Earlier this month, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing published a report which concluded that live facial recognition technology is currently “not fit” for use by Police Scotland.
Police Scotland had initially planned to introduce live facial recognition technology (“the technology”) in 2026. However, this has now been called into question as a result of the report’s findings – that the technology is extremely inaccurate, discriminatory, and ineffective. Not only that, but it also noted that the technology would be a “radical departure” from Police Scotland’s fundamental principle of policing by consent.
In light of the above, the Sub-Committee concluded that there would be “no justifiable basis” for Police Scotland to invest in the technology.
Police Scotland agreed – at least for the time being – and confirmed in the report that they will not introduce the technology at this time. Instead, they will engage in a wider debate with various stakeholders to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place before introducing it. The Sub-Committee believed that such a debate was essential in order to assess the necessity and accuracy of the technology, as well as the potential impact it could have on people and communities.
The report is undoubtedly significant as it reaffirms that the current state of the technology is ineffective. It therefore strengthens the argument that we should have a much wider debate about the technology before we ever introduce it onto our streets. This is important not only on a practical level but also from a human rights perspective, especially set against the backdrop of the technology’s controversial use elsewhere.
Great Ormond Street Hospital v Yates and Gard –  EWHC 1909 (Fam) – read judgment
“A lot of things have been said, particularly in recent days, by those who know almost nothing about this case but who feel entitled to express opinions. Many opinions have been expressed based on feelings rather than facts.”
So said Francis J, when dealing with an unusual application by Great Ormond Street Hospital (Gosh) asking for an order, rather than a declaration, that Charlie Gard should be allowed to slip away quietly. The involvement of the White House, the Vatican, the Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital in Rome and Dr. Hirano and the associated medical centre in the USA in this story demonstrates the fact that a mere declaration carries too much ambiguity to allow the hospital staff to do what the courts have approved. The terms in which Gosh put its application were unambiguous indeed:
Therefore orders are sought to remove any ambiguity; orders are enforceable. Despite all of the hospitals best endeavours, this appears as potentially necessary. Not for the first time the parents through their solicitors raised the prospect of criminal proceedings against the hospital and its staff. The Hospital understands that no court order best interests proceedings can afford it or its staff from prosecution.
On 27 October 2016, the Royal College of Surgeons issued some guidance (here) on obtaining consent in the light of the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Montgomery (judgment here, my post here).
The angle of the guidance is obvious, not simply addressed to its member surgeons, but to the NHS to persuade it to allow enough time for surgeons to consent patients properly. And the “steel” in its message was that there would be a significant hike in the bill which would be paid by the NHS for successful claims if consent was not taken properly in future.
Most readers will know the importance of Montgomery. It reversed Sidaway, 30 years before, which said that it was for doctors to decide how much to tell patients about the risks of treatment, and, if what the patient was told was in line with what other doctors would say (the Bolam principle), no claim would lie. So, per 1980s law, the quality of consent should be determined by medical evidence rather than what the individual patient could reasonably expect to be told.
Montgomery strongly disagreed. Patients have their own autonomy. They differ in their appreciation of surgical risks, and the impact that the occurrence of the risk might have upon their particular lives. The point is well illustrated by an example in the RCS press release. Bypass surgery carries the possibility of loss of sensation in the hand, which may be a minor risk for many patients but very important to, say, a pianist. Why should a clinician be able to advise a patient in the abstract, without knowing whether they have a pianist before them?
M, R (on the application of) Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority  EWCA Civ 611 (30 June 2016)
The Court of Appeal has ruled that a 60 year old woman may use her daughter’s frozen eggs to give birth to her own grandchild. Her daughter, referred to as A in the judgment, died of cancer at the age of 28 in 2011. The High Court had dismissed M’s argument that the HFEA had acted unlawfully by refusing to allow the eggs to be exported to a fertility clinic in the United States where an embryo would be created using donor sperm, and implanted in the mother.
The HFEA is bound by statute (the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Act) to provide services using a person’s gametes only where that person consents. The difficulty here was that while A had consented to treatment for egg removal and storage, including storage after her death, she had not completed a specific form giving details of the use that was now proposed.
The essence of the appellants’ challenge was there was “clear evidence” of what A wanted to happen to her eggs after she died. “All available evidence” showed that she wanted her mother to have her child after her death, the Court was told.
Arden LJ, giving the judgement of the court, found that the judge below had reached his conclusion on the basis of a “misstatement of certain of the evidence” about A’s consent by the Committee. Continue reading →
A and others (In the matter of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008) – read judgment
This case is best summed up in Sir James Munby’s own words:
This judgment relates to a number of cases where much joy but also, sadly, much misery has been caused by the medical brilliance, unhappily allied with the administrative incompetence, of various fertility clinics. The cases I have before me are, there is every reason to fear, only the small tip of a much larger problem.
