Meiklejohn v St George’s Healthcare Trust  EWHC 469 (QB) – read judgment
Richard Booth of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. He is not the author of this post.
There is no doubt that medical diagnosis and therapy are struggling to keep pace with the genetic information pouring out of the laboratories and sequencing centres. And the issue of medical liability is being stretched on the rack between conventional treatment and the potential for personalised therapy. Treatment of disease often turns out to be different, depending on which gene mutation has triggered the disorder. However fine tuned the diagnosis, it may turn out to be profoundly wrong in the light of subsequent discoveries.
This is perhaps an oversimplified characterisation of what happened in this case, but it exemplifies the difficulties facing clinicians and the courts where things go wrong, against the backdrop of this fast-moving field of scientific endeavour. Continue reading →
The rights of immigrants and asylum seekers have been at the forefront of the news this week, with the Home Secretary coming under fire both in the courts and in the political arena. On Wednesday, a landmark court ruling held Ms Patel accountable for failures properly to investigate deaths among asylum seekers at detention centres. The case concerned two Nigerian nationals, one of whom was found dead in Harmondsworth immigration centre in 2019. His friend, Mr Lawal, was a key witness in the investigation of the death, but the Home Office sought to deport him before he could give evidence. The court held that the Home Secretary’s initial policy, which sought to remove Mr Lawal, its replacement, applied from August 2020, and the current policy, were unlawful and breached human rights because they failed to ensure that those who had relevant information would be able to give evidence before removal proceedings were commenced, thus frustrating inquiries into immigration centre deaths. Days later it was reported that this may be a widespread problem, with suggestions that scores of people had been prevented from giving key evidence to police investigations as a result of early deportation. While Ms Patel was warned that this practice must be curbed by a coroner in August, it is suggested that her response did little to address the problem.
The Court of Appeal has ruled that a claimant can recover damages for loss of control of their data under section 13 of Data Protection Act 1998 without proving pecuniary loss or distress. The first instance judge, Warby J, had dismissed Mr Lloyd’s application for permission to serve Google outside the jurisdiction in the USA, so preventing the claim getting under way.
The central question was whether the claimant, Mr Richard Lloyd, who is a champion of consumer protection, should be permitted to bring a representative action against Google LLC, the defendant, a corporation based in Delaware in the USA. Mr Lloyd made the claim on behalf of a class of more than 4 million Apple iPhone users. He alleged that Google secretly tracked some of their internet activity, for commercial purposes, between 9th August 2011 and 15th February 2012.
Updated, 1 Sep | The high-profile criminal trial of a German popstar who caused her former partner to be infected with HIV has resulted in a 2-year suspended sentence. In other words, she has been convicted but escaped jail. What would happen in similar circumstances in the UK?
The facts of Nadja Benaissa’s case were relatively simple. She had been infected with HIV since the age of 16 and is 28 years old now. She had sex with three people without telling them she was infected, and as a result one of them became infected himself. She claimed that she did not intend to infect him, and that she had been told by doctors the risk of passing on the disease were “practically zero”.
The judgment in Forstater v CDG Europe UKEAT/0105/20/JOJhas forced the courts yet again to grapple with the transgender debate. We have already seen the judiciary face up to the challenging issues of whether children with gender dysphoria can consent to receiving puberty blockers (see recent decision in Bell v Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust  EWCA Civ 1363). In the present case, the issue was whether the Claimant’s belief that biological sex is real, important, immutable, and not to be conflated with gender identity was a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of section 10 of Equality Act 2010 (“EqA”).
The claim arose from the Claimant’s statements on Twitter, which manifested her beliefs on the immutability of sex. Her colleagues found these offensive and complained. Her consultancy contract was not renewed, and she brought proceedings before the Central London Tribunal on the basis that she had been discriminated against because of her belief that sex, rather than gender, is fundamentally important and that there are no circumstances in which a trans woman is a woman or a trans man is a man. At a preliminary hearing, the Judge held that the Claimant’s belief was not a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of section 10 EqA.
Last week’s round-up detailed China’s ongoing oppression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. This week, the government narrowly defeated a backbench rebellion in the form of an all-party amendment, strongly endorsed in the Lords, which would have given victims of genocide the ability to obtain a determination in the High Court confirming the existence of genocide in their country. Such a determination would have required Parliament to reconsider all trade deals with the country in question. The amendment aimed to deal with a current impasse whereby international courts cannot make a ruling on genocide because the involved nations, for example, China, veto such matters from consideration, or do not recognise the relevant courts. The Trade Secretary, Greg Hands, had strongly opposed the amendment, suggesting that it fundamentally undermined Parliamentary sovereignty in giving the courts too much power to determine UK trade deals. The government’s failure to act in seeking to prevent serious violations of human rights has been widely criticised. Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the defence select committee, suggested that ‘the UK was suffering from an absence of clarity about what we believe in’. In response to the motion’s defeat, the independent peer Lord Alton, who co-sponsored the motion in the Lords, has stated that the amendment will be re-drafted to make explicit the requirement that Parliament would vote on the revocation of all trade deals with a country where a determination of genocide had been made. The revised amendment will be re-submitted in the Lords as quickly as possible. The US State Department’s declaration that the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China represents genocide and crimes against humanity on Tuesday, is likely to embolden rebels to maintain their pressure on the UK government for further action.
We posted earlier on the Court of Protection’s refusal to declare that doctors could lawfully discontinue and withhold all life-sustaining treatment from a patient in a minimally conscious state (MCS) – “just above” a vegetative state (VS), which itself is slightly higher than a coma – read judgment.
