On 11 August, a piece from Professor Richard Ekins KC (Hon) set out a case for the UK denouncing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and leaving the treaty system altogether. One of the main arguments in favour of this is that it would ‘restore Parliament’s freedom, on behalf of the British people, to decide what our laws should be’. This marks one of the more recent such calls, amid a growing chorus of Ministers in the UK Government and Conservative Party MPs to leave the ECHR. Also, it should be noted that we have been here before. The constitutional aspects of such a move aside, there are particular reasons why it would impact Northern Ireland. While Northern Ireland does not feature in Professor Ekins’ 11 August piece, he has previously written about the interaction between the ECHR and the Good Friday Agreement 1998 (GFA), which underpins the modern devolution settlement in Northern Ireland and which brought an end to a brutal and deadly conflict. This interaction is the subject of this post.
The year passed was, unsurprisingly, another year of tumult and surprise, something that by now registers as the norm rather than an aberration. Even so, 2022 must be a standout year – even by recent standards. From Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the collapse of two consecutive Tory governments, dramatic election results around the world from Israel to Brazil, and in the run up to the festive season a football World Cup as mired in human rights controversy as in any sporting event can be, 2022 was not a quiet year.
Nor did the legal world disappoint. On the Parliamentary side of things, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab’s controversial Bill of Rights Bill continues to clunk through Parliament, and other bills with interesting human rights implications have had their moment in the sun as well. To take but one example, the Online Safety Bill, whose controversial but central parts dealing with ‘legal but harmful’ speech were removed recently, is yet to become law after extensive reform following criticisms based on freedom of expression.
But the focus of this post is not on Parliament, or politics in general, but on the highlights of 2022 in the Courts. So with no further ado and in no particular order, the cases which (in the completely impartial and objective joint opinion of the co-editors of this blog) have defined 2022 are:
On 8 September 2022, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down its decision in Drelon v France (application nos. 3153/16 and 27758/18). The Court unanimously found a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to the collection by the French Blood Donation Service, the Établissement Français du Sang (EFS), of personal data relating to a potential blood donor’s presumed sexual orientation and the excessive length of time the data was kept in a public institution.
The claimants in the case were victims of human trafficking with unspent convictions in Lithuania. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) provides compensation to victims of crime, apart from where they have unspent criminal convictions (“the exclusionary rule”). The question for the Supreme Court was whether the exclusionary rule breached the claimants’ rights under Articles 4 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court found that the rule did not breach these rights.
The CICS is a statutory scheme established by the Secretary of State for Justice which permits compensation to be given to a person “if they sustain a criminal injury which is directly attributable to their being a direct victim of a crime of violence”. But this is subject to the exclusionary rule for a person with an unspent conviction for an offence with a custodial sentence.
The appellants, A and B, were Lithuanian nationals and twin brothers. They were convicted of burglary and theft respectively in 2010 and 2011. They were then trafficked to the United Kingdom in 2013, where they were abused and subjected to labour exploitation. The traffickers were convicted for these criminal offences in January 2016.
On 16 June 2016, the appellants applied for compensation under the CICS. A’s conviction for burglary only became spent in June 2020, while B’s conviction for theft became spent on 11 November 2016. Because at the time of their application to the CICS they both had unspent convictions, they were disqualified from receiving compensation. They brought a claim for judicial review against the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) and the Secretary of State for Justice.
When a provision of legislation is held to be incompatible with a Convention right, a Minister of the Crown ‘may by order make such amendments to the primary legislation as he considers necessary’. This power to take remedial action, contained within section 10 of the Human Rights Act (HRA), applies when a domestic court finds an incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and also when the Minister considers a provision of legislation incompatible with the Convention ‘having regard to a finding of the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR). A recent draft remedial order laid before Parliament aims to remedy an incompatibility of the latter kind, following the ECtHR’s judgment in Hammerton v United Kingdomno. 6287/10 ECHR 2016. The draft remedial order is of particular interest because it purports to amend the Human Rights Act itself.
