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

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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

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

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

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

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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??

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

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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