Neuberger, Charles’s black spider memos – and the coming constitutional crisis

Judges in Britain are not supposed to strike down primary legislation that has passed through a sovereign Parliament. Yet that, on the face of it, is what seems to have happened in the UK Supreme Court’s judgment on Prince Charles’s “black spider memos”. And it is deeply paradoxical that it is Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, who has committed this apparently unconstitutional act, striking at a core “democratic” principle – that Members of Parliament (albeit a chunk of them unelected) pass laws, not judges.

For Neuberger has in the past expressed fears about the UK Supreme Court becoming a “constitutional court” with a dangerous potential for defying Parliament. In a 2009 BBC interview when he was Master of the Rolls (having refused to continue his role as a House of Lords judge into the new Supreme Court) he talked of the danger of “mucking around” with the British Constitution saying there was a risk  “of judges arrogating to themselves greater powers than they have at the moment”.   Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Comment, Constitution, ECHR, EU law, European Convention on Human Rights, Human rights, Law, Legal, Media, Politics, Public law, UK Constitution, UK Law, UK Politics, Uncategorized

‘Work for your benefits’ scheme and retrospective legislation

The UK Court of Appeal judges are to consider a claim that legislation passed in 2013 after a legal challenge to unemployment benefit rules is unlawful. Two judges have ruled that the retrospective nature of the legislation regarding the Work Programme’s “Work for your benefits” scheme falls foul of standard judicial interpretation under English law and of the European Convention on Human Rights.

There are thousands of claimants who had challenged the rules before the retrospective change. The judges in the Administrative Appeals Chamber of the Upper Tribunal have allowed the Department of Work and Pensions to appeal against their judgment as a test case.

The Timeline
The litigation arises from the case of Caitlin Reilly and Jamieson Wilson, sanctioned by removal of jobseeker’s allowance for failing to take part in the Work Programme assigned to them. Miss Reilly, a University of Birmingham geology graduate, had argued that making her work unpaid at a Poundland store for two weeks or risk losing her benefits was a breach of human rights. She had to give up arguably more relevant voluntary work at a museum to do the Poundland job. She attended her work programme job but challenged the legality of the requirement on her.

While the Court of Appeal in February 2013 (EWCA 2013 Civ 66) rejected a claim by Ms Reilly that the workfare-style programme was illegal forced labour under Article 4 of the ECHR, it found that the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, acted beyond his powers by failing to provide important detail about the Back to Work Schemes such as a description of the scheme. The judgment meant those people who had been similarly sanctioned for non-compliance with the scheme could have been entitled to claim back their benefit for those periods. However, legislation was rushed through Parliament to deny them the money.

 

The 2009 changes that brought in the workfare scheme in section 1 of the Welfare Reform Act 2009 (as a new Section 17A of the Jobseeker’s Act 1995) allowed the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring claimants to do work “designed to assist them to obtain employment”. Subsection 2 says: 

“Regulations under this section may, in particular, require participants to undertake work, or work-related activity, during any prescribed period with a view to improving their prospects of obtaining employment.”

Regulations were then passed in a 2011 statutory instrument (2011 No. 917) that could require jobseekers to “to participate in support provided by the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme”. It is these regulations that in February 2013 the Court of Appeal in Reilly quashed, finding them to be ultra vires – beyond the powers of the provision in the parent Act (Section 17A of the amended Jobseeker’s Act). The Court said Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson had not been provided with “adequate, accurate information about the schemes in relation to themselves before they were informed that their participation was required”.

The failings were fixed prospectively by a further statutory instrument on the day the judgment was issued (2013 No. 276 – made at 2.19pm, laid before Parliament at 6.15pm and in force from 6.45pm). The Government then sought to stymie earlier claims by rushing through the retrospective provisions of the March 2013 Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act. When the Reilly case came to the Supreme Court  in July 2013, Lords Neuberger and Toulson said the 2013 Act was “plainly intended to ‘undo’ the decision of the Court of Appeal, in that … it retrospectively validates (i) the 2011 Regulations, (ii) the programmes listed in regulation 3(2) of the 2013 Regulations, (iii) notices issued under regulation 4 of the 2011 Regulations, and (iv) the benefit sanctions imposed under those Regulations in relation to the schemes”.

