The pandemic has had a knock-on effect of increasing awareness of devolution. The governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been responsible for navigating the pandemic in their own countries, and the approaches taken have sometimes significantly diverged. With the COVID Regulations affecting the essentials of our daily lives, public attention across the UK has been drawn to the powers of devolved governments to govern differently from Westminster.
One surprising difference between the Welsh and UK Governments – and one that has evaded much public scrutiny – is that the Welsh Regulations created a new power of entry which allows police officers to enter people’s homes in certain circumstances to investigate breaches of the COVID Regulations. No such power has ever been included in the English Regulations, and the power of English police officers to enter people’s homes is more restricted, governed by the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (‘PACE’) and the common law rules for dealing with breaches of the peace.
The practical issues around the Welsh police power of entry to people’s homes have fallen into the background in recent months, because it mainly arises when there is or has been a suspected unlawful gathering in someone’s home. (Although on 26 December 2021, a new restriction was introduced banning gatherings of more than 30 in homes.) With restrictions hopefully easing again, reflecting on this regulation raises broader questions about human rights and legal scrutiny in Wales.
In a judgment handed down on 24 November 2021, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal concerning the lawfulness of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (“the Scheme”) which was introduced by the Government in April 2020 during the first lockdown as part of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The purpose of the Scheme was to provide payments for persons carrying on a trade where their business had been adversely affected by the pandemic. The payments were to be calculated by reference to the average trading profits (“ATP”) of the preceding full tax years (2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/2019).
The First Appellant, Motherhood Plan, also known as “Pregnant Then Screwed”, is a registered charity with aims to end discrimination faced by women and mothers by campaigning to change legislation, raising awareness in the media and working with employers to change business practice and culture. The Second Appellant, Ms Kerry Chamberlain, worked as a self-employed energy analyst. In the tax year 2017-18, she took a 39-week period of maternity leave after the birth of her second child, and, in the following tax year, she took a further 39-week period of leave after the birth of her third child. As a result of her periods away from work, her trading profits were reduced.
They claimed that contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”), read with Article 1 of the First Protocol of the Convention, the Scheme unlawfully discriminated against self-employed women who took a period of leave relating to maternity or pregnancy in any of those three preceding full tax years since the level of support granted to them under the Scheme was not representative of their usual profits.
The offence of “Rechtsbeugung” in German law is not easy to translate. The best match we have for it in English is the offence of “misconduct in public office”. Misfeasance in public office, according to Archibold, is committed by
(a) a public officer acting as such who
(b) wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself
(c) to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder,
(d) without reasonable justification.
I have not been able to find any examples of judges being prosecuted for misconduct in public office in this country. However, this past fortnight in Germany, no less than eight searches have been carried out in the homes of judges, their expert witnesses, a guardian ad litem and others associated with a controversial ruling regarding Covid-19 restrictions. I posted on Judge Christian Dettmar’s ruling in early April and subsequent investigation here. Reminder: Judge Dettmar issued an injunction against two schools in Weimar to stop them imposing masking, social distancing and testing. This was in his view necessary in order to avert (further) compromising of children’s welfare.
On 28th of April I wrote up a judgment by Weimar District Court Judge Dettmar against masks and social distancing in schools, and his subsequent handling by the police and District Prosecutor. Judge Dettmar’s decision of the 8th of April was overturned last week and the proceedings were discontinued.
The same court had produced a similar judgment ( 6 OWi 583 Js 200030/21) in a “Corona trial” on the 15th of March 2021 published on the 6th of May 2021. This was a ruling from a judge with a different jurisdiction in the same court. Judge Güricke, unlike Judge Dettmar, is not a family judge. Part of his jurisdiction concerns the validity of subordinate legislation, particularly ordinances banning certain behaviour, on pain of a fine or even a prison sentence. All administrative offences that are not traffic offences fall into this jurisdiction; and the Corona fine cases fall into the Special Administrative Offences division of which Judge Güricke is part. This, his latest judgment, examines in great depth what the government actually knew and should have known about the situation prevailing when the government decided on lockdown in March 2020.
It is well worth reading. Despite the fact that the German media has barely picked up on it, it is being commented upon and read in legal circles.
Judge Güricke’s ruling on the constitutional point is final. The public prosecutor’s office have not been able to appeal because the Thuringian Constitutional Court handed down a ruling on 1 March 2021 that all Thuringian Corona decrees, starting with the first one issued in March 2020 until the beginning of June 2020, were unlawful and null and void due to an error in formalities.
On 8 April 2021, the Weimar District Family Court ruled in Amtsgericht Weimar, Beschluss vom 08.04.2021, Az.: 9 F 148/21) that two Weimar schools were prohibited with immediate effect from requiring pupils to wear mouth-nose coverings of any kind (especially qualified masks such as FFP2 masks), to comply with AHA minimum distances and/or to take part in SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests. At the same time, the court ruled that classroom instruction must be maintained.
