international law


EU border transit zones and deprivation of liberty: Ilias v Hungary

19 March 2020 by

Amid recent news reports of Turkey’s re-opening of migration routes to Europe, clashes at the Turkey-Greece border, and EU countries closing their borders due to Covid-19, this post looks back to a decision from the ECtHR Grand Chamber last November and the applicability of Article 5 ECHR in temporary border transit zones. 

Ilias v Hungary (Application no. 47287/15) was the first case in which the ECtHR considered a land border transit zone between two member states of the Council of Europe, where the host state, Hungary, was also a member of the EU and had applied the safe third country rule under the EU asylum regime. The Grand Chamber held that the applicants’ detention did not breach Article 5 (the right to liberty and security of the person).

Image credit: The Guardian

The applicants, Mr Ilias and Mr Ahmed, were both Bangladeshi nationals who had left Bangladesh at different times and in differing circumstances. They met in Greece and then traveled together to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, then to Serbia, and then to Hungary. On 15 September 2015 they arrived in Hungary and entered the border transit zone at Röszke. They submitted asylum requests on the same day. Within several hours their requests were rejected as being inadmissible and they were ordered to be expelled from Hungary back to Serbia as a safe third country. The applicants then spent 23 days in the transit zone whilst they appealed this decision. On 8 October 2015, following a final decision of the Hungarian courts which rejected their applications for asylum and ordered the applicants’ expulsion, Mr Ilias and Mr Ahmed were escorted out of the transit zone and crossed the border back into Serbia.


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Did the UK violate Article 2 in Kosovo? Plus the Oval Four, and racism in the police

9 December 2019 by

Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law

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Winston Trew and his wife, Hyacinth. Credit: The Guardian.

In the News:

Court of Appeal judges overturned the convictions of the ‘Oval Four’ after it was found that their sentences were based on evidence given by a corrupt police officer.

The ‘Oval Four’ refers to a group of black men who were arrested by officers claiming to have seen the men stealing Tube passengers’ handbags. The men were subsequently convicted in 1972 based solely on the basis of evidence given by those officers. None of the ‘victims’ appeared at the trial.

The case became a focus point for black rights and the treatment of BME people by the police. It was referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which ultimately led to the successful appeal.

Whilst the convictions of three of the men were overturned, the fourth member of the ‘Oval Four’ unfortunately cannot be found.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, expressed “regret is that it has taken so long for this injustice to be remedied”. Lord Burnett also stated that there was “an accumulating body of evidence that points to the fundamental unreliability of evidence given by DS Ridgewell [the lead officer] … and others of this specialist group”.


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Round Up 14.10.19 – Diplomatic Immunity, Brexit and Immigration

14 October 2019 by

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Harry Dunn’s family after meeting with the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, last week. Photograph: Credit: The Guardian, Peter Summers/Getty Images.

The usually obscure concept of diplomatic immunity came to the fore this week after it emerged that the wife of an American diplomat was wanted for questioning in connection with the death of a motorcyclist in Northamptonshire. Anne Sacoolas was spoken to by police after a collision with Harry Dunn in which he was killed whilst riding his motorbike, prior to her return to the United States.

Article 31 of the 1961 Vienna Convention grants immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state to diplomats, a feature extended to their family members by article 37. However, both the United Kingdom and the United States were this weekend reported as having agreed that diplomatic immunity was no longer “pertinent” in the case of Mrs Sacoolas. This raised the possibility of the UK seeking her extradition, despite President Trump being photographed this week with a briefing card stating that she would not be returning to Britain.

Meanwhile, the country’s attention turned back towards Brexit, with the week ahead promising to, in the Prime Minister’s words, be “do or die” for the prospects of a negotiated deal. At the beginning of the week it was widely reported that talks had faltered, with Downing St leaks suggesting a deal was “essentially impossible”. However, the mood surrounding negotiations changed significantly on Thursday, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar describing the emergence of a “pathway” to a deal following his meeting with Boris Johnson.
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ALBA Summer Conference 2018: A Review (Part 2)

18 September 2018 by

Conor Monighan reviews the Administrative Law Bar Association (ALBA) Summer Conference 2018

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‘The relevance of unincorporated international law’. Speakers: John Larkin QC (Attorney General for Northern Ireland) and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC

The relevance of unincorporated international law (John Larkin QC):

Mr Larkin suggested that the courts’ approach towards international law may be split into three parts:

  1. International law is determinative if it is incorporated.
  2. It ‘may have a bearing’ on the common law.
  3. It may be relevant to the application of Human Rights, via the Human Rights Act 1998.

The HRA 1998:

The orthodox view of unincorporated treaties is that they have no substantive effect. This approach was supported in SG & Ors [2015] UKSC 16, albeit by the ‘narrowest majority’. Lord Reed’s lead judgement held that courts ought to respect the considered opinion of democratically elected institutions, who are best placed to make judgements about proportionality. Miller [2017] UKSC 5 gave further weight to the traditional view that unincorporated human rights treaties have no effect.

