Coalition Government


When you wish upon a rendition and torture inquiry…

19 December 2013 by

Detainee Inquiry1 Crown Office Row’s Philippa Whipple QC and Matthew Hill were counsel to the Detainee Inquiry. They are not the writers of this post.

On 6 July 2010, in the first innocent days of the Coalition Government, former appeal judge Sir Peter Gibson was asked by the Prime Minister to enquire into “whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11.” Almost 3 1/2 years later, the Detainee Inquiry has  produced a  report (it was originally presented to the Government on 27 June 2012 but there have been heavy negotiations about sensitive material in the public version).

The report makes clear at the outset that it “does not, and cannot, make findings as to what happened”. Why so? Because the Inquiry was scrapped before it heard evidence from any witnesses, so it couldn’t test any conclusions reached purely on the basis of documentary evidence. The reason given at the time by Sir Peter  was that “it is not practical for the Inquiry to continue for an indefinite period to wait for the conclusion of the police investigations“. The “investigations” are those into claims of collusion by the intelligence services with torture in Libya (see this Q&A for more).

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What can an Environmental Tribunal do?

6 June 2011 by

Access to environmental justice is a subject close to the hearts of various contributors to this blog, as one can see from the posts listed below. But not only to them – Sullivan LJ was the chairman of the working group that in 2008 wrote Ensuring Access to Environmental Justice in England and Wales”. Jackson LJ returned to the issue in his report on the costs of civil litigation. In December last year the Supreme Court referred to the Court of Justice of the EU, Edwards, a case about the English costs regime, and whether it complies with the Aarhus convention. Finally, in April 2011 the European Commission said it was going to refer the UK to the CJEU for failing to comply with the costs element of the Convention.

So the UKELA seminar on “Developing the new Environmental Tribunal” hosted by Simmons & Simmons on 16th May 2011, was timely, to say the least, particularly as the speakers included Lord Justice Sullivan, and Lord Justice Carnwath the senior president of the Tribunals, and Professor Richard Macrory Q.C., author of a new report on the Environment Tribunal.

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End of the age of terrorism for human rights campaigners [updated]

2 August 2010 by

Updated (4 Aug 2010)

Army generals are notorious for fighting the last war instead of the current one. Human rights campaigners may be in danger of the same mistake if they get their strategy wrong for the new coalition government.

The great civil liberties fight of the last decade centered on New Labour’s anti-terrorism measures. Keystone issues such as stop and search, 42-day detention without charge and control orders caught the public imagination and have been the subject of bitterly fought and largely successful campaigns by rights groups.

The other significant fights have been over the so-called surveillance state; for example CCTV, the DNA database and ASBOs, all of which are now being considered for reform by the new government.

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Ministry of Justice a “nest of liberals”

21 July 2010 by

Simon Hoggart has written an entertaining sketch in the Guardian, suggesting that the new Ministry of Justice is in fact a “nest of liberals”, and may end up being a fifth column inside the Coalition Government.

We posted earlier this week on the mixed reactions which have been inspired by the government’s early civil liberties agenda, although the majority opinion seems fairly positive. Hoggart suggests that in fact a dose of liberalism is sorely needed in the current government:

The Ministry of Justice turns out to be a nest of liberals in the coalition government. They need a few – the current Lib Dems are roughly as liberal as combination of Ayn Rand and Hanging Judge Jeffreys.

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Budget benefits cuts and the human right to money

22 June 2010 by

George Osborne is to announce the Government’s emergency budget today. Although the Government has been seeking to emphasise measures which will soften the blow to the poor, the fact remains that these are the biggest cuts in decades and that many will end up worse off, particularly if wages decrease and unemployment increases.

Update: The full budget can be downloaded here. The section on benefits starts at page 33.

