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Bonfire of EU rights: Bring on the Brexit bureaucrats!

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A disturbing prospect has arisen as a result of the Brexit debacle: A bonfire of legal rights currently held by British citizens could be brought about on little more than the say-so of government ministers. No parliamentary debate, little likelihood of votes by MPs, rights lost by administrative act rather than new laws passing through both Houses of Parliament.

Here is the plan: Given there are many legal rights enshrined in UK law that derive from the European Union and which will remain in effect even after Britain leaves, an efficient way must be found to comb through them and disapply them where necessary. It could take mammoth parliamentary sessions passing complex repealing legislation. Instead, and rather chillingly, Conservative barrister Martin Howe QC (among others) has said ministers should be “given powers” to disapply them bit by bit as and when it is deemed appropriate.

So Parliament will be asked to pass a piece of primary legislation handing those powers to ministers, in other words allowing the ministers to repeal or disapply European law at will through secondary legislation, probably statutory instruments (see below). It will be “the quickest way of taking the necessary decisions … to reemploy or replace them” he told BBC Radio 4’s Unreliable Evidence 14 Sept 2016.  

But giving such powers to the Government would in effect leave whole areas of law at the mercy of ministers including employment and equality rights, privacy and consumer rights, environmental law, copyright protections, safety law, food hygiene and many laws affecting business. It is difficult to establish how much British law is driven by the EU but FullFact.org says this:

“An estimated 13% of Acts [primary legislation] and Statutory Instruments have an EU influence, whereas that rises to 62% when EU regulations are included in addition to Acts and Statutory Instruments.”

So, if all this is open to repeal or amendment by statutory instrument, MPs may as well go home for the duration. There will be hardly any other business and in effect the Government will be able to pass wholly new legislation in large areas of law – presumably not quite the victory for  the sovereignty of Parliament (not Government) that some those Brexiters said they wanted.The idea is constitutionally dubious, impractical – and wholly oppressive.

But does this plan even make sense? In particular what about all the EU law that is not part of the 13% that has been rendered into British legislation – the Regulations, Decisions and rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union at Luxembourg? If FullFact is right, this must make up getting on for 40% of UK law – yet it is not written into our legislation and so can’t obviously be “repealed” by Parliament or government ministers. What will happen to it all? Read the rest of this entry

Why the sovereign UK Parliament has no backdoor exit out of Brexit

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has said there will be “no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door”. She’s right. Those anti-Brexit voices hoping that a “sovereign UK Parliament” has a constitutional right to halt May’s European Union exit plans are wrong. A debate and vote by MPs would have no more constitutional weight than, let us say, the “advisory” referendum of June 23 (arguably rather less). Nor does the Prime Minister have a duty to give MPs a vote before she issues her withdrawal notice to the European Council under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

But if and when May does that, she will be entering a complicated constitutional maze – rooted in a treacherous political quagmire – with no predictable way through. Britain could be in limbo with Parliament and Government unable to agree, judges unable or unwilling to give clear guidance, a crisis “Brexit election” – which will resolve nothing and will not get May out of the hole left by her predecessor.

Wiser heads than this blogger have written at length on these issues, particularly regarding whether Parliament has a final say in taking Britain out of the EU. Unfortunately they have come to diametrically opposed views – with others taking up positions of various polarised degrees around the unsquared circle that is Britain’s Brexit crisis. What follows is simply an attempt to give some guidance through the maze.
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(Alleged) torturers welcome to Britain – just pick up your certificate of immunity

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The lives of high profile war criminals, torturers and despots have just got a little easier. No longer need they strike Britain off the list of destinations when they fancy a foreign jolly out of fear that some officious busybody will spoil their fun by having them arrested for their crimes.

All they have to do is get the Foreign Office to declare them on a “special mission” and they become untouchable. They have immunity, not because the UK Parliament has given them immunity through a statute fully debated and passed by MPs and Peers. Instead a couple of High Court judges have declared they have immunity as part of English Common Law. As such immunity for those on special missions has always been the law.*

The High Court case was prompted by a visit to Britain by Lieut General Mahmoud Hegazy, the director of the Egyptian Military Intelligence Service blamed for the “atrocities” that arose from the crushing of a demonstrators opposing the coup against Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Hegazy came to Britain in 2015 to meet government ministers, but part of his “official” mission was a visit to a London arms fair, according to the Guardian.

On the face of it the judgment (R (Freedom and Justice Party) v the Foreign Office) – in favour of the Foreign Office position – flies in the face of the Government’s insistence in 2013 that it had the “firm policy of ending impunity for the most serious international crimes and a commitment to the protection of human rights”. On the other hand it does get the Government and state agents such as the police and Director of Public Prosecutions off an embarrassing hook when a torturer or despot comes calling on “official” business.

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Can’t get about? Get a taxi, disability benefit claimant told

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A man who says his anxiety and agoraphobia mean he cannot get to unfamiliar places unaccompanied has had his disability benefit claim rejected – on the grounds he could always get a taxi. The Devon man was denied Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a decision upheld by a tribunal which said:

“We found on the balance of probability that he would be able to use a taxi for example to get to an unfamiliar place and that therefore he would be able to get to a specified place with which he was unfamiliar without being accompanied by another person.”

