The round-up – Books, Boycotts, and Gove’s Debut

01_NH10RES_1148962kLaura Profumo serves us the latest human rights happenings.

In the News: 

Michael Gove appeared before the Justice Select Committee last Wednesday, in the first true baring of his political mettle as justice secretary. Overall, it seems, the MP made a largely favourable impression, though legal commentators remain wary. UKHRB’s own Adam Wagner deftly compared Gove’s success to “when they gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize…because he wasn’t George Bush”. The “post-Grayling Gove-hope” may, then, prove deceptively shallow, defined by the simple relief that Gove is not Grayling.

Yet Gove’s evidence before the committee was laudable – reasonable, measured, and skifully non-committal. Gove’s comments on the Human Rights Act obliquely signalled the “proposals” will be published “in the autumn”, failing to specify whether they would be accompanied by a draft Bill. His substantive points were similarly vague. The Lord Chancellor invoked the “abuse” of human rights as justification for the repeal of the HRA, before conceding he could not offer a “one-hundred per cent guarantee” that the UK would remain a party to the Convention. Such a position suggests a British Bill of Rights may “seek to limit certain rights”, argues academic Mark Elliot, which would, “quite possibly”, precipitate British withdrawal from Strasbourg altogether. Gove also stressed the role of the judiciary in applying the common law to uphold human rights, holding that “there is nothing in the Convention that is not in the common law”. Such a view is “highly contestable at best, plain wrong at worst”, holds Elliot, whilst Conor Gearty finds it stokes the fantasy of “the civil libertarian common law”. Gove seems to suggest that HRA-repeal and possible ECHR-withdrawal would be “far from earth-shattering events”, Elliot notes, as judges could still invoke a panoply of common-law rights. Whilst Gove is right to remind skeptics that HRA-repeal would not leave domestic judges powerless, such “overstatement” of the common-law rights model “might end up hoist on its own petard….ringing hollower than its cheerleaders”. Continue reading

Scotland, Sewel, and the Human Rights Act

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

The Queen’s speech suggests a slowing of the Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. But recent comments from the Scottish Human Rights Commissioner suggest the Conservatives may be considering removal of HRA protections in relation to English and reserved UK-wide matters only, leaving the Human Rights Act in place in the other devolved areas of the UK. 

Much ink has been spilled over the Government’s proposals. This article will take a narrow look at Scotland’s relationship with the Human Rights Act, and how devolution may be a future thorn in the Government’s side. 

But wait! I thought the Human Rights Act was enshrined in the Scotland Act. Doesn’t that protect the Human Rights Act in Scotland?

Sort of (not really).

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The Round-up: Human Rights Act – the long struggle ahead

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch is vocal in his support for the HRA

This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Hannah Lynes

In the news

Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed the introduction of a British Bill of Rights, the Queen’s Speech containing only proposals for consultation. Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti has welcomed the development:

“It is heartening that a Conservative Government committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act has at least paused for thought in its first Queen’s speech. There is a long struggle ahead but time is the friend of freedom.”

Debate surrounding the proposed Bill of Rights continues in full force. Proponents of the HRA draw attention to perceived misconceptions advanced by the opposing side. Lord Leveson points out that UK courts are not ‘bound’ by the decisions of Strasbourg (“the legislation only requires us to take them into account”), whilst Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog questions the accuracy of claims that the HRA prevents us from deporting serious foreign criminals. Dr Ed Bates argues in the Constitutional Law blog that the domestic judiciary is more supportive of the ECHR than certain politicians would have us believe. Useful coverage of the views expressed by senior judges is provided here.

Other news

Housing: Leading housing charities last month issued a report claiming that the present ‘crisis’ in housing has put the UK in breach of its UN obligations to provide adequate homes. Housing campaigners fear government proposals set to reduce housing benefit for 18-21 year olds will serve to exacerbate the problem. The measures could “spell disaster for thousands of young people who…could be facing homelessness and the terrifying prospect of roughing it on the streets”, warns Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes.

Surveillance: Prominent legal academics have signed a letter calling on the Government to ensure that any changes in surveillance law “are fully and transparently vetted by parliament, and open to consultation from the public and all relevant stakeholders”. The Guardian reports here.

Police: Hampshire Constabulary has admitted a failure to properly investigate the complaint of a victim of rape, who had been accused of lying by the force. An out-of-court settlement was reached with the young woman following commencement of proceedings under the Human Rights Act.

Discrimination: A woman turned down for a job because she observed Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, was successful in her claim for indirect discrimination. The Telegraph reports on the decision.

Gender: An interview with barrister Roy Brown in Halsbury’s Law Exchange examines the significance of recent High Court decisions in JK and Carpenter for transgender rights in the UK.

In the courts

This case concerned the question of legal representation in complex family proceedings. The Court of Appeal held that whilst it may be inappropriate for an unrepresented litigant to conduct cross-examination of his alleged victim, a judge is not entitled to order the Courts Service (HMCTS) to pay for a legally trained advocate to do so on the litigant’s behalf. A court is not permitted to circumvent the detailed provisions for legal aid eligibility set out in LASPO. Further, the result does not amount to a breach of Article 6 ECHR (the right to a fair trial), since the court has available to it other alternatives. These include the possibility of the judge himself conducting the questioning.

