On Wednesday, it was announced a committee of MPs will examine the Metropolitan Police’s treatment of protesters at the Coronation of King Charles III on Saturday 6 May. A total of 64 people were arrested on the day of the coronation, 52 of which were made because police feared protesters intended to disrupt proceedings. The Met expressed “regret” over the arrest of six members of the anti-monarchy protest group, Republic, who were detained on suspicion they were equipped for locking on – a new offence introduced by the Public Order Act 2023 which only came into force on the 3 May. The Met’s heavy handedness has been widely criticised, but many commentators have focused attention on weaknesses in the legislation itself, calling it “too wide” and “too rushed”. There are fears police and public confusion over the scope of the Act will negatively affect protester’s rights in the future.
The Business and Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, announced this week the government has tabled an amendment to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords. The amendment will replace the ‘sunset clause’; a provision which meant all retained EU law which had not been expressly preserved or replaced would be automatically repealed at the end of this year. Instead, the government has compiled a list of 600 pieces of secondary and EU legislation which will be actively revoked at the end of 2023. By replacing the sunsetting process, the government hopes to address commercial uncertainty and confusion around which of the 4,000 affected laws would last into 2024. While many have long-awaited changes to the sunset clause, some Conservative MPs have criticised Badenoch’s amendment as a ‘massive climbdown’ from the purpose of the Bill. Have a listen to the latest episode of Law Pod UK on the subject of “sunsetting”.
It was a busy week in the House of Lords, as members met for the second reading of the Illegal Migration Bill. Having passed through the House of Commons (with a majority of 289 votes to 230), the Bill is now being scrutinised by the Lords. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke during the debate, calling the Bill “morally unacceptable and politically impractical”. The Archbishop said the Bill would not stop illegal migration and would damage both the UK’s reputation and the international systems which protect refugees. Despite his comments, a motion to stop the bill ultimately failed, with members only voting 76 in favour of the motion and 179 against. The Bill will progress, therefore, to the committee stage where members of the Lords will examine it in detail. Meanwhile, the Bibby Stockholm barge which will house approximately 500 single, male migrants arrived in Falmouth this week. PM Rishi Sunak, speaking in response to the Archbishop’s comments in the Lords, said the government was prepared to use as many barges as it takes to curtail “illegal” migration.
In other news
In New York, a civil jury found Donald Trump had sexually abused Elle Magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll in a department store in the 1990s. Mr Trump was cleared of allegations that he had raped Ms Carroll. The jury did, however, find the former President liable for defamation for calling Ms Carroll’s allegations a hoax and accusing her of concocting them to boost sales of her book. Mr Trump has been ordered to pay $5m in damages. The allegations against Mr Trump related to events which took place in 1995 and 1996. Ms Carroll was able to bring a civil case against Trump because of the Adult Survivors Act passed by the state of New York in 2022, which opened a one-year period for victims to bring historic sexual assault claims which would normally have exceeded statute limitations.
Lawyers in Scotland are preparing to boycott a pilot scheme which would see rape trials heard without a jury. The pilot scheme was introduced by the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill and gives Scottish Ministers the power to carry out a pilot of rape trials without a jury, before a single judge or sheriff. First Minister Humza Yousaf has defended the plan, saying there is evidence juries are affected by rape myths and misconceptions. It is hoped the scheme will improve the conviction rates for rape-related crimes. Bar associations across Scotland have, however, widely condemned the idea of juryless rape trials. The Vice-President for the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association expressed concern that removing juries would remove diversity from the Scottish national justice system, and leave it open to the biases of single judges. While the boycotts are expected to be widespread, the Scottish government has said the pilots will go ahead.
On Friday, Portugal passed a law legalising euthanasia for people suffering from incurable diseases. Under the new legislation, people who are terminally ill and in “intolerable suffering” will be able to seek medical assistance to end their lives. The legalisation has divided public opinion in Portugal for some time. The euthanasia bill has been approved four times by the Portugese Parliament in the last three years, but was blocked each time by the conservative President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. This most recent vote overturned the vetoes exercised by de Sousa, who will be required to sign the bill into law within eight days of receiving it.