The Government is to cut benefits by £11bn by 2014-15. The huge cost of benefits (spending on social security and tax credits has increased by 45 per cent, around £60 billion, in real terms over the past 10 years.), the Chancellor told Parliament, were one of the reasons why there isn’t any more money in the Government coffers. The Health in Pregnancy grant will be abolished from 2011 and Sure Start will be limited. Child Benefit is to be frozen for the next three years. Disability Living Allowance will be restricted by a new medical check from 2013.  The Chancellor has said he will “increase the incentives to work” and will reassess benefits on the basis of the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index. Housing benefit will be limited significantly and maximum limits on what can be claimed are to be introduced for the first time.

Rosalind English posted two weeks ago on whether budget cuts will lead to revised calls for “socio-economic” human rights; a concept which is as old as the European Convention on Human Rights and just as controversial. We will now revisit that post.

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Major new equality laws under threat from new government

18 June 2010 by

The Equality Act 2010 may be a quiet addition to the Coalition Government’s repealing agenda as the Government Equality Office (GEO) withdraws the timetable for its implementation.

According to Out-law.com, a spokesperson from the GEO said “An announcement on scheduling for implementation of the Equality Act will be made in due course” and also confirmed that the new Government is not bound by the timetable set by its predecessor.

The Equality Act 2010 was passed into law on in the dying days of the New Labour government despite opposition of from the Pope, who complained that it would run contrary to “natural law” due to its likely effect on Catholic adoption agencies. The Conservatives may have more luck, however, in thwarting the Act’s implementation and in particular three aspects of it which they are opposed to. Some of the main provisions were supposed to come into force in October, but this now appears to have been put on hold. The original timetable can be accessed here.

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Libel reform debate media round-up [updated x 3]

1 June 2010 by

We posted on Friday that the libel reform debate is hotting up now that the Coalition Government has pledged to reform the law of libel. We are following the debate because of the wide-ranging implications any significant reform will have for the law of freedom of expression, as a number of articles published over the weekend demonstrate.

Lord Lester, who has recently produced a draft libel reform bill, writes in the Times:

The chilling effect of our current libel law needs urgently to be tackled by the government and parliament. I hope that my bill will be the catalyst for much-needed legislative reform.

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, an organisation which aims to promote freedom of expression, writes in the Guardian:

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New Coalition abolishes Infrastructure Planning Commission after less than a year of operation

28 May 2010 by

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (“IPC”) is to be one of the first fatalities of the new coalition government. What impact will another change to the controversial system have on the fairness of planning decisions?

In a letter on 24 May 2010, the head of the IPC, Sir Michael Pitt, has confirmed the government is planning to scrap the organisation as a part of a wider overhaul planning powers in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The IPC was set up as part of a number of planning reforms under the Planning Act 2008. The goal of the IPC is described on the website as “making the application process for nationally significant infrastructure projects faster, fairer and easier for people to get involved in”. Whether the IPC was achieving this goal is hard to say, as the body only began operation on 1 October 2009, and only began to receive applications on 1 March 2010.

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The Queen’s Speech and human rights [updated]

25 May 2010 by

The Coalition Government has presented its legislative agenda for the coming year in the Queen’s Speech. Below are links to some of our previous posts which address some of the proposed policies.

The full line-up of bills announced can be found on the Number 10 website, or you can also read the full transcript. Our analysis of the Coalition’s human rights policies is here. The list will probably not be exhaustive, as some of the promises made in the Programme for Government may be instituted via secondary legislation or attached to other related Acts of Parliament.

One notable absence is any mention of reform to extradition policy (see our post from yesterday). The Programme for Government included the promise to “review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed.” Liberty, the human rights organisation, had already welcomed the change in a statement on Monday. The family of Gary McKinnon would have also been waiting for this, as Mr McKinnon is currently awaiting a decision from the new Home Secretary as to whether he will be extradited to the United States on computer hacking charges. That being said, a change to the extradition arrangements may be included in another bill, although this seems unlikely.

