On Thursday 8 September, Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest-serving monarch, died peacefully at Balmoral aged 96. She is succeeded by her son, King Charles III. He described the death of his mother as a ‘moment of great sadness’ for him and his family, and that her loss would be ‘deeply felt’ around the world. Her state funeral this Monday was watched by around 4 billion people worldwide, and more than a million people lined the streets of London to pay tribute.
On Friday 17 September, the measure known as section 28 was extended to five more crown courts, taking the total number to 63. The policy allows complainants of offences including modern slavery to be cross-examined before trial in front of a limited number of people. Although many barristers support the principle of the policy, some have stated there are insufficient resources for the scheme, particularly in the light of the indefinite walkout over legal aid fees. Many advocates refused to do section 28 cases pre-strike given the amount of extra unpaid work required.
The quarter-of-a-billion-pound IT project rolled out by the Ministry of Justice to increase the efficiency of sharing information between courts, lawyers and police has come under criticism. The Common Platform software system has been accused of putting the justice system ‘at risk’. It is reported the system has been resulting in difficulties for lawyers, unlawful detentions, and wrongful arrests. Whistle-blowers have called the system ‘faulty, unsafe and unfinished’.
One of the first decisions taken by the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has been to halt Dominic Raab’s Bill of Rights plan. The bill would have given legal supremacy to the UK Supreme Court, explicitly entitling it to disregard rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The bill is now ‘unlikely to progress in its current form’, a Whitehall source of the BBC has expressed, leaving doubt over whether Raab’s attempts to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 will materialise. Vice President of the Law Society, Lubna Shuja, said that ‘the only smart way to proceed would be to go back to the advice of the independent review it [the Government] commissioned.’
The legal challenge against the Rwanda asylum plan is being heard before the High Court. While the trial is ongoing, and no judgment will be handed down for some time, the Government’s legal arguments defending the plan are now known. Part of the defence advanced by Lord Pannick KC, counsel for the Government, relies on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, which confers on ministers the power to send asylum seekers to safe countries. If they are of the opinion the asylum seekers will be safe and not put in danger, the Home Secretary can transfer them to other states. The main hurdle for the Government in this defence will be the UN Refugee Agency’s declaration that Rwanda is an unsafe place for migrants. The Court has asked for a detailed response to this critical point.
Liz Truss has been confirmed as the new prime minister. She is expected to freeze energy bills at approximately £2,500 a year and to provide a £400 universal handout. She has reportedly ruled out the idea of a windfall tax on oil companies, which was proposed by Labour. She is apparently considering reviewing workers’ rights, as part of her plan to scrap remaining EU regulations by the end of next year.
Ministers plan to introduce legislation to encourage nurses and dentists trained elsewhere to begin working for the NHS. The health secretary, Steve Barclay, is hoping to boost overseas recruitment in health and social care. This move comes after the number of unfilled NHS posts reached a record high of 132,139 earlier this year. Link 5 – ministers to make it easier
Two councils are planning to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court following two successful appeals which involved the striking out of negligence claims that had been brought against them. The appeals considered when children being cared for by local authorities under the Children Act 1989 are owed a duty of care by those local authorities and the social workers for whom they are vicariously liable.
Members of the Criminal Bar Association have voted in favour of an indefinite strike, escalating the industrial action that the courts have witnessed since June. The decision follows failed negotiations with the Ministry of Justice, with Dominic Raab still having not met with the CBA and the government standing firm in its position. The MoJ have expressed their disapproval of the decision, labelling it ‘irresponsible’. The CBA, alternatively, have accused the government of overseeing a ‘recklessly underfunded’ criminal justice system. In response to the decision, Raab has proposed granting more solicitors rights of audience, allowing more to advocate in the Crown court. The strike is due to commence on 5 September, coinciding with the announcement of the new Conservative party leader.
Liz Truss has expressed that she will consider triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol if she were to be successful in her leadership campaign. Article 16 provides ‘safeguarding measures’ that entitle the UK or the EU to suspend any part of the agreement. It does not, however, dismantle the Protocol in its entirety. Rather, triggering the article would provide an alternative to other suggestions which propose primary legislation to deem it necessary that the Government not comply with its existing obligations under the agreement. Triggering the article would exhaust the legal options the UK has before following through on this threat to discard the agreement altogether. The news comes after the EU launched a series of legal challenges against the UK’s commitment to the Protocol.
