Last autumn I was privileged to spend six weeks in the United States as a scholar on the Pegasus Programme. This gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal about the similarities and contrasts between our legal systems, as well as the latest developments across the Atlantic.
In this piece I will tell you about what I learned about the US Supreme Court — its history, its role and what the Presidency of Donald Trump may mean for its future.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and acts as guarantor and arbiter of the Constitution. It has the power to establish (and extend) the content of constitutional rights and to strike down not only government acts, but also primary legislation incompatible with those rights.
Herrmann v Germany (Application no. 9300/07) 26 June 2012 – read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation of a landowner to allow hunting on his property violated his Convention rights. Although the majority based their conclusion on his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, the partially concurring and dissenting opinions and the judgment as a whole provide an interesting insight into the way freedom of conscience challenges are to be approached in a secular society where religion holds less sway than individual ethical positions on certain issues.
In 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the granting of exceptional authorisation for the slaughter of animals without previous stunning, on religious grounds, did not breach the German Basic Law Schächt-Entscheidung (BVerfGE 99, 1, 15 January 2002). The social uproar that followed the ruling led to the German constitutional legislature taking a significant step aimed at protecting animal welfare with the 2002 constitutional reform, by including Article 20a in the Basic Law:
“Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the State shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals through legislation…” Continue reading →
As we all know, the acquisition of puppies during lockdown has gone through the roof with the inevitable sad consequences of remorse followed by neglect and even abandonment. Dog theft has spiralled as the market responds by escalating the price of pedigree puppies.
But this case involved a different issue that could have arisen at any time (and indeed the relevant transaction took place over a year before the pandemic hit). The facts can be summarised quite briefly.
On 21 June 2018 the claimant bought an Old English Sheepdog puppy for £1000 from a professional breeder, Ms Pendragon. Ms Coom subsequently discovered that her puppy suffered from two conditions, latent at birth but which manifested themselves within months: hip dysplasia and diabetes.
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?
In the matter of an application by ‘JR17’ for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland)  UKSC 27
The Supreme Court found that there was no breach of a pupil’s right to education, where he was unlawfully suspended from school but was provided with work to do and home tutoring – read judgment
A pupil was suspended from school after a complaint from a female pupil about the pupil’s alleged misconduct in school. His school fell within the area of the North Eastern Education and Library Board. The Board had prepared a Scheme governing the suspension and expulsion of pupils. It had done so pursuant to the requirement of the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986. The principal purported to suspend the pupil in accordance with the Scheme but in fact failed to comply with its requirements. The pupil brought proceedings for judicial review, claiming that the suspension was unlawful and breached his right to education pursuant to Article 2 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Human Rights Act 1998 protects. The Article provides:
No person shall be denied the right to education…
The Court of Appeal made a finding that, although the Scheme had not been complied with, the principal had lawfully exercised a common law power to suspend the appellant.The Supreme Court found that there was no such common law power but that the pupil’s right to education had not been breached by the suspension. During his suspension, work was provided to the boy to do at home and home tuition was arranged.
The Queen on the Application of MK(Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department
CA (Civ Div) (Sedley LJ, Carnwath LJ, Smith LJ) 25/2/2010  EWCA Civ 115
Directive 2004/83, which recognised the right to asylum as part of EU, did not alter the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights that asylum decisions did not constitute determinations of civil rights under Article 6 of the Convention, and consequently a foreign national had no right under Convention law to claim for damages for the delay in processing his asylum application.
The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) v Secretary of State for Justice, G4S and Serco plc, 6 February 2013 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal dismissed this claim by a children’s NGO for an order that the Secretary of State provide information to certain children to the effect that the SoS and his contractors had unlawfully used bodily restraint upon them whilst they were “trainees” in Secure Training Centres. The facts and Foskett J’s judgment under appeal was fully analysed by Rosalind English in her post, so I shall concentrate on the two points of wider interest:
1. is there a duty on the state to tell someone of their legal rights against the state?
2. should domestic human rights case law ever go wider than its Strasbourg equivalent?
This is the second of two posts by David Gollancz, a barrister at Keating Chambers and donor-conceived adult, about the UK system of birth registration and certification. The first post concerned the treatment of transgender parents. This second post deals with the position of the offspring of gamete donation.
In two recent claims by trans parents, JK and TT/McConnell, the court determined that the law requiring trans people to be registered as parents in their native gender interfered with their Article 8 ECHR rights to respect for their private and family life, but that the interference was justified under Article 8(2). A significant, possibly decisive, reason for the court’s decision was the right of the children concerned to identify their biological ascendants. – described by the judge in JK  as “an important element of his or her fundamental identity”.
This is nothing new. The ECtHR has repeatedly emphasised that Article 8 includes the right to establish identity and, accordingly, the right to know the identity of one’s biological ascendants (Mikulić , Jäggi [37 – 38], Godelli ). The domestic court, in Rose  held (on the preliminary issue of whether Article 8 ECHR was engaged) that
Respect for private and family life requires that everyone should be able to establish details of their identity as individual human beings. This includes their origins and the opportunity to understand them.