This is the first time that expert evidence has now been presented before a German court regarding the scientific reasonableness and necessity of the prescribed anti-Corona measures.The expert witnesses were the hygienist Prof. Dr. med Ines Kappstein, the psychologist Prof. Dr. Christof Kuhbandner and the biologist Prof. Dr. Ulrike Kämmerer were heard. 2020NewsDe has published a summary of the judgment, the salient parts of which are set out in full below (translation by DeepL).
The reason for highlighting this judgment in such detail is because of the consequences reported by the news website to the judge of his decision. According to 2020NewsDe, “the judge at the Weimar District Court, Christiaan Dettmar, had his house searched today [26 April 2021]. His office, private premises and car were searched. The judge’s mobile phone was confiscated by the police. The judge had made a sensational decision on 8 April 2021, which was very inconvenient for the government’s policy on the measures.” In a side note on the fringes of proceedings with other parties, continues 2020NewsDe, “the decision in question has been described as unlawful by the Weimar Administrative Court without comprehensible justification.”
A cautionary note: I have been informed by Holger Hestermeyer, Professor of International and EU Law at King’s Law School (@hhesterm), that cases quashing administrative acts (like the one at issue in the AG Weimar case) go to administrative courts in Germany. The case, says Professor Hestermeyer
had, indeed, been brought to the administrative court, but the court had not quashed the administrative act. The attorney then (according to Spiegel reports) was looking for plaintiffs to bring the case before this particular judge via telegram (competence is based on first letters of surnames, so the attorney was looking for plaintiffs with the right surname). The judge then assumed his competence (unprecedented), ruled not just for the plaintiffs but all kids at the school (peculiar), excluded an oral hearing (hmmm), rejected all mainstream scientific advise to base the judgment exclusively on the minority of experts rejecting all such measures (again hmmm) and excluded an appeal.
So there are important procedural problems with this judgment which must be borne in mind when reading my summary with excepts both from the original judgment and the report by 2020De below.
The court case was a child protection case under to § 1666 paragraph 1 and 4 of the German Civil Code (BGB), which a mother had initiated for her two sons, aged 14 and 8 respectively, at the local Family Court. She had argued that her children were being physically, psychologically and pedagogically damaged without any benefit for the children or third parties. At the same time, she claimed this constituted a violation of a range of rights of the children and their parents under the law, the German constitution (Grundgesetz or Basic Law) and international conventions.
Informed consent to medical treatment is at the heart of the vaccine debate. Consent is also at the centre of most of the cases that come before the Court of Protection. So now we have a very specific problem: what happens, if someone lacks capacity under the Mental Capacity Act, and their family for whatever reason objects to the Covid vaccine?
In the latest episode of Law Pod UK, Rosalind English talks to Amelia Walker of 1 Crown Office Row about three recent cases that came before the COP where the “protected person” (incapacitous under the Mental Capacity Act) was due to be vaccinated, but family members objected. Here are the citations to the cases discussed and the relevant statutes:
E (by her Accredited Legal Representative, Keith Clarke), Applicant v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (Respondent) and W (2nd Respondent)  EWCOP 7
SD (Applicant) v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (Respondent)  EWCOP 14
NHS Tameside & Glossop CCG v CR (by his litigation friend CW)  EWCOP 19
Or, as Andrew Neil put it on the Spectator TV News Channel this week, “A Dripping Roast For Lawyers”. To be fair, Neil was referring to the patchwork of mandatory vaccines across the United States. But with the publication yesterday of the Government’s consultation paper on vaccine requirements for all staff deployed in a care home supporting at least one older adult over the age of 65, the debate raging about “vaccine passports” has a real target in its sights. Not only because the government has found some primary legislation that gives it the power to introduce mandatory vaccinations, but also because the proposals are not limited to employees.
According to the consultation paper (which will take five weeks to circulate, enough for more age groups to move into vaccine eligibility bands), the vaccine requirement will extend to visiting professionals, in particular
all staff employed directly by the care home provider, those employed by an agency, and volunteers deployed in the care home. It also includes those providing direct care and those undertaking ancillary roles such as cleaners and kitchen staff.
…[and could extend to] those who provide close personal care, such as health and care workers. It could also include hairdressers or visiting faith leaders. We are also carefully considering the situation of ‘essential care givers’ – those friends or family who have agreed with the care home that they will visit regularly and provide personal care
The policy proposals provide clear exemptions, but only on medical grounds. Vaccine refusal based on cultural or religious objections is not exempt. Pregnancy is at the moment included in the medical exemption but is under review.
Many of the newly vaccinated booked their appointments with gusto and left with a sense of elation. For others the process wasn’t so simple. We see a snapshot of this in a handful of reported cases from the Court of Protection:
In these cases, examined below, the relatives of three care home residents lacking medical capacity, objected to their receiving the vaccine against Covid-19. The CoP applied the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and ruled, in each case, that the resident patient’s best interests favoured vaccination.
Mrs E was 80, suffered from dementia and schizophrenia. Her GP approached the subject of the vaccine, but found her unable to understand the nature of the virus, the risks it posed, or the factors weighing for and against vaccination. He considered she lacked capacity but that vaccination was in her best interests. Her accredited legal representative agreed, but her son did not, so the Court was called on to rule.
