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Tag Archives: human-rights

Question’s unanswered in the Daniel Gauntlett inquest

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Daniel Gauntlett, who froze to death on the step of an empty boarded-up bungalow, died in possession of a letter from a doctor calling on the authorities to find him accommodation as a person in priority need. Mr Gauntlett, aged 35, was suffering from a collapsed lung and was a heavy drinker, a coroner’s inquest heard.

There was also evidence that suggested Mr Gauntlett, who died during a freezing February night in 2013, had been arrested and evicted by police from a previous building. Witnesses said he had not been squatting in the building in Aylesford, Kent, where he died but had lived in the garden.

Campaigners have claimed that he was in effect a victim of  Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012, which criminalised squatting in residential property. It had been suggested he “died as a result of obeying the law” because police told him not to squat the empty house.

It has been argued that Gauntlett’s human rights may have been breached either because the Government failed to put in place Article 2 European Convention (right to life) protections when it passed Section 144; or because the police or social services had failed to offer sufficient help to him.

However, the deputy coroner for Mid Kent, Kate Thomas, did not bring in a verdict under human rights “Middleton inquest” procedures, simply recording a verdict of “death by natural causes exacerbated by self neglect”. No police witnesses were called to tell the court of any contact they had had with Gauntlett before he died or whether he had indeed been evicted from a squat or warned not to enter the bungalow.

Witness statements
Mr Gauntlett’s father, Donald, told the court the last time he had seen him, his son told him he had been arrested at another house, in London Street, Maidstone, and as a result had lost some of his clothes. His father gave him money to buy new ones. He said his son’s alcohol problems began when his younger brother died in a road traffic accident at the age of 18. Read the rest of this entry

Why Ken Clarke is wrong on the veil in court

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Picture the scene. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has called Ken Clarke in on Sunday morning for an important and urgent job. He is without portfolio but that doesn’t mean is without his uses.

“What ho, prime minister! Not chillaxing today?” asks the jovial former Lord Chancellor.

“No, Ken. There’s important business afoot. We need a little air cover. We want you to dominate the news headlines.”

“I’m the man for the job,” beams Ken, he of the “some rapes are more serious than others” claim.

“Great,” says Cameron. “Now, go out and say something about veils. Any old b– – – will do.”

Ken duly complies. It is not certain why he needs to do this important job. It may be a precursor to justice secretary Chris Grayling coming over all “tough on veils” by announcing a ban on them for witnesses giving evidence in court (though a ban is not really within his immediate powers); or it may be to deflect attention from the embarrassing U-turn on migrant visa bonds.

Whatever it is, Ken rises to the challenge. How did he approach this sensitive subject? By blundering in with his size 10 Hush Puppies. In passing he denigrated the attitude of women who wear veils as archaic and strange: “It’s a most peculiar costume for people to adopt in the 21st century.” Read the rest of this entry

Should veils be banned in court? It’s a question of evidence

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The issue of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the veil, niqab or burqa when giving evidence in court is a matter of tiny importance yet, seemingly, of great significance. Tiny because there are so few women in Britain wearing full face coverings for religious reasons, of whom even tinier numbers are likely to give evidence in court.

But court scenarios are where the arguments about veiling (whether or not part of a “national debate”, as per Liberal Democrat minister Jeremy Browne) seem to play well for the veil banners since they can tap into Britain’s great traditions of justice and notions of the fair trial. What they don’t tap into is any actual evidence about how or under what circumstances veil wearing might harm a fair trial.

Judge Peter Murphy has considered this issue in the case of R v D(R) (though stressing his view should not be part of the wider debate) and concluded a defendant should give evidence unveiled. (His full decision is here pdf)

There is some evidence (see below) that doesn’t necessarily support the view that juries pick up important clues from watching the facial features of witnesses, but first the context. Read the rest of this entry

Schedule 7: High Court rejects Sylvie Beghal human rights case

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Note: A European Court of Human Rights judgment has now (February 2019) declared a violation in this case. See below Beghal v UK.

The British High Court has called for a legislative change to “Schedule 7” terrorism powers under which David Miranda, partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was held for questioning.

However, the judge has ruled that the Schedule 7 regime is legally acceptable and that Sylvie Beghal, held under Schedule 7, did not have her right to liberty under European Convention law breached. Nor was her right to a private life breached by the obligation under Schedule 7 to answer any questions put by security officers – however personal.

Lord Justice Gross in his conclusion said: “In short, the balance struck between individual rights and the public interest in protection against terrorism does not violate the fundamental human rights in question.”

The judges recommended the law be changed to bar the use of admissions gained at a Schedule 7 questioning being used against the individual at any subsequent criminal trial. Schedule 7 questioning is not accompanied by the usual protections for suspects including the (qualified) right to silence and the absolute right to a lawyer. Read the rest of this entry

We need a judicial review into who’s killing JR

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Here’s a riddle wrapped up in a paradox: could judges using the power of judicial review strike down David Cameron’s attempts to curb the use of judicial review?