However the matter is not entirely clear cut, especially where the HRA 1998 is concerned. In SG & Ors Lord Hughes suggested such treaties may be relevant in a number of situations, including those in which the court applies the ECHR (via the HRA 1998). Support for this view has also been given by Lady Hale and Lord Kerr in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission [2018] UKSC 27 case [328]. The Vienna Convention states at Article 31(3)(c) that account should be taken of “any relevant rules of international law applicable in relations between the parties”. It is clear, then, that even unincorporated international law still has relevance for human rights.

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ALBA Summer Conference 2018: A Review (Part 1)

13 September 2018 by

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Conor Monighan reviews the Administrative Law Bar Association (ALBA) Summer Conference 2018

This year’s ALBA conference featured an impressive list of speakers and they did not disappoint. Delegates heard from a Supreme Court judge, an Attorney General, top silks, and some of the best legal academics working in public law.

The conference dedicated much of its time to public international law, a discipline which is often thought to have little relevance for most public lawyers. In fact, the conference showed that domestic public law is heavily intertwined with international law. This post summarises the key points from the conference, with a particular focus on human rights.
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Landmark A-G opinion: EU must respect right of self-determination of Western Sahara

14 January 2018 by

wsaharaR (o.t.a. Western Sahara Campaign UK) v. HMRC and DEFRA, Court of Justice of the European Union, opinion of Advocate-General Wathelet, 10 January 2018 – read here

The A-G has just invited the CJEU to conclude that an EU agreement with Morocco about fishing is invalid on international law grounds. His opinion rolls up deep issues about NGO standing, ability to rely on international law principles, justiciability, and standard of review, into one case. It also touches on deeply political, and foreign political, issues, and he is unapologetic about this.  That, he concludes, is a judge’s job, both at EU and international court level – if the issues are indeed legal.

The opinion is complex and I summarise it in the simplest terms. But here goes.

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Does “damage” go wider than injury? Supreme Court on jurisdiction

23 December 2017 by

Four Seasons Holdings v. Brownlie [2017] UKSC 80, 19 December 2017, read judgment

Professor Ian Brownlie Q.C., an eminent international lawyer, and members of his family were killed in a road accident in Egypt, when on their way to Al-Fayoum. His widow, also injured, had booked the driver through their hotel, the Four Seasons in Cairo.

The family wished to bring proceedings in the UK against the hotel in respect of the driver. However, the key defendant (Holdings) was incorporated in British Columbia, and the issue which got to the Supreme Court was the issue of jurisdiction.

The family said that there was a contract for the trip with Holdings, and further that Holdings were vicariously liable in tort for the negligence of the driver. Holdings had been less than transparent at earlier stages of the proceedings, but, after the Supreme Court required it to give a full account of itself, it emerged that it was as the name suggested – a non-trading holding company which had never operated the Cairo hotel, even though other companies in the group were involved with the hotel.

On that ground, Holdings’ appeal was allowed. The unanimous Court concluded that there was no claim in either contract or in tort. In simple terms, Holdings was nothing to do with the booking of the driver by the hotel.

But the lasting interest in the case lay in the question of whether you can establish qualifying “damage” in tort in the UK even if you are injured abroad, and on this the Court was split 3-2.

Let me set the scene for this, before telling you the result.


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Free Trade Agreements and the White House – where are we now?

23 January 2017 by

ceta_signing_qtp_848x480_796869187661Trump’s inauguration seems not a bad moment to be having a look at the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs, actual or potential) which are swirling around at the moment, and their likely reception in the changed world which we face.

First on the list, our own tried, tested, and found electorally wanting, EU Treaties. They are FTAs, but with lots of knobs on – free movement of people, of establishment, level playing fields about employment rights, the environment and consumer protection, to name but a few.

The first thing to say is that FTAs, wherever they are, don’t come all that unencumbered these days.
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Censorship or justified Concern?

24 May 2016 by

Southampton_1912501bIR(Ben-Dor & Ors) v The University of Southampton [2016] EWHC 953 (Admin) (read judgment)

Mrs Justice Whipple dismissed one claim for judicial review, and refused permission to bring a further claim, in respect of decisions made by Southampton University regarding a proposed conference on the legality of the existence of Israel under international law. She held that the University had lawfully withdrawn its permission to hold the conference in April 2015, and refused permission to challenge the University’s subsequent decision to require the conference organisers to meet the conference’s security costs as a condition of allowing the conference to take place at a later date. The conference organisers had claimed that both decisions represented an unlawful interference with their Article 10 right to free expression and Article 11 right to free assembly.
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Western Sahara goes to Europe

23 October 2015 by

wsaharaR (o.t.a. Western Sahara Campaign UK) v. HMRC and DEFRA [2015] EWHC 2898 (Admin) Blake J, 19 October 2015 read judgment

Not primarily about migration, but a case arising out of the long-running conflict between Morocco, as occupying power, and the Western Sahara as occupied territory. For many years, the UN has recognised the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory which is entitled to exercise its right of self-determination. Morocco does not agree, and has done what occupying powers do, namely send in Moroccan nationals to flood the existing populations, add troops, and commit human rights abuses, according to evidence filed in the case. 