In the courts
The hearing for the Duke of Sussex’s lawsuit against the Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) began in the High Court this week. The case centres on whether MGN journalists used unlawful methods (such as phone hacking) to obtain private information about the Duke of Sussex between 1996 and 2011. The claim forms part of a wider group litigation, with other claimants including former Girls Aloud band member Cheryl, presenter Ian Wright and Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell. So far, Counsel for the Mirror Group has argued there is no concrete evidence of phone hacking and says the claims have been brought too late. Opposing Counsel, meanwhile, has contended unlawful methods were systematic and widespread amongst MGN journalists and were ultimately authorised by senior executives. The trial is expected to last seven weeks and the Duke of Sussex will give evidence in June. This will be the first time a senior member of the royal family has done so since the 19th century.
In Hicks, R (On the Application Of) v Westminster Magistrates’ Court  EWHC 1090, a claim for judicial review was refused. The Court considered whether the judge had made an error in law by convicting the Claimant of contravening reg. 7 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, which prohibited public gatherings during the pandemic. Firstly, following R (Dolan) v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care  EWCA Civ 1605, the Court found Regulations prohibiting public gatherings were proportionate. Secondly, regarding whether Ms Hicks had a “lawful excuse” for breaching the regulations, the judge’s assessment of the proportionality of the conviction in relation to her conduct had been correct. Finally, the Court refused to address an issue relating to the Claimant’s fine because it did not raise any point of law or jurisdiction and should have been raised through other procedures.
Yet again, the Public Order Bill and the Illegal Migration Bill have been back in the papers this week. The latter has made it through the House of Commons by 59 votes, following threatened rebellions from both the right and liberal wings of the Tory party. One of the resulting amendments provides the Home Secretary with the discretion to refuse to comply with interim injunctions from the ECtHR – known as ‘Rule 39 Orders’ (or ‘pyjama injunctions’ by some Tory MPs). In deciding whether to exercise her discretion, the Home Secretary will be entitled to have regard to the timeliness of any orders made by Strasbourg, as well as the ‘transparency’ of such orders. It is, however, unclear what practical effect this will have since the obligation to obey these orders exists at the international level, which domestic legislation cannot change. Once the Bill is debated in the House of Lords, it is expected that several amendments will be tabled in an attempt to temper some of the more draconian measures in the Bil – such as the detention of pregnant women and children – after the Equality and Human Rights Commission said that it is ‘seriously concerned’ about the impact of the Bill on such groups, and the implications for victims of modern slavery. Regarding the Public Order Bill (which is awaiting royal assent), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described the measures introduced by the Bill as ‘wholly unnecessary’, ‘disproportionate’ and inconsistent with our international obligations, and has called on the government to reverse the legislation ‘as soon as feasible’. The government maintains that both Bills are necessary and compliant with international law.
The increasingly violent conflict in Sudan has prompted the UNHRC to call on both the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces to halt the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Since the conflict broke out on 15th April just over two weeks ago, over 20,000 people have fled Sudan for Chad, with various states, including the UK and Saudi Arabia, involved in the evacuation effort. Reports have come in of deliberate bombing of residential homes, repeated breaches of ceasefires and at least 400 dead in the capital, Khartoum. However, this figure is likely to be much higher, as the conflict is preventing many from seeking help. It’s also reported that millions are without water and power as a result of the targeting of civilian infrastructure. Human Rights Watch has said that the conflict highlights the need for increased international scrutiny in the region, and MPs in Westminster have called for sanctions on certain Sudanese officials.