The British Prime Minister has complained at people exercising their right to hold the executive to account. He wants to “reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews – so people think twice about time-wasting”.

Now let us remind ourselves of the chilling threat issued by Baron Steyn, of Swafield in the County of Norfolk. In R (Jackson) v Attorney General (House of Lords case 2006) he said on the supremacy of Parliament:

The judges created this principle. If that is so, it is not unthinkable that circumstances could arise where the courts may have to qualify a principle established on a different hypothesis of constitutionalism. In exceptional circumstances involving an attempt to abolish judicial review or the ordinary role of the courts, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords or a new Supreme Court may have to consider whether this is a constitutional fundamental which even a sovereign Parliament acting at the behest of a complaisant House of Commons cannot abolish.”

He is saying that if Parliament sought to abolish judicial review, courts would have to defy Parliament even though Parliament is sovereign. The rationale for his position is that there exists in Britain the rule of law. You know the one: the rule that says the Government is subject to the law, just like everyone else. The one the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, David Cameron, keeps forgetting.

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Plebs row: Andrew Mitchell can’t necessarily rely on police officers’ thick skins

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So should Andrew Mitchell have been arrested and prosecuted for swearing at (or in the presence of) police outside No 10 Downing Street and allegedly calling them plebs?

Those who would love to see the stuck-up Tory toff (there, I’ve said it, and it’s on the record) doing time for his outbreak of incivility have had some difficulty finding any precedents for the offence of swearing at police officers. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has certainly said they should be arrested, and one man is said to have been prosecuted for abusing police during the riots under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 on “causing harassment, alarm and distress”.

But riots and the day-to-day hurly burly of a Cabinet minister’s life are two different things. As matters stand, the police are unlikely to arrest  people who abuse them – however irritating the odious oik might be who is doing the abusing.

And this is as it should be. To arrest people who insult the police would be a draconian power, criminalizing most ordinary people who find encounters with the police stressful, whether after a hard day of trying to keep a faltering Government on its feet or because you are young, black and you’ve been stopped and searched for the Nth time this year.

Crucially it has generally been held that the police have pretty thick skins and aren’t going to be moved to strike a man who insults them (as in “conduct likely to breach the peace” – see “Blemishing the peace” below) or feel harassment, alarm and distress – even when insulted by a here today, gone tomorrow member of Cabinet who thinks the world should jump to his every order. After all, most police are likely to hear plenty of this sort of thing – not least in their own canteens.

The case to look at is Harvey v DPP (2011) in which Denzel Harvey was one of several men being searched for cannabis. “Mr Harvey objected and said, ‘Fuck this, man, I ain’t been smoking nothing’. PC Challis told him that if he continued to swear he would be arrested for an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. PC Challis searched the appellant but found no drugs, whereupon the appellant said, ‘Told you, you won’t find fuck all’.” Other searches proceeded and names were taken, then the officer “asked the appellant if he had a middle name and the appellant replied, ‘No, I’ve already fucking told you so’. The officer arrested Mr Harvey for the offence under section 5.” He was convicted and fined £50. Read the rest of this entry

Would Julian Assange face the death penalty in the US?

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Does Julian Assange face the death penalty in the United States (if Britain extradites him there for his alleged crimes of publishing confidential documents on WikiLeaks)? The Ecuadorians have ejected him from their London embassy but only after guarantees from UK authorities that he wouldn’t be extradited to somewhere he could face “torture or the death penalty”. If he did face the death penalty in the US, Britain’s Extradition Act 2003 Section 94 would protect him from extradition.

The US does retain the death penalty specifically for treason, but it seems pretty certain that a treason prosecution, demanded by many in America, is not on the cards.

It is worth looking at the history of US treason law to see why. It started, of course, in England. The original Statute of Treasons of 1351 codified what was generally accepted as the common law definition of high treason:

If a man compasses [plots] or imagines [proposes] the death of our lord the king, of our lady his consort [the king’s wife] or of their eldest son and heir; or if a man violates [has sex with, whether consensual or not] the king’s consort, the king’s eldest daughter being as yet unmarried or the consort of the king’s eldest son and heir; or if a man makes war against our said lord the king in the kingdom or is an adherent of enemies to our lord the king in the kingdom…”

Any of that constituted treason plus counterfeiting the “great seal” (impressed in wax on documents to indicate they had the monarch’s authority) and coinage or killing the “chancellor, treasurer or justices”.

Read the rest of this entry

Alvi immigration case: Supreme Court rejects Home Office codes of practice

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The Home Office has been found to be in breach of the law by excluding migrants from Britain using “rules” in codes of practice that have not been sanctioned by Parliament.