Professor Richard Ekins, writing for Policy Exchange, has criticised the draft remedial order as ultra vires and ‘of doubtful constitutional propriety’ and argues that the power in section 10 does not authorise ministers to amend the HRA itself. Further, he contends that the Hammerton judgment of the Strasbourg Court – which gives rise to the draft remedial order – is open to question. This blog post seeks to demonstrate that, whatever the merits of the wider argument about the constitutional propriety of amending the HRA through the power in section 10, the Hammerton judgment itself is based on well established ECHR case law. It is suggested that, in so far as it rests on a characterisation of the Hammerton judgment as unreasoned or lacking a reasonable basis, any view that the draft remedial order is of questionable validity is mistaken
On 3 October 2019 the European Court of Human Rights dismissed an application by former NDP leader Udo Pastörs that his criminal conviction in Germany for making a “qualified Auschwitz denial” in a parliamentary speech infringed his right to freedom of speech under Article 10 ECHR. The Court held that, although interferences over statements made in parliament must be closely scrutinised, they deserve little, if any, protection if their content is at odds with the democratic values of the ECHR system.
This post is the first in a series of five reports by Conor Monighan from this year’s conference held by the Administrative Law Bar Association. We will be publishing the next four posts over the next month every Monday.
This year’s ALBA conference featured an impressive list of speakers. There were talks from a Supreme Court judge, a former Lord Chancellor, top silks, and some of the best academics working in public law.
The conference covered a number of practical and substantive topics. The highpoint was an address given by Lord Sumption, in which he responded to criticism of his Reith Lectures. This post, together with those that follow, summarises the key points from the conference.
Artificial intelligence … it’s no longer in the future. It’s with us now.
I posted a review of a book about artificial intelligence in autumn last year. The author’s argument was not that we might find ourselves, some time in the future, subservient to or even enslaved by cool-looking androids from Westworld. His thesis is more disturbing: it’s happening now, and it’s not robots. We are handing over our autonomy to a set of computer instructions called algorithms.
If you remember from my post on that book, I picked out a paragraph that should give pause to any parent urging their offspring to run the gamut of law-school, training contract, pupillage and the never never land of equity partnership or tenancy in today’s competitive legal industry. Yuval Noah Harari suggests that the everything lawyers do now – from the management of company mergers and acquisitions, to deciding on intentionality in negligence or criminal cases – can and will be performed a hundred times more efficiently by computers.
Now here is proof of concept. University College London has just announced the results of the project it gave to its AI researchers, working with a team from the universities of Sheffield and Pennsylvania. Its news website announces that a machine learning algorithm has just analysed, and predicted, “the outcomes of a major international court”:
The judicial decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have been predicted to 79% accuracy using an artificial intelligence (AI) method.
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
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.
Seton v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 55287/10, 31 March 2016 – read judgment.
The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) has held that the use of telephone recordings as evidence in a criminal trial, despite the inability of the accused to challenge the caller, did not violate his rights under Article 6, ECHR. This judgment follows a number of Grand Chamber judgments on similar issues that have altered the ECtHR’s stance on the subject of absent witness evidence.
by Fraser Simpson
The applicant, Mr Seton, was on trial for murder. Prior to the trial, he submitted a defence statement stating that he believed that the murder had been carried out by Mr Pearman. The applicant alleged that he had previously been involved in a drug deal with Mr Pearman and the victim.
Mr Pearman, who was at the time imprisoned for drug dealing, was interviewed by the police but he refused to cooperate and answered “no comment” to all questions. Following these interviews, Mr Pearman phoned his wife and son from the prison and stated that he had never heard of the applicant and had no knowledge of the murder. These calls were recorded – a standard practice that Mr Pearman would have been aware of.
During the applicant’s trial for murder, it was accepted that the primary issue to be determined by the jury was whether the applicant or Mr Pearman had committed the murder. Mr Pearman had refused to attend the trial or make a formal witness statement. Accordingly, the prosecution sought to rely upon these recordings to disprove the applicant’s version of events. The trial judge, in deciding whether the recordings could be admitted as evidence, referred to s.114, Criminal Justice Act 2003 (“CJA 2003″). After considering the relevant considerations – such as the probative value of the evidence, whether it was self-serving, the reliability of the recording, and the prejudice that the applicant would face if it were to be admitted – the judge decided that the recordings could be relied upon during the trial. In summing up, the trial judge outlined the limitations of the telephone recordings and stated that it was up to the jury, in light of these limitations, to decide the relevant weight to be attached to the recordings. The applicant was subsequently convicted by the jury and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The applicant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal (see, Seton v. R.,  EWCA Crim 450). The Court of Appeal considered that compelling Mr Pearman to attend the trial, which was an option, would have “been a fruitless exercise”. Mr Pearman could have invoked the protection against self-incrimination and had consistently refused to cooperate so the “prospect of any sensible evidence being given by him was, on a realistic view, nil” (paragraph 22 of Court of Appeal judgment). The Court of Appeal would only interfere with the trial judge’s decision if the decision was “marred by legal error, or by a failure to take relevant matters into account or it is such that the judge could not sensibly have made”. The Court of Appeal held that the relevant consideration under s.114(2), CJA 2003 had been covered by the trial judge and there were no other grounds to overturn the conviction.