The NHS faced further strike action this week, with 47,000 junior doctors participating in a four-day walkout. The Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, has said the British Medical Association’s (BMA) demand for a pay restoration to 2008 levels is ‘unreasonable’. Negotiations have stalled over the effective 35% pay rise demand. Meanwhile, on Friday the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced a new 48-hour strike set to take place 30 May. The announcement of fresh strikes and continued discontent amongst junior doctors has fuelled speculation about the possibility of synchronised action between the BMA and RCN. While there are currently no plans for coordinated strikes, the BMA has refused to rule out the possibility of a concerted effort between the unions. Relatedly, the strike ballot for consultant doctors has been delayed until the 15 May.
On Saturday, violence erupted in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. The country has become increasingly unstable since President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in 2019 and a coup in 2021 which replaced a fragile military-civilian government with exclusive military rule. This most recent violence is part of a long-standing rivalry between the head of the country’s armed forces, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Gen Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo. The clashes have extended across the country and at least 56 civilians have been killed and a further 595 wounded. The World Food Programme announced three of its employees have been killed in the clashes, causing the organisation to suspend operations in the region.
Jack Teixeira, a 21-year old US airman, has been charged with leaking classified documents in a court in Boston. The leaked US intelligence revealed a detailed picture of the American assessment of the war in Ukraine, as well as Ukrainian strategies and defence capabilities. Many of the documents also contained sensitive information about US allies in the region. Mr Teixeira is a low-ranking member of the Air National Guard. In 2021, he was granted top secret security clearance and given access to other classified US government programmes. Mr Teixeira’s relative juniority and the ease with which he allegedly accessed and photographed sensitive documents has raised concerns over US intelligence practices. Mr Teixeira faces up to 15 years in prison.
In other news
118 people were arrested at the Grand National on Saturday. The arrests were made in connection with demonstrations held at Aintree by the climate and animal rights group, Animal Rising. Protesters blocked the M57 motorway and ran onto the racetrack, delaying the start of the race. Others attempted to climb or glue themselves to fencing around the track. The arrests were made for criminal damage and public nuisance offences.
In China, two prominent human rights lawyers, Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, have been sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison respectively. Both men have been charged with state subversion and were convicted in a closed trial in the province of Shandong. They were arrested almost three years ago and are prominent figures of the New Citizens Movement, an organisation of activists calling for improved civil rights in China.
Saiful Islam, a Bangladeshi national, has been granted leave to remain in the UK after the Home Office incorrectly alleged that he entered the UK illegally and was a convicted sex offender. Alongside their decision, the Home Office issued an apology to Mr Islam and recognised they had made serious errors by mistakenly attributing other people’s convictions to him.
In the Courts
The High Court has granted a judicial review of plans to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) across London. The claim was brought by five councils: Bexley, Bromley, Harrow, Hilingdon and Surrey. The councils proposed 5 grounds of review and the High Court ruled there was sufficient evidence on two of the grounds to proceed to trial. The scheme proposed by Sadiq Khan will see the Low Emission Zone expanded to cover the entire of the Greater London area. The hearing to determine the lawfulness of the scheme is expected to take place in July.
Meanwhile, the High Court has refused an application for judicial review of the government’s decision to grant planning permission to a new coal mine at Whitehaven in Cumbria. The action was brought by the South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) and Friends of the Earth. SLACC argued the government committed ‘legal errors’ when assessing evidence, requiring it to be proved to an unreasonably high standard. The climate groups will contest the High Court’s ruling.
In the case of Uvarkina and Others v. Russia 70089/12 and 40 others, the European Court of Human Rights examined 41 claims brought against the Russian Federation and found there had been a violation of Article 11 (right to freedom of assembly). The applicants claimed the Russian federation had taken disproportionate measures against them as organisers and participants of public assemblies. As the violations took place before 16 September 2022 (when the Russian Federation ceased to be party to the Convention), the Court held it had jurisdiction to examine the applications. It referred to case-law relating to freedom of assembly and proportionality of interference and concluded that the government’s interventions were not ‘necessary in a democratic society’. Other applications brought under Article 6 (right to a fair trial) were deemed inadmissible. The Russian Federation must now pay the applicants compensation relating to their successful claims.