1COR’s David Hart QC analyses the decision here.

UK HRB posts

Events

1COR/JUSTICE will be holding a major seminar on 4 June: Public Law in an Age of Austerity. To register please email lisa.pavlovsky@1cor.com.

If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the details to Jim Duffy, at jim.duffy@1cor.com.

Cake, Equality, and the Queen’s Speech

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

Laura Profumo brings us the latest human rights goings on.

In the News: 

This afternoon, the new Conservative Government’s legislative plans were announced in the Queen’s Speech. Michael Gove, the recently appointed Justice Secretary, will have to defend his party’s intention to scrap the Human Rights Act, blunting the influence of Strasbourg jurisprudence. As Daniel Hannan observes, Gove faces a “different order of magnitude” in his new role, finding himself up against an “articulate and wealthy lobby” within the legal profession. An “elegant compromise” might be found, Hannan suggests, in amending our extant Bill of Rights to include ECHR freedoms, restoring “our sovereignty and our democracy”.

It is certainly clear that Gove will have to carefully pilot the reforms through Parliament. Lord Falconer cautions that the House of Lords, where the Conservatives don’t have a majority, may prove obstructive:

“If the Conservative measures strike at fundamental constitutional rights, the Lords will throw this back to the Commons”.

The backbencher minority of ‘Runnymede Tories’, forcefully headed by David Davis, will also seek to stall the Bill’s course. Yet, Matthew d’Ancona concedes, “if anyone has the intellectual firepower to square all the circles it is Gove”.

In brighter news, the Republic of Ireland has become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through popular vote. Some 62% of the electorate voted in favour of the reform, with all but one of the Republic’s 43 constituencies voting Yes. The result comes just two decades after the Irish government decriminalised homosexuality, marking a milestone in Ireland’s divisive religious history. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, recognised the vote as a “social revolution”, which requires the Church to “have a reality check, not move into the denial of realities”.

In a prelude to the historical referendum, the ‘Gay Cake’ Case, which has gripped Northern Ireland for the last year, come to a close last week. In a clear decision, it was found that the Christian bakery’s refusal to make a campaign cake the LGBT support group, QueerSpace, amounted to direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The outcome has not been welcomed by all. TUV leader Jim Allister lamented it a “dark day for justice and religious freedom”, whilst Melanie McDonagh, writing in the Spectator, found the decision inversely “intolerant and discriminatory”, forcing a Presbyterian business to promulgate a message “at odds with their belief”. Yet talk of religious persecution is besides the point, argues academic Colin Murray. The case concerned the “ability to do the banal and ordinary things in life without these activities becoming the subject of public opprobrium”. It was not, as McDonagh suggests, a case of cake artisans’ ‘right to ice’, but the right of the public to lawfully contract with a business, irrespective of “how that public is constituted”.

Following the decisive vote across the border yesterday, many hope that Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage is still prohibited, will follow suit. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has advocated a referendum: “This is a matter of whether or not we want to live in a modern progressive society that respects minorities”. Now that Northern Ireland has their cake – it remains to be seen whether the idiom will ring true.

 

In Other News:

  • Haile v London Borough of Waltham Forest: The Supreme Court ruled that the appellant had not made herself intentionally homeless when, after learning that she was pregnant, she left her London hostel. As she would have been evicted from the hostel anyway, on giving birth to her child, the Court ruled in her favour. Her lawyer, Nathaniel Matthews, welcomed the decision as one in which “glorious common sense prevailed. Women who become homeless because they have become pregnant must be protected”.
  • Vladimir Putin has signed a bill which allows foreign NGOs to be banned from operating in Russia. The law will allow authorities to prosecute NGOs which are designated as ‘undesirable’ on national security grounds. Individuals working for such organisations could face fines, or up to six years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International has condemned the measure as part of the “ongoing draconian crackdown…squeezing the life out of civil society”.

In the Courts: 

  • Identoba and Others v GeorgiaThe Georgian police failed to protect participants in a march against homophobia from violent attacks of counter-demonstrators. ECtHR held the police had violated the protestors’ Article 3 and 11 rights, in failing to take sufficient measures to prevent the attacks.
  •  SS v the United Kingdom; F.A and Others v the United Kingdom A case concerning convicted prisoners’ entitlement to social security benefits was held to be inadmissible by ECtHR. The applicants were prisoners in psychiatric hospitals who complained that, under new 2006 regulations, denying them benefits paid to the other patients amounted to unjustified discrimination. The Court emphasised Contracting States’ margin of appreciation in social policy, finding that the differential treatment was not unreasonable, given that the applicants, whilst patients, were also convicted prisoners.
  • Gogitidze and Others v Georgia The ECtHR ruled that the forfeiture of a wrongfully acquired property was not in breach of the tenant’s right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, under Article 1 of Protocol No.1. As the property confiscated belonged to the former Deputy Minister of the Interior, the Court inquired whether a proportionate balance had been struck between the method of forfeiture and the public interest in combating political corruption. The domestic courts were held to have achieved such a balance.