A former Afghan judge, who is fleeing from the Taliban with her son, has appealed against the Home Office rejected her application to enter the UK. Lawyers representing the woman state that she and her son have been left in a “gravely vulnerable position” following the withdrawal of western troops from the country. They had been chasing the Home Office for a decision on their application, but stated that the decision-makers were “dragging their feet”. They were told the delays were due to resources being redirected to Ukraine. After nine months the applications were refused, and an appeal is expected to take more months still. The family are currently in hiding in Pakistan after their home in Kabul was raided. Their residency is dependent on the goodwill of a landlord putting himself at risk of criminal punishment. Their refused entry is believed to be a result of administrative error.
The UK government has submitted its argument in the case which may settle whether Members of Scottish Parliament could legislate for a vote on Scottish independence without Westminster’s backing. The submission from the Advocate General precedes a full hearing on 11 and 12 October when oral arguments will be heard. The Supreme Court will rule on whether Holyrood alone has the power to hold an independence vote, which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold on 19 October 2023. Last month, the Scottish government published its own case, arguing the referendum is ‘advisory’ and would have no legal effect on the union.
The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published a report on 4 August recommending the government should improve legal protections for unmarried couples by introducing an opt-out cohabitation scheme proposed by the Law Commission in 2007. The scheme aims to protect eligible cohabitants who are economically vulnerable, preserve individual autonomy, maintain a distinction with marriage and civil partnership, and provide certainty about who qualifies as a cohabitant. The committee said the government should commit to publishing draft legislation for scrutiny in the 2023-24 parliamentary session.
On 10 August, Suella Braverman delivered a speech for the Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project stressing the need for the government to better clarify the scope of fundamental rights. She called to curb the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, citing the ‘intensive standard of proportionality under the Human Rights Act’. The speech dealt with issues including the Equality Act, Single Sex Spaces- specifically in schools- convention rights and illegal migration.
Conservative frontrunner Liz Truss is promising to cut taxes this winter to support families amidst rising energy bills, through an emergency budget that would be enacted this September. Sunak, her rival, has pledged to provide a £15bn overall package of assistance with energy bills. Criticisms have been raised of Truss’ plans, however, with suggestions that they could cost £30bn, £40bn or even £50bn per year. Both candidates’ plans have been criticised for not being accompanied by plans for lower spending that would make them sustainable. Labour’s Rachel Reeves has argued that amidst ‘fantasy economics and unfunded announcements from the Tories’, Labour alone can offer Britain the fresh start that it needs.
A survey by the British Dental Association and the BBC has shown that 91% of NHS practices in England are not accepting new adult patients. Louise Ansari, national director of Healthwatch England, has called the results of the survey ‘dire’. Stories have emerged of people pulling out their own teeth and making their own teeth out of resin to stick back on with superglue. The health secretary has noted the ‘urgency’ of preparing the NHS for winter, amidst the pressures of coronavirus, the rising cost of living and seasonal flu. Whether the Department of Health and Social Care’s recent comment regarding the ‘government priority’ of NHS dental care will translate into satisfactory results remains to be seen.
On Monday 25 July, the Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal against a decision to end 12-year old Archie Battersbee’s life support treatment. The decision was stayed for 48 hours – until 2pm on Wednesday – to allow Archie’s parents to apply to the European Court of Human Rights for interim relief. On Tuesday 2 August, the family’s fresh appeal to the Supreme Court, based on ‘new evidence’ of Archie attempting to independently take breaths, was also refused.
Also on Monday, the London Central Employment Tribunal ruled in favour of Allison Bailey, awarding her £22,000 in her discrimination case. The Tribunal found that the barrister at Garden Court Chambers (GCC) had been victimised and discriminated against by her employer for expressing gender critical beliefs. The claim against Stonewall Equality Ltd was dismissed; the LGBT charity worked with GCC, which had joined its ‘diversity champions’ scheme. Ms Bailey accused Stonewall of ‘trans-extremism’.
Thursday 28 July marked a historic moment for the UK’s legal system; for the first time, filming and public broadcasting was allowed in the Crown Court. Cameras recorded Sarah Munro QC sentencing Ben Oliver, who killed his grand-father in January 2021. Her judgement, handing down a life sentence with a minimum term of ten years and eight months, was accompanied by an informative explanation.
