British Airways Plc v Unite the Union  EWCA Civ 669 (20 May 2010) – Read judgment
Last month Unite won their appeal against an injunction obtained by British Airways in the High Court preventing their members from striking. The judgment has some potentially important implications for human rights, and in particular the right to free assembly.
The strike has already been the most damaging in British Airways’ history and they airline are now preparing for another round of strikes with Unite threatening to ballot its members for a third time.
Today the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for a change in the law to make it harder to bring strikes. Amongst other things, they are lobbying for the number of workers who need to agree to a strike before it can take place to be raised to 40%, which they say would “prevent strikes going ahead based on a relatively small turnout of particularly active members.”
British Airways Plc v Unite the Union Queen’s Bench Division, 17 May 2010 – Read judgment
Update (07/06/20) – this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal on 20/05/10. We will comment on the Court of Appeal decision when it is available.
The High Court has granted an injunction for the second time in 6 months against a strike planned by British Airways cabin crew, scheduled to begin today. Those who had trips planned will be delighted, but the Unite trade union who represented the workers have called the decision a “landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action” and are to appeal the judgment.
The union argued that a recent series of similar injunctions against strike action ran foul of the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights grants the right to freedom of assembly. However, the right can be restricted in certain limited circumstances, as it was in this case.
The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that lifelong requirements for sex offenders to notify the police when they move house or travel abroad are a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 24,000 former offenders will potentially be affected by the decision.
Under section 82 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 all persons sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment or more for a sexual offence become subject to a lifelong duty to keep the police notified of where they are living and when they travel abroad. Crucially, there is no right to a review of the necessity for the notification requirements.
The Respondents were convicted sex offenders. Both challenged the notification requirements by way of judicial review, on the basis that the requirements were a disproportionate manner of pursuing a legitimate aim of preventing crime and therefore breached their rights under Article 8.
Lord Philips gave the leading judgment. He emphasised that the question (as in the case of all human rights claims involving a “qualified” right in general and Article 8 in particular) was one of proportionality, and that the correct test, as had been set out in previous decisions, was:
whether: (i) the legislative objective is sufficiently important to justify limiting a fundamental right; (ii) the measures designed to meet the legislative objective are rationally connected to it; and (iii) the means used to impair the right or freedom are no more than is necessary to accomplish the objective (para 17)
The Court went on to discuss UK and European authorities, and in particular referred to the Marper judgment, which we discussed earlier this week in relation to the retention of DNA samples (para 31). The European Court of Human Rights had been particularly concerned that in cases involving DNA there was no provision for independent review, as was the case with the notification requirements in this appeal.
The Court were concerned about risks of disclosure to third parties inherent in offenders having to visit police stations to report. They said:
The conviction of the “Heathrow heist four” at the Old Bailey has raised serious concerns that the historic right to trial by jury may be slipping away.
For the first time in 350 years, the four men were convicted in the Crown Court by way of a trial without a jury. On March 31st each received long prison sentences for their part in the robbery.
Henry Porter, writing in The Guardian, has severely criticised the reforms which allowed the trial to proceed with no jury. He says:
A profound change has occurred in Britain where it is now possible for counsels and a judge to decide the fate of defendants without the involvement of 12 ordinary citizens – the fundamental guarantee against arbitrary state punishment represented so well by the use of the star chamber under King Charles I.
The right to trial by jury has been steadily eroded in recent years. Civil courts now operate almost entirely without juries, as do some lower-level criminal courts such as Magistrates’ courts, which are only able to impose custodial sentences up to a maximum length of one year.
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