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
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Hannah Lynes
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 email@example.com
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.
Northamptonshire County Council v AS, KS and DS  EWFC 7 – read judgment
A Family Division judge has awarded damages under the Human Rights Act against a local authority in what he described as an “unfortunate and woefulcase” involving a baby taken into foster care. Mr Justice Keehan cited a “catalogue of errors, omissions, delays and serial breaches of court orders” by Northamptonshire County Council. Unusually, the judge decided to give the judgment in this sensitive case in public in order to set out “the lamentable conduct of this litigation by the local authority.”
On 30 January 2013, the local authority placed the child (known as ‘DS’) with foster carers. He was just fifteen days old. In the weeks prior to DS’s birth, his mother’s GP had made a referral to the local authority due to her lack of antenatal care and because she claimed to be sleeping on the street. The mother then told a midwife that she had a new partner. He was a heroin addict.
After the birth DS’s mother avoided seeing her midwife. She frequently moved addresses and conditions at home were exceedingly poor. Three days before DS was taken into care, his mother told social workers that her new partner was being aggressive and threatening to her. She reported that he was leaving used needles around the house. Continue reading →
CF v The Ministry of Defence and others  EWHC 3171 (QB) – read judgment
Angus McCullough QC of 1 Crown Office Row acted as Special Advocate in this case. He has nothing to do with the writing of this post.
The High Court has ruled that in a case against the state which did not directly affect the liberty of the subject, there was no irreducible minimum of disclosure of the state’s case which the court would require. The consequences of such disclosure for national security prevailed.
Factual and legal background
The claimant, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, had made a number of claims against various government departments, alleging complicity in unlawful and arbitrary detention and inhuman and degrading treatment and torture on the part of British authorities in Somaliland. He also sought damages for trespass, breach of the Human Rights Act 1998, and misfeasance in public office. As Irwin J said,
The remedy sought is not confined to ordinary compensation, but extends to damages for breach of the Convention and to declaratory relief, which in the context of this case, and if the Claimant succeeded, would represent an important marking of unlawful behaviour: a matter in which there is a legitimate public interest.
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular kicking collection of human rights news and views. The full list of links can be found here. You can find previous roundups here. Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Celia Rooney.
This week, the legal community reacts to Tory plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. Given the significance of the proposals for human rights protection in the UK, this week’s roundup focuses on how those plans have been received. Continue reading →
DSD and NVB v The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis  EWHC 2493 (QB), Green J – read judgment
This is an important summary of the principles applicable to HR damages, particularly in circumstances where there have been other payments already made arguably in respect of the acts in question. So it should be first port of call if you have an HR damages problem, not least because it gathers all the learning together.
Green J decided in March 2014 that the police had a duty to conduct investigations into particularly severe violent acts in timely and efficient manner, and that there had been systemic failings by the police in investigating a large number of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated by the so-called “black cab rapist”, one John Worboys. This amounted to a breach of the of the victims’ rights under Article 3 of the ECHR. See Rosalind English’s post on the liability judgment here
The glass foyer of the Palais de Droits de l’Homme in Strasbourg (pictured) is not to everyone’s taste. Some find it inspiring, others – often advocates appearing for the first time – are simply too nervous to notice. Typically, Rumpole on his triumphant visit takes a much more down-to-earth approach, comparing the building to the boiler of a ship.
Whatever one makes of it, the foyer of the Court is designed to remind visitors of two things: the Court’s accessibility and its openness. That is not always apparent from the Court’s procedures or from the language it sometimes uses to express itself, but it is beyond question that the Court is open to the different legal traditions of its member States. Most influential among those traditions must surely be the common law.
What a year! As the UK Human Rights Blog approaches 2,000 posts and three million hits since its launch in March 2010, below is a link to a summary of the year in stats. No great surprises as to the most popular posts, which track the most controversial issues in human rights.
The main thing to report is that the blog remains extremely popular, with almost 1.2 million hits in 2013 alone, as well as tens of thousands of regular readers and subscribers. Thank you to the contribution of all of our bloggers, both from 1 Crown Office Row (particularly the indefatigable Rosalind English and David Hart QC) and elsewhere, to our wonderful rounder uppers (Daniel Isenberg, Sarina Kidd and Celia Rooney) and to our fantastic commenters who keep us on our toes all over social media.
This year has been the toughest yet for me in keeping the blog ticking along at the pace you are all used to (I have another full time job – being a barrister), but thankfully I have just about managed it. Unfortunately, this has meant I haven’t been able to post as much as I like but I continue to be very proud of the blog’s achievements and influence.
In light of the Conservative Party’s impending plans for human rights reform (which, as was pointed out by Neil Crowther on Twitter, looked to be tracking Dominic Raab’s 2010 blueprint and 2012 bill pretty closely), 2014 is likely to be another interesting year. As always, thanks to our still rather shiny Human Rights Act, there will be plenty of fascinating decisions from our courts too.
R (on the application of Maya Evans) v Secretary of State for Defence, with Associated Press intervening  EWHC 3068 (Admin) – read judgment
In “Evans (No. 1)”, a 2010 case concerning the transfer of suspected insurgents for questioning in certain military centres in Afghanistan, the High Court had ruled, partly in an open judgment, partly in closed proceedings, that UK transfers to NDS Kandahar and NDS Lashkar Gah could proceed without risk of ill treatment (which is contrary to UK policy), but that it would be a breach of the policy and therefore unlawful for transfers to be made to NDS Kabul. It was subsequently discovered that there had not been jurisdiction to follow a closed procedure in that case, but what was done could not be undone, so the confidentiality agreements and the closed judgment remained in force. Continue reading →
J.D. Heydon: Are Bills of Rights necessary in common law systems? – read lecture
Former Australian High Court Justice Heydon’s thought-provoking speech questioning the efficacy and indeed the very merits of the Human Rights Act deserves reading in full, but the following summary highlights its main features and should encourage readers to immerse themselves in the lecture.
Proponents of human rights instruments urge their necessity on society because they gesture toward a morality more capacious than the morality of our tribe, or association, or nationality. The forum of human rights is one in which our allegiances are not to persons or to wished-for outcomes but to abstract norms that are indifferent to those outcomes. That is why the Human Rights Act has around it what Heydon calls an “aura of virtue” that would make its repeal extremely difficult from a political point of view, even though it is legally and practically possible. Continue reading →
Navarathnam v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 2383 (QB) – read judgment
There was no unfairness in the Secretary of State for the Home Department refusing a Sri Lankan asylum seeker leave to remain in the United Kingdom, despite the ruling from the Strasbourg court that to return him would violate his rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950.
A decision had been made to grant the applicant six months discretionary leave to remain but he had absconded before it could be implemented, and by the time he resurfaced the secretary of state had been entitled to review the case and determine that the circumstances in Sri Lanka had changed so that he was no longer at risk if returned.
The claimant was a Sri Lankan national who had been subject to removal action after his asylum claim was refused. In 2008 the Strasbourg Court declared that the circumstances in Sri Lanka were such that his expulsion to Sri Lanka would violate the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment under Article 3 (AA v United Kingdom). The UK authorities consequently confirmed that removal directions would not be applied to him, and stated that he would be granted six months discretionary leave to remain (DLR). Continue reading →
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.