Politics


Human rights and the UK constitution (or, why turkeys don’t vote for Christmas)

27 September 2012 by

The British Academy have today published a very interesting new report by Colm O’Cinneide considering the workings of the UK human rights law, the relationship between the ECHR, UK courts and the Parliament and the potential effect of a bill of rights.

The report (full report / executive summary) had a prestigious steering committee, including Professor Vernon Bognodor, who knows a bit about the British constitution, and Professor Conor Gearty. The conclusions represent – at least in my experience – the mainstream view amongst legal academics, lawyers and indeed judges on the human rights system. In summary, and with apologies if this is an over-simplification of the report’s detailed findings:

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Indefinite sentences, a chief coroner and abortion bias allegations – The Human Rights Roundup

23 September 2012 by

Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly bulletin of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.

UPDATED: Thank you to all the those who pointed out my errors in this post – hopefully you will now find they are corrected.

In the news

A few fairly major issues to chew over this week: we have commentary on the controversial Sarah Catt abortion case, responses to the Strasbourg decision on indefinite prison sentences in the UK, and more additions to the debate about religion and human rights, among other things.


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So long, Ken, noble scourge of imaginary cats [updated – and hello Mr Grayling]

4 September 2012 by

Updated | As has been widely reported, Ken Clarke has left his post as Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor following a cabinet reshuffle.

The former-Justice Secretary has had an eventful time in his two years and three months in post. He has overseen enormous cuts to legal aid for which some will never forgive him, introduced a bill which will increase secret trials in the civil justice system, got into trouble over his comments on rape and ushered in a significant reform programme at the European Court of Human Rights.

But he will probably best be remembered, certainly by this blog, for an interview he gave following a speech by Home Secretary Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference. You may remember it. It was about a cat. Which was apparently (but not really) responsible for a court’s failure to deport a man from the UK. Immediately following the speech, Ken Clarke told the Nottingham Post what he thought about May’s comments:

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How most Australians do human rights without a Human Rights Act

9 July 2012 by

A sparkling, erudite and funny lecture last Thursday 5 July from the Chief Justice of Australia, exploring how the Australian system with a constitution, but without a Bill of Rights/Human Rights Act, seeks to deliver human rights protection – thanks to the Administrative Law Bar Association and the Angl0-Australasian Law Society. I shall try to summarise the differences, though, rather like the pre-HRA UK position, Australian human rights protection is a subtle one and a difficult one to explain in a short post. Particularly for a Pom. So I am in part throwing down a challenge to our Australian readers (up until this point, at least, quite a few) to comment on what follows.

The constitutional framework  is all important. There are three major differences between this and the UK “constitution”. The first is the presence of a written constitution over 100 years old, and amendable only by referendum. The second is a federal system laid down by that constitution. Out of that arrangement comes a separation of powers between judiciary, legislature, and executive, and also between the Commonwealth (i.e, the federation) and each State, taken against the background of general common law principles drawn from the States’ shared colonial history. And the third is the lack of any substantive human rights instrument applicable to Australia as a whole.

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The case for letting prisoners vote – Reuven Ziegler

24 May 2012 by

Last Tuesday saw the latest episode in the prisoner voting legal saga with the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber’s judgment  reversing the Chamber judgment which found Italy’s automatic ban on voting for prisoners serving over 3 years in prison (and a lifetime ban with the possibility of future relief for those sentenced to more than 5 years) in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Adam Wagner has compared  the prisoner voting issue to a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel, noting that ‘the ball is now back on the UK’s side of the table’. Indeed, the UK must still allow at least some prisoners the vote, as required by the 2005 judgment in Hirst v UK (No.2) and the 2010 judgment in Greens & MT v UK.  Over at EJIL: Talk!, Marko Milanovic rightly accounts for the unholy mix of law and (inter)national politics that has generated the Grand Chamber’s unprincipled judgment. Indeed, as Carl Gardner suggests on the Head of Legal blog all that logically remains of the Hirst judgment is that automatic disenfranchisement of prisoners that are sentenced for less than 3 years (probably) breaches the convention.

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Housing benefit system discriminated against disabled people, rules Court of Appeal

19 May 2012 by

Burnip v. Birmingham City Council, Trengrove v. Walsall Metropolitan Council, Gorry v. Wiltshire Council [2012] EWCA Civ 629 – read judgment

In the same week that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan-Smith, announced his intention to implement sweeping reforms of the current system of disability benefits, the Court of Appeal has ruled that housing benefit rules were discriminatory against disabled people, in breach of Article 14 read with Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention.

Mr Duncan-Smith has already faced opposition to his reform proposals but has made it clear that he is willing to tackle this controversial issue. However, this week’s ruling is a timely reminder that social security law is extremely complex and that the Government will have to tread very carefully to avoid unwittingly causing further instances of unlawful discrimination.

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Greek far right win is a reminder of why we need European human rights standards

8 May 2012 by

Remember the far right? They are back. The ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party has just won 7% in the Greek elections. Although it rejects “neo-Nazi” labels, its symbolism and style clearly channel fascist parties of the past. It has a Swastika-like logo and inflammatory anti-immigration policies. And for those who thought ultra-nationalism was confined to the history books, this YouTube video of leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos‘s victory speech will be particularly unsettling. To members of the audience who stayed after a black-shirted thug screamed at them to stand up for the leader’s entrance, Mr Michaloliakos made the ominous promise that “a “new golden dawn of Hellenism is rising” and for those “who betray this homeland the time has come to fear”. 