 

    Events:

  • ‘Do we need a new Magna Carta?’ The Miriam Rothschild & John Foster Human Rights Trust, and University College London, are hosting a lecture given by Lord Lester QC, on alternatives to the embattled Human Rights Act. The event will take place at 6.15pm, 15th June, at the Institute of Child Health. Please RSVP to rsvplectureinvitation@gmail.com.If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the Blog’s Commissioning Editor, Jim Duffy, at jim.duffy@1cor.com

     

     

The Round-up: A British Bill of Rights on the Horizon?

Photo Credit: The Telegraph

In the news

‘The Conservative Party has won a majority and can implement its manifesto. The Human Rights Act will be scrapped,’ writes Colin Yeo for the Free Movement blog. Such an outcome might not be a foregone conclusion, but Professor Mark Elliott is clear that ‘repeal of the HRA, the adoption of a British Bill of Rights and perhaps even withdrawal from the ECHR are now less unthinkable’.

Questions surrounding the content of the proposed Bill of Rights have therefore assumed increased urgency. A press release issued in October 2014 spoke of limiting the rights of illegal immigrants, travellers, victims of British military abuse and foreigners who commit crimes in the UK. Yet as UKHRB founder Adam Wagner notes, ‘only foreign criminals were mentioned in the manifesto, so it is all to play for.’

The HRA has failed to secure resilience in domestic politics. Benedict Douglas for the UK Constitutional Law blog attributes this failure to an absence in the Act of a ‘justification for rights possession in dignity or any other foundational human characteristic’. Mark Elliott points to the manner of its introduction: little effort was made ‘to engage the general public in what was perceived to be a political and legal elite’s pet project’.

Current discussions could thus present an opportunity, argues Adam Wagner for RightsInfo. A ‘Bill of Rights, done properly with real public involvement might help convince people that human rights are for all of us.’

For those looking to read more about human rights reform:

The Human Rights Act and a Question of Legitimacy – Barrister Austen Morgan considers the advantages of a British Bill of Rights for The Justice Gap.

What does a Conservative Government Mean for the Future of Human Rights in the UK? – Professor Mark Elliot puts together a useful list of recent posts he has written on Conservative plans for reform.

Other news:

  • Michael Gove has been appointed Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor in the post-election Cabinet. The Telegraph reports here.
  • BBC: Two Syrian asylum seekers imprisoned for failing to provide passports have been successful in appealing their convictions.
  • The High Court has ruled that a child should be brought up by her genetic father and his male partner, despite objections from the surrogate mother. The Guardian reports.
  • The Justice Gap: The Uk Supreme Court has launched an on-demand video catch-up.
  • Legal Voice: More than 8,000 lawyers are set to join the London Legal Walk to raise funds for the legal not-for-profit sector
  • Mark Freedland and Jeremias Prassl express concerns over the impact and regulation of ‘zero-hours contracts’ for the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

In the courts

The case concerned the imposition of administrative fines on individuals who had been acquitted by the criminal courts of the same offence. The ECtHR found a violation of the right to a presumption of innocence (contra. Article 6 ECHR) and also the right not to be tried or punished twice (Article 4 of Protocol No.7).

Events

‘In Conversation with Sir Stephen Sedley’ – As part of LSE’s Legal Biography Project, Sir Ross Cranston will interview Sir Stephen Sedley on his life and career in the law. The event will be held on 19 May in the Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building. More information can be found here.

UK HRB posts

If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email Jim Duffy at jim.duffy@1cor.com

Spiritual Influence and Human Rights at Sea: the Weekly Round-up – Hannah Lynes

Rescue of migrants

Photo Credit: The Guardian

In the news

The drowning of several hundred migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has dominated headlines in recent weeks, prompting a special meeting of the European Council on 23 April. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for ‘a robust search-and-rescue operation in the Central Mediterranean, not only a border patrol’.

Under the ECHR, migrants rescued at sea cannot be returned if there is a ‘real risk’ of treatment that is incompatible with the absolute provisions of the Convention. Jacques Hartmann and Irini Papanicolopulu consider claims that human rights law therefore creates a perverse incentive for EU Member States not to conduct operations proactively.

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‘Killer Robots’ and ‘Conversion Therapies’ – The Human Rights Round-up

A scene from the 2003 film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

This week’s Round-up is brought to you by Alex Wessely.

In the news:
Military chiefs have criticised the influence of Human Rights law in a report published this week, arguing that the “need to arrest and detain enemy combatants in a conflict zone should not be expected to comply with peace-time standards”. This follows a series of cases over the years which found the Ministry of Defence liable for human rights violations abroad, culminating in allegations of unlawful killing in the Al-Sweady Inquiry that were judged “wholly without foundation” in December.

Continue reading