12 February 2020
It is undeniable that the Human Rights Act has had a significant impact on the work of the Supreme Court. Just under a quarter (14 of 61) of cases decided during the Court’s 2018-19 term featured a determination on at least one issue relating to the Act or the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK Supreme Court is soon to begin Hilary Term 2020, and whilst the docket of cases it is set to hear this term seems to largely steer clear of controversial human rights issues we can nonetheless be confident that 2020 will feature its usual share of big human rights cases. What follows is a short preview of some of the more interesting and controversial of those cases, all of which the Court is due to hand down at some point this year.
- Article 3 and deportation
In the case of AM (Zimbabwe) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (on appeal from the Court of Appeal) the Court will have an opportunity to re-assess its approach to how Article 3 should apply in deportation cases.
It is well established that, under Article 3 ECHR, the United Kingdom cannot deport an individual to a country where, there is a “real risk” of them being subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. This has been extended to include situations where the deportee would be placed in circumstances which might occasion a significant deterioration of health, including where they lack access to life-saving treatment.
The question in this case is whether Article 3 prohibits deportation in AM’s situation. He is an HIV-positive individual, whose condition for many years was being managed by anti-retroviral drugs in the UK. If deported to Zimbabwe, he would be very unlikely to have access to the same treatment. Although some medical options would be available to him, they would likely be significantly less effective for the management of his condition.
Previous authorities had restricted the application of Article 3 to ‘deathbed’ cases only, where the deportee would likely die quickly following their removal from the country.
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18 December 2019
This week sees Baroness Hale sitting for the final time as President of the Supreme Court. Photo credit: The Guardian.
A brief delay to the publication of this article has helpfully afforded this blogger the opportunity to move beyond the political events of last Thursday and instead focus on much more interesting legal matters (more on those later).
However, it would be remiss not to recognise the consequences of last week’s election, which saw the Prime Minister return newly empowered by a sizeable Conservative majority. At the time of writing, proposals were being made to put the legislation required to withdraw from the European Union back to MPs as early as this Friday.
Sneaking in at page 17 of the Conservative manifesto (one page after a commitment to extend the water rebate in the South West) came the party’s offering on law and order. This included commitments to increase the number of police, enhance the use of “fair and proportionate” stop and search, as well as promote longer sentences and the greater use of electronic tags. The manifesto was however silent on some matters which have drawn attention of late, including court closures, legal aid cuts, and previous suggestions from ministers that the Human Rights Act might be amended to protect soldiers from prosecution for acts performed during their time in service. With such a significant majority however, the Government will be in a position to pursue its chosen agenda with enthusiasm, and so these and other mooted at policies, such as reform of the judicial review process, may not be as fanciful as previously thought.
Moving gratefully on from politics, today saw the first day in the case of XX v Whittington Hospital NHS Trust (appealing  EWCA Civ 2832), which also serves as Baroness Hale’s final case as President of the Supreme Court before her replacement on January 11thby Lord Reed. The case provides an interesting example of a scenario in which factual matters combined with absent or inadequate law require the court to consider matters of a deeply public policy nature.
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19 November 2019
Whitehouse and Clark v The Chief Constable, Police Scotland and The Lord Advocate  CSIH 52
In an appeal brought by the former joint administrators of Rangers Football Club, the Inner House of the Court of Session ruled that the Lord Advocate does not have absolute immunity from suit for malicious prosecution. It marks a significant change in an area of the law that has remained largely untouched for almost sixty years.
The serious financial troubles and subsequent winding up and sale of Rangers Football Club is well documented.
The two pursuers in this case were appointed as the joint administrators of Rangers when the club entered administration in 2012. They reported to the police that the acquisition of Rangers may have involved illegal financial assistance. The police then investigated the acquisition and financial management of Rangers. Whitehouse and Clark ceased to be the administrators later in 2012 when the club entered liquidation after an agreement with the club’s creditors couldn’t be reached. New joint liquidators were then appointed.
In November 2014, the pursuers were detained by Police Scotland on suspicion of being involved in a “fraudulent scheme and attempt to pervert the course of justice”. It was alleged that Craig Whyte, who became the club’s majority shareholder in 2011, had fraudulently bought the club and forced it into administration, which had financially benefitted the pursuers. Over the next year, there were a series of hearings and court proceedings. The pursuers were detained once again and re-arrested and charged with similar offences. They were then charged on a separate occasion with “conspiracy to defraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice”. They objected to the relevancy of these charges.
