There has been much in the press recently about the UK Government being minded to opt out, and/or in, of EU criminal justice measures. The implications of this decision will be significant to the UK’s ability to investigate and prosecute crime. So what does it all mean?
Opting out of what?
The UK managed to negotiate the quite remarkable article 10 to protocol 36 of the Lisbon Treaty which allows for the UK to exercise a power that no other member state of the Union holds. The Lisbon Treaty finally incorporates EU criminal justice measures (which are referred to as the area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters) into the main body of treaty law.
In order to do so, it allowed a transitional period of five years (which expires in December 2014), at the end of which, all measures adopted under the earlier treaty provisions (in what was known as the third pillar) are ‘Lisbonised.’ What this means is they become directives rather than framework decisions (and various other equivalents). The difference between the two is that directives are enforceable before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and decisions are not.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the third in a series of posts analysing the UK’s draft “Brighton Declaration” on European Court of Human Rights reform.
Although not a “supreme law bill of rights”, the Human Rights Act 1998 is a significant constraint upon the political-legislative process. In this post, I argue that the extent of that constraint would likely diminish were the draft Brighton Declaration implemented in its present form.
At present, the Human Rights Act (HRA) serves two distinctive and important “bridging functions”. On the horizontal (national) plane, it operates as an interface between legal and political notions of constitutionalism: although the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is formally undisturbed, the HRA reduces the political scope for legislative interference with rights by making the ECHR a benchmark by reference to which legislation falls to be judicially assessed – and condemned, via a declaration of incompatibility, if found wanting.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.”
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.