This post, along with those before it, summarises some of the main points of interest arising from the ALBA Conference 2019.
‘Reith Lecture (Judicial Power) Response’ – Chair: Mrs. Justice Thornton; Speakers: Lord Dyson, Sir Stephen Laws, Prof Vernon Bogdanor, Prof Meg Russell, Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC
A prestigious panel offered its response to Lord Sumption’s Reith Lectures, followed by a reply from Lord Sumption himself.
In his lectures for the BBC, Lord Sumption argued that judges have excessively increased their power and invaded into the political sphere. The Human Rights Act 1998 and Judicial Review attracted particular criticism.
Lord Sumption’s original lectures are available from the BBC here. A recording of the full discussion is available on LawPod here, so this post draws out some of the key points.
Lady Hale has thrown her wig into the debate on whether the law, represented by the courts, is gaining power while politics in Parliament is losing it. She is not the first to critique Lord Sumption’s Reith Lectures, as they were covered at ALBA’s Annual Conference too (see Law Pod UK episodes 88, 89, and 91).
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.
Conor Monighan reviews the Administrative Law Bar Association (ALBA) Summer Conference 2018
‘The relevance of unincorporated international law’. Speakers: John Larkin QC (Attorney General for Northern Ireland) and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC
The relevance of unincorporated international law (John Larkin QC):
Mr Larkin suggested that the courts’ approach towards international law may be split into three parts:
International law is determinative if it is incorporated.
It ‘may have a bearing’ on the common law.
It may be relevant to the application of Human Rights, via the Human Rights Act 1998.
The HRA 1998:
The orthodox view of unincorporated treaties is that they have no substantive effect. This approach was supported in SG & Ors UKSC 16, albeit by the ‘narrowest majority’. Lord Reed’s lead judgement held that courts ought to respect the considered opinion of democratically elected institutions, who are best placed to make judgements about proportionality. Miller UKSC 5 gave further weight to the traditional view that unincorporated human rights treaties have no effect.
However the matter is not entirely clear cut, especially where the HRA 1998 is concerned. In SG & Ors Lord Hughes suggested such treaties may be relevant in a number of situations, including those in which the court applies the ECHR (via the HRA 1998). Support for this view has also been given by Lady Hale and Lord Kerr in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission  UKSC 27 case . The Vienna Convention states at Article 31(3)(c) that account should be taken of “any relevant rules of international law applicable in relations between the parties”. It is clear, then, that even unincorporated international law still has relevance for human rights.
Conor Monighan reviews the Administrative Law Bar Association (ALBA) Summer Conference 2018
This year’s ALBA conference featured an impressive list of speakers and they did not disappoint. Delegates heard from a Supreme Court judge, an Attorney General, top silks, and some of the best legal academics working in public law.
The conference dedicated much of its time to public international law, a discipline which is often thought to have little relevance for most public lawyers. In fact, the conference showed that domestic public law is heavily intertwined with international law. This post summarises the key points from the conference, with a particular focus on human rights. Continue reading →
R (o.t.a Minton Morrill Solicitors) v. The Lord Chancellor  EWHC 612 (Admin) 24 March 2017, Kerr J – read judgment
This exam-style question arose, in an attempt by solicitors to be paid by the Legal Aid Agency for some work they had done on two applications to Strasbourg. The underlying cases were housing, the first an attempt to stave off possession proceedings, and the second the determination of whether an offer of “bricks and mortar” accommodation to an Irish traveller was one of “suitable accommodation”. Both applications were declared inadmissible by the European Court of Human Rights, and thus could not benefit from that Court’s own legal aid system.
The major question turned on whether the Human Rights Act had “incorporated” the Convention. We all use this as a shorthand, but is it really so?
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). Continue reading →
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In the news
Call from legal community for urgent action on refugee crisis
More than 300 lawyers have signed a statement denouncing the Government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis as “deeply inadequate”.
The document, whose signatories include former President of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, three former Law Lords and over 100 Queen’s Counsel, describes Prime Minister David Cameron’s offer to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over 5 years as “too low, too slow and too narrow.” 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 →
Laura Profumo serves us the latest human rights happenings.