Since, by this time, the retrospectivity of the 2013 Act was under challenge in the Administrative Court (a claim was issued in June), the Supreme Court gave its judgment (October 2013 – in part against the Secretary of State including on the ultra vires point: failure to provide a “prescribed description” of any scheme) even though the issue had been “fixed” by the Act.

– but the court nevertheless found against the Secretary of State, leaving open the possibility of many further cases from before the February 2013 amendments.

The Administrative Court hearing
The Upper Tribunal in DB v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (plus SSWP v TJ and SSWP v TG) in February 2013 heard a different set of cases – appeals from November and December 2012 judgments by the First Tier Tribunal. The judges approach the 2013 Act firstly as a matter of judicial construction ie “the ascertainment of Parliament’s intention in passing the Act, having regard to its language, its context (including the mischief which the Act was seeking to address) and such background materials as are admissible”.

There is already legislation to ensure claimants who have not appealed against a benefits decision do not benefit when the law is interpreted in court in a way that would favour them (S.27 of the Social Security Act 1998). The implication is that those who had appealed before a favourable judgment (in what would amount to a test case) should be able to successfully pursue their action. The Upper Tribunal judges had to decide whether there was anything about the words in the 2013 Act that showed Parliament’s intention was to “affect the rights of those claimants who had already appealed”. Although the words “for all purposes” appear in the 2013 Act, the majority of the judges (2-1) decided this was not enough to show an intention to exclude people who had already challenged their sanctioning before 2013 on the successful grounds in Reilly. The judges cited the explanatory notes to the Act which considered whether it was compliant with Article 6 on non-retrospectivity. They said: 

“45. If no legal claim has been brought on the grounds that the [2011] Regulations are ultra vires and/or that the notice issued under them is non-compliant prior to the enactment of the proposed legislation, the Government considers that Article 6 is not engaged at all since the claim to entitlement to benefit, and any dispute regarding a benefit decision thereon which would require access to the courts, remains hypothetical.” 

This implies that if a legal claim has been instituted before the favourable judgments it should proceed.  The judges said: “We do not see how that section of the Explanatory Notes could properly have been written as it was had the Government intended that those who had already appealed against sanctions should be caught by the Bill.” In other words “we are quite satisfied that there was no positive intention to include them”. The judges conclude: “Given the disposition not to read legislation to be more retrospective than clearly intended, we are satisfied that, notwithstanding the literal meaning of the words “for all purposes” in section 1(1), the 2013 Act should be read so as not to affect those who had already appealed against sanctions.” 

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights
Article 6 requires “a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal”. (The Article 6 “unfairness” complained of may be interpreted as that the Government intervened in a legal process by passing the 2013 legislation – purporting to deny Reilly and others a “win” that the Supreme Court was preparing to give them.)

The Human Rights Act 1998 Section 3 requires judges to interpret legislation in compatibility with the ECHR. This, the judges asserted, means not merely where there is ambiguity but on the basis that the Secretary of State intended compatibility (as he is required to declare). Putative wording may therefore be added by judges to ensure conformity.  

The judges argued: “The effect [compatibility with the ECHR] can be achieved, for example, by reading in the words at the start of section 1(1) of the 2013 Act “Save where an appeal had already been made or had already been decided under section 12 of the Social Security Act 1998 before this Act came into force.” The Government argued this would actually run counter to the purpose of the Act but the judges said: “the mischief to which the Act was addressed was persons who had not already appealed adverse decisions and who would otherwise benefit from Reilly and Wilson because of section 27 of the SSA 1998 having no application’. The Act, on the construction set out above, was not directed against those who had already appealed against sanctions.

