7 July 2017
The Attorney General for Northern Ireland and the Department of Justice (appellants) v The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (respondent)  NICA 42 (29 June 2017) – read judgment
Although the accompanying image is not in any way intended to suggest that Northern Ireland’s law on abortion parallels the situation obtaining in Margaret Atwood’s fictional Gilead, the failure of the legislature and the courts to overhaul the criminal law to allow women access to termination is a bleak reflection of the times. The hopes that were raised by high court rulings from 2015 and 2016 that existing abortion laws breached a woman’s right to a private life under Article 8 have now been dashed.
Let me start with a much quoted proposition derived from Strasbourg law.
when a woman is pregnant her private life becomes closely connected with the developing foetus and her right to respect for her private life must be weighed against other competing rights and freedoms, including those of the unborn child.
Really? Does that mean a woman loses her autonomy, the minute she conceives? Does she become public property, subject to the morals and wishes of the majority? Apparently so, particularly when one reads the opinion of Weatherup LJ:
the restriction on termination of pregnancies pursues the legitimate aim of the protection of morals reflecting the views of the majority of the members of the last [Northern Ireland] Assembly on the protection of the unborn child.
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15 June 2017
R (o.t.a A and B) v. Department of Health  UKSC 41, 14 June 2017 – judgment here; previous post here.
Update: the government has announced its intention to make funding available for women travelling from Northern Ireland to have free termination services on the NHS in England (29 June 2017).
Was it unlawful for the Secretary of State for Health, who had power to make provisions for the functioning of the National Health Service in England, to have failed to make a provision which would have enabled women who were citizens of the UK, but who were usually resident in Northern Ireland, to undergo a termination of pregnancy under the NHS in England free of charge?
No, said the Supreme Court (Lord Wilson, who gave the lead judgment, and Lords Reed and Hughes, but with Lord Kerr and Lady Hale dissenting).
Background law and facts
The law on abortion in Northern Ireland is governed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Abortion is only lawful there if there is a threat of long term psychiatric or physical injury to the mother. As this is difficult to prove, a steady stream of women come from Northern Ireland to secure abortions, mostly from private clinics that charge a fee for the service as they are unable to obtain a termination free of charge under the English NHS.
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2 April 2017
Conway, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 640 – read judgment
Noel Douglas Conway, 67, is a victim of motor neurone disease. He has just been refused permission to seek judicial review of the criminalisation of physician-assisted suicide under the Suicide Act 1961. The High Court considered that Parliament has recently examined the issue following the Supreme Court decision in the 2014 Nicklinson case , and two out of three judges concluded that it would be “institutionally inappropriate” for a court to declare that s.2(1) of the Suicide Act was incompatible with the right to privacy and autonomy under Article 8 of the ECHR. Charles J dissented (and those who are interested in his opinion might want to look at his ruling last year in the case of a minimally conscious patient).
Background facts and law
The claimant, whose condition worsens by the day, wishes to enlist the assistance of a medical professional or professionals to bring about his peaceful and dignified death. But Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act criminalises those who provide such assistance. The question of whether someone would be prosecuted for assisting suicide is governed by a detailed policy promulgated by the Director of Public Prosecutions. That policy was formulated in 2010 in response to the decision in R. (on the application of Purdy) v DPP  UKHL 45, and was refined in 2014 following the decision of the Supreme Court in Nicklinson. A similar declaration of incompatibility had been sought in Nicklinson, but by a majority of seven to two the court refused to make the declaration on the grounds that it was not “institutionally appropriate” to do so. The court, however, encouraged Parliament to reconsider the issue of assisted dying.
In the instant case, the court had to determine whether the circumstances which led the Supreme Court to refuse to grant the declaration in Nicklinson had changed so that a different outcome was now possible.
The Court concluded – with an interesting dissent from Charles J – that this was a matter for parliament. A declaration of incompatibility would be institutionally inappropriate in the light of the recent Parliamentary consideration of Nicklinson. The claim was unarguable and permission was refused.