Further, the Court of Appeal commented on the safety of the conviction. Due to the “overwhelming” evidence against the applicant, including eye-witness accounts, telephone call records between the applicant and the victim and cell site location evidence placing the applicant in the vicinity of the murder, the conviction was deemed to be safe.
The Strasbourg Court
The applicant applied to the European Court of Human Rights and alleged that his right to a fair trial within Article 6(1) and 6(3)(d) had been violated. Article 6(1) includes the right to a fair hearing when facing criminal charges whilst Article 6(3)(d) ensures that the individual has the right:
“to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him”
The default position is that witness evidence should be provided during the trial and the accused should have the opportunity to challenge this evidence during this trial. However, the use of witness evidence when the witness does not attend the trial does not automatically result in a violation of Article 6(1) and 6(3)(d). The Grand Chamber has previously set out specific guidance in assessing whether the use of such evidence complies with Article 6. In Al-Khawaja and Tahery v. the United Kingdom (GC), Application nos. 26766/05 and 22228/06, 15 December 2011 (see paragraphs 118-151), the Grand Chamber outlined a general three-part process:
Consider whether good reasons exist for the absence of the witness.
Consider whether the evidence was the “sole or decisive” decisive evidence against the accused.
Assess the existence of sufficient counterbalancing factors and procedural safeguards which allow the reliability of the evidence to be fairly and properly tested.
This process was clarified in Schatschaschwili v. Germany (GC), Application no. 9154/10, 15 December 2015. The Grand Chamber stated that the lack of good reasons for lack of attendance was not sufficient to result in a violation of Article 6, but it was a strong factor to be considered when assessing the overall fairness of the proceedings (paragraph 113). Additionally, the necessary extent of counterbalancing factors depends upon the weight of the evidence provided by the absent witness in the overall context of the proceedings (paragraph 116).
Were there good reasons for the non-attendance of Mr Pearman? (paragraphs 61-62)
The ECtHR has previously adopted a robust approach to assessing whether “good reasons” existed for the absence of the witness at the trial. Previously, even in situations where the witness was located in another country (Gabrielyan v. Armenia, Application no. 8088/05, 10 April 2012), or could not be located at all (Lučić v. Croatia, Application no. 5699/11, 27 February 2014), the ECtHR have held that the authorities have failed to satisfy their duty to secure attendance of the witness. In light of this, the ECtHR unsurprisingly concluded that no good reasons existed for Mr Pearman being absent from the trial. The trial court could have compelled Mr Pearman to attend the trial and whilst they could not compel him to give evidence, due to his right to silence, the jury would have at least been able to assess his demeanour when facing cross-examination.
Was the evidence of Mr Pearman the “sole or decisive” evidence? (Paragraphs 63-64)
The ECtHR considered that the recorded telephone calls could not be considered the “sole or decisive” evidence in the criminal trial. The Court of Appeal, in commenting on the safeness of the conviction, had listed the other “overwhelming” evidence against the applicant. However, the evidence had been described as “important” by the trial judge. Accordingly, following the Grand Chamber decision in Schatschaschwili, it was necessary to consider whether sufficient counterbalancing factors existed during the trial.
Did sufficient counterbalancing factors exist? (Paragraphs 65-68)
In the present case, the ECtHR highlighted the detailed legislative scheme intended to ensure that evidence from the absent witness could only be relied upon in limited circumstances. The need to assess the significance of the evidence, its reliability, and the prejudice that the applicant would face as a result of being unable to challenge the witness was an important procedural safeguard intended to uphold respect for the applicant’s rights. Additionally, the instruction of the judge as to the limitations of the evidence was another important counterbalancing factor.
