On 5 April 2023 the High Court handed down judgment in Adil v General Medical Council  EWHC 797 (Admin). The case examined the extent to which a professional regulator can interfere with the right to freedom of expression of an individual subject to its regulation, as well as the circumstances in which the Court should accept challenges to decisions made by regulators in the performance of their duties. It is the first case decided by the High Court concerning anti-vaccination statements made by a doctor in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the actions of the General Medical Council (“GMC”) in response.
Mr Adil is a consultant colorectal surgeon. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, he posted multiple videos on social media in which he, amongst other things, made statements to the effect that:
COVID-19 did not exist;
the pandemic was a conspiracy brought about by the United Kingdom, Israel and America;
the pandemic was a scam which was being manipulated for the benefit of Bill Gates and pharmaceutical companies;
Bill Gates infected the entire world with COVID-19 in order to sell vaccines; and
COVID-19 vaccines would be given to everyone, by force if necessary, and could potentially contain microchips that affect the human body.
Pwr v Director of Public Prosecutions  UKSC 2 — judgment here
On 26 January 2022 the Supreme Court ruled that s.13(1) Terrorism Act 2000 (“TA 2000 “) is a strict liability offence and that, whilst it does interfere with Art.10 ECHR (freedom of expression), the interference is lawful, necessary and proportionate.
S.13 provides that it is a criminal offence for a person in a public place to carry or display an article “in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”. The offence is summary-only and carries a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment.
The three appellants in this case, Mr Pwr, Mr Akdogan and Mr Demir were convicted in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court of an offence contrary to s.13 TA 2000. All three had attended a protest in central London on 27 January 2018. The protest concerned perceived actions of the Turkish state in Afrin, a town in north-eastern Syria. The convictions related to carrying a flag of the Kurdistan Workers Party (the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (“the PKK”), an organisation proscribed under the TA 2000. Mr Pwr and Mr Akdogan were given three-month conditional discharges. Mr Demir received an absolute discharge.
In R (Harry Miller) v The College of Policing  EWCA Civ 1926, the Court of Appeal ruled that current police guidance on the recording of ‘hate incidents’ unlawfully interferes with the right to freedom of expression. The decision overturns a 2020 ruling by the High Court in which Mr Miller’s challenge to the lawfulness of the Hate Crime Operational Guidance was dismissed (discussed previously on this Blog here).
The central issue raised in the appeal is the lawfulness of certain parts of the Hate Crime Operational Guidance. The Guidance, issued in 2014 by the College of Policing, sets out the national policy in relation to the monitoring and recording of what are described as “non-crime hate incidents”. At the root of the challenge is the policy of “perception-based recording”, which states that non-crime hate incidents must be recorded by the police as such (against the named person allegedly responsible) if the incident is subjectively perceived by the “victim or any other person to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender” and irrespective of any evidence of the “hate” element.
Mr Miller, who is described as having “gender critical” beliefs, was reported to Humberside Police by Mrs B in January 2019 for posting comments on his Twitter account, which she asserted were “designed to cause deep offence and show his hatred for the transgender community.” Whilst there was no evidence of a criminal offence, the incident was recorded as a “hate incident” and Mr Miller was visited at work by a police officer who told him to “check his thinking.” Mr Miller subsequently brought a claim for judicial review.
On 3 October 2019 the European Court of Human Rights dismissed an application by former NDP leader Udo Pastörs that his criminal conviction in Germany for making a “qualified Auschwitz denial” in a parliamentary speech infringed his right to freedom of speech under Article 10 ECHR. The Court held that, although interferences over statements made in parliament must be closely scrutinised, they deserve little, if any, protection if their content is at odds with the democratic values of the ECHR system.
A study raising concerns about journalists’ ability to protect sources and whistleblowers was launched in the House of Lords last Wednesday.
The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), in collaboration with the Guardian, has published the results of a research initiative into protecting journalists’ sources and whistleblowers in the current technological and legal environment. Investigative journalists, media lawyers, NGO representatives and researchers were invited to discuss issues faced in safeguarding anonymous sources. The report: ‘Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age’ is available online here.