You may be wondering how this North-West African problem got to London’s Administrative Court. This is because the challenge is to two EU measures concerning Morocco. The first is a preferential tariff (administered by HMRC) applicable to imports from Morocco of goods originating from the Western Sahara. The second concerns the intended application of an EU-Morocco fisheries agreement about fishing in the territorial waters of Western Sahara.

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Passports at the junction of international and domestic law – Richard Alton

30 August 2015 by

0304367Western governments are increasingly concerned to establish that they have the power to prevent individuals from traveling to the Middle East to engage in terrorism-related activity (see Rosalind English’s recent post on Jihadi Brides). This has resulted in a spike in passport seizures, especially on the domestic level.  Under Chapter 1 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 the UK government has the authority to seize UK passports

where a person is suspected of intending to leave Great Britain or the United Kingdom in connection with terrorism-related activity.

These events encouraged me to revisit a 2010 publication I co-authored with my colleague Jason Reed Struble, entitled ‘The Nature of a Passport at the Intersection of Customary International Law and American Judicial Practice’ (16 Ann. Surv. Int’l & Comp. L. 9 (2010)). In that piece we discussed the very nature of a passport and its role in both international and United States domestic law. This article focussed on the seizure of foreign passports by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the subsequent tribulations that follow. Thus, the work focused on a different spectrum of passport seizures, i.e. a government seizing another government’s passport, as opposed to a government seizing passports of its own nationals.
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How to sue in respect of abusive comments on the Internet

25 March 2015 by

Internet-TrollThe Bussey Law Firm PC & Anor v Page [2015] EWHC 563 (QB) – read judgment

The facts of this case are simple. A defamatory comment was posted on the claimant’s Google maps directional page, implying that he was a “loser” as a lawyer and that his firm lost “80%” of cases brought to them. The defendant claimed that someone must have hacked in to his own Google account to put up the post.

There were jurisdictional complications in that the firm is situated in Colarado but these need not concern us here as Sir David Eady, sitting as a High Court judge, allowed the trial to go ahead in England. The real question was  why any third party would have gone to the trouble of hacking into the defendant’s Google account in order to post the offending review; if the objective were merely to hide the hacker’s identity from the claimants, there would be the simpler option of setting up an anonymous Google account. This would in itself render the would-be publisher untraceable, and especially if it were done from a public computer.
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“High-minded tosh” – the current brouhaha about the Magna Carta

16 March 2015 by

National Archives Displays An Original Copy Of Magna CartaLet’s apply some hard history to the 13th century charter governing the obligations flowing between King John and his barons, or at least read the thing (translation here). So says Lord Sumption in a fascinating address to Friends of the British Library on 9 March.

All sides jockey for position at the Magna Carta shrine, but its significance is entirely due to the myth-making tendencies of the seventeenth century politician and judge Edward Coke.  Since he plucked the charter quite clean of its historical context, the claims made in its name are extraordinary and downright self-serving:

In his column in the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne recently described the European Convention on Human Rights as a “document which entrenches the principles of Magna Carta in international law.” Others have come forward to suggest that the partial abrogation in 2014 of a legal aid system which was first created in 1949 was contrary to Magna Carta. Recently, a Global Law Summit in London, which was essentially an international marketing opportunity for British lawyers, described itself on its website as “grounding the legacy and values of Magna Carta in a firmly 21st Century context.

Sumption is not against liberty of the subject, nor motherhood and apple pie, nor even international marketing opportunities for lawyers, but he does have a problem with “the distortion of history to serve an essentially modern political agenda.”
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British Jihadists and treason

21 October 2014 by

remember-remember-the-fifth-of-november-gunpowder-treason-and-plot-i-see-no-reason-why-gunpowder-treason-should-ever-be-forgotThe news last week was that the Foreign Secretary has proposed a revival of a fourteenth century statute in order to prosecute British jihadists who travel to Iraq or Syria to fight. Cries of foul are coming from the usual quarters, and there’s even a protest that the Strasbourg Court would object, which, given the current controversy surrounding that tribunal, may be a good reason in itself for such a move.

In the current froth over the Convention versus “home grown” human rights, there is much talk of the Magna Carta. So may be of interest to some that in the opinion of one of the greatest legal scholars in history, Edward Coke, the Statute of Treason had a legal importance second only to that of the “Great Charter of the Liberties of England”, piloted by feudal barons to limit King John’s power in 1215.

Politics aside, how would this work? On the face of it, a law which has been on the statute books for centuries, and is found to be applicable to a current state of affairs, is an equum donatum whose dental health should not be examined too closely. Although the last person to be convicted under the 1351 Treason Act – the Nazi propagandist William Joyce (otherwise known as Lord Haw Haw)- was hanged, now any British citizen convicted of the offence could be given a life sentence.
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