The Supreme Court rejected the notion that material in the codes used to control immigration fell within the Royal Prerogative under Common Law (and hence beyond the ambit of parliamentary immigration legislation). The suggestion that immigration could be controlled by Royal Prerogative was outmoded and superseded by legislation and the possibility of challenges under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court has also suggested that 40-year old procedures for passing immigration rules through Parliament are no longer fit for purpose.

In what looks like a panic measure, the Home Office has sought to counter the ruling by putting a statement on immigration rule changes, including the codes of practice, before parliament on Thursday 19 July to come into force on Friday 20 July.

The debacle has occurred because new immigration rules, according to the 1971 Immigration Act S.3(2) are supposed to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. If the rules, in effect statutory instruments issued by Governments, are “disapproved by a resolution of that House passed within the period of forty days beginning with the date of laying”, then the Secretary of State must take them back and make suitable amendments. (the so-called “negative procedure” explained here)

But in the case of the Occupation Codes of Practice used to exclude physiotherapy assistant Hussain Zulfiqar Alvi, a Pakistani national, even this far from rigorous procedure was not used. Instead the document was issued by the Secretary of State to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) without parliamentary scrutiny and posted on UKBA’s website. It lists skilled occupations and salaries that immigrants must have to qualify to be sponsored by employers to work in Britain.

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BBC4’s Harry Potter and his strangely misleading case of the law

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BBC barrister/broadcaster Harry Potter tells us he has never had to apply for a writ of habeas corpus in his 20-year legal career and he knows of no other lawyer who has. His implication, in BBC4’s legal history series, The Strange Case of the Law, was that the great English innovation of the writ of habeas corpus had not only freed political prisoners, defiant jurors and African slaves; its mere existence ensured no modern Government would seek to hold anyone illegally in detention without charge or trial.

How wrong he is. The case of Yunus Rahmatullah, detained since 2004 at Bagram Airbase, is among many that now spoil this rosy view.

Potter is proud of English law: “a boon we have given the world”. He is one of those Whiggish historians of the British Constitution who produce their tallies of great constitutional events – Magna Carta 1215, Petition of Right 1628, Star Chamber Act 1640, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679Bill of Rights 1689 and imply that their goodness is unalloyed and that they are, once and for all, accepted, embedded and set in stone forever more.

He gallops through the tale: Magna Carta gave us (by implication) habeas corpus, the right for a prisoner to be brought before a court to verify that his detention is lawful. This (despite later enhancements) was not enough to protect individuals taken out of the English legal jurisdiction, particularly to Mont Orgueil Castle in Jersey, a place for 17th century “extraordinary rendition”. There the writ of habeas corpus did not run, and nor was the Common Law rule against torture effective.

In 1679 the Habeas Corpus Act was passed to deal with such abuses. As a result of this (and later reformed versions), according to Potter, it is taken for granted that everyone should know the charge levied against them. Arbitrary imprisonment “is something we hope has been consigned to history”. The implication is that no British Government would act in a way that would open it up to “the Great Writ”. Motherhood and apple pie spring to mind for this cornerstone of our freedoms, so unassailable is the respect for habeas corpus.

Dishonourable
Unfortunately, within days of Potter’s broadcast, the Government was indeed to be found contesting the value of motherhood and questioning the benefits of freshly baked comfort food at the UK Supreme Court. It was fighting a desperate and dishonourable battle to persuade the court that a writ of
habeas corpus should not be upheld on behalf of Yunus Rahmatullah, detained by the US at Parwan, near Bagram, a place where, it seems, the writ of habeas corpus does not run and, it is alleged, the Common Law and international law against torture is ineffective.

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Theresa May’s immigration rules expel the rule of law

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The UK Government has instituted a remarkable constitutional innovation that redefines the concept of the rule of law. It has declared that the Government can tell judges how to interpret legal rules governing executive actions when those actions are challenged in court.

This is the implication of guidance attached to the new Immigration Rules laid (briefly) before Parliament and coming into force on 9 July 2012.

Home Secretary Theresa May has set out new rules on immigration but, crucially, severely curbed judges’ rights to interpret those rules in the light of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. She has done it on the basis of a misreading – or perhaps, more accurately, a misrepresentation – of case law on the immigration issue.

Since the Immigration Rules are not statutory (they are issued by the Government rather than passing through the full legislative process in Parliament) they can be struck down by courts if not in conformity with the European Convention. Article 8(1) says: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” It is blamed by the government for preventing the deportation of undesirables, including criminals or potential terrorists, if they can claim a “family life” in Britain. This has irritated the current and previous Governments for years.

Notoriously, even the fact that a foreign man and his British girlfriend co-own a cat was once adduced to enhance a non-national’s “family life” credentials under Article 8 – at least according to Mrs May. Read the rest of this entry

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