On the five year anniversary of the Windrush scandal, the Black Equity Organisation announced that they are seeking judicial review over Suella Braverman for breach of the government’s Equality Act 2010 obligations. This challenges her decision to disregard key reform recommendations that were made as part of Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned Review, 2020 which the Home Office had originally promised to implement. Over 50,000 people had signed a petition urging Suella Braverman to re-think her decision to drop key recommendations of the review, but as it stands, her decision is not to hold reconciliation events or to review and extend the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. Whether this will be held “unlawful” under the Equality Act, as the Black Equity Organisation have suggested, remains to be seen.
A watchdog report by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office previously identified non-compliance of intelligence agencies with the UK’s torture policy in cases where there is a “real risk of torture”. This is now sparking criticism of the torture policy itself, which is coming under increasing scrutiny. In particular, the human rights group Reprieve, have declared the policy to be “fatally flawed”. For example, it is being suggested that ambiguities in the policy may allow for “torture tipoffs” as in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal.
IN OTHER NEWS
The definition of “sex”, as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010, is under review. Ministers are considering whether to change the definition of “sex” under the Act so that it refers to a person’s biological sex at birth. However, the potential consequences for the trans community are being raised and there are suggestions that it may enable single-sex spaces and events to ban trans people from entry. The Minister for Women and Equality has requested advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission about this, and their initial response urges the UK to carefully investigate the practical implications that this change could have.
The UK’s approach to unaccompanied asylum seeker children came under further scrutiny this week. Firstly, the UK government has been warned by UN experts that their treatment of unaccompanied asylum seeker children who are placed in hotels may put them in breach of their international legal obligations. This is due to the increased risk of trafficking that these children are facing, and follows rising concerns about those who have gone missing. Meanwhile, further issues are being highlighted about the potential conflict between the new Illegal Migration Bill’s provisions for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and the Children Act 1989 as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
IN THE COURTS
The European Court of Human Rights have requested that the UK provide written responses to the application of NSK v the UK. This concerns an Iraqi asylum seeker’s human rights if removed to Rwanda, and in particular his Article 3 rights (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment) on account of the risk of harm that he would face while awaiting decisions on his asylum application in Rwanda. The Court have also notified the UK government that the interim measures which were implemented by the ECtHR in June 2022 to prevent the applicant’s removal to Rwanda, have now been lifted. This is due to the fact that the High Court had quashed the Home Secretary’s decision to remove NSK to Rwanda becuase of a failure to properly consider the applicant’s evidence and also a failure to provide adequate reasons for the decision. A summary of the legal human rights questions that the UK now has to answer, can be found here.
The European Court has also determined that there was a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) in the protest case of Drozd v Poland. This case concerned a year-long ban on entry to the Sejm building which had been imposed on protesters against the Government’s judicial reforms. In particular, the protesters had displayed a banner outside the Sejm reading “Defend Independent Courts”. Distinguishing between protests that actually interfere with parliamentary debate and those which occurred outside of the building, the court held that in this case the sanction was not justified and violated Article 10.
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson gave oral evidence to the Privileges Committee as part of an ongoing inquiry into whether the ex-Prime Minister misled Parliament over lockdown parties in No 10. If the Commons was misled, the Committee will determine whether that constituted a contempt of Parliament – a finding which could result in Mr Johnson’s suspension from the Commons. In his evidence, Mr Johnson accepted he mislead MPs, but that he had not done so “intentionally or recklessly”. He claimed his statements were based upon honest belief, and were made in ‘good faith’ and in reliance on ‘trusted advisers’. The outcome of the inquiry will largely rest on whether Mr Johnson inadvertently, deliberately, or recklessly mislead Parliament – with the most severe sanctions arising if he is found to have deliberately made false statements to MPs. The committee’s report is expected later in the year.
Baroness Casey’s final report on the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service was published this week. The review was commissioned following the death of Sarah Everard at the hands of a serving Met officer. The report describes a culture in the Met of ‘defensiveness and denial’, which lacks integrity, fails to take complainants seriously and has discrimination ‘baked into it’. In Baroness Casey’s own words: ‘we have found institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia in the Met’. This report, alongside tragic events like Ms Everard’s death and the recent conviction of long-serving Met officer David Carrick, highlight a loss of public confidence in the police force.
