trial. The news company still faces a similar lawsuit from voting technology company, Smartmatic, which released a statement claiming that “Fox needed a villain. Without any true villain, defendants invented one.”
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