Quarantines and lockdowns are sweeping Europe: Italy, France, Spain. Through them, states seek to contain Covid-19 and so save lives. It is difficult to imagine higher stakes from a human rights perspective: mass interferences with whole populations’ liberties on one side; the very weighty public interest in protecting lives on the other; and all this under the shadow of uncertainty and disorder. What, if anything, do human rights have to say?
To begin sketching an answer to this complex question, this post analyses the situation in the European state furthest down this path: Italy. After outlining the Italian measures (I), it argues that Italy’s mass restrictions on internal movement are unlikely to violate the right to free movement but pose problems in respect of the right to liberty (II). I conclude by summarising the tangle of other rights issues those measures raise and making a tentative reflection on the currently limited role of human rights law (III).
Before beginning, I should note that analysing measures’ human rights compliance in abstracto is difficult and slightly artificial: a great deal turns on how measures are implemented in practice and particular individuals’ circumstances. Moreover, my analysis is limited to the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), and I do not profess expertise in Italian law (which is proving complex to interpret). The aim of this post is therefore to start, not end, debate about human rights’ role as these measures begin to spread across Europe.
… well there aren’t exactly fifty ways to leave the European Union, but from the vociferous debate in legal as well as political circles we might be excused for thinking there are a great deal more. Today’s Times reports that “1,000 people join legal fight against Brexit” to ensure that parliament votes before the government formally triggers the exit procedure from the EU. David Pannick will argue the challenge. But against such a legal heavyweight is former law lord Peter Millett, whose letter published in yesterday’s Times declares that the exercise of our treaty rights is a matter for the executive and the triggering of Article 50 does not require parliamentary approval. So whom are we to believe?
In her guest post Joelle Grogan has speculated upon the possible future for rights in the immediate aftermath of the referendum so I won’t cover the same ground. I will simply draw out some of the questions considered in two reports produced before the result of the referendum was known: 1. House of Lords EU Committee Report (HL138) and the more detailed analysis by Richard Gordon QC and Rowena Moffatt: 2 “Brexit: The Immediate Legal Consequences”.
States have an inherent right to withdraw. It would be inconceivable that the member states of such a close economic arrangement would force an unwilling state to continue to participate. The significance of Article 50 therefore lies not in establishing a right to withdraw but in defining the procedure for doing so. Continue reading →
Broom v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2695 (Admin) – Read Judgment
When he was transferred from Whitemoor prison to Wakefield Prison in May 2008, Mr. John Broom had 24 historical photos of his children and nieces confiscated. He had been in possession of those photographs for 18 years. He challenged the decision not to return the photos to him by way of judicial review, claiming that it breached his right to respect for his private or family life. Mr Justice Behrens concluded that there was no infringement of Article 8 of the ECHR in this case.
Mr. Broom is currently serving a discretionary life sentence following his conviction in 1992 for buggery and rape of a female. There were two females involved, one of whom was 16. The nature of this conviction was central to the decision to withhold Mr. Broom’s photographs. The Safeguarding Children Panel said that:
Below is a list of the Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. You can click on the article itself for a description and analysis, or click the “posts” link after each article to see posts on the blog relating to that Article.
The Coalition Government has presented its legislative agenda for the coming year in the Queen’s Speech. Below are links to some of our previous posts which address some of the proposed policies.
The full line-up of bills announced can be found on the Number 10 website, or you can also read the full transcript. Our analysis of the Coalition’s human rights policies is here. The list will probably not be exhaustive, as some of the promises made in the Programme for Government may be instituted via secondary legislation or attached to other related Acts of Parliament.
One notable absence is any mention of reform to extradition policy (see our post from yesterday). The Programme for Government included the promise to “review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed.” Liberty, the human rights organisation, had already welcomed the change in a statement on Monday. The family of Gary McKinnon would have also been waiting for this, as Mr McKinnon is currently awaiting a decision from the new Home Secretary as to whether he will be extradited to the United States on computer hacking charges. That being said, a change to the extradition arrangements may be included in another bill, although this seems unlikely.
The European Court of Justice. Image Credit: The Guardian
The courts open again for Michaelmas term today, but in the meantime the round-up has the latest on a fresh set of challenges to government and NHS policy, plus a successful Brexit reference to the ECJ.
Firstly, a legal action seeking to establish whether the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been referred to the European Court of Justice by the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court.
The action was brought by a cross-party group of six Scottish MPs, MEPs and MSPs, and the Good Law Project. The case was initially rejected in June as “academic and hypothetical”, but on appeal judges rejected the government’s core argument that the question was “academic” given that their policy is to leave the EU. Lord Carloway, Scotland’s most senior judge, commented: “It seems neither academic nor premature to ask whether it is legally competent to revoke the notification and thus to remain in the EU.”