In France on Thursday, protesters gathered across the country to demonstrate their opposition to President Macron’s pension reform bill, which proposes raising the age of retirement from 62 to 64. The protests began in January, but escalated this week when President Macron forced the proposed bill through parliament without a vote in the National Assembly. It is estimated that approximately one million people took part in the demonstrations. In Bordeaux, the front door of the city’s town hall was set on fire and police have been accused of using excessive force against protesters. Before the bill becomes legislation, it must pass a review by the Constitutional Council.
The ICC has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin for the war crime of the unlawful deportation and transference of children. The Russian commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, has also been issued an arrest warrant. According to Ukrainian government figures, 16,266 children have been deported to Russia since the beginning of the war. Russia is not a member of the ICC and so it is unlikely that the suspects will be arraigned in court, but it will make international travel more difficult and place political pressure on the Russian government. This is the first instance of the court issuing an arrest warrant for the leader of one of the five permanent members of the UN security council.
Donald Trump told supporters on his social network Truth Social that he expects to be arrested on Tuesday and has urged them to stage mass protests. If indicted, Trump would be the first former US president to see criminal charges. The case concerns ‘hush money’ payments made through Trump’s lawyer to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election. Once all the evidence has been taken, the grand jury will vote on whether to recommend criminal charges to the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, who determines what charges he thinks he can prove beyond reasonable doubt, if any, but there is no deadline on this process. Trump promises to continue his campaign for the 2024 presidential nomination even if he is indicted. He also faces upcoming inquiries into his attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 election.
Suella Braverman has said she has been “encouraged” by “constructive” talks with the ECHR about changing the Rule 39 injunction process that blocked the Home Secretary deporting migrants in 2022. The UK Government has requested a higher legal threshold for any such injunction that may be imposed on future deportation flights, and advised the ECHR that the British judiciary has ruled the Rwanda deportation scheme lawful. A government source says changing the injunction is likely to prove a necessary step in getting the scheme “off the ground,” Braverman having vowed to enact it by the summer.
In other news
The Morrisons supermarket chain has been fined £3.5million after an employee died when he fell from the stairs during an epileptic seizure. Matthew Gunn suffered fatal head injuries at a Morrisons shop in Gloucestershire in September 2014. A jury found the company guilty of three health and safety charges. The management staff had been made aware of Gunn’s epilepsy but did not take adequate steps to prevent the danger, failing to move his locker to the ground floor so that he did not have to risk using the stairs. Gunn’s parents described the devastating impact that their son’s death had on their physical and mental health, as well as on their marriage.
CIVICUS Monitor, a global research organisation which rates countries’ democratic and civic values, has downgraded the “increasingly authoritarian” UK in its annual global index of civic freedoms. Because of the government’s introduction of restrictive legislation including those related to protests, the CIVICUS ‘People Power Under Attack 2022’ report downgraded the UK’s rating from “narrowed” to “obstructed,” a category which includes Poland, Hungary and South Africa. Highlighted legislation included the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and the Public Order Bill (currently going through Parliament), which give the police additional powers to restrict the activities of protesters, and the group also point to the government’s “hostile rhetoric” towards migrants and human rights campaigner groups.
The White House said Joe Biden spoke to Benjamin Netanyahu about his government’s plan to reform Israel’s judicial system. The prime minister has described the overhaul as necessary to rebalance a power structure which prevents legislators from enacting the voting public’s will, while the US president “underscored his belief … that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances.” Opponents of the proposed measures have staged a series of large-scale protests in which members of the military elite have participated.
The Ministry of Justice has announced plans to increase sentences for murderers with a history of coercive behaviour or who use excessive violence towards their victims. The proposals come after recommendations from barrister Clare Wade, who criticised the current sentencing guidelines for failing to take into account the history of abuse that precedes many domestic murders. The government also plans to review manslaughter sentencing in ‘rough sex’ cases.
