human rights


High Court: Differential standards on abortion time-limits do not breach the human rights of disabled persons

25 October 2021 by

In Crowter & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Health And Social Care [2021] EWHC 2536 (Admin), the High Court considered the lawfulness of the provision in the Abortion Act 1967 which permits termination of a foetus after 24 weeks where there is a substantial risk that, if born, a child would be “seriously handicapped”.

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 Claimants

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”.


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Court of Justice of the EU allows prohibition of religious symbols in the workplace

22 October 2021 by

The Court of Justice of the European Union. Image: Flickr

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) sparked controversy with its recent judgment passed down in IX v Wabe eV and MH Müller Handels GmbH v MJ. This case required the CJEU to again consider the right to freedom of religion. It ruled that employers can ban workers from observing religious symbols, including headscarves, to maintain a neutral image in front of its customers.

Case Background

This ruling was brought by two Muslim women in Germany who were suspended from their jobs because of wearing a headscarf. IX and MJ, were employed in companies governed by German law as a special needs caregiver and a sales assistant respectively. They both wore the Islamic headscarf at their workplaces. The employers held the view that wearing a headscarf for religious purposes did not correspond to the policy of political, philosophical, and religious neutrality pursued with regard to parents, children, and third parties, and asked the women to remove their headscarf and suspended them from their duties on their refusal to do so. MJ’s employer, MH Müller Handels GmbH, particularly instructed her to “attend her workplace without conspicuous, large-sized signs of any political, philosophical or religious beliefs.”

IX and MJ brought actions before the Arbeitsgericht Hamburg (Hamburg Labour Court, Germany) and the Bundesarbeitsgericht (Federal Labour Court, Germany), respectively. The courts referred the questions to the CJEU concerning the interpretation of Directive 2000/78. This directive establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.


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Omagh revisited

19 October 2021 by

One of the most keenly-awaited judgments from the Northern Ireland High Court, Gallagher’s application [2021] NIQB 85 is a roughly-300-paragraph deep-dive into some of the abiding legal controversies surrounding the Omagh bombing of 15 August 1998. The bombing, for which the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) later claimed responsibility, killed 29 men, women and children and 2 unborn children and injured many others. It continues to reverberate down the years as the deadliest single incident in the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Gallagher is a paradigm example of Convention rights at play. As such, it provides food for thought when considered against the scrutiny of both the Human Rights Act 1998 and Legacy litigation. This post sets out some of the main facts before analysing the main Convention-related arguments and the Court’s treatment of them.

Northern Ireland: 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29 people could have been  prevented, says UK court | Euronews
The aftermath of the Omagh bombing. Copyright AP/Paul McErlane 1998

The facts

First, this case did not determine who was to blame for the bombing. The issue was a challenge to a 2013 decision, by then Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers MP, not to order an inquiry into the Omagh bombing. This was important was because of the series of investigations that had preceded the 2013 decision – and failed to answer lingering questions.


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Law and the Culture War

21 September 2021 by

The judgment in Forstater v CDG Europe UKEAT/0105/20/JOJ has forced the courts yet again to grapple with the transgender debate. We have already seen the judiciary face up to the challenging issues of whether children with gender dysphoria can consent to receiving puberty blockers (see recent decision in Bell v Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust [2021] EWCA Civ 1363). In the present case, the issue was whether the Claimant’s belief that biological sex is real, important, immutable, and not to be conflated with gender identity was a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of section 10 of Equality Act 2010 (“EqA”).

Background

The claim arose from the Claimant’s statements on Twitter, which manifested her beliefs on the immutability of sex. Her colleagues found these offensive and complained. Her consultancy contract was not renewed, and she brought proceedings before the Central London Tribunal on the basis that she had been discriminated against because of her belief that sex, rather than gender, is fundamentally important and that there are no circumstances in which a trans woman is a woman or a trans man is a man. At a preliminary hearing, the Judge held that the Claimant’s belief was not a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of section 10 EqA.


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Challenge to Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme dismissed by Supreme Court

16 August 2021 by

Inside the Supreme Court

A and B v Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and another [2021] UKSC 27

On appeal from [2018] EWCA Civ 1534

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.

Factual background

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.


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Authorising unregistered care and deprivation of liberty — Martin Downs

5 August 2021 by

Inside the Supreme Court

Legislatures in London and Cardiff have long ago established the most detailed safeguards and systems of registration to protect young people placed in children’s homes – most especially where that involves depriving them of their liberty. At the same time, the administrations in both capitals have presided over a situation whereby there is a significant shortage of such registered accommodation. This has tended to provoke expressions of outrage by the Judiciary.