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Coalition civil liberties policies may be uncontroversial quick wins

24 May 2010 by

The Economist has provided a useful analysis of the Coalition Government’s proposed policies on civil liberties.

The article highlights the fact that the policies detailed may not represent the transformative change which Nick Clegg suggested in his reform speech, but rather “uncontroversial quick wins” which will be dwarfed in policy terms by the incoming government’s policing and immigration policies:

The disagreements can probably be haggled away, with the Lib Dems getting their way (eventually) on human rights in return for agreeing to control orders. Coalition government is such a novel and interesting thing that almost any fudge or u-turn can be passed off as a natural product of the “new politics”, at least for now.
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Are trials without juries always illiberal?

24 May 2010 by

Under threat?

The Coalition Government has pledged to “protect” the right to trial by jury. It is often assumed that the a jury is needed to ensure a fair trial, but Sir Louis Blom-Cooper argues in an interesting article in the Guardian that juries may not always be essential, particularly in cases involving serious organised crime.

Blom-Cooper, an academic and barrister, argues that jury-less trials need not always be illiberal. He says “The experience in Northern Ireland over three decades suggests that serious organised crimes can effectively and efficiently be tried before a professional court ‑ a single judge or perhaps three judges.” He also suggests that defendants ought to be able to waive their right to trial by jury as is the case in many other jurisdictions.
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Coalition agreement calls for Human Rights Act Plus, but will it last?

21 May 2010 by

The full Coalition agreement is now available, and has made things a little clearer on the new government’s plans for the Human Rights Act. But will the promised review of the 1998 Act be anything more than a time-wasting exercise born of irresolvable disagreements between the partners on fundamental rights, and will the changes last?

“The Coalition: our programme for government” is available to download here. The civil liberties section is largely the same as in the draft agreement published last week, but with an added section on the recently announced Commission to

investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.

We posted earlier in the week on three possible outcomes arising from the Commission; first, full repeal of the 1998 Act, second, repeal and replacement with a Bill of Rights or, third, create in effect a “Human Rights Act Plus”, which would bolster the 1998 Act whilst maintaining the UK obligations under the European Convention. As predicted, it appears that the third option has been selected, but under the Bill of Rights banner.
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Terror case reopens debate on repeal of Human Rights Act [updated]

19 May 2010 by

Debate reopened

We posted this morning on the case of the “Pathway students”, in which two suspected terrorists used human rights law to avoid deportation due to fear of torture. Almost immediately after the decision was announced, the BBC reported that a “commission” is to be set up to address the future of the Human Rights Act. Has the case prompted a swift reconsideration of the Coalition’s position on human rights?

Probably not. It would appear that a commission to review the 1998 Act will be set up, as part of a wide raft of civil liberties reforms to be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg later today. However, the timing of the announcement alongside the terror decision is probably coincidental and the commission is likely to have been planned since last week’s Coalition agreement.

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As dust settles, Coalition gets cautious welcome on human rights

14 May 2010 by

The Coalition Government is only a few days old but it is already receiving a cautious welcome from civil liberties commentators and bloggers, with all eyes on significant policy commitments in the Con-Lib deal. The previous government enacted major civil liberties legislation within a year of taking power; the question now is whether the Coalition has the time, will and co-operative potential to fulfil its lofty promises.

In its final years, New Labour was regularly criticised on civil liberties issues, particularly in relation to anti-terrorism law. But it is undeniable that within around a year of coming to power it had enacted a major piece of civil liberties legislation in the Human Rights Act 1998, which was followed shortly after by two others; the Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information Act 2000. Some, such as the Human Rights in Ireland Blog, say that sadly this was a high water mark and not to be repeated.

The Con-Lib coalition has already made significant early promises. The focus of commentators has been on the cabinet appointees who will influence law and order policy, as well as the surprisingly full civil liberties section in the Con-Lib Coalition agreement. Just as important, however, is what has been left out.

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