Last week, the EU launched new legal action against the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol. The four new claims, which concern a failure to apply the customs and tax rules as agreed in 2019, are prompted by the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill passing through parliament that plans to discard the arrangements. Under the bill, companies in Great Britain who wish to export to Northern Ireland could choose between meeting either the UK or the EU regulatory standards. The EU’s Brexit commissioner described such terms as “illegal”, and justified the action as a response to the UK’s “unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion since February”. The four new challenges come on top of three other cases already underway, all of which will come before the European Court of Justice.
Charles Bronson, “Britain’s most notorious prisoner”, is the first person to formally ask for a public Parole Board hearing following rule changes that came into force on Thursday. In deciding whether to grant a public hearing, the board’s chairman will take into account the victims’ wishes, the risk of trauma, the vulnerability of the prisoner, and whether any witness evidence would be affected. The reform followed a case in 2020 in which Bronson successfully argued that Ministry of Justice regulations preventing public hearings breached his right to a fair trial. While the normal position remains that hearings will be private, the new rules allow for prisoners to request publicity, and Bronson’s hearing is expected to be held publicly late this year or early 2023.
The UK Government has urged Supreme Court justices not to hear the Scottish government’s request for a ruling as to whether it has the power to hold ‘indyref2’ (a proposed second Scottish independence referendum). The request was referred to the UKSC by Lord Advocate Bain, who was not prepared to sign off on the independence referendum bill without a ruling which acknowledges the necessary power to do so. The UK Government has been expressive in its “clear view” that the bill would be beyond the competence of the Scottish Parliament, and that the matter is too “premature” for justices to rule on it. The case is currently in the hands of Lord Reed. If the Scottish Government wins the case, Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that the bill would be introduced promptly so as to allow the vote to take place before October 2023.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has reprimanded the Department of Health for the use of WhatsApp and private emails during the pandemic. The use of these cryptic platforms has meant that information regarding the handling of the pandemic has been lost. The issue was brought before the courts in April, where the claim was dismissed and the practice held to be lawful. This was because the use of such channels of communication did not in themselves breach the Freedom of Information or data protection rules, because sufficient controls were in place to allow the information to be retrieved upon request. The ICO investigation has discovered, however, that “such controls were lacking”. As a result, the Department of Health has been formally required to improve its communications operations so that “public authorities remain accountable to the people they serve”.
The biggest story filling the headlines this week was that Boris Johnson has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party following over 50 resignations from government ministers. Though predominantly a political development, there are potential legal implications to the decision. This is because, until the leadership campaign announces his successor, current policies are stagnated under the ‘lame-duck government’. There is, therefore, doubt over the future of three particularly controversial policies: the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill; the Bill of Rights Bill; and the Rwanda scheme.
The proposed Bill of Rights Bill is Dominic Raab’s effort to replace the Human Rights Act, with the vision to allow the UKSC to take little account of rulings by the ECtHR. While Raab still remains in office, there are question marks over whether the controversial Bill will survive the administrative overhaul that is soon to unfold. See the reference below to the latest episode of Law Pod UK, which discusses the Bill in detail.
On Wednesday, a new Bill of Rights was introduced to Parliament. While the Government claims that the Bill ‘will strengthen traditional UK rights’ which are ‘under attack’ from ‘stifling political correctness’, critics say the Bill dilutes domestic human rights protection and seeks to diminish the powers of domestic courts. Key aspects of the Bill are as follows:
it gets rid of the interpretive obligation under s3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, with no analogous replacement;
it prevents UK courts from adopting new interpretations of ECHR rights that would require a public authority to comply with a positive obligation and limits their ability to enforce existing positive obligations;
it introduces a permission stage requiring people to show they have suffered a significant disadvantage before their claim can go ahead;
it prevents domestic courts from finding legislative provisions concerning deportation to be incompatible with the Article 8 right to respect for private and family life unless the provision would require the relevant person to be treated in a way that would occasion ‘harm’ so ‘extreme’ that it would ‘override the otherwise paramount public interest’ in removal from the UK; and
it requires courts, when deciding ‘incompatibility questions’, to treat Parliament as having ‘decided’ that the Act strikes an appropriate balance between the relevant competing factors.
The Bill’s detractors have suggested that, despite its stated aim to ‘bring rights home’, the Bill will in fact result in the UK being in breach of its obligations under the ECHR more often, making it more vulnerable to adverse rulings by the ECtHR.
