Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
In the News:
Court of Appeal judges overturned the convictions of the ‘Oval Four’ after it was found that their sentences were based on evidence given by a corrupt police officer.
The ‘Oval Four’ refers to a group of black men who were arrested by officers claiming to have seen the men stealing Tube passengers’ handbags. The men were subsequently convicted in 1972 based solely on the basis of evidence given by those officers. None of the ‘victims’ appeared at the trial.
The case became a focus point for black rights and the treatment of BME people by the police. It was referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which ultimately led to the successful appeal.
Whilst the convictions of three of the men were overturned, the fourth member of the ‘Oval Four’ unfortunately cannot be found.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, expressed “regret is that it has taken so long for this injustice to be remedied”. Lord Burnett also stated that there was “an accumulating body of evidence that points to the fundamental unreliability of evidence given by DS Ridgewell [the lead officer] … and others of this specialist group”.
The oversight of the conduct of British soldiers in Iraq has been subject of two recent developments. The first is political, as Prime Minister Theresa May has renewed criticism of investigations into allegations of criminal behaviour of British troops. The second is legal, with the Court of Appeal offering clarification as to the role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad. However, comments by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have since thrown into doubt the future role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad.
Al-Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence  EWCA Civ 811, 9 September 2016 – read judgment
This is an extremely important judgment from the Court of Appeal on the reach of the ECHR into war zones, in this case Iraq. The CA, with the only judgment given by Lloyd Jones LJ, disagreed in part with Leggatt J – for whose judgment see Dominic Ruck Keene’s post here.
3 main points arose on appeal.
The first was the jurisdictional question under Art.1 of the Convention – were Iraqi civilians killed or injured by British servicemen covered by the ECHR?
The second is the extent to which the UK is under a duty to investigate ECHR violations alleged by Iraqis, under Arts 3 (torture) and 5 (unlawful detention).
And the third is the question of whether the UN Torture Convention could be relied upon in domestic law proceedings.
I shall cover the first point in this post. The blog will cover the other points shortly. The points arose by way of preliminary legal issues in various test cases drawn from the 2,000 or so Iraqi claimants.
This week, the mosaic shrine adorning the wall outside Stockwell underground station once again became the focal point for difficult questions surrounding the police response the terrorist attacks of 2005.
The judgment of a Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Da Silva v the United Kingdom draws a line under a long legal battle mounted by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian electrician shot dead by the Metropolitan Police on 22 July 2005 having been mistaken for a suicide bomber. Continue reading →
In the Chamber Judgment (currently available only in French) in the case of Lopes de Sousa Fernandes v. Portugal (App. No. 56080/13) decided just before Christmas, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that there was both a substantive (by 5 votes to 2) and a procedural (unanimous) violation of Article 2 in the case of the death of the Applicant’s husband in circumstances where there was a negligent failure to diagnose meningitis shortly after (successful) nasal polyp surgery, even though that negligent failure was not necessarily causative. This very surprising outcome is important, and may be seen as a radical departure from the established case law of the Court on the necessary threshold for establishing an Article 2 violation in State (i.e. NHS) hospital cases. It also underlines the increased importance of informed consent in clinical negligence cases when viewed from a human rights perspective. Continue reading →
The High Court has rejected the argument made by “Martin”, a man with locked-in syndrome who is profoundly disabled and wishes to end his own life. This comes shortly after Strasbourg’s rejection of the Nicklinson and Lamb cases, for which see my post here.
Philip Havers QC, of 1COR, acted for Martin, and has played no part in the writing of this post.
Martin would like to travel to a Swiss clinic to end his life, but wishes to obtain a medical report, from a doctor, to assist. He would also like to take medical advice on methods of suicide.
There is no dispute that a doctor advising him in this way will likely break the law, by committing the crime of assisting suicide. However, Martin argued that in practice, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has relaxed guidelines on when it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution against a doctor in these circumstances.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the applications to the ECtHR in Nicklinson and Lamb v UK, cases concerning assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, are inadmissible.
