Politics


Analysis: Woolas loses election court challenge, court clarifies constitutional role

3 December 2010 by

R (on the application of Philip James Woolas) and The Parliamentary Election Court [2010] EWHC 3169 (Admin) – Read judgment / press summary

Phil Woolas has lost his appeal by way of judicial review of the decision to strip him of his election victory in Oldham East and Saddleworth in the 2010 General Election. He has said he will not appeal the decision.

Mr Woolas had to first convince the Administrative Court, which handles judicial reviews of the decisions of public bodies, that it had jurisdiction to hear the claim. He won on this point. However, once it had accepted it could hear the case, the Administrative court went on to uphold most of the decision of the Election Court.

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Powers which “strike at the heart of our constitutional system” may be diminished

24 November 2010 by

Updated | The House of Lords has voted against the Public Bodies Bill for a second time, making it more likely that the so-called Henry VIII powers buried within it will be revised.

The House defeated the bill by 235 votes to 201. The Bill, which has already attracted attention for seeking to abolish 192 quangos, was heavily criticised by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. The committee said that the powers given to ministers under the bill to change the statute book were too broad, and needed to be limited by procedural safeguards (see this post). It argued:

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New EU Bill seeks to enshrine British sovereignty

12 November 2010 by

The much-debated “sovereignty clause” has now been published in the European Union Bill.

As predicted by our previous post on the subject and the wealth of commentary elsewhere, the declaratory provision does nothing more than set out, in unambiguous terms, the common law principle of parliamentary sovereignty; the principle that Parliament, being sovereign, cannot abandon its own sovereignty. It has no effect on the rights and obligations conferred by EU law. It simply serves as a reminder that the enforceability of these rights and obligations are dependent on the continuing survival of the European Communities Act 1972, and nothing more.

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Henry VIII stalks the Public Bodies Bill

9 November 2010 by

Updated | The Select Committee on the Constitution has published its report on the Public Bodies Bill, and has expressed concern that the Bill as proposed will impose “Henry VIII” powers on the Executive.

The Bill, which has already attracted attention for seeking to abolish 192 quangos, is currently making its way through Parliament (track its progress here) and has its second reading in the Lords on Tuesday 9th November. You can watch a recording of the debate here. The committee reports:

When assessing a proposal in a Bill that fresh Henry VIII powers be conferred, we have argued that the issues are ‘whether Ministers should have the power to change the statute book for the specific purposes provided for in the Bill and, if so, whether there are adequate procedural safeguards’. In our view, the Public Bodies Bill [HL] fails both tests.

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Sovereignty clause? Not so fast…

8 October 2010 by

In his speech to the Conservative party conference, The foreign secretary William Hague has outlined the government’s plans for securing the sovereignty of parliament against the pressure of the European Union. He said:

A sovereignty clause on EU law will place on the statute book this eternal truth: what a sovereign parliament can do, a sovereign parliament can also undo … this clause will enshrine this key principle in the law of the land.

One commentator notes: “Tories plan fresh attacks on human and workers’ rights”. Another that there would be “subtle legal perils”.

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The future of the Human Rights Act, a reminder

22 September 2010 by

Lord McNally

Lord McNally, the minister of state for justice, has told the Liberal Democrat Party conference that the Justice Ministry is looking at the Human Rights Act, not to “see how we can diminish it”, but so it can be “better understood and appreciated.”

There will be, he said, “no retreat” over human rights. His comments have been reported as “likely to anger” backbench Tory MPs, who have “long criticised the HRA”.

In reality the reports may cause anger, but they will come as absolutely no surprise. Whilst it is true that the Conservatives pledged in their election manifesto to repeal the act, a lot has happened since then.

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Does Nick Clegg want prisoners to vote?

20 September 2010 by

Updated, Tue 21 Sep | It is being reported that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, is looking to end the ban on prisoners voting in elections. If the law were to change, it would represent the end of a very long road for campaigners. However, they have been waiting since 2005 and may well be waiting for longer yet.

The Times apparently reported this morning (I haven’t confirmed this as it is behind a pay wall) that the deputy prime minister is backing plans for prisoner enfranchisement.

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Do foreign policy and human rights mix?

31 August 2010 by

The Foreign Secretary William Hague has sought in today’s Daily Telegraph to re-emphasise the “centrality of human rights in the core values” of UK foreign policy. On the face of it, this is a laudable aim. But does it really mean anything? And may it in fact amount to an unrealisable promise?

The editorial evokes Mr Hague’s early commitment to put human rights at the “irreducible core” of UK foreign policy. This pledge has been questioned recently due to the potential reduction in scope of the Foreign Office’s annual human rights report. Mr Hague addresses this directly, although with little new detail:

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UKIP Supreme Court judgment analysis

2 August 2010 by

For those of you looking for more information on last week’s Supreme Court judgment on UKIP party funding (see our previous post), we have been sent an interesting analysis of the judgment from Lucy Colter at Four New Square Chambers.