Whitehouse and Clark aver that they were then told by the Crown in June 2016 that all proceeding against them were finished, and they have not been charged with any offences since.
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26 October 2019
Even before Lady Hale and her spider brooch rose to national prominence following media coverage of Miller (No 2), she was something of a hero amongst female lawyers. A trailblazer in the profession, she was the first women appointed to the Law Commission, the first female Law Lord and the first female president of the Supreme Court. But it isn’t just Lady Hale’s rise through the ranks of the male-dominated legal profession that is inspirational. It is also the use she has made of the positions she has attained.
While at the Law Commission, Lady Hale played a significant role in the landmark reform that was the Children Act 1989. This placed the “best interests” of the child at the centre of public sector decision-making and represented a huge step forward for children’s rights. Amongst the many progressive and illuminating judgments penned by Lady Hale in the House of Lords and the Supreme Court, one of the most important is arguably the decision in Yemshaw v London Borough of Hounslow. In this case she held that domestic violence is not limited to physical violence. Lady Hale’s contributions provide a shining example of the importance of diversity in positions of power within the legal world. It cannot be doubted that she has brought a new perspective to bear that has enriched law-making in this country.
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18 October 2019
Gilham (Appellant) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent)  UKSC 44 – read judgment
The UK Supreme Court has unanimously granted an appeal by a district judge against the Court of Appeal’s decision that she did not qualify as a “worker” under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the “1996 Act”), and therefore could not benefit from the whistleblowing protections it conferred.
In reaching its judgment, the Court held that the failure to extend those whistleblowing protections to judges amounted to a violation of the appellant’s right under Article 14 ECHR not to be discriminated against in her enjoyment of the Convention rights (in this case, her right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR).
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16 October 2019
Lady Hale has thrown her wig into the debate on whether the law, represented by the courts, is gaining power while politics in Parliament is losing it. She is not the first to critique Lord Sumption’s Reith Lectures, as they were covered at ALBA’s Annual Conference too (see Law Pod UK episodes 88, 89, and 91).
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16 May 2018
R (o.t.a. Gallaher et al) v. Competition and Markets Authority  UKSC 25, 16 May 2018, read judgment
UK public law is very curious. You could probably write much of its substantive law on a couple of postcards, and yet it continues to raise problems of analysis and application which tax the system’s finest legal brains.
This much is clear from today’s Supreme Court’s decision that notions of public law unfairness and equal treatment are no more than aspects of irrationality.
The CMA (then the OFT) were investigating tobacco price-fixing. Gallaher et al reached an early settlement with the OFT, at a discount of their fines. Another price-fixer, TMR, did likewise, but extracted an assurance from the OFT that, if there were a successful appeal by others against the OFT decision, the OFT would apply the outcome of any appeal to TMR, and accordingly withdraw or vary its decision against TMR.
6 other parties then appealed successfully. TMR asked and got its money back from the OFT relying on the assurance.
Gallaher et al tried to appeal out of time, and were not allowed to. They then turned round to the OFT and said, by reference to TMR: why can’t we have our money back?
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23 December 2017
Four Seasons Holdings v. Brownlie  UKSC 80, 19 December 2017, read judgment
Professor Ian Brownlie Q.C., an eminent international lawyer, and members of his family were killed in a road accident in Egypt, when on their way to Al-Fayoum. His widow, also injured, had booked the driver through their hotel, the Four Seasons in Cairo.
The family wished to bring proceedings in the UK against the hotel in respect of the driver. However, the key defendant (Holdings) was incorporated in British Columbia, and the issue which got to the Supreme Court was the issue of jurisdiction.
The family said that there was a contract for the trip with Holdings, and further that Holdings were vicariously liable in tort for the negligence of the driver. Holdings had been less than transparent at earlier stages of the proceedings, but, after the Supreme Court required it to give a full account of itself, it emerged that it was as the name suggested – a non-trading holding company which had never operated the Cairo hotel, even though other companies in the group were involved with the hotel.
On that ground, Holdings’ appeal was allowed. The unanimous Court concluded that there was no claim in either contract or in tort. In simple terms, Holdings was nothing to do with the booking of the driver by the hotel.
But the lasting interest in the case lay in the question of whether you can establish qualifying “damage” in tort in the UK even if you are injured abroad, and on this the Court was split 3-2.
Let me set the scene for this, before telling you the result.