This is the latest development in a long running series of decisions concerning various challenges to the UK’s law and prosecutorial guidelines on assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. You can read the press release here and the full decision here. Continue reading →
Mr Finucane, a Belfast solicitor who had represented a number of high profile IRA and INLA members including Bobby Sands, was murdered in front of his family by loyalist paramilitaries in one of the most notorious killings of the Troubles. His death was mired in controversy due to the collusion between the security forces and his killers. Mr Justice Stephens stated at the outset of his judgment that
It is hard to express in forceful enough terms the appropriate response to the murder, the collusion associated with it, the failure to prevent the murder and the obstruction of some of the investigations into it. Individually and collectively they were abominations which amounted to the most conspicuously bad, glaring and flagrant breach of the obligation of the state to protect the life of its citizen and to ensure the rule of law. There is and can be no attempt at justification.
Lambert and Others v. France (application no. 46043/14) – read judgment
In an important step away from Pretty v UK, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court has upheld the right of to die with dignity by ruling that there would be no violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights if artificial nutrition and hydration were to be withdrawn from a patient in a persistent vegetative state.
Although the facts were very different, it is heartening to see Strasbourg at last allowing the argument that the state’s obligation to protect life also involves a duty to respect people’s rights to exit life with dignity. The importance of this ruling cannot be underestimated, as can be seen in the ferocity of dissent set out in the Separate Opinion annexed to the judgment (discussed at the end of this post.)
The case involved a challenge by some of the patient’s family members to a judgment delivered on 24 June 2014 by the Conseil d’État which authorised this step. The following summary of the facts and judgment is based on the Court’s press release.
Vincent Lambert sustained serious head injuries in a road-traffic accident on 29 September 2008, which left him tetraplegic and in a state of complete dependency. At the time of this hearing he was in the care of a hospital which specialises in patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.In 2011 his condition was characterised as minimally conscious and in 2014 as vegetative. He receives artificial nutrition and hydration which is administered enterally, through a gastric tube. Continue reading →
Al-Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 715 – read judgment
The High Court has ruled that the ECHR applies to situations where Iraqi civilians were shot during security operations conducted by British soldiers. When taken together with the parallel cases being brought against the MOD for breach of its Article 2 obligations towards its own soldiers, it appears increasingly likely that any operation undertaken by the British Army in the future will lead to legal challenges being brought against almost every aspect of its actions pre, during and post any use of military force.
Mr Justice Leggatt was asked to consider the scope of the UK’s duty under the ECHR to investigation allegations of wrongdoing by British Forces in Iraq. The Secretary of State accepted that anyone taken into custody by British Forces did have certain rights under the ECHR, in particular the right to life and the right not to be tortured. However, the one of two key areas of controversy were whether non detainee civilians who were killed outside the period when the UK was an ‘occupying power’ (1 May 2003 – 28 June 2004), were within the jurisdiction of the UK for the purposes of Article 1 of the ECHR. Continue reading →
Smith and Others (Appellants) v The Ministry of Defence (Respondent) and other appeals – read judgment and our previous post for summary of the facts
So, the Supreme Court has refused to allow these claims to be struck out on the principle of combat immunity. It has also asserted that jurisdiction for the purpose of an Article 2 right to life claim can extend to non-Convention countries, and that the state can owe a positive duty to protect life, even in a situation of armed combat.
This ruling deserves close attention not least because it takes common law negligence and Article 2 into an area which is very largely uncharted by previous authority. Lord Mance does not mince his words in his dissent, predicting that yesterday’s ruling will lead, inevitably, to the “judicialisation of war”. Lord Carnwath is similarly minded; in this case, he says, the Court is being asked to authorise an extension of the law of negligence (as indeed of Article 2), into a new field, without guidance from “any authority in the higher courts, in this country or any comparable jurisdiction, in which the state has been held liable for injuries sustained by its own soldiers in the course of active hostilities.” Lord Wilson also dissented on this point. Continue reading →
What – if anything – can a claimant do when she suspects that the domestic law is not only out of kilter with Strasbourg jurisprudence but is also denying her even an opportunity to bring a claim? Taking arms against a whole legal system may be an heroic ideal, but the mundane reality is a strike out under CPR rule 3.4 by a district judge in the County Court. It is a long way from there to the European Court of Human Rights.
