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Free Trade Agreements and the White House – where are we now?

23 January 2017 by

ceta_signing_qtp_848x480_796869187661Trump’s inauguration seems not a bad moment to be having a look at the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs, actual or potential) which are swirling around at the moment, and their likely reception in the changed world which we face.

First on the list, our own tried, tested, and found electorally wanting, EU Treaties. They are FTAs, but with lots of knobs on – free movement of people, of establishment, level playing fields about employment rights, the environment and consumer protection, to name but a few.

The first thing to say is that FTAs, wherever they are, don’t come all that unencumbered these days.
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Father should be allowed to apply for parental responsibility following surrogacy

25 May 2016 by

surro imageZ (A Child) (No 2) [2016] EWHC 1191 (Fam) 20 May 2016 – read judgment.

The Court of Protection has granted an order for a declaration of incompatibility with Convention rights of a section in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act on grounds of discrimination.

This case concerned a child, Z, who was born in August 2014 in the State of Minnesota in the United States of America. Z was conceived with the applicant father’s sperm and a third party donor’s egg implanted in an experienced unmarried American surrogate mother. The surrogacy arrangements were made through the agency of an Illinois company and in accordance with Illinois law.

Following Z’s birth, the father obtained a declaratory judgment from the appropriate court in Minnesota, relieving the surrogate mother of any legal rights or responsibilities for Z and establishing the father’s sole parentage of Z. Following that court order he was registered as Z’s father in Minnesota. The father has since returned to this country, bringing Z with him.

The legal effect of this is that the surrogate mother, although she no longer has any legal rights in relation to Z under Minnesota law, is treated in the UK as being his mother. By the same token, whatever his legal rights in Minnesota, the father has no parental responsibility for Z in this country. The only two ways in which the court could secure the permanent transfer of parental responsibility from the surrogate mother to the father is by way of a parental order or an adoption order. The father would obviously far prefer a parental order.
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US court takes important step in resolving human/wildlife conflict at sea

30 September 2015 by

Sea Otters

Sea Otters

California Sea Urchin Commission, et al. v Michael Bean, et al, US District Court, Central District of California (September 18 2015) – read judgment

A Californian court has upheld the protection of marine otters over the interests of commercial fishing.

Sea otters are remarkable marine mammals who live their entire lives at sea, giving birth in the water and clutching their cubs to their bellies as they float in rafts of up to a thousand, holding hands while they sleep to avoid drifting off in the ocean’s currents. But they are not just picturesque; they are essential to the health of the seas. A main component of their diet is the ubiquitous sea urchin, which feeds on kelp. As sea otters have been hunted and killed as by-catch over the centuries, their diminishing numbers have led to the proliferation of the sea urchin population and the consequent disappearance of the kelp forests on the seabed. The damage this does to the marine ecosystem has been inestimable.

This somewhat technical judgment, made on a preliminary application for summary judgment by the fishing industry, therefore marks an important step in the judicial response to marine conservation.
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TTIP news, and whether the UK should encourage big business to sue it

15 July 2015 by

GET_3A2_shutting_down_nuclear_plants_lQuite a lot has happened in the 6 months since my post here on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is a proposed trade agreement between the US and the EU, with negotiations on the substantive issues between the EU and the US underway in Brussels at the moment.

The proposed treaty may have significant effects on EU regulation, but let’s concentrate on whether TTIP should contain specific provisions enabling investors to sue governments.

The ground for action would be governmental “expropriation” of investments – and that may mean anything from telling a cigarette manufacturer that he must have to change what his packets look like, (with consequential loss of profits), to imposing new environmental standards on a power generating plant.

This mechanism is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. Our government seems astonishingly sanguine about this, on the basis that it has not yet been sued successfully under existing bilateral treaties with similar provisions. This does not seem to be a very profoundly thought-through position to adopt, if the proposed system has its problems – which it plainly does, when one compares it with traditional claims in the courts. Put simply, why wave it on?

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TTIP – more “foreign” judges criticising “our” laws?