In the News:
Michael Gove appeared before the Justice Select Committee last Wednesday, in the first true baring of his political mettle as justice secretary. Overall, it seems, the MP made a largely favourable impression, though legal commentators remain wary. UKHRB’s own Adam Wagner deftly compared Gove’s success to “when they gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize…because he wasn’t George Bush”. The “post-Grayling Gove-hope” may, then, prove deceptively shallow, defined by the simple relief that Gove is not Grayling.
Yet Gove’s evidence before the committee was laudable – reasonable, measured, and skifully non-committal. Gove’s comments on the Human Rights Act obliquely signalled the “proposals” will be published “in the autumn”, failing to specify whether they would be accompanied by a draft Bill. His substantive points were similarly vague. The Lord Chancellor invoked the “abuse” of human rights as justification for the repeal of the HRA, before conceding he could not offer a “one-hundred per cent guarantee” that the UK would remain a party to the Convention. Such a position suggests a British Bill of Rights may “seek to limit certain rights”, argues academic Mark Elliot, which would, “quite possibly”, precipitate British withdrawal from Strasbourg altogether. Gove also stressed the role of the judiciary in applying the common law to uphold human rights, holding that “there is nothing in the Convention that is not in the common law”. Such a view is “highly contestable at best, plain wrong at worst”, holds Elliot, whilst Conor Gearty finds it stokes the fantasy of “the civil libertarian common law”. Gove seems to suggest that HRA-repeal and possible ECHR-withdrawal would be “far from earth-shattering events”, Elliot notes, as judges could still invoke a panoply of common-law rights. Whilst Gove is right to remind skeptics that HRA-repeal would not leave domestic judges powerless, such “overstatement” of the common-law rights model “might end up hoist on its own petard….ringing hollower than its cheerleaders”. Continue reading →
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch is vocal in his support for the HRA
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In the news
Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed the introduction of a British Bill of Rights, the Queen’s Speech containing only proposals for consultation. Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti has welcomed the development:
“It is heartening that a Conservative Government committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act has at least paused for thought in its first Queen’s speech. There is a long struggle ahead but time is the friend of freedom.”
Debate surrounding the proposed Bill of Rights continues in full force. Proponents of the HRA draw attention to perceived misconceptions advanced by the opposing side. Lord Leveson points out that UK courts are not ‘bound’ by the decisions of Strasbourg (“the legislation only requires us to take them into account”), whilst Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog questions the accuracy of claims that the HRA prevents us from deporting serious foreign criminals. Dr Ed Bates argues in the Constitutional Law blog that the domestic judiciary is more supportive of the ECHR than certain politicians would have us believe. Useful coverage of the views expressed by senior judges is provided here.
Housing: Leading housing charities last month issued a report claiming that the present ‘crisis’ in housing has put the UK in breach of its UN obligations to provide adequate homes. Housing campaigners fear government proposals set to reduce housing benefit for 18-21 year olds will serve to exacerbate the problem. The measures could “spell disaster for thousands of young people who…could be facing homelessness and the terrifying prospect of roughing it on the streets”, warns Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes.
Surveillance: Prominent legal academics have signed a letter calling on the Government to ensure that any changes in surveillance law “are fully and transparently vetted by parliament, and open to consultation from the public and all relevant stakeholders”. The Guardian reports here.
Police: Hampshire Constabulary has admitted a failure to properly investigate the complaint of a victim of rape, who had been accused of lying by the force. An out-of-court settlement was reached with the young woman following commencement of proceedings under the Human Rights Act.
Discrimination: A woman turned down for a job because she observed Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, was successful in her claim for indirect discrimination. The Telegraph reports on the decision.
Gender: An interview with barrister Roy Brown in Halsbury’s Law Exchange examines the significance of recent High Court decisions in JK and Carpenter for transgender rights in the UK.
This case concerned the question of legal representation in complex family proceedings. The Court of Appeal held that whilst it may be inappropriate for an unrepresented litigant to conduct cross-examination of his alleged victim, a judge is not entitled to order the Courts Service (HMCTS) to pay for a legally trained advocate to do so on the litigant’s behalf. A court is not permitted to circumvent the detailed provisions for legal aid eligibility set out in LASPO. Further, the result does not amount to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial), since the court has available to it other alternatives. These include the possibility of the judge himself conducting the questioning.