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10 March 2017
Jones v. Canal & River Trust  EWCA Civ 135 – 7 March 2017 – read judgment
In recent years, the Courts have come up with a pragmatic resolution to the clash of property and Article 8 rights which typically occur in housing cases. Where the tenant is trying to use Art.8 to fend off a possession order, because he is in breach of some term of the tenancy, then the Courts, here and in Strasbourg, have resolved the issue in the favour of the local authority, save in exceptional circumstances.
But the current case of a canal boat owner raises a rather different balance of rights and interests – which is why the Court of Appeal evidently found the issue a difficult one to decide.
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8 February 2017
Vaccine in vial with syringe. Vaccination concept. 3d
SL (Permission to Vaccinate), Re 2017 EWHC (Fam) EWHC (30 January 2017)  EWHC 125 (Fam)
The alleged risks attending on vaccination were outweighed by the benefits of immunisation by a clear margin, the Family Court has ruled.
The seven month old baby SL was subject of an interim care order. The mother (the third respondent) objected to immunisations on the basis that her other children had suffered adverse reactions from them in the past. The local authority applied under the court’s inherent jurisdiction for a declaration that it was in the child’s interests for it to be given permission to arrange for him to receive the Haemophilus Influenza Type b (Hib) vaccine and the pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) vaccine.
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21 September 2016
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.
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24 May 2016
Photo credit: RT
In the news
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
In the courts
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.
UK HRB posts
CA says ex-pats cannot say yes or no to Brexit – David Hart QC
The British Bill of Rights Show: Series 14, Episode 9…*Zzzzzzz* – Adam Wagner
Three Way in the Supreme Court: PJS remains PJS – David Hart QC
The National Preventive Mechanism of the United Kingdom – John Wadham
Bank Mellat’s $4bn claim: CA rules out one element, but the rest to play for – David Hart QC
20 April 2016
Spencer v Anderson (Paternity Testing)  EWHC 851 (Fam) – read judgment
A fascinating case in the Family Division throws up a number of facts that some may find surprising. One is that this is the first time the courts in this country have been asked to direct post-mortem scientific testing to establish paternity. The other is that DNA is not covered by the Human Tissue Act, because genetic material does not contain human cells. One might wonder why the statute doesn’t, given that DNA is the instruction manual that makes the human tissue that it covers – but maybe updating the 2004 law to cover genetic material would create more difficulties than it was designed to resolve.
The facts can be briefly stated. The applicant had been made aware of his possible relationship to S, who had died of bowel cancer some years before. When S had presented with the disease, it turned out that there was a family history of such cancer. The hospital treating him therefore took a blood sample and extracted DNA from it to test for high-risk genes. If the applicant was the son of the deceased he would have a 50% risk of inherited predisposition to bowel cancer. This risk would be mitigated by biannual colonoscopies.
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22 February 2016
Ross v Lord Advocate  CSIH 12, 19th February 2016 – read judgment
The Inner House of the Court of Session has rejected a reclaiming motion (appeal) from a decision of the Outer House in which it was held that the Lord Advocate’s refusal to publish specific guidance on the circumstances in which individuals would be prosecuted for assisted suicide did not violate Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Factual and Legal Background
The petitioner, Gordon Ross, suffers from Parkinson’s disease. He anticipates that there will come a time when he will not wish to continue living but, because of his physical state, he would require assistance to end his own life. Mr Ross was apprehensive that anyone who assisted him would be liable to criminal prosecution and therefore sought clarification from the Lord Advocate (the head of the prosecution service in Scotland) as to the factors that would be taken into account in deciding whether or not to prosecute.
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14 January 2016
Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.
Barbulescu v Romania, 12 January 2016 – read judgment
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.
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9 November 2015
Richardson v Facebook  EWHC 3154 (2 November 2015) – read judgment
An action in defamation and under the right to privacy against Facebook has been dismissed in the High Court. The Facebook entity named as defendant did not “control” the publication so as to allow liability; and even if it did, no claim under the Human Rights Act could lie against FB as it could not be described as any sort of a public authority for the purposes of Section 6 of the Act.