Materials

• Supreme Court judgment October 2013 R (Reilly and another) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions UKSC 2013
• See also Reilly No 2 and Hewstone v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the Article 6 point and incompatibility with Article 1 Protocol 1 of the ECHR – right to respect for property. The claimants argued that “it is contrary to the rule of law, protected by Art. 6, for a State to legislate in the course of ongoing legal proceedings to decide the issues before the court, when it does so to its own advantage, as a party to the dispute. Such an interference with Art. 6 rights can only be justified by ‘compelling grounds in the public interest’. They submit that no such compelling grounds exist in this case.”
Zielinski v France ECHR: “The Court reaffirms that while in principle the legislature is not precluded in civil matters from adopting new retrospective provisions to regulate rights arising under existing laws, the principle of the rule of law and the notion of a fair trial contained in Article 6 preclude any interference by the legislature–other than on compelling grounds of the general interest – with the administration of justice designed to influence the judicial determination of a dispute”.
• Government Statement on SI 2011/917)
• There is an interesting piece by Carol Harlow on the UK Constitutional law blog on the 2013 Act retrospectivity issue here.

 

 

The claims and outcome at the Supreme Court in Reilly
They argued that:
(i) the 2011 Regulations are unlawful, since they did not fulfil the requirements of section 17A of the 1995 Act in “prescribing” the programmes, the circumstances by which individuals are selected, or the period of participation (“lawfulness”)
(ii) the Respondents did not receive the information required by Regulation 4 of the 2011 Regulations (“notification”)
(iii) the Government was required to have a published policy setting out the details of the relevant schemes (“publication”)
(iv) that the scheme constituted forced or compulsory labour contrary to Article 4 ECHR (“forced labour”).

Outcomes:
i) That the 2011 Regulations are ultra vires section 17A because they fail to prescribe

i) a description of the SBWA scheme or the PAC [Accepted];
(ii) the circumstances in which a person can be required to participate in those schemes [Rejected: the “prescribed circumstances” were sufficiently set out given the need for some flexibility];
(iii) the period during which participants are required to undertake work on those schemes [Rejected: An open-ended period was legitimate].

ii) That the requirement that Miss Reilly and Mr Wilson participate in a scheme was unlawful, because the notice provisions contained in regulation 4 were not complied with [Accepted re Reilly; rejected re Wilson].

iii) That it is unlawful for the Government to enforce the 2011 Regulations in the absence of a published policy as to the nature of the relevant scheme and the circumstances in which individuals could be required to undertake unpaid work [Accepted but no declaratory relief ordered: “The Secretary of State owed a duty as a matter of fairness to see that Miss Reilly and Mr Wilson were respectively provided with sufficient information about the SBWA [sector-based work academy] scheme and the CAP [Community Action Programme], in order for them to be able to make informed and meaningful representations to the decision-maker before a notice requiring their participation was served on them. However, it would be wrong to be prescriptive as to how that information should be given”].

iv) That Miss Reilly had been subjected to forced or compulsory labour contrary to article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”) and/or that the Regulations were contrary to article 4 [Rejected].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Business, ECHR, European Convention on Human Rights, Human rights, Law, Legal, Social welfare, UK Constitution, UK Law, UK Politics, Uncategorized, Welfare law

Gender Recognition Act and an issue of privacy

A transgender woman has failed in her claim that the Gender Recognition Act 2004 breaches the privacy of those who have had surgery or other medical procedures towards gender reassignment. Section 3(3) of the Act requires that individuals reveal details of such medical procedures to a Gender Recognition Panel to back up an application for a Gender Recognition Certificate. Yet the Panel is empowered to issue the certificates to people who have had no such procedures as long as they can provide evidence of gender dysphoria and show they intend to live according to their chosen gender for the rest of their life.