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20 December 2017
Dover District Council v. CPRE Kent  UKSC 79, 6 December 2016, read judgment
The Supreme Court has just confirmed that this local authority should have given reasons if it wished to grant permission against the advice of its own planning officers for a controversial development to the west of Dover.
The interest is in the breadth of the decision – how far does it extend?
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26 January 2017
In the new age of alternative facts, even Sean Spicer might struggle to spin Tuesday’s Supreme Court judgment as anything other than a comprehensive defeat for the government.
Yet, as my colleague Dominic Ruck Keene’s post alluded to, the ultimate political ramifications of Miller would have made the Article 50 process appreciably more turgid had the Justices accepted the various arguments relating to devolution.
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29 July 2016
The Christian Institute and others (Appellants) v The Lord Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland)  UKSC 51 – read judgment here
The Supreme Court has today unanimously struck down the Scottish Parliaments’s Named Persons scheme as insufficiently precise for the purposes of Article 8, overturning two previous decisions at the Court of Session (see our previous coverage here).
by David Scott
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23 May 2016
I and Diarmuid Laffan are giving a breakfast briefing this Wednesday 25 May from 8:30am to 9:30am on the aftermath in R v Jogee, the Supreme Court case on the law of joint enterprise in which we both acted as juniors.
The briefing is aimed at solicitors. We have a very few spaces left – if you would like to attend please firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.
The briefing will:
- Explain key parts of the judgment, including the human rights arguments
- Discuss how the case is likely to affect future cases and out of time appeals
1 Crown Office Row’s public law breakfast briefings are informal discussions of topical areas of public law. The briefings are short and to the point and discussion and questions are encouraged. The briefing will be chaired by 1 Crown Office Row’s Amy Mannion.
19 May 2016
PJS v. News Group Newspapers Ltd  UKSC 26 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has this morning continued the interim injunction concerning PJS’s extra-marital goings-on until after the full trial of the claim – after a rollercoaster ride for his claim through the courts.
Cranston J refused an injunction on 15 January 2016.
The Court of Appeal granted it on 22 January (Matt Flinn’s post here), and then discharged it on 18 April due to the effect of subsequent publicity which they said had led the injunction to have no remaining purpose (my post here). The subsequent publicity was in US newspapers and via the internet (with, as Lord Toulson commented, some fairly obvious twitter hashtags involved.)
The Supreme Court swiftly convened a hearing on 21 April, leading to today’s judgment reversing the Court of Appeal.
The decision (4-1) was not unanimous, with Lord Toulson dissenting. There are three concurring judgments (all agreed to by the majority).
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18 December 2015
Macklin v Her Majesty’s Advocate  UKSC 77, 16th December 2015 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal against a decision of Scotland’s High Court of Justiciary (available here) in which it refused to overturn a criminal conviction on the basis that the non-disclosure of evidence breached the appellant’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
On 26th September 2003, Paul Macklin was convicted of possessing a handgun in contravention of section 17 of the Firearms Act 1968 and of assaulting two police officers by repeatedly presenting the handgun at them. At trial, the key issue was the identification of the gunman, with both police officers identifying the appellant in the dock. Two witnesses testified that the man in the dock was not the gunman, however, their evidence was undermined for various reasons including discrepancies in police statements and unreliable alibis.
Several years later, following a change in practice regarding the disclosure of evidence, the Crown disclosed the fact that a fingerprint from another individual with a serious criminal record had been found in a car abandoned at the scene of the crime. The Crown also disclosed statements from six further individuals who had seen the incident.
The High Court’s Decision
Macklin appealed against his conviction on the grounds that the Crown had failed to disclose material evidence, and that by leading and relying on dock identifications without having disclosed that evidence and without an identification parade, the Lord Advocate had infringed his rights under Article 6 ECHR.
The Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary dismissed his appeal. The court held that the fingerprint evidence and three of the undisclosed statements neither materially weakened the Crown case nor materially strengthened the defence. Whilst the other three statements should have been disclosed, there was not a real possibility of a different verdict had there been disclosure. Finally, leading dock identifications from the two police officers without an identification parade did not infringe Article 6.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court first dealt with the issue of its jurisdiction. Under section 124(2) of the Criminal Procedure Scotland Act 1995, every interlocutor (decision) and sentence of the High Court of Justiciary is final, conclusive, and not subject to review by any court. However, under section 288ZB of the 1995 Act, as inserted by section 35 of the Scotland Act 2012, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear an appeal concerning the question of whether a public authority has acted compatibly with the ECHR. As the question raised by the appellant was whether the conduct of the prosecution was compatible with Article 6 the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to hear the matter.