As clarified by the Grand Chamber in Schatschaschwili, the assessment of counterbalancing factors is a relative one – fewer factors will be required if the evidence provided by the absent witness is not especially important. In light of the existence of separate “overwhelming” evidence against the accused, the counterbalancing factors in the present case were considered sufficient.
In conclusion, the ECtHR decided that the criminal proceedings as a whole had been fair. Having following the procedure outlined in Al-Khawaja, the ECtHR concluded that there had been no violation of Article 6.
This decision of the ECtHR is the consequence of previous Grand Chamber decisions tending to dilute the procedural protections contained within Article 6(3). The right to examine witnesses has slowly been weakened in favour of a more holistic approach that focusses upon the overall fairness of the proceedings instead of potential individual deficiencies.
But the balancing process places an undue weight upon the existence of other incriminating evidence against the accused. The position appears to be that it is more acceptable to deny the accused the right to cross-examine a witness if the prosecution’s case against him/her is strong. This move towards focussing on the accuracy of the verdict, as opposed to upholding the rights of individuals, is a potentially worrying development. Indeed, the contemporary Strasbourg position appears, in effect, similar to the Court of Appeal’s consideration of the safety of the conviction.
It could be argued that the ECtHR may be surrendering its role as an upholder of fundamental human rights and moving towards that of an international criminal appeal court.
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 →
Yesterday morning, in a speech to civic organisations in Glasgow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that “no responsible government” would consider repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 due to the numerous negative consequences, both in the domestic and international sphere, that would result from such a move – (see a transcript of the speech here).
by Fraser Simpson
Proposals for Repeal of the Human Rights Act
It has been a longstanding Tory policy to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Such a policy is motivated by discontent over a handful of decisions from the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) that have allegedly “undermine[d] the role of UK courts in deciding on human rights issues”. In October 2014, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced Tory proposals to treat Strasbourg judgments as “advisory” – irrespective of the potential incoherence between treating judgments in such a way and the UK’s obligations under Article 46, ECHR (see John Wadham’s post here). However, the 2015 Tory manifesto included less specific promises to “scrap the Human Rights Act” in order to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights”. Little substantive information has been provided on the development of these plans, apart from an intention, included in the Queen’s speech, to conduct consultations and publish proposals this autumn. Continue reading →
Parrillo v Italy (application no. 46470/11) Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights,  ECHR 755 (27 August 2015) – read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court has ruled that the Italian ban on the donation of embryos obtained by IVF procedures to scientific research was within Italy’s margin of appreciation and therefore not in breach of the applicant’s right of private life and autonomy, even though she was willing to give the embryos to scientific research, since she no longer wanted to proceed with pregnancy after her partner was killed covering the war in Iraq. By donating these cryopreserved embryos to research she would, she argued, make an important contribution to research into medical therapies and cures.
A strong dissent to the majority judgment is worth pointing up at the outset. The Hungarian judge, Andras Sajó, found Italy’s general ban quite out of order. Not only did it disregard the applicant’s right to self-determination with respect to an important private decision, it did so in an absolute and unforeseeable manner.
The law contains no transitional rules which would have enabled the proper authority to take into consideration the specific situation of the applicant, whose embryos obtained from the IVF treatment were placed in cryopreservation in 2002 and whose husband passed away in 2003, three months before the law entered into force.
This week we welcome to the Blog our new team of commentators on Scottish human rights issues – Fraser Simpson, David Scott and Thomas Raine.
Khan v. The Advocate General for Scotland,  CSIH 29 – read judgment.
A Pakistani national refused leave to remain in the UK after expiry of his visitor visa has had his successful challenge to that decision upheld by Scotland’s civil appeal court, the Inner House of the Court of Session.
The request for leave to remain was initially refused under the Immigration Rules due to a lack of “insurmountable obstacles” preventing Mr Khan from continuing his family life in Pakistan. That decision was reduced (quashed) by the Lord Ordinary – a first-instance judge in the Outer House of the Court of Session – as although the decision had been in accordance with the Immigration Rules, the decision-maker had failed to undertake a proportionality assessment of the decision as required under Article 8 ECHR (read the Outer House judgment here).
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.