A UK High Court judge rejected the claim by Helen Carpenter, who has transitioned from male to female, that the extra burden on those who had had or were contemplating medical procedures was a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on privacy.

Section 3(3) of the GRA 2014 says that if the applicant for a certificate “has undergone or is undergoing treatment for the purpose of modifying sexual characteristics” or plans such treatment or has had it prescribed then it is required that a doctor’s report on her position “provides details of it”. Mrs Justice Thirlwall said: “Given that this information is necessary to the decision to be taken, that its dissemination beyond the Panel is prohibited, I am satisfied that the provision of the information required in paragraph 3(3) is necessary and proportionate to the legitimate aim. There is no incompatibility with Article 8.”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Comment, ECHR, Equal-opportunities, Equality, European Convention on Human Rights, Human rights, Law, Legal, Politics, UK Law, UK Politics, Uncategorized

PLT Anti-Marketing cold-call blocking: not a ‘scam’ after all?

An attempt to close down a company accused by the UK Government of a cold-call blocking “scam” has hit something of a stalemate in the Court of Appeal. PLT Anti-Marketing Ltd charges £40 a year for a cold-calling and junk mail blocking service already available free from official providers. The court has quashed a judge’s finding that PLT breached regulations and Lord Justice Briggs has produced strong arguments in favour of the company despite an attempt by the Department of Business (BIS) to close it down.

Nevertheless PLT remains barred from pursuing its business as it wishes until a full trial – when judgment could turn against it. The litigation has so far been going on for more than a year and a half – during which time PLT has been able to continue charging current customers but not to take on new ones without telling them about the free service. The whole affair raises the issue of whether current legislation is adequate for dealing with alleged consumer scams of this sort.

The free cold-calling and direct mail blocking services are available from Telephone Preference Service (TPS – provided by Ofcom; see: Regulation 26 of the Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003) and the Mail Preference Service (MPS – offered by the Direct Marketing Association in co-operation with the Post Office). PLT takes the names of its paying customers and adds them to the free lists. It maintains a service for its customers to complain about any continued unwanted calls and mail, but that also links into the free official services. Customers continue to pay on a monthly or annual basis. 

The Department of Business (BIS) started investigating PLT in 2012. In April 2013 it issued a “public interest winding up petition” under Companies Act 1985 S.124A – and the matter has been bogged down in court hearings ever since.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Business, Business law, Comment, EU law, Law, Legal, Politics, UK Law, UK Politics

Newhaven Port: Why UK Supreme Court ruled beach cannot be village green

There was bad news and worse news for village green campaigners in the long UK Supreme Court judgment in R (Newhaven Port & Properties Ltd) v East Sussex County Council. The council and locals have lost the use of West Beach on the Sussex coast as the local port authority seeks to develop the port. The worse news is that the court has sought to close off all hope of turning beaches into village greens to protect them from development.

The reasons for rejecting the Newhaven village green claim are complex and rather narrow – though they will stymie many village green claims against public authorities or companies acting on their behalf with statutory duties and powers.

But the Supreme Court justices also allowed themselves free rein to preempt any wider bathing beach claims that fall outside the limited Newhaven definitions. Although they didn’t come to a final conclusion on this, Lord Carnwath did much of the spadework that would suggest village green applications on beaches would not be entertained. Consideration of the wider points will require another post at some time. Here the specifics of Newhaven are examined.

The Supreme Court case 2015
East Sussex County Council decided to register West Beach as a “town or village green” under the Commons Act 2006. Such registration gives certain planning protections to land and has been used to prevent development. Anyone can apply for registration for land where (according to Section 15(2) the Act

“a) a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years [the prescription period]; and 

(b) they continue to do so at the time of the application.” 