‘The Conservative Party has won a majority and can implement its manifesto. The Human Rights Act will be scrapped,’ writes Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog. Such an outcome might not be a foregone conclusion, but Professor Mark Elliott is clear that ‘repeal of the HRA, the adoption of a British Bill of Rights and perhaps even withdrawal from the ECHR are now less unthinkable’.
Questions surrounding the content of the proposed Bill of Rights have therefore assumed increased urgency. A press release issued in October 2014 spoke of limiting the rights of illegal immigrants, travellers, victims of British military abuse and foreigners who commit crimes in the UK. Yet as UKHRB founder Adam Wagner notes, ‘only foreign criminals were mentioned in the manifesto, so it is all to play for.’
The HRA has failed to secure resilience in domestic politics. Benedict Douglas for the UK Constitutional Law blog attributes this failure to an absence in the Act of a ‘justification for rights possession in dignity or any other foundational human characteristic’. Mark Elliott points to the manner of its introduction: little effort was made ‘to engage the general public in what was perceived to be a political and legal elite’s pet project’.
Current discussions could thus present an opportunity, argues Adam Wagner for RightsInfo. A ‘Bill of Rights, done properly with real public involvement might help convince people that human rights are for all of us.’
For those looking to read more about human rights reform:
The Human Rights Act and a Question of Legitimacy – Barrister Austen Morgan considers the advantages of a British Bill of Rights for The Justice Gap.
What does a Conservative Government Mean for the Future of Human Rights in the UK? – Professor Mark Elliot puts together a useful list of recent posts he has written on Conservative plans for reform.
Michael Gove has been appointed Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor in the post-election Cabinet. The Telegraph reports here.
BBC: Two Syrian asylum seekers imprisoned for failing to provide passports have been successful in appealing their convictions.
The High Court has ruled that a child should be brought up by her genetic father and his male partner, despite objections from the surrogate mother. The Guardian reports.
The Justice Gap: The Uk Supreme Court has launched an on-demand video catch-up.
Legal Voice: More than 8,000 lawyers are set to join the London Legal Walk to raise funds for the legal not-for-profit sector
Mark Freedland and Jeremias Prassl express concerns over the impact and regulation of ‘zero-hours contracts’ for the Oxford Human Rights Hub.
The case concerned the imposition of administrative fines on individuals who had been acquitted by the criminal courts of the same offence. The ECtHR found a violation of the right to a presumption of innocence (contra. Article 6 ECHR) and also the right not to be tried or punished twice (Article 4 of Protocol No.7).
‘In Conversation with Sir Stephen Sedley’ – As part of LSE’s Legal Biography Project, Sir Ross Cranston will interview Sir Stephen Sedley on his life and career in the law. The event will be held on 19 May in the Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building. More information can be found here.
If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email Jim Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Profumo brings us up to speed with the latest human rights happenings.
In the News
“It seems hard to believe that Grayling will remain Lord Chancellor for long”. Joshua Rozenberg delivered a biting analysis of the minister’s future legacy in the Law Gazette last week. As the General Election looms, “perhaps Cameron has finally begun to realise how much anger and despair there is at the steady erosion in access to justice for which Grayling is held responsible”. If the Conservatives lead the next government, the Lord Chancellor will struggle to secure his place, Rozenberg warns.
On yesterday’s Newsnight (from 7 minutes 20 seconds in), Britain’s foremost legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg revealed that he resigned as the Telegraph’s legal editor in 2007 after the news desk sexed up a human rights story with false information.
The story is still on the Telegraph’s website here. It was a report of the 2007 House of Lords decision in Secretary of State for Defence v Al-Skeini & Ors  UKHL, a case about whether the Human Rights Act applied to actions of the British Army in Iraq. The House of Lords ruled that the Act did apply in British detention facilities, but that it did not apply in the streets of occupied Basra. There is an excellent summary of the case by Rozenberg here.
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