23 January 2015 by

ttip-eu-komission-infografiken_englisch_722px_5_0Last week, on 15 January 2015, TTIP was debated in the House of Commons – see here. It is important for us all, but why?

TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the US, the EU, and various members of the EU including the UK. A sober account of its history and scope was produced for the HoC debate (here), and a rather less polite view is here from George Monbiot. 

Now, TTIP contains the usual things which one might expect to see in a trade agreement, such as the reduction or removal of tariffs between the respective trading blocs. And it comes with the usual accompanying material suggesting that all parties will benefit massively from the deal to the tune of billions of euros.

So what is there not to like?

Well, one part of the concern is that it will confer on investors (think multi-nationals) the right to sue governments for regulatory regimes causing loss of profits to those investors. This ability to sue is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. And the suing does not happen in domestic courts, but in a special international law tribunal consisting of corporate lawyers drawn from the world over. I shall give some examples below of the sort of litigation engendered in the past by ISDS, so you can assess what this means in practice.

TTIP with ISDS is being enthusiastically backed by the present Government – not hitherto a fan of foreign judges taking charge of how our laws comply with external standards.

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Human rights for homo sapiens’ closest relatives?

4 December 2013 by

koko-chimpanzeeOn Monday at 10.00 Eastern Time, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed suit in Fulton County Court in the state of New York on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee, who is being held captive in a cage in a shed at a used trailer lot in Gloversville.

According to the NRP, this is the first of three suits they are filing this week. The second was filed on Tuesday in Niagara Falls on behalf of Kiko, a chimpanzee who is deaf and living in a private home. And the third will be filed on Thursday on behalf of Hercules and Leo, who are owned by a research center and are being used in locomotion experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

The organisation, led by the animal-rights lawyer Steven Wise, is using the writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the animals to ask the judge to grant the chimpanzees the right to bodily liberty and to order that they be moved to a sanctuary where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America.

| Updated (10 December)|: The judge has declined the application for habeas corpus.  According to Steven Wise, Judge Boniello said  “that ‘I’m not going to be the one to make that leap of faith.’” Yet Boniello, who decided that chimpanzee personhood is ultimately a matter for legislatures to decide, was also “unexpectedly sympathetic”, calling their arguments sound and wishing them luck. “I’ve been in a lot of cases, and there’s not been many where the judge says, ‘Good luck.’ Usually they just say, ‘denied’.

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Jihadist suspect cannot be extradited to United States because of his mental illness

21 April 2013 by

prisonAswat v United Kingdom, 16 April 2013 – read judgment

The Strasbourg Court has ruled that a terrorist suspect detained in the United Kingdom’s Broadmoor hospital should not be extradited to the United States because of the risk that his mental condition would deteriorate there.

The applicant was indicted in the US in respect of a conspiracy to establish a jihad training camp in Oregon.  He was arrested in the UK in 2005 and in 2006 the Secretary of State ordered his extradition. He unsuccessfully appealed the High Court and the Court of Appeal on the grounds that his extradition would not be compatible with Article 3 of the Convention because he could be detained in a “supermax” prison. In November 2011 a mental health tribunal determined that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
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Frivolous Atmospherics

13 April 2013 by

1563029463_f7bb4c814fis what the technology giant Myriad calls the US First Amendment and other human rights arguments raised by their opponents in the litigation concerning Myriad’s patents over cancer gene sequences BRCA1 and BRCA2.

We’ve been here before, in this previous post and in this, and next week the US Supreme Court starts hearing arguments in the latest round of this battle. The only reason for mentioning the issue now is to draw attention to  a fascinating article by US science historian Daniel Kevles in a recent edition of the New York Review of Books.

The author provides a dispassionate view of patent law, from its roots in the philosophy of the American revolution, which gave birth to the “Progress Clause” in the American Constitution. Clause 8 authorises Congress

to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
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Comity of nations? US ban on US airlines complying with EU emissions law

10 January 2013 by

hr-2594One of the stranger and bolder pieces of US legislation slipped into force in November 2012 – The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 – sic. This  enables the US Secretary of Transportation to prohibit US airlines from complying with EU rules. Those EU rules apply to all airliners which touch down or take off in the EU, and requires them to participate in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – designed progressively to limit carbon emissions from aviation via a cap and trade mechanism.