But where a person is conceived in a UK licensed fertility clinic (a “clinic”) — like Mr McConnell’s son — their birth registration does not record, and their birth certificate does not disclose, the fact that they are donor-conceived, let alone the identity of their donor parent. Their donor’s identity is recorded by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (“HFEA”) (s31 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990). Since 1 April 2005, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Disclosure of Donor Information) Regulations 2004 (the “disclosure regulations”), a person aged 18 or over can require the HFEA to disclose whether they are donor-conceived and the identity of their donor (if the donor provided the relevant information after 31 March 2005). But that right is unlikely to be exercised unless someone tells them the truth, or it is obvious because their legal parents are of the same sex.
Last week Rosalind English did a summary post on the important Supreme Court case of Lukaszewski and others, R (on the application of Halligen) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 20 – read judgement.
The technicalities of this decision about extradition time limits are set out in her post. Here, I explore the potential implications for other cases.
The Extradition Act contains firm rules that appeals need filing and serving within 7 or 14 days, depending on the procedure. The Supreme Court decided that there should be a discretion in exceptional circumstances for judges to extend time for service of appeal, where the statutory time limits would otherwise operate to impair the right of appeal and therefore be in breach of the right to a fair trial afforded by Article 6(1) of the Human Rights Convention. And it is this discretion which is important for a whole range of appeals where mandatory time limits are laid down by statutes.
Tchenguiz & Ors v Imerman  EWCA Civ 908 (29 July 2010) – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that secretly obtained documents can no longer copied and then used in divorce proceedings, overturning a rule dating back almost twenty years. The case will have a significant impact for divorcing couples, but has the court left itself open to a Supreme Court reversal on human rights grounds?
The appeal related to the divorce proceedings between Vivian and Elizabeth Imerman, in which Mrs Imerman’s brothers brothers had downloaded documents from Mr Imerman’s office computer in order to prove that he had more assets than he had disclosed to the court. Mr Justice Moylan ruled in the High Court that seven files of documents should be handed back to Mr Imerman for the purpose of enabling him to remove any material for which he claimed privilege. Mr Imerman appealed against the decision that he would then have to give the documents back, and Mrs Imerman argued that she should be given more control over the privilege process.
Moore v British Waterways Board  EWHC 182 (Ch) – read judgment
From time to time, the courts are called upon to explain who holds the power to order people about, and why they have it. In Roger Deakin’s classic celebration of swimming the wild waterways of Britain, his one grouse is against the officiousness and overweening behaviour of the government bodies in charge of this country’s network of streams and rivers. If Deakin had been alive today he would have applauded the dedication of Mr Moore, a scholarly litigant in person whose challenge to the British Waterways Board elicited from Hildyard J this massively detailed and scrupulous analysis of the source of the BWB’s powers.
The appropriately-named Mr Moore’s primary claim was that the BWB simply lacked the power to issue notices of intended removal of his boats moored on the Grand Union Canal. His argument, that BWB’s actions were unlawful and unenforceable, required not only a ” trawl through numerous statutes affecting the GUC since the Act which authorised the construction of the canal, the Grand Junction Canal Act 1793″ , but a deep consideration of all the ancient pre-existing water rights that may or may not have been extinguished by that and later acts of parliament. Continue reading →
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Swiss guidelines for doctors prescribing lethal drugs were too unclear and therefore breached article 8 ECHR, the right to private and family life. Ms Gross sought a prescription for a lethal drug to end her own life. She has no critical illness, but is elderly and feels that her quality of life is so low that she would like to commit suicide. The Swiss medical authorities refused to provide her with the prescription.
Assisted dying and the right to die have been firmly back in the spotlight this week, with the cases of Lamb and “Martin” going to the English and Wales Court of Appeal. Mr Lamb is taking up the point made by Tony Nicklinson in the High Court, before his death, that doctors should have a defence of necessity to murder charges in cases of assisted suicide. Mr Nicklinson’s widow, Jane, is continuing his fight too. The cases also challenge the current guidelines on when prosecution should be brought for assisting suicide. You can read more about the background to the right to die caselaw here.
Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and another  EWHC 2208 (QB) – read judgment
Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 those who live together but are not married are not entitled to damages for bereavement. The High Court has found that though this did not directly engage the right to family life and privacy under Article 8, the difference in treatment between cohabitees and those who were married or in a civil partnership could not be justified and consideration should be given to reforming the law.
The issues before the Court
The claimant had cohabited with a man for over two years before he had died as a result of the first and second defendants’ negligence. She had made a dependency claim under s.1 of the 1976 Act, which by a 1982 amendment had been extended to people who had been cohabiting for more than two years, but the bereavement damages provisions in s.1A(2)(a) still applies only to spouses and civil partners. Continue reading →
The Strasbourg Court has today come up with something of a mixed message in relation to religion at work. They have voted that there is a right to manifest individual faith by wearing religious adornments but not by objecting to practices that are protected by anti-discrimination legislation.
All four applicants are practising Christians. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complained that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor complained about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Further details of all these cases can be found in our posts here, here, and here (as well as in the “related posts” section below).
R(on the application of Christopher Wilford) v The Financial Services Authority  EWCA Civ 677 – Read judgment
This Court of Appeal judgment further reduces the scope for judicial review of a Decision Notice issued by the Financial Services Authority (“the FSA”, now the Financial Conduct Authority). Indeed it comes close to excluding judicial review of these Notices. This is because there is a statutory mechanism for challenging Decision Notices. This case sheds light on the very limited role of judicial review where there is such a statutory right.
The FSA regulates the financial services industry. Its Regulatory Decisions Committee (“the RDC”) decides whether or not a regulated person has breached the relevant rules and issues Decision Notices.
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.