human rights


Human rights job alert

20 July 2017 by

RightsInfo is one of one of the UK’s newest and most exciting charities, building knowledge and support for human rights with engaging, accessible and beautifully presented online content.

We’re looking for an enthusiastic, talented Project Coordinator to join our multi-award winning team.

All details here

Election Round-Up: Ripping Up the Rulebook on Human Rights?

9 June 2017 by

Image result for polling station

It has been widely reported that Theresa May will stay on as Prime Minister following the election on June 8th. The Conservative PM will seek to form a government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (the DUP).

A recent Round-Up by Poppy Rimington-Pounder highlighted some welcome changes in the parties’ approaches to human rights in the pre-election manifestos. With the recent shift in political climate it seems that changes may be on the horizon.

What does the election result mean for human rights?

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Human rights and the 2017 General Election

31 May 2017 by

There is just over a week to go before the General Election next Thursday. Polls are narrowing, apparently.

If you are still not sure who to vote for, and you want to know how to factor in the parties’ positions on human rights to your decision, here are two things which should help:

Image via RightsInfo

Human rights and fake news: what we need to do now

8 March 2017 by

Last night I gave the annual Human Rights Lecture for the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Wales office. 

My chosen topic was access to justice, human rights and fake news. I tried to sum up some of my experiences of setting up this blog and RightsInfo, made a probably ill-advised foray into cognitive psychology, and also gave some modest (and non-exhaustive!) proposals for what the human rights community could be doing to make things better.

Thank you for the EHRC for inviting me, to Cardiff University for their very gracious hosting and the audience who were really engaged and asked some difficult questions!

You can watch here or below. Comments most welcome.

Arguments in the referendum challenge now available

29 September 2016 by

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The imminent  litigation concerning the government’s response to the Brexit vote is much anticipated. The skeleton arguments have now been filed. The High Court has just resisted an application for partial redaction of the arguments, so they are open for public perusal.

A quick reminder of what this is all about:

In R (on the Application of Gina Miller) and others v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union the claimants seek a declaration that it would be unlawful for the defendant secretary of state or the prime minister on behalf of HM Government to issue a notification under Article 50 (TEU) to withdraw the UK from the EU without an act of parliament authorising such notification.

Here is the  skeleton argument from one of the groups supporting that case (People’s Challenge), and here are the Government defendants’ grounds of resistance

Prerogative Power

People’s Challenge

The triggering of Article 50 requires a prior step: the decision to withdraw from the EU in response to the referendum result. It is only once this decision is taken that it can be notified to the European Council.

This first step cannot be made as an exercise of the royal prerogative, which is the power of the government to take action without consulting parliament.  This power has been weakened over time – mainly whittled away by parliamentary legislation – and is so residual now that it cannot be exercised to implement Brexit. Consequently, the executive does not have power to decide that the UK should withdraw from the EU, and without putting the matter to vote in Parliament, ministers cannot notify the European Council of any such decision to withdraw.

Because parliament brought us into the UK, only parliament can authorise a decision to leave.

Since the prerogative forms part of the common law,  the courts have jurisdiction to determine the extent of this power in accordance with ordinary judicial review principles.

Government 

Prerogative powers cannot be reduced by implication. In any event, withdrawal from the EU by governmental fiat has not been prohibited by any statute.

The Act that parliament passed to authorise the referendum was predicated on the “clear understanding” that the government would respect the outcome, and this is a lawful and constitutional step. Parliament has a role, but only in the negotiations following the decision to leave, not in the taking of the decision itself, which follows the outcome of the referendum. That is for the government, under its prerogative treaty making powers.

The referendum result cannot be attacked in the way the challengers contend; the vote concerned the decision to leave the EU. As articulated, this result should be given effect by use of prerogative powers.

Courts have no more power to adjudicate on the decision to withdraw from the EU as they did on the decision to join it. This is now, and was then, a matter of “highest policy reserved to the Crown”. Treaty-making, with the European Union or any other body, is not generally subject to parliamentary control.

Citizens’ Rights

People’s Challenge

Even if the government has prerogative power to deal with this, it cannot be used in any way to modify “fundamental rights”, in particular “citizenship rights”; these rights include employment, equal pay and healthcare rights.

Government

Article 50 was drafted to allow member states to determine their own requirements for withdrawal, free from interference from EU law. This is a provision of the EU Treaties which regulates states and does not confer rights upon individuals. As such, it cannot be invoked in a complaint such as the one at hand, regarding the activation of Article 50.