These cumulative cases
must raise questions as to the adequacy if not of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s regulation then of the extent of its regulatory powers. That the incompetence to which I refer is, as I have already indicated, administrative rather than medical is only slight consolation, given the profound implications of the parenthood which in far too many cases has been thrown into doubt. This is a matter I shall return to at the end of this judgment.
The release of confidential patient details to a state medical institution in the course of her negotiations with a hospital over a lawsuit was an unjustified interference with her right to respect for private life under Article 8.
In 1997 the applicant gave birth at a state hospital in Cēsis. Caesarean section was used, with the applicant’s consent, because uterine rupture had occurred during labour. In the course of that surgery the surgeon performed tubal ligation (surgical contraception) without the applicant’s consent.
In 2005, after her attempt to achieve an out-of-court settlement with the hospital had failed, the applicant initiated civil proceedings against the hospital, seeking to recover damages for the unauthorised tubal ligation. In December of 2006 her claim was upheld and she was awarded compensation in the amount of 10,000 Latvian lati for the unlawful sterilisation. Continue reading →
The High Court has ruled in favour of a 28-year-old woman who wanted her late husband’s sperm to be retained even though the correct written consent was not in place. Mrs Justice Hogg (‘Hogg J’) ruled that Mrs Warren has a right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life) to decide to become a parent by her deceased husband.
Mr Brewer had put his sperm into storage in April 2005 in order to enable his wife, Elizabeth Warren, to conceive a child by him after his death. However, he was not advised by his Clinic as to the statutory steps he needed to take in order for his sperm to be stored for longer than 10 years. In the event, he sadly passed away shortly before the lawful expiry of his consent, leaving his widow insufficient time to decide whether she wished to conceive his child.
CM v The Executor of the Estate of EJ (deceased)  EWHC 1680 (Fam) – read judgment
You would have thought the law would be entirely behind a person who intervenes to help a stranger in distress. Indeed most civil law countries impose a positive duty to rescue, which means that if a person finds someone in need of medical help, he or she must take all reasonable steps to seek medical care and render best-effort first aid. A famous example of this was the investigation into the photographers at the scene of Lady Diana’s fatal car accident: they were suspected of violation of the French law of “non-assistance à personne en danger” (deliberately failing to provide assistance to a person in danger), which can be punished by up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 70,000 euros. But the position in common law countries like the UK and the United States is completely different: you can watch a child drown and not be held to account.
Of course no good citizen would do such a thing and in this case the claimant, a medical doctor, went out of her way to try to save the life of someone in extremis. She was driving home, off duty, in South East London, when she saw a body lying motionless on the pavement. Continue reading →
I have posted previously on the logistical difficulties in legislating against genetic discrimination.
The prospect that genetic information not only affects insurance and employment opportunities is alarming enough. But it has many other implications: it could be used to deny financial backing or loan approval, educational opportunities, sports eligibility, military accession, or adoption eligibility. At the moment, the number of documented cases of discrimination on the basis of genetic test results is small. This is probably due to the relatively few conditions for which there are currently definitive genetic tests, coupled with the expense and difficulty of conducting these tests. But genetic discrimination is a time bomb waiting to be triggered and the implications of whole genome sequencing (WGS) are considered in a very interesting and readable report by the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing.
Wednesday’s debate on current key topics in the Court of Protection was a hard-hitting discussion on matters which elicit strong views, such as voluntary euthanasia, assisted suicide, the role of “dignity” and “sanctity of life”, and whether the latter two principles can ever be reconciled.
The fact that these are not essentially legal issues was underscored by the inclusion of ethics philosopher on the interventionist panel, Professor Anthony Grayling, who fielded the questions put to him alongside Philip Havers QC and Leigh Day solicitor Richard Stein. A video of the event will shortly be available on the 1 Crown Office Row website so I shall try to refrain from any spoilers, but here is a brief trailer to whet the appetite for a full recapitulation.
The evening started with a consideration of the Nicklinson and Martin cases, on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide respectively. There were a number of questions put to the panel which essentially rolled up into this:
Should voluntary euthanasia be a possible defence to murder, or can we justify action with a primary purpose of killing a person on the grounds of preventing that person’s harm or suffering?
The panel was broadly in agreement that it should. Richard Stein observed that the argument that there can never be adequate safeguards to protect the vulnerable is being used as a “smokescreen”, and, equally, the notion that disabled people cannot exercise their free will to die because it reduces the value of disabled lives is a “hugely patronising” one. Continue reading →
Updated, 1 Sep | The high-profile criminal trial of a German popstar who caused her former partner to be infected with HIV has resulted in a 2-year suspended sentence. In other words, she has been convicted but escaped jail. What would happen in similar circumstances in the UK?
The facts of Nadja Benaissa’s case were relatively simple. She had been infected with HIV since the age of 16 and is 28 years old now. She had sex with three people without telling them she was infected, and as a result one of them became infected himself. She claimed that she did not intend to infect him, and that she had been told by doctors the risk of passing on the disease were “practically zero”.
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