One of these problem cases has reached the Supreme Court (T (A Child), Re [2021] UKSC 35). In his Judgment, Lord Stephens referred to the

enduring well-known scandal of the disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision for children who require approved secure accommodation. These unfortunate children, who have been traumatised in so many ways, are frequently a major risk to themselves and to others. Those risks are of the gravest kind, and include risks to life, risks of grievous injuries, or risks of very serious damage to property. This scandalous lack of provision leads to applications to the court under its inherent jurisdiction to authorise the deprivation of a child’s liberty in a children’s home which has not been registered, there being no other available or suitable accommodation.

The case of Re T itself is curious in that the Appellants (acting on behalf of the young person who was the subject of a High Court authorisation under the inherent jurisdiction) appear to have pursued an appeal on arguments that were not live at the relevant points below. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court was prepared to entertain argument as to whether it is a permissible exercise of the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction to authorise a local authority to deprive a child of his or her liberty despite the restrictions placed on such applications in the Children Act 1989 and the fact that that the Act created a detailed scheme for secure accommodation orders in Section 25.

How startling the problem is can be gleaned from the fact that the Supreme Court concluded that the inherent jurisdiction could be used to approve the placement of a young person in an unregistered children’s home – despite the fact that those who are running the home may be committing a criminal offence (contrary to section 11 of the Care Standards Act 2000). The Court concluded that this did not relieve the Court from taking the positive operational step of placing a child in such a placement in order to discharge its positive duties under Article 2 & 3 where “there is absolutely no alternative” (a quote that may lead to future difficulties of its own – as with the similarly telling phrase by Baroness Hale, “nothing else will do” in the field of non-consensual adoption).


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Upcoming Human Rights Lawyers Association Event

28 July 2020 by

Race and Rights in the UK: Do Black Lives Matter Today?

The recent killing of George Floyd at the hands of US authorities has sparked a global outcry, with individuals and organisations demanding accountability and an end to the racial oppression that black Americans face. Within the United Kingdom, a much-needed debate is also taking root in response to these events, which focuses on systemic racism that denies people their basic rights here. From discriminatory policing, to the racism inherent in the Windrush and Grenfell scandals as well as the disparate racial impacts of COVID-19, evidence of systemic racial injustice within the UK abounds.

Drawing on the knowledge and experience of our panellists, this event hosted by the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) tomorrow, will provide a forum to discuss some of these issues and recommend solutions in order to advance this debate at this critical juncture. Presentations will touch on the following four key areas as part of this discussion and will be followed by a live Q&A:

– Discriminatory policing
– Grenfell
– Windrush
– Race and Covid-19

Panellists:

Laurie-Anne Power, 25 Bedford Row (Chair)
Judge Peter Herbert OBE, Co-Founder BMELawyers4Grenfell, Chair of the Black Lawyers’ Society
Dr Nishi Chaturvedi, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at University College London
Martin Forde QC, One Crown Office Row, Independent Adviser to the Windrush Compensation Scheme
Zainab Asunramu, Activist and Writer
Rohan Samuel, @poet_rs Spoken Word Poet

Event lead and Introduction: Tetevi Davi, HRLA Executive Committee

Registration details here.

You might also be interested to hear Martin Forde QC discuss systemic racial inequality on episode 117 of our podcast Law Pod UK or read Michael Paulin‘s look at Racism and the Rule of Law on the UK Human Rights Blog.

Rights in a time of quarantine – an extended look by Niall Coghlan

17 March 2020 by

Quarantines and lockdowns are sweeping Europe: ItalyFranceSpain. Through them, states seek to contain Covid-19 and so save lives. It is difficult to imagine higher stakes from a human rights perspective: mass interferences with whole populations’ liberties on one side; the very weighty public interest in protecting lives on the other; and all this under the shadow of uncertainty and disorder. What, if anything, do human rights have to say?

To begin sketching an answer to this complex question, this post analyses the situation in the European state furthest down this path: Italy. After outlining the Italian measures (I), it argues that Italy’s mass restrictions on internal movement are unlikely to violate the right to free movement but pose problems in respect of the right to liberty (II). I conclude by summarising the tangle of other rights issues those measures raise and making a tentative reflection on the currently limited role of human rights law (III).

Before beginning, I should note that analysing measures’ human rights compliance in abstracto is difficult and slightly artificial: a great deal turns on how measures are implemented in practice and particular individuals’ circumstances. Moreover, my analysis is limited to the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), and I do not profess expertise in Italian law (which is proving complex to interpret). The aim of this post is therefore to start, not end, debate about human rights’ role as these measures begin to spread across Europe.


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UKHRB Round Up 17 to 24 February: Human Rights in Cyberspace

27 February 2020 by

In the News 

Caroline Flack appearing at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court

The intersection between technology and human rights is growing exponentially. In places, the growth is immensely productive. The internet has become integral to how we communicate in moments of historic crisis and transformation. Social networks have played a complex and contradictory role in pivotal episodes from the Arab Spring to #MeToo. For more than three billion people, the internet directly facilitates access to news and information, religion and politics, markets and trade, and even justice. In this country, half the population gets their news from social media. In 2016, a report from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the internet to be a basic human right. This blog post is itself both byproduct and contributor to the phenomenon. 