The claimant, acting as a litigant in person, sought damages in respect of the publication in 2013 and 2014 of a Facebook profile and a posting on the Google Blogger service. The Profile and the Blogpost each purported to have been created by the claimant, but she complained that each was a fake, created by an impostor. She claimed that each was defamatory of her, and infringed her right to respect for her private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
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5 November 2015
Cian C. Murphy & Natasha Simonsen
The Government has published a draft Bill on Investigatory Powers that it hopes to see through Parliament within a year. If it becomes law, the Investigatory Powers Bill will replace much, but not all, of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, as well as the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014.
It is the Government’s response to the Edward Snowden revelations, and to three different reports that made almost 200 reform recommendations between them.
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29 October 2015
O’Neill and Lauchlan v Scottish Ministers  CSOH 93, 28th October 2015 – read judgment
The Outer House of the Court of Session has dismissed challenges brought by two convicted paedophiles to the Scottish Prison Service’s refusal to allow them to visit each other in prison. The decisions were challenged under articles 8 and 14 ECHR, as it was claimed that the prisoners were in a homosexual relationship.
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15 October 2015
Shahid v. Scottish Ministers (Scotland),  UKSC 58 – read judgment.
The Supreme Court has held that the continuation of a prisoner’s solitary confinement for safety reasons was not authorised under domestic rules and incompatible with the right to private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).
by Fraser Simpson
The appellant, Imran Shahid, was first placed in solitary confinement in October 2005. His confinement was continued following his conviction for the racially motivated murder of a 15-year-old boy. The decision was based on threats made against the appellant. This period of solitary confinement continued until his eventual reintegration into the general prison population in August 2010.
The appellant had originally challenged his continued segregation in both the Outer and Inner Houses of the Court of Session (see this previous post for a discussion of the Inner House’s opinion). The Scottish courts refused his complaints and held that his prolonged solitary confinement accorded with both domestic law and Articles 3 and 8, ECHR.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision delivered by Lord Reed, held that not only was the continued segregation invalid according to domestic law, but it also amounted to a violation of Article 8.
Compliance with domestic law?
The relevant rules concerning the power to place a prisoner in solitary confinement were, at the relevant time, contained in the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 1994 and 2006. Despite the amendment of the Rules during the relevant period, the core provisions relating to the grounds for segregation and the time limits imposed remained the same. The purpose of Shahid’s segregation – to maintain good order and protect him – was not in question. Shahid instead contended that certain time limits contained within the Prison Rules relating to the continuation of a period of segregation had not been complied with. The relevant provision, Rule 94(5), states:
“A prisoner who has been removed from association … shall not be subject to such removal for a period in excess of 72 hours from the time of the order, except where the Scottish Ministers have granted written authority … prior to the expiry of the said period of 72 hours.”
Three of the orders made authorising prolongation of Shahid’s segregation were made by the Scottish Ministers after the expiration of this 72-hour limit.
The lower courts considered that such delays did not impact upon the validity of the orders that authorised continued segregation. Importance was placed upon the relatively limited extent to which the orders were late (17, 44 and 47 hours) and the fact that the purpose of the reviews, to ensure that segregation was maintained for only as long as necessary, was not frustrated by such limited delays.
Lord Reed, adopting an alternative construction of the Prison Rules, held that any order made after the expiration of the 72-hour period was automatically invalid (see paragraphs 15-18 of the judgment). His conclusion that the late orders authorising continued segregation of the appellant were invalid, and that a period of 14 months of segregation therefore had no legal basis, is important in the context of the Article 8 challenge.
The Scottish Ministers accepted that the placement of the appellant in solitary confinement was an interference with his right to respect for private life under Article 8. Consequently, it was for them to show that the measure was in accordance with the law, in pursuance of a legitimate aim, and a proportionate interference in light of the pursued aim.