The recent successes of far right parties in Europe, which have benefited from recession protest votes and anti-immigration populism, is indeed something to fear. But it also presents an opportunity to reflect on the importance of international human rights standards.

In the ongoing debate over the role of a European system of human rights law, lip service is often paid to the origins of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in post-war Europe. The rise of Fascism had killed tens of millions. The Nuremberg trials, an early experiment for international justice, had been a success. A Europe-wide system of rights protection seemed sensible. It still does.


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Brighton bombshells, Justice vs Security, Legal Aid U-turns – The Human Rights Roundup

4 March 2012 by

Welcome back to your weekly helping of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.

In the news

The biggest news of the week was the leak of the Draft Brighton declaration, the UK’s proposals for the reform of the European Court of Human Rights. In other news, a spotlight finally began to shine on the Government’s Justice and Security Green Paper, with the Daily Mail suggesting that it might do anything but promote justice and security.

by Wessen Jazrawi


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Cameron hits Strasbourg – The Human Rights Roundup

29 January 2012 by

Updated | Welcome back to the human rights roundup, your regular human rights bullet. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.

by Wessen Jazrawi

In the news

Mr Cameron goes to Strasbourg

This week, the European Court of Human Rights released its 2011 annual report and Prime Minister David Cameron paid Strasbourg a visit, where (amongst other things) he accused the Court of having become a “small claims court”.

Unsurprisingly, this has been heavily commented on in the press. Adam Wagner posted on the build-up, Professor Francesca Klug minced no words in the follow-up and Joshua Rozenberg  reported on the ensuing discussion between Cameron and the secretary-general of the Council of Europe – see also Deciding the future of human rights court … in Brighton. Also worth reading is The Small Places heartfelt and insightful defence of human rights, Obiter J’s excellent post and Beyond Abu Qatada: Why The UK Shouldn’t Split From the European Court of Human Rights in the Huffington Post (UK edition).


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Henry VIII powers to be dropped

1 March 2011 by

Proposals for much-criticised powers which would have given ministers broad powers to alter statutes with little or no debate are to be dropped.

The proposed changes were dubbed “Henry VIII” powers as they would have given the executive powers similar to those of the 16th century tyrant. Lord Taylor of Holbeach told the House of Lords:

I can confirm to the House that the government have accepted the arguments that bodies and offices should be listed in the schedules of this Bill only where Parliament has given its consent in primary legislation.

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Go compare

17 February 2011 by

The Telegraph has an editorial this morning entitled “Common sense needed in human rights review“.

It refers to the Prime Minister’s answers to questions in parliament yesterday. In reply to a question about the supreme court sex offenders ruling, which has led the government to change the law but which apparently makes Philip Davies MP’s constituents “sick to the back teeth” of human rights, the PM responded:

My hon. Friend speaks for many people in saying how completely offensive it is, once again, to have a ruling by a court that flies in the face of common sense. Requiring serious sexual offenders to sign the register for life, as they now do, has broad support across this House and across the country. I am appalled by the Supreme Court ruling. We will take the minimum possible approach to this ruling and use the opportunity to close some loopholes in the sex offenders register.

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The coalition’s quiet legal revolution?

16 February 2011 by

Law by crowd

The new Protection of Freedoms Bill has become the first proposed law to be opened to public comments via the internet. This seemingly small technological advance could have very exciting effects.

The comments system works just like a blog post. Any member of the public can leave comments on any particular provision of the draft law. The deadline for comments is 7th March.

The Prime Minister says that the Public Reading Stage, which is touchingly in “beta”, will “improve the level of debate and scrutiny of bills by giving everyone the opportunity to go online and offer their views” on new laws.” “That”, he suggests “means better laws – and more trust in our politics.”

He might just be right.

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Coalition cancellation of school building program was unlawful

11 February 2011 by

Luton Borough Council & Nottingham City Council & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Education [2011] EWHC 217 (Admin) (11 February 2011) – Read judgment

The high court has ruled that the coalition government’s cancellation of Labour’s school building program in 6 areas was unlawful. The full background to the ruling can be found here.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, announced in July that the £55bn scheme was to be reduced significantly, prompting five councils to challenge the decision by way of judicial review.

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It’s time we packed our bags at Strasbourg, says report

9 February 2011 by

Bringing Rights Back Home is the latest policy document to address the tension between judges and politicians over public policy with human rights implications.

Within hours of  publication of the report,  a hard-hitting academic paper put together by the political scientist Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, criticism started pouring in, and there will be no doubt more huffing and puffing to come.

But before these lofty admonitions stifle them, it is worth considering some of the paper’s objections and proposals.   These are legitimate points made in a political debate which has been masquerading for years as a legal one.  The document is essentially uncontroversial, in legal terms.
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Expenses peer Taylor convicted, but will he be jailed?

26 January 2011 by

Ex-Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick has become the first parliamentarian to be found guilty by a jury of making false parliamentary expenses claims. He now faces sentencing. Given the recent case of former MP David Chaytor, it seems unlikely that he will escape jail.

A jury at Southwark Crown Court found Taylor guilty of six counts of false accounting under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968, by a majority of 11 to 1. The expense at issue totalled £11,277. Mr Justice Saunders, who also sentenced Chaytor, presided over the trial.

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