This poignant case tells a sad story, but an instructive one in terms of human rights and the ability of courts to interpret statutes in accordance with these rights under Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
The judge’s role in these difficult private cases is subject to the “stern test” laid down by Sir James Munby in Samantha Jeffries v BMI Healthcare Limited and others EWHC 2493 (Fam) . Respect for a statute’s obvious does not entail
that the judge must approach a case such as this bereft of humanity, empathy, compassion and sympathy. What it does mean is that the judge cannot allow his judgment to be swayed, or his decision to be distorted, by those very human emotions.
Background facts and law
The statute in question in that case and this was the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, as amended by secondary legislation and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. More on that later. Here, the applicant sought a declaration that it was lawful for him to use an embryo created using his sperm and the eggs of his late wife in treatment with a surrogate. The embryo was created in 2018 when the applicant and his wife (C) were undergoing fertility treatment to fulfil their wish to have children of their own. The embryo is currently stored at the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health.
The applicant and his wife had undergone several unsuccessful cycles of IVF, the latter being private. They had remortgaged their house to pay for the treatment. A positive pregnancy with twin girls was confirmed in November 2018. C developed complications in her pregnancy at 18 weeks, which resulted in a uterine rupture, and she died on 25 February 2019. There was one remaining embryo which the applicant wished to use with a surrogate, to fulfil their joint wish for this to take place in such circumstances. He accepted there was no written consent by C for that to take place but said that they had not been given sufficient information or opportunity to give that written consent. It was that remaining embryo that was the subject of this application.
O’Neill and Lauchlan v Scottish Ministers  CSOH 93, 28th October 2015 – read judgment
The Outer House of the Court of Session has dismissed challenges brought by two convicted paedophiles to the Scottish Prison Service’s refusal to allow them to visit each other in prison. The decisions were challenged under articles 8 and 14 ECHR, as it was claimed that the prisoners were in a homosexual relationship. Continue reading →
The Christian Institute (and others) v Scottish Ministers  CSIH 64, 3rd September 2015 – read judgment
The Court of Session’s appeal chamber – the Inner House – has unanimously rejected challenges to the Scottish government’s controversial named person scheme. Three individual petitioners, as well as The Christian Institute, Family Education Trust, The Tymes Trust, and Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), contested the appointment of named persons and the scheme’s provisions for data sharing.
Northamptonshire County Council v AS, KS and DS  EWFC 7 – read judgment
A Family Division judge has awarded damages under the Human Rights Act against a local authority in what he described as an “unfortunate and woefulcase” involving a baby taken into foster care. Mr Justice Keehan cited a “catalogue of errors, omissions, delays and serial breaches of court orders” by Northamptonshire County Council. Unusually, the judge decided to give the judgment in this sensitive case in public in order to set out “the lamentable conduct of this litigation by the local authority.”
On 30 January 2013, the local authority placed the child (known as ‘DS’) with foster carers. He was just fifteen days old. In the weeks prior to DS’s birth, his mother’s GP had made a referral to the local authority due to her lack of antenatal care and because she claimed to be sleeping on the street. The mother then told a midwife that she had a new partner. He was a heroin addict.
After the birth DS’s mother avoided seeing her midwife. She frequently moved addresses and conditions at home were exceedingly poor. Three days before DS was taken into care, his mother told social workers that her new partner was being aggressive and threatening to her. She reported that he was leaving used needles around the house. Continue reading →
The Court of Appeal has taken the unusual step of reversing a denial of contact order, by reviewing the question of the proportionality of the order in relation to the children’s right to family life under Article 8.
The appellant father appealed against the refusal of his application for contact with his three young sons. He had a history of violence and previous criminal convictions all but one of which, though distant in time, related to violent behaviour, including causing grievous bodily harm with intent. Following repeated episodes of abuse, which was often witnessed by the boys, the mother had left the family home with the children and had taken up accommodation in a women’s refuge. She voiced fears of their abduction out of the jurisdiction and her own personal safety to the extent of “honour based” violence and death at the hands or instigation of the father. When he applied for contact Cushing J found that the father had minimised his behaviour and blamed the mother as the victim of his violence. She concluded that he had failed to show any lasting benefit from therapy and his behaviour was likely to destabilise the children’s home and security, which was provided by the mother. Continue reading →
SS (Malaysia) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 888 – read judgment
This case concerns a hitherto little-explored aspect of the right to a private and family life: a parent’s opportunity to teach their offspring about their own religious faith.