In evidence to the Upper Tribunal, where the man, known as AB sought permission to appeal, a lawyer for the Department of Work and Pensions insisted “where a claimant is taken to a destination in a taxi the taxi driver, who is simply providing a paid-for transport service, cannot be said to accompany that claimant”.

An Upper Tribunal judge has now referred the case back to the First-tier Tribunal raising the question of whether “in such circumstances, such a journey could not be described as one made ‘without being accompanied by another person’ given the presence of a taxi driver”.

The issue may be crucial to interpreting one of the ESA tests used to qualify for financial support for those who are unable to work. Number 15(c) on a list set out in the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008 says: “Is unable to get to a specified place with which the claimant is unfamiliar without being accompanied by another person.”  Read the rest of this entry

Home Office plays the long – and costly – game to deport 70-year-old widow

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In these straitened times the Ministry of Justice has had to crack down on the costs of the UK legal system. But there is one area where apparently money is no object: chasing 70-year-old Pakistani widows from Britain’s shores.

Even when their chums at the Home Office are on a two-year losing streak during which judges twice rejected the case for removing Razia Begum as “disproportionate” given she retains no ties in Pakistan, one last desperate (and expensive) throw of the dice was bankrolled by the public purse. 

Thus it was that Home Office lawyers fetched up at the Court of Appeal a couple of weeks ago demanding another go at removing Mrs Begum, even though they had missed an appeal deadline a year and a half ago – owing to “mere oversight”. Their claim for an extension was based on the notion that they “had a good case” against Mrs Begum.

But “the need for litigation to be conducted efficiently and at proportionate cost” is a principle of legal procedure far pre-dating current MoJ rigours. So the notion that the Home Office could, at great expense, lay out its case before two Lord Justices to persuade them it was good enough for it to proceed, then at some later point lay out the whole case again before yet more learned justices during the substantive appeal was not one likely to find favour in the Court.
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Gunman v gander: whose side is the law on in the Sandon goose case?

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So is it illegal to shoot a goose? Police are investigating the alleged drive-by shooting of the Sandon goose some (possibly only the media) called Grumpy Gertie (though it was actually a gander).

Gertie (if that was actually his/her name) was of unknown origin but had housed itself in an old phone box in the Hertfordshire village. It was renowned for adopting ducks and ducklings, hissing at strangers, amusing locals and was generally considered a good egg. There is even, apparently, a £250,000 reward out for the alleged killer. But what is the offence that may have been committed?

Certainly under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 1(a) it is an offence if someone “kills, injures or takes any wild bird”. But there are exceptions allowing hunters to go about their jolly sport. Sandon sits within prime huntin’ and shootin’ land, so maybe someone disappointed in their bag of wildfowl for the day decided to pop one off at poor old Gertie (Gary?).

If so, he should have checked the schedule to the act of “birds that may be killed or taken”, which does include various sorts of geese. Canada Goose? Go get ’em. Greylag? Pinkfooted? White Fronted? They are there for the taking. But the breed of common farmyard or Emden goose of which Gertie (Gary? We’ll call him Gary) was a member? Completely off limits to the sporting gun fraternity.
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The Extradition Act law reform that could – but won’t – help Assange

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Why on earth isn’t the UK Home Secretary banging on the doors of the UK Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights, the Swedish Högsta domstolen – whatever it takes – to get Julian Assange released from his (somewhat self-imposed) “arbitrary detention” in the Ecuadorian embassy in London? Theresa May and the Government she serves knows a terrible travesty of justice has occurrred – so much so that they have passed a law to ensure it should never happen to anyone else again.

This, at least, is how the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) explains a new section, 21A of the 2003 Extradition Act, inserted “as a result of perceived abuses raised by Sweden’s European Arrest Warrant” in the Assange case. It adds that, since the Section was added in 2014 “if requested, Mr. Assange’s extradition would not [now] have been permitted by the UK”. The section, added by S.157 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act allows for a “proportionality test” before someone can be extradited under a European Arrest Warrant. So a judge can ask whether there might be a less coercive alternative to extradition – such as interviewing a suspect in Britain rather than in the “requesting state” (ie the one that wants the extradition – Sweden in Assange’s case).

But there is more. Section 156 of the 2014 Act also introduced a new Section 12A to the Extradition Act (below) – which allows a UK judge to assess whether the supect’s presence in the requesting country is really necessary – specifically if investigations have not come close enough to completion to require that presence. This is eerily like Assange’s case since the EAW was issued by prosecutors seeking to interview him, not by judges wishing to arraign him on a criminal charge.

Sadly for Assange, he was not apparently the inspiration for the new legislation – and the Government has insisted it is not retrospective so is unavailable to his cause – though the UNWGAD panel believes it should be. Their thinking, presumably is that if a terrible injustice to suspects has been discovered it should be put right for those who continue to be embroiled in that injustice, not just for the future.

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