Crucially “as of right” means without specific permission from the owner: “nec vi, nec clam, nec precario” (not by force, nor stealth, nor the licence of the owner – precario meaning a permission that can be easily withdrawn). In April 2006, before the Act came into force, the owner of the beach, Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd (NPP), a statutory port authority, fenced it off to keep people away. Objectors said the public had established the required 20 years of use before the fencing went up. They said their use must have been “as of right”, meaning they behaved as if they had the right to be there even though they didn’t. There had previously been no fences or warning notices for example.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Comment, Law, Legal, Politics, UK Law, UK Politics

Victor Nealon miscarriage of justice: the case against Chris Grayling

In the case of Victor Nealon, seeking compensation for a miscarriage of justice, UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling seems to have flown in the face several tenets of the British legal tradition. He has overturned the principle that a person is innocent until proved guilty; reversed the burden of proof (that the prosecution must prove guilt, not the defence prove innocence); defied the standard of proof – guilt (not innocence) beyond reasonable doubt; and created himself as a quasi-judicial figure who is judge and jury in his own court. That’s some going as we celebrate Magna Carta, the foundation document for the rule of law.

On the face of it, it all seems perfectly legal, since his treatment of miscarriages of justice is enshrined in legislation passed last year. In reality, though, there is a strong case against Grayling – and a strong argument that his legislation is fatally flawed.

Nealon had been locked up for 17 years of a life sentence for attempted rape. When released in 2013 thanks to new DNA evidence he was denied compensation. His conviction in 1997 was ruled unsafe and he was released 10 years after his 7-year minimum tariff. Parole had throughout that time been rejected in part because he had continued to deny his guilt.

Grayling has refused to order compensation because his innocence has not been proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. This is quite contrary to the principle in criminal law cases that guilt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt – innocence need not be. But the new standard of proof specifically for miscarriage of justice compensation claims was rushed into law last year as an amendment to Section 133 of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act. The decision looks justifiable in law – which is probably why leave for a judicial review was turned down in December 2014.

This piece nevertheless argues that Grayling’s decision is challengeable in law and that the new legislation is unworkable – creating as it does a new legal concept (innocence beyond reasonable doubt) with no forum or expertise to establish innocence to such a level of certainty. This means that any decisions to reject claims based on the new law (rather than the perfectly functional law as it stood before 2014) will be open to challenge because they will all have been arrived at unreasonably – without the necessary evidence being made available to the Secretary of State nor any possibility of its being made available. There is also a strong arguable case that the Ministry of Justice and the new law itself is in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Comment, Constitution, Criminal law, ECHR, European Convention on Human Rights, Human rights, Law, Legal, Politics, Public law, UK Law, UK Politics, Uncategorized

Victor Nealon: the Court of Appeal miscarriage of justice case

The case of Victor Nealon, denied compensation despite being imprisoned for 17 years after a miscarriage of justice, has raised important issues about the compensation regime for such cases. Nealon, a former postman, was convicted of attempted rape in Redditch in Worcestershire in 1996. He served 10 years more than his recommended minimum tariff on a life sentence, in part because he continued to protest his innocence. The facts and legal arguments about the case are outlined below in some detail, based on his successful appeal in 2013 thanks to new DNA evidence. A post on the legal issues regarding compensation and why the new law (2014 Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act at Section 175that bars it to people in Nealon’s position unless they can prove their innocence (rather than prove a miscarriage of justice) is also available on Thinking Legally: The case against Grayling.

Nealon was convicted of attempted rape (of Ms E) in 1997 at Hereford Crown Court and sentenced by Jowitt J. His first appeal against conviction was dismissed in 1998. In July 2012, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (“CCRC”) referred the conviction to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division on the grounds of fresh DNA evidence (following his third application to the CCRC). He had continued to declare his innocence throughout his time in prison which debarred him from consideration for release after the 7-year minimum term was up. In effect his refusal to accept the verdict of the court meant he lost an extra 10 years of his life.

The following is extracted from Lord Justice Fulford’s judgment in the Court of Appeal in March 2014.  Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Analysis, Comment, Criminal law, Human rights, Law, Legal, Politics, UK Law, UK Politics, Uncategorized