As the European Court of Human Rights explained in Edwards v United Kingdom the question of whether a failure of disclosure breached Article 6 had to be considered in light of the proceedings as a whole. Translating the Strasbourg approach into domestic law in McInnes v HM Advocate (available here), Lord Hope set out two stages to the analysis. First, should the material which had been withheld from the defence have been disclosed? The test here was whether the undisclosed evidence might have materially weakened the Crown case or materially strengthened the defence. Second, taking into account all of the circumstances, was there a real possibility that the jury would have arrived at a different verdict in the event of disclosure?
The appellant challenged the High Court’s conclusion that some of the undisclosed material did not have to be disclosed under Article 6 on the basis that under current Crown practice the evidence would be disclosed. The Supreme Court dismissed this argument. For Lord Reed the argument was a “non sequitur” and Lord Gill described it as “specious”. The fact that the evidence would now be disclosed did not mean that non-disclosure breached Article 6.
Regarding the evidence which should have been disclosed, the appellant argued that the High Court had failed to apply the second part of the test from McInnes. The Supreme Court also rejected this argument. As it was confined to compatibility issues, the Supreme Court could only ask whether the High Court had applied the correct test, not whether it had applied the test correctly. The Crown’s submission to the High Court was expressly founded on the McInnes test and, by reciting the words of the test, the court made clear that it had applied it. The appellant tried to argue that the High Court’s conclusions on the second part of the McInnes test were so manifestly wrong that it had not in reality applied that test. However, this was essentially an argument that the High Court had applied the test incorrectly and the Supreme Court was not prepared to entertain it. The High Court had applied the correct tests for the purposes of Article 6 and found that the appellant’s trial was fair.
In the end, the role of the Supreme Court was limited. As Lord Reed made clear, the court was not sitting as a criminal appeal court exercising a general power of review. The Article 6 issues had been authoritatively determined by the High Court of Justiciary when it dismissed Macklin’s appeal against his conviction. All the Supreme Court could do was ensure that in exercising its appellate function, the High Court had applied the appropriate Article 6 tests as set out in McInnes.
by Thomas Raine
15 October 2015
Shahid v. Scottish Ministers (Scotland),  UKSC 58 – read judgment.
The Supreme Court has held that the continuation of a prisoner’s solitary confinement for safety reasons was not authorised under domestic rules and incompatible with the right to private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).
by Fraser Simpson
The appellant, Imran Shahid, was first placed in solitary confinement in October 2005. His confinement was continued following his conviction for the racially motivated murder of a 15-year-old boy. The decision was based on threats made against the appellant. This period of solitary confinement continued until his eventual reintegration into the general prison population in August 2010.
The appellant had originally challenged his continued segregation in both the Outer and Inner Houses of the Court of Session (see this previous post for a discussion of the Inner House’s opinion). The Scottish courts refused his complaints and held that his prolonged solitary confinement accorded with both domestic law and Articles 3 and 8, ECHR.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision delivered by Lord Reed, held that not only was the continued segregation invalid according to domestic law, but it also amounted to a violation of Article 8.
Compliance with domestic law?
The relevant rules concerning the power to place a prisoner in solitary confinement were, at the relevant time, contained in the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 1994 and 2006. Despite the amendment of the Rules during the relevant period, the core provisions relating to the grounds for segregation and the time limits imposed remained the same. The purpose of Shahid’s segregation – to maintain good order and protect him – was not in question. Shahid instead contended that certain time limits contained within the Prison Rules relating to the continuation of a period of segregation had not been complied with. The relevant provision, Rule 94(5), states:
“A prisoner who has been removed from association … shall not be subject to such removal for a period in excess of 72 hours from the time of the order, except where the Scottish Ministers have granted written authority … prior to the expiry of the said period of 72 hours.”
Three of the orders made authorising prolongation of Shahid’s segregation were made by the Scottish Ministers after the expiration of this 72-hour limit.
The lower courts considered that such delays did not impact upon the validity of the orders that authorised continued segregation. Importance was placed upon the relatively limited extent to which the orders were late (17, 44 and 47 hours) and the fact that the purpose of the reviews, to ensure that segregation was maintained for only as long as necessary, was not frustrated by such limited delays.