The Illegal Migration Bill has been presented in parliament and published. The bill has sparked extensive legal discussion over potential issues of compatibility with the European Convention of Human Rights. Indeed, the government stated their wish to proceed with the bill in the absence of being able to make a statement of convention rights compatibility under s.19(1)(a) Human Rights Act 1998. This in conjunction with Suella Braverman’s widely quoted statement that this “does not mean the provisions in the bill are incompatible with convention rights, only that there is a more than 50 per cent chance that they may not be”, has been less than reassuring and many anticipate future challenges under the ECHR. Human Rights Watch have gone as far as to state that the bill is “unworkable”.
The Home Office and Department for Education have been threatened with legal action if they fail to stop housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels on the basis that this fails to ensure crucial protection and scrutiny over children’s welfare. Meanwhile, 21 London borough councils have signed a letter to the home secretary regarding the treatment of asylum seekers and urging the government to overturn their hotel policy and establish alternative placement options.
The Data Protection and Digital Information (No 2) Bill was also introduced to parliament this week. It includes changes to definitions of personal data as well as proposing a broader definition of “scientific research purposes” which could expand the contexts in which personal data can be processed. A useful analysis of the bill can be found here.
In the courts
The High Court has found in favour of a mother who brought proceedings against the Ministry of Justice over a legal aid dispute. She had been refused legal aid funding when trying to enforce a child custody agreement because her abusive ex-partner had limited her access to her son. The legal aid agency had denied funding on the basis that her son was not living with her and therefore not a dependant. The court held that the Ministry of Justice’s guidance stipulating that a child could only be a member of one household was unlawful. This decision requires the Ministry of Justice to adjust their guidance to expand the scope of legal aid funding.
Climate activists who protested as part of an Insulate Britain campaign have recently been imprisoned for contempt of court. This was due to having explained their motivation for protesting to the juries, contrary to the judge’s direction. The court’s restrictive approach on expressing such motivation has sparked discussion about the limits of freedom of expression.
The European Court of Human Rights have held that there was a violation of the right to respect private and family life (Article 8, ECHR) as well as violation of the limitation on the use of restrictions of rights (Article 18, ECHR) in the case of Kogan and Others v Russia. The case concerned a Government procedure for revoking a residence permit that had been issued to a US-national human-rights activist. It was held that this revocation was aimed at punishing human-rights activities and therefore unlawful.
Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel will see a Bill brought before Parliament this week aimed at stripping those who arrive in the UK via small boats of their right to claim asylum. Potential measures under the Bill include new powers to declare claims inadmissible and a duty on the Home Secretary to remove such asylum-seekers to Rwanda or another third country. There may also be new criminal offences created for those who arrive via small boats, building on or adopting the draft Illegal Immigration (Offences) Bill. It is not clear how these plans will comply with the UK’s international obligations given the European Court of Human Rights’ previous intervention on the issue and their granting of an interim injunction, although the High Court gave the plans the green light back in December. The move also raises questions about the government’s plans for a domestic ‘Bill of Rights’, which previously included a clause obliging the UK courts to ignore interim measures from Strasbourg.
Suella Braverman is expected to introduce an amendment to the Public Order Bill to provide protective measures for journalists following defeats in the House of Lords. The Lords voted in favour of preventing reporters from being subject to police action after Hertfordshire police had to issue an apology to various reporters and photographers were detained at a Just Stop Oil demonstration in December last year. The government has not accepted the wording of the Lords’ amendment, with their proposed version merely preventing a police constable from detaining a person for the sole purpose of observing or reporting on a protest, which begs the question what exactly the government aims to exclude in doing so.