Patrick Lawrence Q.C. and Can Yeginsu, also of Four New Square, appeared for UKIP. The judgment was only of tangential importance in respect of human rights, but Coulter addresses this towards the end of her article. The main point was that a court in future would have leeway as to how much it could order a party to forfeit. As such, the court was satisfied that the party funding legislation is sufficiently flexible so as not to contravene human rights law:

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UKIP can keep donation despite breach of party funding rules

29 July 2010 by

An appropriate logo

The Supreme Court has narrowly held that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) can keep nearly all of a £349,216 donation despite the donor not being a permissible donor at the time of receipt, contrary to party funding rules under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

The Supreme Court upheld an order originally made at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court to the effect that the party only had to give back a small proportion of the money. UKIP will now only have to forfeit £14,481, rather than the full amount. According to the BBC, this will save the party from financial ruin. We will have more detail on the decision, which was by a narrow 4-3 majority, soon. In the meantime, the Supreme Court press summary can be found here, and is reproduced below.

Watchdog calls for rule changes after barred voters fiasco

27 July 2010 by

The Electoral Commission has released its full report into the events surrounding the May 2010 election during which thousands of voters were barred from polling stations due to administrative problems.

The Commission, whose report can be  downloaded here, has used the fiasco as a chance to emphasise and bring forward its reform program. The watchdog reports that the Election was generally well run, but that:

Queues formed at several polling stations on polling day (6 May), and some people in those queues were unable to vote when the polls closed at 10pm. Just over 1,200 people were affected at 27 polling places in 16 constituencies. The main contributory factors were poor planning, the use of unsuitable buildings, inadequate staffing arrangements and the failure of contingency plans.

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Lord Chief Justice: Government has too much power to pass new laws [updated]

15 July 2010 by

The Lord Chief Justice has lamented the ease with which new laws can be passed without proper scrutiny, comparing new powers to those which were imposed by England’s worst tyrant.

Lord Judge, who is the Lord Chief Justice and head of the judiciary, was speaking at the annual Lord Mayor’s dinner for the judiciary; his speech can be read here.

The thrust of the judge’s speech was his concern at the proliferation of what he called “Henry VIII” clauses, the proliferation of which had “astonished” him. Henry VIII’s 1539 Statute of Proclamations allowed the King’s proclamations to have the same force as Acts of Parliament. Lord Judge compared this to a series of recent Acts which have given the Government licence to enact law without the scrutiny of Parliament.

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Prisoner voting back on the human rights agenda this week

30 May 2010 by

The Guardian reports today that prisoner voting rights will be back in the public eye this week with critical comments from Europe and increased pressure from compensation claims.

Interestingly, the article has now been amended to remove part of a quote from the Ministry of Justice, who had initially said that “Disenfranchisement is an outdated, disproportionate punishment which has no place in a modern prison system with a renewed emphasis on rehabilitation and resettlement”. This line has been replaced by a policy-neutral quote. On the face of it, it seems that government may finally act on this issue, five years after the European Court of Human Rights criticism of its ban in the case of Hirst v UK.

In the 2005 decision of Hirst, the European Court held that Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which prevents prisoners from voting, is in breach of the electoral right under Article 1 of Protocol 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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The Queen’s Speech and human rights [updated]

25 May 2010 by

The Coalition Government has presented its legislative agenda for the coming year in the Queen’s Speech. Below are links to some of our previous posts which address some of the proposed policies.

The full line-up of bills announced can be found on the Number 10 website, or you can also read the full transcript. Our analysis of the Coalition’s human rights policies is here. The list will probably not be exhaustive, as some of the promises made in the Programme for Government may be instituted via secondary legislation or attached to other related Acts of Parliament.

One notable absence is any mention of reform to extradition policy (see our post from yesterday). The Programme for Government included the promise to “review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed.” Liberty, the human rights organisation, had already welcomed the change in a statement on Monday. The family of Gary McKinnon would have also been waiting for this, as Mr McKinnon is currently awaiting a decision from the new Home Secretary as to whether he will be extradited to the United States on computer hacking charges. That being said, a change to the extradition arrangements may be included in another bill, although this seems unlikely.

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Coalition civil liberties policies may be uncontroversial quick wins

24 May 2010 by

The Economist has provided a useful analysis of the Coalition Government’s proposed policies on civil liberties.

The article highlights the fact that the policies detailed may not represent the transformative change which Nick Clegg suggested in his reform speech, but rather “uncontroversial quick wins” which will be dwarfed in policy terms by the incoming government’s policing and immigration policies:

The disagreements can probably be haggled away, with the Lib Dems getting their way (eventually) on human rights in return for agreeing to control orders. Coalition government is such a novel and interesting thing that almost any fudge or u-turn can be passed off as a natural product of the “new politics”, at least for now.
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