This was the position in which Patricia Reynolds and her daughter Catherine King found themselves following the sad death of (respectively) their son and brother. David Reynolds suffered from schizophrenia. On 16 March 2005 he contacted his NHS Care Co-ordinator and told him that he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself. There were no beds available in the local psychiatric unit, so Mr Reynolds was placed in a Council run intensive support unit. His room was on the sixth floor and at about 10.30 that night Mr Reynolds broke his (non-reinforced) window and fell to his death. Continue reading →
In my previous blog on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Rabone I discussed the central feature of the case, the extension of the operational duty on the state to protect specific individuals from threats to their life, including suicide. Here, I consider the other elements of the case that Melanie Rabone’s parents had to establish in order to succeed in their claim for damages under the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA”).
Existence of the operational duty in Melanie’s case
Having established that the operational duty could be applied in Melanie’s case, her parents then had to establish, on the facts, that it was – by showing that there was a “real and immediate” threat to her life from which she should have been protected. Ever since the notion of an operational duty was first enunciated in Osman v United Kingdom (2000) 29 EHRR 245, it has become something of a judicial mantra that the threshold for establishing a “real and immediate” threat was high (see for example Re Officer L UKHL 36, and Savage v South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust  AC 681  and ,). There are good reasons for not imposing the operational duty lightly, given the enormous pressures and complexities involved in running police, prison and mental health services for the community as a whole. However, an overly-stringent test risked making the operational duty an obligation that was more hypothetical than real.
This post originally displayed an image of a sign at Stepping Hill Hospital, including reference to Stockport NHS Foundation Trust. The case did not involve Stockport NHSFT so I have removed the image: my apologies for any confusion caused. In the absence of any interesting images of Pennine Care NHS Trust, who were the Respondent, I have replaced this with an image of the snowy Pennines.
The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a mental health hospital had an “operational” obligation under article 2 of the European Court of Human Rights (the right to life) to protect a voluntary patient from suicide. This is the first time the reach of the article 2 obligation to protect life has been expanded to a voluntary patient; that is, a patient who was not detained under the Mental Health Act.
My initial thoughts are that this is potentially very important, and follows on from Savagein gradually expanding the reach of Article 2, and therefore the liability of mental health hospitals to patients and (as was crucial in this case) their families. The court observed that Ms. Rabone, who committed suicide after being granted 2-days of home leave by the hospital, could have been detained under the MHA in any event, so the distinction between a voluntary and detained patient was of form rather than substance.
Nonetheless, the decision appears to endorse an “each case on its own facts” approach, and will affect human rights damages claims and arguably so-called article 2 inquests too. Here is a particularly quotable line from Lady Hale at paragraph :
“There is no warrant, in the jurisprudence or in humanity, for the distinction between the two duties drawn by Lord Scott in Savage…”
Even if technically obiter, it is suggested that the reasoned decision of the majority of the Supreme Court in Smith is likely to be regarded as binding in practice, if not in strict theory.
This is a postscript to Adam Wagner’s post this morning on the UKSC decision in R (Smith) v. MOD (see our post summarising the decision or read the judgment), commenting on the debate as to the authority of the judgment of the majority on the jurisdictional issue.
It may be worth bearing in mind the weight likely to be accorded by any lower court to the views of the majority of a 9 judge constitution of the Supreme Court. Even if not technically binding, it is hard to imagine any judge at first instance, or even the Court of Appeal, having the courage to depart from the reasoned views of the majority on this point, unless arising in some unforeseen or unusual factual context.
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