On Friday, the US Supreme Court overturnedRoe v Wade, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion. Going forward, abortion rights will be determined by states, unless Congress acts. President Biden commented: “The Court has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.”
The first flight attempting to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been cancelled at the last minute following a ECtHR ruling that granted an ‘urgent interim measure’ to stop the deportation. This is in contradiction to the UK High Court and Court of Appeal, which found that, while there should be a full review of the policy, the Home Secretary would not be acting unlawfully by deporting asylum seekers in the meantime. The UK Supreme Court refused permission to appeal. The ECtHR stated that the decision was influenced by the UN’s refugee agency, who raised concerns that those being deported may not receive a fair hearing and could be left in unsafe conditions.
The Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the US. Assange has been charged under the US Espionage Act for publishing leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars on his whistle-blowing platform ‘WikiLeaks’ and faces up to 175 years in jail if found guilty. Assange has been in prison since he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2019 after his asylum status was removed. His extradition had previously been blocked for concerns regarding his mental health, but the current decision marks the most important stage in his legal battle. Assange has 14 days to appeal the decision, but his brother expressed that if this is not successful the case will be brought before the ECtHR.
The recent Health and Care Act 2022 has come under scrutiny for introducing a cap on social care spending. From October 2023, the government will introduce a cap of £86,000 on the amount anyone in England will need to spend on their care over their lifetime. The cap will no longer count contributions from local authorities towards care costs. Disabled people living in the UK already spend an average of £583 a month in relation to their healthcare. The cap is much larger than the £35,000 recommended by the 2011 Dilnot Commission. There are concerns the cap breaches the Equality Act 2010 by discriminating against disabled people and other groups.
In a report published on Tuesday 31 May, the Information Commissioner’s Office highlighted the need to reduce the requirements for complainants in rape and serious sexual offence cases to sign Stafford statements. These forms give officers consent to obtain often highly sensitive third-party materials, including medical, education and counselling records. They are said to be undermining trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. The report also called for police to stop assuming alleged rape victims have consented to searches of their phones and other devices.
An impact assessment paper on the dangers of lifting restrictions on police stop and search powers, dated January 2022, was published on Tuesday. In the equality impact assessment, commissioned by the Home Office, officials warned that easing of conditions could damage community relations and lead to more people from minority ethnic backgrounds being targeted.
On Monday 23, the Russian tank commander Vadim Shishimarin was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Kyviv. He previously pleaded guilty to killing Oleksandr Shelypov, 62. Shishmarin’s trial has been closely watched by investigators collecting evidence of possible war crimes to bring before the international Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. International law experts will also scrutinise the verdict of the 21-year-old tank commander; a key question arose from the proceedings about how much scope the Kyviv court has now left itself for sentencing Russians for more heinous or numerous offences.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, led by Josh MacAlister, was published on Monday 23 May. The report included more than 80 recommendations and suggested a windfall tax on the 15 largest children’s homes and fostering providers. Projections claim that by 2032 there could be approaching 100,000 children in care costing £15 billion per year. An investigation by The Timeshas demonstrated that many inexperienced or first-time owners of children’s home have opened residences in order to charge as much as £1,000 a day. MacAlister has also encouraged the government to consider adding those with care experience to the Equality Act.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill has caused controversy in recent years, with opponents raising concerns about how it could affect the rights of women and girls. On Tuesday, Ellie Gomersall – the first trans person to be elected as the president of NUS Scotland – and Malcom Dingwall-Smith, Sportscotland’s strategic partnerships manager, both gave evidence to the qualities, human rights and civil justice committee concerning its effectiveness. The former, asserted the limited powers of the bill to reduce crime in single-sex spaces, and the latter highlighted that the bill would have no impact on a section of the 2010 Act that allows trans people to be barred from the sports of their acquired gender if the governing body deems it interferes with ‘fair competition or the safety of competitors’.
On Thursday, Britain’s equality regulator announced that it has launched a formal investigation into Pontins holiday parks due to continued concerns about discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers. Last year, Pontins owner, Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited, entered into a 12-month contract with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), following allegations that the company operated a discriminatory booking policy. On the 18 February the EHRC terminated the contract, judging that Pontins had not taken the required steps to prevent unlawful race discrimination or honour its commitments under the agreements. The EHRC has now launched a formal investigation that will consider whether Pontins has committed unlawful acts under the Equality Act 2010.
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.