Lord Reed was quick to point out that his previous conclusion, that the late authorisations had rendered invalid the subsequent segregation, would result in certain periods of the segregation not being “in accordance with the law”. Accordingly, such periods of segregation could not be justified under Article 8(2).
Lord Reed went on to consider that the appropriate prison authorities had not always been independently making the decisions to continue the segregation of the appellant but instead, on some occasions, had been unduly influenced by the decisions and recommendations of a non-statutory advisory body. The need for a statutory decision making power to be exercised by the individual, or body, that has been conferred such a power had not been satisfied (see R v. Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison Ex p Hague,  1 AC 58). Accordingly, there was a failure to satisfy the lawfulness criterion within Article 8(2).
The Supreme Court moved on to consider the proportionality of Shahid’s continued segregation. The lower courts, in holding that the continued segregation was proportionate, opined that it was the only practicable way of dealing with the threats made against the appellant. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, listed a number of potential alternatives to solitary confinement that could have achieved the aim of protecting the appellant from attacks, including relocating the appellant to another UK prison. Irrespective of such alternatives, the Supreme Court decided that earlier steps could have been taken to promote Shahid’s reintegration. A plan to reintegrate the prisoner had only been developed after four and a half years of almost continuous segregation. Failure to take such steps resulted in the segregation being disproportionate and a violation of Article 8.
However, the Supreme Court considered that the appellant had not suffered any prejudice. If the Article 8 violations had not occurred then there was no evidence to show he would have been returned to the general population sooner.
Additionally, the extent to which his right to respect for his private life under Article 8 had been infringed was limited considering the negative attitudes other prisoners harboured towards him.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court considered that there was no need to make an award for damages despite the appellant seeking £6,000.
The appellant also complained that the segregation was incompatible with his right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3, ECHR. The European Court of Human Rights has recognised the potentially damaging effect that continued solitary confinement can have upon the mental and social facilities of an individual (see Ahmad v United Kingdom, (2013) 56 EHRR 1, paragraph 207).
However, the use of such measures for disciplinary, security, or protective reasons does not automatically contravene Article 3. In assessing whether the measure was compatible with Article 3, the Supreme Court considered the conditions and duration of the detention as well as the motivation for such a measure and its impact on the appellant.
The Court concluded that the measure did not attain the minimum level of severity to engage Article 3. The appellant was kept in suitable accommodation and the ability to exercise, receive visitors and associate with other prisoners pointed towards the treatment falling short of the Article 3 threshold. Despite the length of the segregation extending beyond four years, the fact it was imposed in the interests of the appellant’s safety were also of relevance.
The use of segregation in prisons should always be considered as a serious measure. Indeed, the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture advises that for punitive purposes any stint should be limited to 14 days (see the CPT’s 21st General Report, (2011), page 40).
The strict interpretation of the 72-hour limitation within the Prison Rules by Lord Reed results in appropriate weight being attributed to the decision to segregate. As Lord Reed pointed out, this allows early consideration of the necessity of the segregation by officials external to the prison. This provides an important procedural safeguard, even at an early stage of segregation.
However, if the 72-hour limit were strictly applied in this instance, there could be negative practical repercussions. When continued segregation was without legal basis, would the prison officials be under a duty to return the appellant to general population even if this would endanger his safety? An analogous situation was raised by the Inner House in support of their interpretation of the Prison Rules (paragraph 24 of the Inner House Judgment). Lord Reed answered these concerns by outlining that the officials would also be subject to a duty under s.6(1) of the Human Rights Act to secure the safety of the prisoner in accordance with Article 2 and 3, ECHR. If there was a serious risk to life then the prisoner could remain in segregation in accordance with domestic law using such protections as justification.
Interestingly, such an argument was not substantively raised on behalf of the Scottish Ministers in order to justify the periods for which there was a lack of authorisation.
6 October 2015
H H Keith Hollis
There has been further consideration of potential post-adoption Article 8 rights for natural parents in a judgment by Peter Jackson J in the case of Seddon v Oldham MBC. There are no surprises in the conclusions he reaches.
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