In any event, no particular rights have been asserted by the claimant that might be infringed by this process, and therefore they are not justiciable.

Devolution

People’s Challenge

The devolved legislatures of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are bound by EU law to protect the rights of their citizens. Furthermore, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic cannot be separated by different rules on free movement of EU citizens.

Government

The government’s use of its prerogative powers has nothing to do with devolution. The conduct of foreign affairs is a “reserved” matter so that the devolved governments have no competence over it.

Concluding statements

People’s Challenge

If Article 50 is triggered without the authorisation of MPs, this would create a precedent preventing any future parliament from legislating to hold a second referendum on EU withdrawal.

Government

It is “entirely appropriate” under the UK’s unwritten constitution for the government to implement the outcome of the resolution without the need for parliamentary authorisation.

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No more human rights? Wait. No more lawyers??

28 September 2016 by

415h7k2lel-_sx329_bo1204203200_Not only is God dead, says Israeli professor Yuval Noah Harari, but humanism is on its way out, along with its paraphernalia of human rights instruments and lawyers for their implementation and enforcement. Whilst they and we argue about equality, racism, feminism, discrimination and all the other shibboleths of the humanist era, silicon-based algorithms are quietly taking over the world.

His new book, Homo Deus, is the sequel to Homo Sapiens, reviewed on the UKHRB last year. Sapiens was “a brief history of mankind”, encompassing some seventy thousand years. Homo Deus the future of humankind and whether we are going to survive in our present form, not even for another a thousand years, but for a mere 200 years, given the rise of huge new forces of technology, of data, and of the potential of permissive rather than merely preventative medicine.

We are suddenly showing unprecedented interest in the fate of so-called lower life forms, perhaps because we are about to become one.

Harari’s message in Sapiens was that the success of the human animal rests on one phenomenon: our ability to create fictions, spread them about, believe in them, and then cooperate on an unprecedented scale.  These fictions include not only gods, but other ideas we think fundamental to life, such as money, human rights, states and institutions. In Homo Deus he investigates what happens when these mythologies meet the god-like technologies we have created in modern times.

In particular, he scrutinises the rise and current hold of humanism, which he regards as no more secure than the religions it replaced. Humanism is based on the notion of individuality and the fundamental tenet that each and everybody’s feelings and experiences are of equal value, by virtue of being human. Humanism cannot continue as a credible thesis if the concept of individuality is constantly undermined by scientific discoveries, such as the split brain, and pre-conscious brain activity that shows that decisions are not made as a result of conscious will (see the sections on Gazzaniga’s and Kahneman’s experiments in Chapter 8 “The Time Bomb in the Laboratory”).

…once biologists concluded that organisms are algorithms, they dismantled the wall between the organic and inorganic, turned the computer revolution from a purely mechanical affair into a biological cataclysm, and shifted authority from individual networks to networked algorithms.

… The individual will not be crushed by Big Brother; it will disintegrate from within. Today corporations and governments pay homage to my individuality, and promise to provide medicine, education and entertainment customised to my unique needs and wishes. But in order to do so, corporations and governments first need to break me up into biochemical subsystems, monitor these subsystems with ubiquitous sensors and decipher their working with powerful algorithms. In the process, the individual will transpire to be nothing but a religious fantasy.

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Straining out a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel: The Convention, the Charter and Mrs May

6 May 2016 by

Photo credit: Guardian

By Marina Wheeler QC

In a speech about Brexit last week, the Home Secretary shared what she called her “hard-headed analysis”: membership of an unreformed EU makes us safer, but – beware the non-sequitur – we must withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, which does not.

It is surely time for some clearer Government thinking about these questions. If politicians could put politics to one side, they might recognise that the Convention and the Strasbourg court are not enemies of our sovereignty, but there are aspects of EU law as applied by the Court of Justice in Luxembourg which are.

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UK Government tells High Court: Same-sex couples may be shut out of Article 14

22 January 2016 by

Special Guest Post by Professor Robert Wintemute

Professor-Robert-WintemuteOn 19-20 January, the England and Wales High Court (Mrs. Justice Andrews) heard the judicial review of the ban on different-sex civil partnerships brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan. It was argued on behalf of the supposedly LGBTI-friendly UK Government (represented by Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities) that the High Court should follow two anti-LGBTI decisions from 2006.
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Surveillance of Internet usage in the workplace

14 January 2016 by

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Barbulescu v Romania, 12 January 2016 – read judgment

In December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, by 6 votes to 1, dismissed a Romanian national’s appeal against his employer’s decision to terminate his contract for using a professional Yahoo Messenger account to send personal messages to his fiancé and brother.