This is also a subset of the right under Article 9 to practise one’s own religion. This question was raised in EM(Lebanon) (FC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKHL 64 but was only tangential to the main issue, which was the relationship between the appellant mother and her son as opposed to the father whose entitlement to custody would have been secured under Islamic law. Continue reading →
This appeal concerned whether a child of two years of age should be permanently removed from her parents and placed for adoption; and, in that regard, whether the child was likely to suffer “significant harm: within the meaning of s.31(2)(a) of the Children Act 1989; and a consideration of whether her permanent removal might interfere with the exercise of the right to respect for family life under Article 8 of the ECHR, and, if so, whether the order should be proportionate to its legitimate aim of protecting the child.
The following summary is based on the Supreme Court press report. References in square brackets are to paragraphs of the judgment.
The child concerned had been removed from her parents at birth under an interim care order. The mother was for many years in an abusive relationship with her step-father. She also had criminal convictions for dishonesty and a history of making false allegations. She had been diagnosed with somatisation disorder, a condition which involves making multiple complaints to medical professionals of symptoms for which no adequate physical explanation can be found. Continue reading →
Raw and others v France – read judgment (only available in French)
This complicated inter-jurisdictional battle between estranged parents is a stark illustration of how difficult it can be in these sorts of cases to apply the law in the fog of family warfare.
Even though the mother’s case was upheld in the Strasbourg Court, one can tell from the modesty of the damages awarded and the strength of the minority opinions that the judges were extremely reluctant to apply hard letter law to the complicated case before them. Indeed in one partially concurring judgment, Judge Nussberger found it distinctly odd that the mother was able to join the children as parties, in the light of their opposition to her wish that they leave their father to join her. Continue reading →
Ms Swift lost her live-in partner in an accident at work caused by negligence. She was pregnant with her partner’s child, but had only been living with him for 6 months. Had she been with him for 2 years, she could have claimed damages for his death under section 1(3) of the Fatal Accidents Act – set out at  of the CA judgment. She would then have been a “dependant” as defined under the FAA. So she argued that her rights under Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR were not properly respected by the law governing damages for the death of a relative – there was no justification for this stark cut-off – 1 year 11 months no claim, 2 years a claim. The judge refused to grant a declaration of incompatibility between the ECHR and the Fatal Accidents Act, and the Court of Appeal has just upheld his decision.
A lot of money turned on the point: Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.
The Upper Tribunal has concluded that new Immigration Rules do not adequately reflect the Secretary of State’s obligations under Article 8 of the ECHR.
This is the second determination of the “fit” between the immigration rules, introduced last year, and the UK’s obligations under Article 8 of the Convention. I covered the Upper Tribunal’s assessment of the rules in MF (Article 8–new rules) Nigeria  UKUT 00393 (IAC) in a previous post and it will be remembered that the Tribunal held there that the new rules fall short of all Article 8 requirements.
The claimant was a Nigerian national who had raised a claim to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as part of a claim for asylum. She had travelled to the UK previously, with periods of overstaying and having obtained employment by using false identity papers. Whist in the UK she met her husband, a dual British/Nigerian citizen and argued that her removal would interfere with her right to family life under Article 8. Continue reading →
Swift v. Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2000 (QB) Eady J, read judgment
This decision involves the intersection of Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR with the law governing who can recover damages for the death of a relative. This law is the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (for the text see  of the judgment – embarrassingly, the one freely available on the internet is out of date). One does not to think for very long before realising that the FAA is underpinned by an idea that one ought to respect the rights of the family, and to pay the family when one has negligently caused the death of a family member. But like all such laws, there is the problem of where to stop – where does the family stop for these purposes?
Ms Swift had been living with Mr Winters for 6 months when he was killed at work. She was pregnant with their child. Under FAA rules, her child had a claim for financial dependency against his father’s employer – what he expected to derive from his father had his father lived – even though he was not born at the date of his father’s death. Indeed, her son recovered £105,000. But, says the FAA, Ms Swift does not have a claim. s.1(3) requires an unmarried partner to have been living with the deceased for 2 years before his death before they can become a “dependant”, and no amount of re-writing via s.3 of the Human Rights Act (to make the FAA rights-compliant “so far as possible”) can make “2 years” read as “6 months” . Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.
So Ms Swift’s claim was against the Secretary of State for a declaration that the FAA was incompatible with her Article 8 and 14 rights.
Ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner Binyam Mohamed failed this weekend to prevent the Daily Mail reporting that he had been granted permanent residency in Britain. The case highlights a growing trend for the courts to enforce open justice in two significant ways, both which rely heavily on protections guaranteed under human rights law.
Interestingly, two crucial aspects of open justice have been reinforced as a result of a case involving Mohamed himself. In fact, the open justice aspects of Mohamed’s case against the security services will probably emerge as amongst the most important legal rulings arising from the ‘war on terror’ era. Unfortunately for him, this may have had the unintended consequence of destroying any chances of maintaining his privacy.
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.