The US  Act would be odd enough in its lack of respect for the laws of other countries, had the Act’s beneficiaries (the US airlines) not sought to challenge the legality of the EU measure in the EU Courts – and failed: see my post on the judgment of the CJEU. As will be seen, the EU Court expressly rejected claims (by US airlines) that the rules had extra-territorial effect and conflicted with international aviation conventions. Hence, the scheme was lawfully applicable to US airlines – just as to those of all other countries using EU airports.

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High Court refuses to condemn US drone strikes

9 January 2013 by

military-drone-spy-008R (Khan) v Secretary Of State For Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs [2012] EWHC 3728 (Admin) (21 December 2012) – Read judgment

In this unsuccessful application for permission to apply for judicial review, the Claimant sought to challenge the Defendant’s reported policy of permitting GCHQ employees to pass intelligence to the US for the purposes of drone strikes in Pakistan.  The Claimant’s father was killed during such an attack in March 2011.

The Claimant alleged that by assisting US agents with drone strikes, GCHQ employees were at risk of becoming secondary parties to murder under the criminal law of England and Wales and of conduct ancillary to war crimes or crimes against humanity contrary to international law.  The Claimant sought declaratory relief to that effect and also sought a declaration that the Defendant should publish a policy addressing the circumstances in which such intelligence could be lawfully disseminated. [paragraph 6]

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Can an individual claim ownership of “life’s instructions” – a human gene?

20 September 2012 by

Yes, says the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, upholding the validity of human gene patents related to breast and ovarian cancer (Association for Molecular Pathology and others v the Patent Office and Myriad Genetics – read judgment) UPDATED

The three judge panel ruled in a 2-1 decision that the biotechnology company Myriad was entitled to its patents on the molecules because each of them represented “a non-naturally occurring composition of matter”. The court also upheld Myriad’s patent on a technique for identifying potential cancer therapies by monitoring effects on cell growth, but denied their claim on assessing cancer risk by comparing DNA sequences because the method is based on “abstract, mental steps” of logic that are not “transformative”.

This fascinating judgment is a model of clarity and fluency in this difficult area. But what does this intellectual property tussle have to do with human rights? Well, there is nothing unfamiliar to human rights lawyers in litigation over the availability of life-saving treatment  (patient B, the Herceptin case and the antiretroviral litigation in South Africa are three examples that spring to mind). And much of it begins in the laboratory, with the critical allocation of exclusivity rights.
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Extradition of murder accused to US not breach of human rights

19 January 2012 by

HARKINS AND EDWARDS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 9146/07 [2012] ECHR 45 – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has found that there would be no breach of Article 3 ECHR (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) in extraditing two men accused of murder to the US.

The men argued that they face the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole if found guilty. The US had given assurances to the UK government that the death penalty would not be sought. The following summary is based on the Court’s press release (my abridgement):


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Extradition review backs status quo, leaves some completely baffled

19 October 2011 by

A review of the UK’s extradition laws by a former Court of Appeal judge has found that existing arrangements between the UK and USA are balanced but the Home Secretary’s discretion to intervene in human rights cases should be removed.

The review by Sir Scott Baker was commissioned shortly after the Coalition Government came to power, fulfilling the pledge in its programme for government to ”review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed”. In my September 2010 post I said that the review marked a victory for campaigners against certain extradition agreements, most notably the supporters of alleged Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon (pictured).

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Analysis: US State Department’s review of UK Human Rights

14 April 2011 by

As we posted earlier this week, US State department has released its 35th annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, including an in-depth analysis of human rights in the UK.

The report overall gives a balanced view of the Human Rights Practices in the UK, with some criticism but also some praise. It touches upon many of the issues reported in the UK Human Rights Blog but also misses some important topics that have emerged since the last annual country report.

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