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:
Yesterday, the Divisional Court (Lewis LJ and Swift J) held that, in principle, the relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda was consistent with the Refugee Convention and other legal obligations on the government, including those imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998. However, the Court also held that Home Secretary had failed to properly consider the circumstances of eight individual claimants to decide whether there was anything which meant that their asylum claim should be determined in the UK or they should not be relocated to Rwanda. Therefore, the decisions in those cases were set aside and referred back to the Home Secretary for her to consider afresh.
The Court’s judgment is detailed and addresses a number of issues. In this post, the focus will be on the general challenge made to removal to Rwanda in principle and what can be expected in the (likely) event that this aspect of the case is appealed further.
The question of how to determine whether or not the deportation of a foreign national convicted of criminal offending is a disproportionate interference in the family life that they may share with their partner or child has been explored in a series of cases, including the leading decisions of KO (Nigeria) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 53 and HA (Iraq)  EWCA Civ 1176 and has been discussed in detail on this blog here, here and here.
Do they have anything in common? Relatively little, says Nicola Barker, Professor of Law at the University of Liverpool.
When the IHRAR was announced by Robert Buckland in December 2020, it was accompanied by some of the usual rhetoric about the courts “rewriting” legislation, but the more hyperbolic claims about foreign criminals and pet cats were absent. The Terms of Reference given to the IHRAR were relatively narrow and the Call for Evidence emphasised that it was ‘not considering the substantive rights set out in the Convention’. Instead, the Review was to focus only the operation of the HRA under two themes: the relationship between domestic courts and the ECtHR; and the impact of the HRA on the relationship between the three branches of the state.
However, in its consultation document, the government’s language once again carries echoes of the pet cat oeuvre with a stance premised on the idea of a ‘broader public interest’ that must be ‘safeguarded’ (para 182) from the HRA. In this, they are articulating a problem that lies not so much with the HRA’s impact on the separation of powers and Parliamentary sovereignty (though those remain too) but with ‘the way in which [Convention] rights have been applied in practice’ (para 184). In other words, the focus is back on how to prevent rights from benefitting the ‘undeserving’ and how to forestall further development of rights through the ‘living tree’ doctrine.
Given that the Review was only commissioned a year ago it is unfortunate to see several reforms proposed in the government’s consultation that could have usefully been included within the remit of the Review but were omitted from the Terms of Reference, not least the proposals in relation to section 6. The government propose to expand the exception in section 6(2)(b) (that applies where a public authority was giving effect to primary legislation that could not be read or given effect in a way that is compatible with Convention rights) to include circumstances where the public authority is giving effect to the clear intentions of Parliament (para 274). This proposal is based on the premise that section 6 has created ‘confusion and risk aversion for frontline public services’ (para 132-140) and undermined public protection as the police and armed forces ‘find operational decisions challenged’ and ‘have a court retrospectively second-guess their professional judgement exercised under considerable pressure’ (para 142). It is regrettable that the Review was not able to consider the accuracy of the premise underlying such potentially far-reaching reforms, which could significantly undermine individual rights protection in the UK.
The more substantive questions of the balance between speech and privacy, between rights and responsibilities, limiting access to Convention rights in the context of deportation, and whether a specific right to jury trial is necessary, could also have been usefully informed by the extensive research, in-depth discussion with a variety of stakeholders, and objective analysis that were characteristic of the Review.
The table below maps the government’s proposals for a new Bill of Rights on to the recommended and not recommended/rejected options in the IHRAR report. The government makes around 40 proposals, though some present alternative options rather than separate and distinct proposals. Green text indicates where the government’s proposals broadly match a recommendation of the IHRAR, while red text indicates that the government are proposing something that the Review explicitly or implicitly cautioned against. Sometimes the proposals do not map in exactly the terms recommended or rejected by the Review, but I have matched them as closely as possible with the language used by each. For example, where the government proposals refer to ‘enabling’ UK courts to take account of case law from other jurisdictions and international bodies (a power they already can and do exercise), the Review did not consider affirming this existing power but rejected ‘requiring’ them to consider such case law. As the table illustrates, the government’s proposals bear little resemblance to the recommendations made by the IHRAR panel. More of the government’s proposals are ideas that were rejected by the Review than were recommended by it and around half of the government’s proposals were not considered by the Review at all, in most cases because they were outside of its Terms of Reference.
The Independent Review recommended first, and in my view most importantly, that there should be more public education about the UK constitution and HRA in schools, universities, and adult education. The Review itself could form the basis of that education. It is a thorough and clear exposition of the Act, its interpretation and use by the Courts, and its impact on the separation of powers, Parliamentary sovereignty, and the relationship between the UK and Strasbourg. However, the government appears to have ignored this recommendation and in general the Review appears to have asserted little influence on the government’s proposals.
Salvato v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWCA Civ 1482 — read judgment
The Court of Appeal has allowed the Secretary of State’s appeal against a ruling that the system of calculating childcare for Universal Credit indirectly discriminates against women. The judgment below was reported in the blog here.
Childcare costs under Universal Credit
This is a case about the payment of childcare costs under Universal Credit. Universal Credit claimants can claim an element reimbursing them up to 85% of the costs of childcare while they go to work.
Ms Salvato, a lone parent, claimed that the system for calculating childcare costs indirectly discriminated against her on grounds of sex contrary to Article 14 when read with Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Her complaint related to the way in which childcare costs are calculated. Unlike other elements of Universal Credit, such as the housing costs element, the childcare costs element is only payable after the claimant has already paid the costs of the charges, rather than merely incurred them (Ms Salvato’s legal representatives dubbed this requirement the ‘Proof of Payment’ rule). She maintained that the rule placed her (and other women in her position) at a disadvantage, because unlike many men she could not afford to pay the childcare costs upfront.
The Claimants sought a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act in respect of section 1(1)(d) of the 1967 Act. It was their contention that this section is incompatible with Articles 2, 3, 8 and 14 of the ECHR. The Court dismissed the claim in its entirety.
The First Claimant was a 25-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome. The Second Claimant was the mother of the Third Claimant. At 35 weeks’ gestation, the Third Claimant was identified as being very likely to have Down’s syndrome and the Second Claimant’s evidence was that during her pregnancy that she had been made to feel that a life with Down’s syndrome was of no value. The Third Claimant is now two years old has met all his developmental milestones.
The Legal Framework
As is now in force, s.1(1) of the 1967 Act provides that there may be a medical termination of a pregnancy if two medical practitioners are of the opinion that, inter alia, “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” (under subsection (d)).
Whereas Parliament has set a general upper time limit for abortions at 24 weeks, this does not apply to abortions on grounds of foetal abnormality.
Whilst there is guidance from public medical authorities on the various factors influencing the severity of a “handicap”, the guidance does not offer a legal definition of “substantial risk” or “serious handicap”.
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?
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