The participants discussed technological advances which facilitate the interception and monitoring of communications, along with legislative and policy changes which, IALS believes, have substantially weakened protections for sources. Continue reading →
The absence of fixed time limits in the UK system of immigration detention does not breach Article 5 of the Convention (the right to liberty), according to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in JN v United Kingdom.
The applicant was an Iranian national who was refused asylum in the UK and issued with a deportation order. He was detained in an immigration removal centre for more than four and a half years, following completion of a custodial sentence for indecent assault. The applicant complained that in the absence of fixed time limits, domestic law was unclear and did not produce foreseeable consequences for individuals.
This argument was rejected by the Court, which re-iterated that Article 5 does not lay down maximum time limits for detention pending deportation. The issue was said to be whether domestic law contained sufficient procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, and in this regard the UK did not fall short of Convention requirements. However, the Court did find that between January 2008 and September 2009 deportation of the applicant had not been pursued with “due diligence”, and his detention during this period was therefore in breach of his right to liberty.
The decision will come as a disappointment to campaigners, who point out that the UK is the only EU Member State which places no time limit on the detention of foreign nationals. According to the UNHCR, detention can have “a lasting, detrimental impact on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers”, and both a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry and a recent report of the UN Human Rights Committee have called on the UK to adopt an upper limit.
It remains open to the Government to do so. However, in light of the judgment in JN, the introduction of a statutory time limit would now appear unlikely. A spokeswoman told the Guardian that the Home Office were pleased with the outcome of the case: “We maintain that our immigration detention system is firm but fair”.
In other news
The Queen’s Speech has declared that “proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights” – wording that is near identical to last year’s commitment to ‘bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Policy Director at Liberty, Bella Sankey remarks that if this “felt like groundhog day, it was because little progress has been made” towards the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. UKHRB founder Adam Wagner provides a useful list of reactions and coverage here.
A report from the European Commission points to evidence that “the migration crisis has been exploited by criminal networks involved in trafficking in human beings”, who target the most vulnerable. According to official figures, in 2013-2014 there were 15,846 registered victims of trafficking in the EU, although the true number is considered to be “substantially higher”. The BBC reports on the findings.
The Supreme Court has upheld an interim injunction in the ‘celebrity threesome’ case, until after the full trial for invasion of privacy. The Court of Appeal had been wrong to enhance the weight attached to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR) as compared with the right to respect for privacy (article 8 ECHR) – neither article had preference over the other in the balancing exercise. David Hart QC provides an analysis of the decision for the UKHRB – a summary of the main points can be found on RightsInfo
The applicants were Hungarian nationals and members of parliament, who had been issued with fines for engaging in protests that were disruptive of parliamentary proceedings. They complained that this had violated their right to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR).
The Court observed that Parliaments were entitled to react when their members engaged in disorderly conduct disrupting the normal functioning of the legislature. However, on the present facts domestic legislation had not provided for any possibility for the MPs concerned to be involved in the relevant disciplinary procedure. The interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression was therefore not proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued, because it was not accompanied by adequate procedural safeguards. Accordingly, the Court found a violation of Article 10.
The applicant’s husband had died in circumstances where there had been a negligent failure to diagnose meningitis shortly after (successful) nasal polyp surgery, although that negligent failure was not necessarily causative. In its Chamber judgment of 15 December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention as to the right to life and, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 2.
Analysis of that decision is provided by Jeremy Hyam QC for the UK HRB. On 2 May 2016 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the Portuguese Government’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.
Those in need of some summer reading might consider: Five Ideas to Fight For, by Anthony Lester, recently published. The book describes the development of English law in relation to human rights, equality, free speech, privacy and the rule of law, explaining how our freedom is under threat and why it matters.
PJS v. News Group Newspapers Ltd  UKSC 26– read judgment
The Supreme Court has this morning continued the interim injunction concerning PJS’s extra-marital goings-on until after the full trial of the claim – after a rollercoaster ride for his claim through the courts.
Cranston J refused an injunction on 15 January 2016.