Mr Barbulescu contended that his employer had breached his Article 8 right to respect for his private life and correspondence, and that the domestic courts had failed to protect his right. The Court found that there had been no such violation because the monitoring of the account by his employer had been limited and proportionate.

Background facts

Mr Barbulescu’s employers asked him to create a Yahoo Messenger account for responding to client enquiries and informed him that these communications had been monitored. The records showed that he had used the Internet for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations. The employer’s regulations explicitly prohibited all personal use of company facilities, including computers and Internet access. The employer had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it had contained professional messages.
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More bad news in the fight for a right to die

22 July 2015 by

281851582_1115426167001_110818righttodie-5081250R (o.t.a A.M) v. General Medical Council [2015] EWHC 2096 (Admin) Read the full judgment here

The High Court has rejected the argument made by “Martin”, a man with locked-in syndrome who is profoundly disabled and wishes to end his own life. This comes shortly after Strasbourg’s rejection of the Nicklinson and Lamb cases, for which see my post here.

Philip Havers QC, of 1COR, acted for Martin, and has played no part in the writing of this post. 

Martin would like to travel to a Swiss clinic to end his life, but wishes to obtain a medical report, from a doctor, to assist. He would also like to take medical advice on methods of suicide.

There is no dispute that a doctor advising him in this way will likely break the law, by committing the crime of assisting suicide. However, Martin argued that in practice, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has relaxed guidelines on when it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution against a doctor in these circumstances.

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Strasbourg rejects right to die cases

20 July 2015 by

Paul LambThe European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the applications to the ECtHR in Nicklinson and Lamb v UK, cases concerning assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, are inadmissible.

This is the latest development in a long running series of decisions concerning various challenges to the UK’s law and prosecutorial guidelines on assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. You can read the press release here  and the full decision here.
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Scotland, Sewel, and the Human Rights Act

18 July 2015 by

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

The Queen’s speech suggests a slowing of the Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. But recent comments from the Scottish Human Rights Commissioner suggest the Conservatives may be considering removal of HRA protections in relation to English and reserved UK-wide matters only, leaving the Human Rights Act in place in the other devolved areas of the UK. 

by David Scott

Much ink has been spilled over the Government’s proposals. This article will take a narrow look at Scotland’s relationship with the Human Rights Act, and how devolution may be a future thorn in the Government’s side. 

But wait! I thought the Human Rights Act was enshrined in the Scotland Act. Doesn’t that protect the Human Rights Act in Scotland?

Sort of (not really).

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The Round Up: Fast-track Failings and Obergefell ‘egoism’

6 July 2015 by

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

Laura Profumo brings you the latest human rights happenings.

In the News:

In a critical, though arguably overdue, decision, the Court of Appeal has suspended the fast-track immigration appeals system. The process, under which rejected asylum seekers are detained and given only seven days to appeal, was held “structurally unfair” by the High Court, before being halted altogether by last week’s appeal. The ruling was welcomed by the appellant charity, Detention Action, as meaning “asylum seekers can no longer be detained…simply for claiming asylum”. Previously, the fast-track deadlines could be imposed on any asylum seeker from any country, if the Home Office considered their case could be decided quickly. This marks the third time courts have found the system to be unlawful, yet the suspension will now stay in force until a government appeal is mounted. The decision deals a major blow to a system which is “inefficient, bureaucratic, demeaning and dehumanising”, writes immigration expert Colin Yeo. Whilst there is “no doubt” a replacement fast track will soon be found, in the meantime “let us savour the respite” from such crude expediency.

In other news, the spotlight remains on America, in the euphoric wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v Hodges. The final paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s judgment, in its stirring clarity, is set to make legal history. Yet not everyone is “enveloped in a warm and fuzzy feeling”, writes UKHRB’s own Jim Duffy. Justice Scalia, the firebrand conservative, “pulled no punches” in his dissent, citing the majority opinion as “egotistic” and a “threat to American democracy”. Scalia’s arrival in London last week further stoked the Obergefell debate. Speaking at a Federalist Society event, Scalia held his colleagues had wrongly used the due process clause to distill a substantive, rather than procedural, right. Defending his position as a constitutional originalist, Scalia maintained the meaning of the Constitution as fixed, rather than the “wonderfully seductive judicial theory” of living constitutions, in which “we can have all sorts of new things, like same sex marriage”. When asked about the proposed Bill of Rights, the Justice’s response was particularly biting: “You can’t do any worse than the situation you’re in now”.
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