In an earlier post I discussed the problem of “vaccine hesitancy” and written evidence to Parliament to Parliament outlining ways in which a vaccination against Covid-19 without consent could be put on a par with capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and with Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Since the announcement of successful clinical trials for the vaccination was made in mid-December, the prospect of population-wide vaccinations has become a reality, and, whilst there are still supply problems, there is no doubt that the issue of medical intervention without consent being made mandatory either through private channels has begun to exercise legal minds across the country. Saga cruise line and the airline Qantas for example have indicated their intention to refuse non vaccinated passengers. Such private prohibitions may have almost as broad an effect as the restrictions on civil liberties passed under the Coronavirus Act since lockdown was declared on March 23 2020 (more specifically, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020).
Snowed in while locked down? What would be more cheering reading than news from one of the no-frills airlines that there will soon be a fast track for vaccinated passengers to leave these shores for balmy Mediterranean beaches, or as the ad puts it “sunshine destinations”. Ryanair recently put out the slogan
Jab and Go
This advertising campaign, encouraging consumers to book flights following the roll out of the UK vaccination programme, might have been a perfectly understandable response to the year-long shock of having very few passengers to transport and the equally deranging inability of citizens to travel abroad.
But it turns out that Ryanair were somewhat ahead of themselves, as the Advertising Standards Authority has found that it was misleading for the airline to give the impression that most people who are hoping to take to the air over the Easter or summer holidays this year will have had the Covid-19 vaccination in time to do so.
Following my post on the Weimar District Court judgment, here is news from Belgium. This summary of the ruling is from the journal LeVif.
The police tribunal in Brussels issued a judgment on 12 January acquitting a man summoned for non-wearing of a mask, according to his lawyer, Hélène Alexandris. The judge concluded that the enforced wearing of the mask in public space was unconstitutional. Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said the public prosecutor has appealed against the decision.
In a landmark judgment on January 11, a district court judge in Weimar declared the prohibition on social contact unlawful as contrary to the German Basic Law (Gründgesetz). Its order at the time had been unconstitutional because the Infection Protection Act was not a sufficient legal basis for such a far-reaching regulation as a contact ban, the ruling said. The order of the contact ban had violated human dignity and had not been proportionate. (Reported in MDR Thüringen on 22 January 2021)
Kontaktverbot verstößt gegen Menschenwürde (Verdict: Contact ban violates human dignity)
In this case a citizen of Weimar had been prosecuted and was to be fined €200 for celebrating his birthday together with seven other people in the courtyard of a house at the end of April 2020, thus violating the contact requirements in force at the time. This only allowed members of two households to be together. The judge’s conclusion was that the Corona Ordinance was unconstitutional and materially objectionable.
This is the first time a judge has dealt in detail with the medical facts, the economic consequences and the effects of the specific policy brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic (thanks to @HowardSteen4 for alerting me to this judgment, and commentaryquoted below).
Rampant spread, fuelled by a combination of a new variant that is around 50-70% more transmissible, plus a lifting of restrictions at the beginning of December, brings us into another national lockdown.
In many ways, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first address of 2021 felt unpleasantly like a return to early 2020.
The original “Stay Home” messaging made a comeback. The Prime Minister was deliberately vague about how long lockdown would last. Big Brother Watch criticised the government for “yet again … evading the democratic process” by denying MPs a meaningful vote on the new national restrictions prior to their televised announcement to the nation, or their coming into force. The new guidance differs from the Tier 4 guidance in emphasis, if not substance.
Ever the optimist, the Prime Minister was keen to emphasise “one huge difference” between this lockdown and the first one: the UK is “rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in its history”. He also managed to get in a jab at the UK having delivered more vaccines than the rest of Europe combined.
There were other, more subtle differences, as No. 10 tweaked its messaging in light of past mistakes.
The issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the Secretary of State for Education had acted unlawfully in failing to consult certain bodies representing children in care, including the Children’s Commissioner for England, before introducing the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (“the Amendment Regulations”) following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
On 24 November 2020, the Court of Appeal allowed the appellant’s appeal, granting a declaration that the Secretary of State for Education had acted unlawfully by failing to consult those bodies before introducing the amendments.
I wrote about the launch of these proceedings earlier this year (Legal Challenge to Lockdown) where Mr Dolan was refused permission to appeal the refusal of his application for judicial review. (see Dominic Ruck Keene’s post on that decision). Since then UKHRB has been covering this and similar challenges closely: see here and here, as well as alerting our readers to cases in other countries: New Zealand, and South Africa. My recent post on “vaccine hesitancy” and proposals for mandatory Covid-19 vaccines has attracted a considerable number of readers and comments.
Getting back to the case in hand, this latest defeat for Dolan’s team is slightly more complicated. The Court of Appeal’s ruling can be summarised briefly, but anyone wanting to be reminded of the details will do well to go back to Emmet Coldrick’s enlightening series on the earlier stages of this case and the arguments raised by the appellants in Part 1 and Part 2.
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