Lord Reed, adopting an alternative construction of the Prison Rules, held that any order made after the expiration of the 72-hour period was automatically invalid (see paragraphs 15-18 of the judgment). His conclusion that the late orders authorising continued segregation of the appellant were invalid, and that a period of 14 months of segregation therefore had no legal basis, is important in the context of the Article 8 challenge.
The Scottish Ministers accepted that the placement of the appellant in solitary confinement was an interference with his right to respect for private life under Article 8. Consequently, it was for them to show that the measure was in accordance with the law, in pursuance of a legitimate aim, and a proportionate interference in light of the pursued aim.
Lord Reed was quick to point out that his previous conclusion, that the late authorisations had rendered invalid the subsequent segregation, would result in certain periods of the segregation not being “in accordance with the law”. Accordingly, such periods of segregation could not be justified under Article 8(2).
Lord Reed went on to consider that the appropriate prison authorities had not always been independently making the decisions to continue the segregation of the appellant but instead, on some occasions, had been unduly influenced by the decisions and recommendations of a non-statutory advisory body. The need for a statutory decision making power to be exercised by the individual, or body, that has been conferred such a power had not been satisfied (see R v. Deputy Governor of Parkhurst Prison Ex p Hague,  1 AC 58). Accordingly, there was a failure to satisfy the lawfulness criterion within Article 8(2).
The Supreme Court moved on to consider the proportionality of Shahid’s continued segregation. The lower courts, in holding that the continued segregation was proportionate, opined that it was the only practicable way of dealing with the threats made against the appellant. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, listed a number of potential alternatives to solitary confinement that could have achieved the aim of protecting the appellant from attacks, including relocating the appellant to another UK prison. Irrespective of such alternatives, the Supreme Court decided that earlier steps could have been taken to promote Shahid’s reintegration. A plan to reintegrate the prisoner had only been developed after four and a half years of almost continuous segregation. Failure to take such steps resulted in the segregation being disproportionate and a violation of Article 8.
However, the Supreme Court considered that the appellant had not suffered any prejudice. If the Article 8 violations had not occurred then there was no evidence to show he would have been returned to the general population sooner.
Additionally, the extent to which his right to respect for his private life under Article 8 had been infringed was limited considering the negative attitudes other prisoners harboured towards him.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court considered that there was no need to make an award for damages despite the appellant seeking £6,000.
The appellant also complained that the segregation was incompatible with his right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3, ECHR. The European Court of Human Rights has recognised the potentially damaging effect that continued solitary confinement can have upon the mental and social facilities of an individual (see Ahmad v United Kingdom, (2013) 56 EHRR 1, paragraph 207).
However, the use of such measures for disciplinary, security, or protective reasons does not automatically contravene Article 3. In assessing whether the measure was compatible with Article 3, the Supreme Court considered the conditions and duration of the detention as well as the motivation for such a measure and its impact on the appellant.
The Court concluded that the measure did not attain the minimum level of severity to engage Article 3. The appellant was kept in suitable accommodation and the ability to exercise, receive visitors and associate with other prisoners pointed towards the treatment falling short of the Article 3 threshold. Despite the length of the segregation extending beyond four years, the fact it was imposed in the interests of the appellant’s safety were also of relevance.
The use of segregation in prisons should always be considered as a serious measure. Indeed, the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture advises that for punitive purposes any stint should be limited to 14 days (see the CPT’s 21st General Report, (2011), page 40).
The strict interpretation of the 72-hour limitation within the Prison Rules by Lord Reed results in appropriate weight being attributed to the decision to segregate. As Lord Reed pointed out, this allows early consideration of the necessity of the segregation by officials external to the prison. This provides an important procedural safeguard, even at an early stage of segregation.
However, if the 72-hour limit were strictly applied in this instance, there could be negative practical repercussions. When continued segregation was without legal basis, would the prison officials be under a duty to return the appellant to general population even if this would endanger his safety? An analogous situation was raised by the Inner House in support of their interpretation of the Prison Rules (paragraph 24 of the Inner House Judgment). Lord Reed answered these concerns by outlining that the officials would also be subject to a duty under s.6(1) of the Human Rights Act to secure the safety of the prisoner in accordance with Article 2 and 3, ECHR. If there was a serious risk to life then the prisoner could remain in segregation in accordance with domestic law using such protections as justification.
Interestingly, such an argument was not substantively raised on behalf of the Scottish Ministers in order to justify the periods for which there was a lack of authorisation.