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Vice-President of the Strasbourg Court Robert Spano’s response to Jonathan Sumption’s Reith Lectures

20 February 2020 by

Tonight, in the Old Hall, Lincoln’s Inn, Judge Robert Spano will deliver the inaugural Bonavero Institute Human Rights Lecture entitled “The Democratic Virtues of Human Rights Law” in which he responds to Lord Sumption’s Reith Lectures on the BBC last year. Jonathon Sumption will be there himself to respond to Robert Spano’s observations. The event, which is moderated by Helen Mountfield QC, principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, will be recorded and filmed, and the director of the Bonavero Institute Catherine O’Regan (whom I interviewed in Episode 97 on Law Pod UK has kindly given permission for the audio recording to be republished on Law Pod UK in due course.

So, here is Robert Spano in his own words.

  • At the outset let me say this, I bring an external perspective, I will not be commenting on domestic political issues or developments in the British legal system. For that I am not equipped. Rather, I will begin by focussing in general on Lord Sumption’s views on the expanding role of law at the expense of politics before engaging with his third lecture, entitled ‘Human Rights and Wrongs’, and his criticism of the European Court of Human Rights. I proceed in this manner as it is difficult to disentangle the third lecture from Lord Sumption’s overall thesis. The five lectures must in other words fairly be read as a whole. When referring to his lectures, I will use the language Lord Sumption deploys in his published volume entitled Trials of the State – Law and the Decline of Politics (Profile Books, London (2019). In my intervention, I offer my personal views which should not be ascribed to the Court on which I serve.

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Human Rights in the Supreme Court in 2020 – Lewis Graham

12 February 2020 by

It is undeniable that the Human Rights Act has had a significant impact on the work of the Supreme Court. Just under a quarter (14 of 61) of cases decided during the Court’s 2018-19 term featured a determination on at least one issue relating to the Act or the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK Supreme Court is soon to begin Hilary Term 2020, and whilst the docket of cases it is set to hear this term seems to largely steer clear of controversial human rights issues we can nonetheless be confident that 2020 will feature its usual share of big human rights cases. What follows is a short preview of some of the more interesting and controversial of those cases, all of which the Court is due to hand down at some point this year. 

  1. Article 3 and deportation

In the case of AM (Zimbabwe) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (on appeal from the Court of Appeal) the Court will have an opportunity to re-assess its approach to how Article 3 should apply in deportation cases.

It is well established that, under Article 3 ECHR, the United Kingdom cannot deport an individual to a country where, there is a “real risk” of them being subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. This has been extended to include situations where the deportee would be placed in circumstances which might occasion a significant deterioration of health, including where they lack access to life-saving treatment

The question in this case is whether Article 3 prohibits deportation in AM’s situation. He is an HIV-positive individual, whose condition for many years was being managed by anti-retroviral drugs in the UK. If deported to Zimbabwe, he would be very unlikely to have access to the same treatment. Although some medical options would be available to him, they would likely be significantly less effective for the management of his condition. 

Previous authorities had restricted the application of Article 3 to ‘deathbed’ cases only, where the deportee would likely die quickly following their removal from the country.


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Whistleblowing judges: protected by human rights?

18 October 2019 by

Gilham (Appellant) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent) [2019] UKSC 44 – read judgment

The UK Supreme Court has unanimously granted an appeal by a district judge against the Court of Appeal’s decision that she did not qualify as a “worker” under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the “1996 Act”), and therefore could not benefit from the whistleblowing protections it conferred.

In reaching its judgment, the Court held that the failure to extend those whistleblowing protections to judges amounted to a violation of the appellant’s right under Article 14 ECHR not to be discriminated against in her enjoyment of the Convention rights (in this case, her right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR).


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The Return of Famines and the Pursuit of Accountability

11 July 2019 by

The ‘F’ word is back in use, famines have returned. In 2017 the UN identified four situations of acute food insecurity that threatened famine or breached that threshold, in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. In December 2018 famine was formally declared across regions of Yemen, this is likely to be the famine that will define this era. Starvation is also being used as a weapon of war in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. People living in the Gaza Strip and in Venezuela also suffer from the manipulation, obstruction and politicization of food and humanitarian aid. 


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Fighting hate with human rights

29 August 2017 by

RightsInfo needs your help on a new campaign to show how protecting human rights is the best way to prevent bigotry, hatred and the rise of the far right. 

We’ve all been shocked at the scenes of extremists on the march again. We need your help to fight back against these poisonous ideologies by producing a film for the International Day of Tolerance (16 November 2017), highlighting the discrimination and dehumanisation common to all genocides, and a series of other videos and features.

The crowdfunder launched this morning and we have already reached our first target of £4,000. Now we are working towards the stretch target of £9,000. Can you help?

All details here

Share the campaign on Twitter  

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