The message underlying this ruling is clear: if you want to avoid the risk of spending years of your life subject to aggressive medical intervention whilst imprisoned in a cage of bare-consciousness, make a living will. The Mental Capacity Act is remorseless, and courts will no longer come to the aid of those of us optimistic enough to think “it will never happen”.
We do not tend to think specifically about ending up in state of total dependency on medical support and therefore there is very little likelihood of any significant section of the population making a formal advance decision in accordance with the Act. On the other hand, how many of us have said, as patient M said in this case, that if such a situation were to arise, we would want to “go quickly”? [para 230]
Such generalities however are to no effect. Despite the universal human instinct to live in denial of contingent disasters, the court refused to give due weight to M’s previously expressed wish not to live a life dependent on others, because those these statements were not “specifically directed” at the consequences of withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) when conscious. Baker J could not consider those statements as a clear indication some eight years on from the onset of her illness, of what M would now want to happen.
The worsening of the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to relegate all other business to a position of relative insignificance this week. Undoubtedly the human, economic and social cost of the outbreak is already severe, with its impact increasingly felt across the globe. However, perhaps more than any other conceivable event, the progression of the disease casts a spotlight on numerous areas of legal controversy. It is hard to recall a post-war phenomenon which so frequently pits the rights and interests of individuals against those of broader society (more here). Indeed, the potential material for upcoming pupillage interview questions seems virtually inexhaustible, assuming that they too don’t fall victim to social distancing measures.
I will be posting a longer article on Covid-19 later today.
It is also the most authoritative (the case was allocated to Lord Dyson MR, the President of the Family Division and Black LJ) and uses to strong language about the current inattention to Human Rights in care and adoption proceedings.
In its foreign policy, the UK Government is a keen advocate of national human rights institutions (NHRI’s). The Brighton Declaration, drafted by the UK, encourages Council of Europe States to consider ‘the establishment, if they have not already done so, of an independent National Human Rights Institution’. In June 2012 the UK signed a UN General Assembly resolution‘Reaffirming the important role that such national institutions play and will continue to play.’
Yet at the same time, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote to Theresa May MP raising concerns about proposals to reform Britain’s own NHRI, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC):
While fully respecting your Government’s priority to improve EHRC’s financial and operative performance as a public body, I would like to call on your Government to review some of the proposals with a view to preserving EHRC’s independence and to ensuring its continued compliance with the (Paris) Principles.
Briggs v Briggs & Ors  EWCOP 53 (20 December 2016) – read judgment
Apologies for starting the new year on such a sombre note, but there is a shaft of light in that this Court of Protection judgement is a clear indication that judges – or some of them – are prepared to favour an individual’s autonomy over the traditional emphasis on the sanctity of life above all else.
As Charles J points out, this case raises issues of life and death and so vitally important principles and strongly held views. The decision he had to make was whether a part of the current treatment of Mr Paul Briggs, namely clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH), should be continued. Mr Briggs was in a minimally conscious state (MCS) as the result of serious and permanent brain damage he suffered as the victim of a traffic accident eighteen months ago. He was not in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) and so the approach taken by the House of Lords in the Tony Bland case did not apply to him (Airedale NHS Trust v Bland  AC 789). In that case, it will be remembered, their Lordships concluded that the continuation of life in such a state was futile. Problems arose with subsequent advancements in neurological diagnosis, where a less catastrophic condition known as MCS was established. In 2012 a court ruled that a patient in MCS could not be deemed to have made an advance directive regarding medical treatment even though during her lifetime she had made her position very clear that she would not want to continue living in such a reduced state (Re M (Adult Patient) (Minimally Conscious State: Withdrawal of Treatment)  1 WLR 1653). Her views did not, in their view, encapsulate the state of MCS. See my post on that decision here. Baker J’s refusal of the family’s application to allow treatment to be withdrawn came in for severe criticism in the British Medical Journal (see Richard Mumford’s post on that article). The author took Baker J to task for not according significant weight to the informally expressed views of M on life-sustaining treatment, expressed before she came ill. Charles J took a very different approach in this case. Continue reading →
SS (Malaysia) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 888 – read judgment
This case concerns a hitherto little-explored aspect of the right to a private and family life: a parent’s opportunity to teach their offspring about their own religious faith.
This is also a subset of the right under Article 9 to practise one’s own religion. This question was raised in EM(Lebanon) (FC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKHL 64 but was only tangential to the main issue, which was the relationship between the appellant mother and her son as opposed to the father whose entitlement to custody would have been secured under Islamic law. Continue reading →
The Ministry of Justice is proposing to change the rules on who can apply for international arrest warrants for suspected war crimes. The changes will make it necessary to get the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be granted.
The present system means that the threshold for an arrest for war crimes is low, and as such visiting ex-ministers can be arrested if only limited (or “flimsy” as the MoJ puts it) proof of the alleged crime is presented to a magistrate. The highest profile cases have been those involving ex-ministers from Israel, and in particular Tsipi Livni. As a result of the threat of arrest warrants, Israeli ex-ministers have largely stayed away from the UK.
As the MoJ statement says, war crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, and a small number of other grave offences, are subject to universal jurisdiction. This enables prosecution to take place here even though the offence was committed outside the United Kingdom, and irrespective of nationality.
The verdict is in. The Supreme Court has unanimously held that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament until October 14 was ‘unlawful, void and of no effect’, since it had the effect of frustrating Parliament. As such, the prorogation was itself void.
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