The UN General Assembly backed a resolution condemning Russia’s actions and calling for an end to the war on Thursday, the eve of the anniversary of the invasion. With 141 supporters, 32 abstentions and seven voting against, the resolution reiterated the UN’s support for Ukraine and called for a “comprehensive, just and lasting peace.” Abstentions included China, India and South Africa, while Russia, North Korea and Syria were among those voting against. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but carry great political weight, and the UN Security Council is obstructed from action by Russia’s veto. On the same day in Vienna, a large number of delegates walked out of a parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in protest against Austria’s decision to give visas to Russian officials.
Leading supermarkets in the UK have introduced customer limits on purchases of fruits and vegetables. According to the British Retail Consortium, the shortages are expected to last a few weeks until reliance on imports from Spain and north Africa is counteracted by the start of the UK growing season. Tom Bradshaw, one of the leaders of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), has called for the UK to “take command” of its supply chains. Citing Brexit, the Ukraine War, and climate change, the NFU wants the government to use the powers granted it by the Agriculture Act 2020 to address exceptional market conditions.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Wage) Act comes into force on Monday. Campaigners argued that the previous position of the law, which permitted 16- and 17- year-olds to marry with parental consent, was being exploited to coerce young people into child marriages for religious or cultural reasons. The new law will automatically recognise those married under the age of 18 as victims of forced marriages, carrying a sentence of up to seven years in prison for those responsible. The legislation also applies to non-legally binding ceremonies. This law does not apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the minimum marriage age will remain 16.
In other news
Ex-Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced by a Los Angeles court to an additional 16 years in prison for rape. Weinstein was convicted of attacking an actress in a hotel room in February 2013. He denied the charge, telling the court his accuser was “an actress with the ability to turn on her tears” and begged for leniency: “please don’t sentence me to life in prison, I don’t deserve it.” The 70-year-old had already been serving a 23-year sentence in New York for another conviction.
Dominic Raab has announced that rules barring transgender women with male genitalia or those who had committed violent or sexual offences from female prisons in England and Wales apply from Monday. The news follows the recent case of Isla Bryson, the transgender woman convicted of two counts of rape who was subsequently remanded to a woman’s prison in Scotland, the media outcry against which prompted the Scottish Prison Service to announce an “urgent review” of transgender inmates.
The United States has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, US Vice-President Kamala Harris accused Russia of ‘gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape and deportation’ and said those who had committed crimes would be held to account. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also spoke at the event over the weekend, where he urged leaders to ‘double down’ on military support for Kyiv.
Syria and Turkey continue to face devastating consequences in the aftermath of last week’s earthquakes. The death toll caused by the 7.8 magnitude tremor has surpassed 46,000 and is expected to continue to rise. In Turkey, the scale of the damage has been partly attributed poor construction practices and President Erdogan’s government has been criticised for failing to implement stricter building regulations.
In Syria, the UN is facing backlash for failing to deliver humanitarian relief to the north-western, opposition-held regions of the country. The Syrian government has allowed two new border crossings to be opened from Turkey. The UN’s decision, however, to wait for President Assad’s permission to use these routes has been widely condemned. Meanwhile, the British government has pledged an additional funding package to support the earthquake recovery effort.
Finally, Boris Johnson has urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak not to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. Set in motion by Mr Johnson’s government, the bill gives the UK Government powers to dispense of parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. An announcement on a prospective new agreement between Sunak’s government and the EU on Northern Ireland is expected this week.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill has been voted through the House of Commons amidst historic industrial action across the UK. Workers in health, education, transport and the civil service came out on strike in disputes over pay, jobs and conditions, and members of the Fire Brigades Union have voted overwhelmingly in favour of walking out. The synchronisation of strikes across different sectors has seen levels of disruption not seen in at least decades. The government has published a memorandum on the compatibility of the Bill with the ECHR, but the issue is far from clear cut – the Labour party and trade unions have opposed the Bill, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights has put written questions to the Secretary of State. The TUC has not ruled out legal action if the Bill is passed, and February 1st saw nationwide protests on the “right to strike day”.
Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked from the Cabinet after making what he calls a “careless and not deliberate” mistake with his taxes. He reportedly paid a 30% penalty fee on top of the money owed to HMRC in connection with his use of an offshore company to hold shares in the polling company YouGov. The Prime Minister had been resisting calls to fire his Minister Without Portfolio, who also serves as Chairman of the Conservative Party, until the independent advisor tasked to investigate the issue made clear that there had been a “serious breach of the ministerial code.” Zahawi’s lawyers had been attempting to obstruct journalists exposing that he was being investigated over his tax affairs with threats of legal action.
Another investigation is being launched by the BBC into the hiring of its current chairman, Richard Sharp. The Tory donor allegedly helped Boris Johnson secure a large loan soon before being recommended by the then prime minister for the job. Sharp has denied he was involved in making the loan, claiming that he had “simply connected” people. The Labour Party has called for a parliamentary investigation into the allegations.
Grant Shapps, the Business Secretary, has set out the anti-strike laws that are planned to enforce minimum levels of service during strike action. Under the proposals, some employees would be required to work during a strike and could be fired if they refuse. It would be for the ministers to set the minimum levels of service, and there would be no automatic protection from unfair dismissal in breaching these levels. Unions have criticised the bill for being ‘undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal’, and Labour have stated it would repeal the legislation if it wins the next general election. The bill has been defended by Shapps, who states it is aimed to protect lives and livelihoods.
The investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine will be considered in a major international meeting to be held in London in March. In attendance will be the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, in order to inform about the court’s work in investigating war crimes. The meeting comes as Putin continues to target crucial energy infrastructure as he destroys central heating supplies in the heart of winter. Dominic Raab has stated that ‘Russian forces should know they cannot act with impunity and we will back Ukraine until justice is served’; the meeting is designed to determine how to further assist the ICC in bringing that justice.
The year passed was, unsurprisingly, another year of tumult and surprise, something that by now registers as the norm rather than an aberration. Even so, 2022 must be a standout year – even by recent standards. From Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the collapse of two consecutive Tory governments, dramatic election results around the world from Israel to Brazil, and in the run up to the festive season a football World Cup as mired in human rights controversy as in any sporting event can be, 2022 was not a quiet year.
Nor did the legal world disappoint. On the Parliamentary side of things, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab’s controversial Bill of Rights Bill continues to clunk through Parliament, and other bills with interesting human rights implications have had their moment in the sun as well. To take but one example, the Online Safety Bill, whose controversial but central parts dealing with ‘legal but harmful’ speech were removed recently, is yet to become law after extensive reform following criticisms based on freedom of expression.
But the focus of this post is not on Parliament, or politics in general, but on the highlights of 2022 in the Courts. So with no further ado and in no particular order, the cases which (in the completely impartial and objective joint opinion of the co-editors of this blog) have defined 2022 are:
The Government has launched legal action to recover £122m from PPE Medpro, the supplier recommended by Conservative peer Michelle Mone. The claim is grounded in a contract for the supply of 25m sterile surgical gowns awarded via the ‘VIP lane’ used during the pandemic to prioritise companies with political connections. None of the gowns purchased were ever used in the NHS as they were allegedly not fit for purpose, although Medpro insist that the gowns passed inspection and will defend the claim. The case will be of significant public interest following the revelation that £29m originating from profits from this contract was paid to an offshore trust whose beneficiaries were Mone and her children. Mone’s husband also profited at least £65m from these government contracts. Mone remains insistent that she had no involvement in Medpro and has not gained financially from the contracts.
The Scottish Parliament have passed the Gender Recognition Bill, allowing people to legally change their gender through a system of self-identification. The Bill seeks to make it easier for individuals to legally change their gender, removing the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria to gain a gender recognition certificate, and extending the new system to 16 year olds. It also reduces the time someone has to have been permanently living in their acquired gender before they can apply (to 3 months down from 2 years). The Bill has been the centre of a much heated debate, with potent beliefs on either side. While the parliamentary debate itself was disrupted within minutes by protesters shouting ‘shame on you… this is the darkest day’, many have come out in support of the Bill for the protections it provides for trans people.
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