On UKHRB we’ve considered a number of the potential human rights implications of the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to combat it (Alethea Redfern’s round up is the best place to start, there have been a number of posts since, and there will be a podcast coming up on the subject next week on Law Pod UK). It was only a matter of time before some of these issues started to come before the European Court of Human Rights and, on Wednesday, a case involving the UK Government concerning the impact of Covid-19 on conditions of detention in prison was communicated: Hafeez v the United Kingdom (application no. 14198/20).
Communication of a case takes place where an issue is considered to require further examination and the respondent state is invited to submit written observations on the admissibility and merits of the case. It is also an indication that the Court does not consider the case, on its face, inadmissible.
One of the stranger and bolder pieces of US legislation slipped into force in November 2012 – The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 – sic. This enables the US Secretary of Transportation to prohibit US airlines from complying with EU rules. Those EU rules apply to all airliners which touch down or take off in the EU, and requires them to participate in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – designed progressively to limit carbon emissions from aviation via a cap and trade mechanism.
The US Act would be odd enough in its lack of respect for the laws of other countries, had the Act’s beneficiaries (the US airlines) not sought to challenge the legality of the EU measure in the EU Courts – and failed: see my post on the judgment of the CJEU. As will be seen, the EU Court expressly rejected claims (by US airlines) that the rules had extra-territorial effect and conflicted with international aviation conventions. Hence, the scheme was lawfully applicable to US airlines – just as to those of all other countries using EU airports.
Updated, 19 May 2013 | Last night, lawyers, academics, NGOs and even the President of the Supreme Court gathered in a basement conference room in central London. Their purpose was to discuss the UK “without Convention Rights”, a possible future that some might view as post-apocalyptic, and others as utopia. Either way, given recent political developments, the event could not, in the words of the Chair, Lord Dyson, “be more timely or topical.”
The Government’s announcement that eleven local authorities across England would be taking part in voter ID pilots for the 2019 local elections was controversial. There is a heated debate as to whether citizens should have to provide photo identification before receiving their ballot at elections. For some, it is a straight-forward measure to avoid the risk of fraud. For others, it is a policy that, by design or inadvertently, leads to the disenfranchisement of certain groups.
This debate was not considered by the courts in the challenge to the legality of the pilot schemes brought by Mr Neil Coughlan, a former district councillor from Witham Essex. But the consequences of the decision of the Court of Appeal in R (Coughlan) v Minister for the Cabinet Office  EWCA Civ 723 could be profound for our electoral law.
On Wednesday last week I had the great pleasure of speaking to a fellow South African, which we post in this week’s episode of Law Pod UK. I promise there are no references to rugby in the entirety of the interview. How could we have predicted anything anyway?
Kate O’Regan is the Director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at Oxford University. She is also a former judge of the South African Constitutional Court (1994 – 2009). One fellow judge has said that she is “one of the finest minds ever appointed as a judge in South Africa”.
Our discussion ranges over a multitude of topics, such as the difficulty of reconciling customary law practices with the rights of women under the Bill of Rights, and the problem of enforcing the rule of law in the townships and on public transport in a country where most people are dependent on the state owned Metrorail to get to their place of work.
The issues relating to imprisonment of individuals with mental health problems in the UK has attracted considerable attention, as the number of self-inflicted deaths has risen to the highest number since records began in 1978. With a rate of one prison suicide every three days, the director of the Howard League described the current rate as having reached “epidemic proportions”. The steady rise of deaths in custody has prompted a seriesofinquiries in recent years, and has drawn scrutiny from UN bodies and Special Procedures, and more recently, UN Member States as part of a periodic review of its human rights performance. However, despite this, little progress has been made.
In view of this reality, the Joint Committee on Human Rights launched an inquiry into mental health and deaths in prison in 2016 in order to determine whether a human rights based approach can help to prevent deaths in prison of individuals with mental health conditions i.e. one that satisfies acceptable standards as laid down by national and international human rights law, and recognises the particular position of vulnerability in which detainees are placed. The inquiry specifically looked at why previous recommendations had not been implemented. To this end, the Committee received both oral and written evidence from authors of the various domestic inquiry reports and individuals whose lives have been directly affected by the issue, including relatives of individuals who had committed suicide in prisons.
However, the inquiry was unexpectedly cut short as a result of the decision to call a snap election.
The event will begin at 4:30pm, followed by a drinks reception. Doors will open at 4:15pm. The venue is on the 33th floor of Broadgate Tower, and security passes will need to be issued, so please allow around 10 minutes of time upon arrival.
The Supreme Court has given important guidance as to when eviction from local authority housing amounts to a breach of a tenant’s human rights. It has also confirmed that courts should have the power to consider the proportionality of previously automatic possession orders relating to council properties.
The judgment forms a double act with the recent decision in Manchester City Council (Respondent) v Pinnock (Appellant), a path-breaking ruling in which the Supreme Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private and family life) requires that a court, when asked by a local authority to make an order for possession of a person’s home, must have the power to assess the proportionality of making the order (see Nearly Legal’s excellent discussion of that decision).
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