The Court of Appeal granted it on 22 January (Matt Flinn’s post here), and then discharged it on 18 April due to the effect of subsequent publicity which they said had led the injunction to have no remaining purpose (my post here). The subsequent publicity was in US newspapers and via the internet (with, as Lord Toulson commented, some fairly obvious twitter hashtags involved.)
The Supreme Court swiftly convened a hearing on 21 April, leading to today’s judgment reversing the Court of Appeal.
The decision (4-1) was not unanimous, with Lord Toulson dissenting. There are three concurring judgments (all agreed to by the majority).
Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.
(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī , 13th Century Persian Islamic scholar and poet)
These words were the last in the ruling by DJ McNally in the Belfast county court, acquitting Pastor McConnell of grossly offending Muslims in a sermon that had been delivered in church but also transmitted over the internet. The Pastor had declared from the pulpit the there were more and more Muslims “putting the Koran’s hatred of Christians and Jews alike into practice”, and the sermon had continued in a similar vein. Continue reading →
On Tuesday the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment on David Miranda’s detention under the Terrorism Act 2000 and, while upholding the lawfulness of the detention in the immediate case, ruled that the stop powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act lack sufficient legal safeguards to be in line with Article 10.
Mr Miranda, the spouse of then-Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was stopped and detained by the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport on 18 August 2013 under paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He was questioned and items in his possession were taken by police, including encrypted material provided by Edward Snowden. Mr Miranda was detained for nine hours, the maximum period permitted at the time (since reduced to six hours). Continue reading →
In December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, by 6 votes to 1, dismissed a Romanian national’s appeal against his employer’s decision to terminate his contract for using a professional Yahoo Messenger account to send personal messages to his fiancé and brother.
Mr Barbulescu contended that his employer had breached his Article 8 right to respect for his private life and correspondence, and that the domestic courts had failed to protect his right. The Court found that there had been no such violation because the monitoring of the account by his employer had been limited and proportionate.
Mr Barbulescu’s employers asked him to create a Yahoo Messenger account for responding to client enquiries and informed him that these communications had been monitored. The records showed that he had used the Internet for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations. The employer’s regulations explicitly prohibited all personal use of company facilities, including computers and Internet access. The employer had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it had contained professional messages. Continue reading →
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Hannah Lynes.
In the news
Call from legal community for urgent action on refugee crisis
More than 300 lawyers have signed a statement denouncing the Government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis as “deeply inadequate”.
The document, whose signatories include former President of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, three former Law Lords and over 100 Queen’s Counsel, describes Prime Minister David Cameron’s offer to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over 5 years as “too low, too slow and too narrow.” Continue reading →
Laura Profumo runs through the week’s human rights headlines.
In the News:
The Conservative party published its manifesto last week. The document makes for curious reading, writes academic Mark Elliott. The manifesto confirms the party’s pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act and to replace it with a British Bill of Rights, reversing the “mission creep” of current human rights law.
Yet the polarising references to “Labour’s Human rights Act” illustrate the Act’s failure to secure supra-political constitutional status, being tossed between the parties like a “political football”, writes Elliott.
A healthcare NHS Trust v P & Q  EWCOP (13 March 2015) – read judgment
The Court of Protection has clarified the position on revealing the identity of an incapacitated adult where reporting restrictions apply.
This case concerned a man, P, who as a result of a major cardiac arrest in 2014, has been on life support for the past four months. Medical opinion suggests that he is unlikely ever to recover any level of consciousness, but his family disagrees strongly with this position. The Trust therefore applied to the Court for a declaration in P’s best interests firstly, not to escalate his care and secondly to discontinue some care, inevitably leading to his demise. The trust also applied for a reporting restrictions order. When it sought to serve that application on the Press Association through the Injunctions Alert Service, the family (represented by the second Continue reading →
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?
Traveller Movement v Ofcom and Channel 4,  EWHC 406 (Admin), 20 February 2015 – read judgment
One of the nation’s great televisual fascinations last week became the unlikely subject of an Administrative Court judgment that demonstrates the limits of common law standards of fairness, as well as the lightness of touch applied by the courts when reviewing the decision-making of the media regulator.
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