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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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. Continue reading →
Two recent Court of Appeal cases, heard together, have considered the legality of the immigration detention of those who are, or possibly are, minors. Such cases involve local authority age assessments, which are to be carried out according to the guidance set out in Merton  EWHC 1689 (Admin). Continue reading →
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.
The 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. Continue reading →
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?
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”. Continue reading →
Guardian: James Rhodes and friends including Benedict Cumberbatch outside Court
James Rhodes v OPO (by his Litigation Friend BHM) and another,  UKSC 32
The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in an appeal by the celebrated concert pianist, James Rhodes. You can read the judgment here and watch Lord Toulson’s summary here.
The case considered whether Mr Rhodes could be prevented from publishing his memoir on the basis that to do so would constitute the tort of intentionally causing harm. Those acting on behalf of Mr Rhodes’ son were particularly concerned about the effect upon him of learning of details of his father’s sexual abuse as a child.
This week we welcome to the Blog our new team of commentators on Scottish human rights issues – Fraser Simpson, David Scott and Thomas Raine.
Khan v. The Advocate General for Scotland,  CSIH 29 – read judgment.
A Pakistani national refused leave to remain in the UK after expiry of his visitor visa has had his successful challenge to that decision upheld by Scotland’s civil appeal court, the Inner House of the Court of Session.
The request for leave to remain was initially refused under the Immigration Rules due to a lack of “insurmountable obstacles” preventing Mr Khan from continuing his family life in Pakistan. That decision was reduced (quashed) by the Lord Ordinary – a first-instance judge in the Outer House of the Court of Session – as although the decision had been in accordance with the Immigration Rules, the decision-maker had failed to undertake a proportionality assessment of the decision as required under Article 8 ECHR (read the Outer House judgment here).
This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Alex Wessely.
In the news: Military chiefs have criticised the influence of Human Rights law in a report published this week, arguing that the “need to arrest and detain enemy combatants in a conflict zone should not be expected to comply with peace-time standards”. This follows a series of cases over the years which found the Ministry of Defence liable for human rights violations abroad, culminating in allegations of unlawful killing in the Al-Sweady Inquiry that were judged “wholly without foundation” in December.
Traveller Movement v Ofcom and Channel 4,  EWHC 406 (Admin), 20 February 2015 – read judgment
One of the nation’s great televisual fascinations last week became the unlikely subject of an Administrative Court judgment that demonstrates the limits of common law standards of fairness, as well as the lightness of touch applied by the courts when reviewing the decision-making of the media regulator.
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