Tag Archives: human-rights

Do we need a modern treason law? A historical perspective

The Shamima Begum affair has – inevitably – prompted another outing for those who want Britain’s treason laws updated and reinvigorated. There seems no particular law to deal with someone who leaves Britain to marry into Isis, so why not dust off the medieval notion of treason and make it apply to Begum and her ilk?

It is an error to think that the treason law has never been modernised since the original Statute of Treasons of 1351 (still on the Statute Books here). In fact over the centuries it was updated to protect particular English and British monarchs or to deal with particular threats as and when they came up, such was the dissent that accompanied the countries’ oft-changing regimes. This list counts nearly 100 statutes as Treason Acts, some reforming legislation such as the 2013 Succession to the Crown Act, which extends the protection to female heirs apparent, others intended to crack down on the latest threat. Continue reading

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Human Rights Act: Are these cases trivial?

It may be worth while looking at a few recent cases under the UK Human Rights Act 1998 – now under threat from the Conservative Government. They aren’t leading cases but they raise the question of what counts as “trivial” in the mind of the Government (which wants to limit the use of Human Rights laws to the most serious cases and exclude “trivial” ones) and what principles the Government is seeking to abolish with the HRA. In particular why they wish to abolish the principle that:

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [The European Convention on Human Rights] are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.” (ECHR Art 13)

For that is what abolition of the HRA means: that individuals will receive only those human rights Parliament (in effect the Government) says they should receive; and legal barriers will be put in their way of those seeking human rights justice against the State and its offshoots. Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act makes it illegal for a public authority, which includes a court, to act in a way which is incompatible with Convention rights. That will no longer necessarily be the case.
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Repeal of the Human Rights Act – and a British Bill of Rights

Note: details of a potential “overhaul” of the Human Rights Act, clause by clause, appear below for those who prefer to get straight to the nitty gritty: “Conservative Rights and Obligations – point by point”

The 2022 Queen’s Speech has underlined the intention of the  Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, to “reform” the UK Human Rights Act with a new British “Bill of Rights” (consultation document here). 

It is likely that Raab will craft what he calls a distinctly British version of human rights that swings the legal regime subtly in favour of the executive and public bodies, albeit without seeking to withdraw from the broad obligations of the European Convention of Human Rights.

But whether the changes will be acceptable to the European Court of Human Rights is a moot point. If not, Raab will relish the fight, and will point outthat the court already accepts a “margin of appreciation” for the exercise of human rights in individual countries ie the idea that they might be affected by the history and constitutional outlooks of individual nations and hence are not homogenous across all signatories. 

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Bingham’s rule of law: outdated, utopian – and desperately needed now

How useful is Tom Bingham’s view of the rule of law? Through his lectures and book on the subject the former law lord unseated AV Dicey as the go-to guy of the Rule of Law. But what did he bring to it that makes us prefer his view to that of the formalistic and somewhat stuffy old Victorian predecessor?

Dicey’s formula can be summed up thus:

“a. No man is punishable or can be lawfully made to suffer in body or goods except for a distinct breach of law established in the ordinary legal manner before the courts of the land;
b. No man is above the law; whatever his rank or condition is, he is subject to the ordinary law of the realm and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals;
c. It is because England has a constitution that the personal rights and liberties of individuals are always secure. This security comes from being able to go to the law courts to remedy any breach of these rights and liberties.”

Certainly the idea has gained many accretions since Dicey – possibly even been “reduced to incoherence” according to one commentator: “It would not be difficult to show that the phrase ‘the Rule of Law’ has become meaningless thanks to ideological abuse and general over-use”, (Judith Shklar, Political Thought and Political Thinkers, chap 2).

For the purposes of this piece we are talking in particular of Shklar’s Montesquieu version of the rule of law: “Those institutional restraints that prevent governmental agents from oppressing the rest of society”.

The concept has gathered various provisions, thanks to Bingham and others, any or all of which are devoutly to be wished but which don’t necessarily have the real constitutional weight of a “limited number of protective arrangements … meant to benefit every member of society” (Shklar again).

Lord Bingham, in the 2006 Sir David Williams Lecture, starts here: “All persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly and prospectively promulgated and publicly administered in the courts”. But he adds to this a set of sub-rules without which he thinks the rule of law cannot (or does not) exist. None of these in fact constitute constitutional principles, nor have they ever done so.

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Lords committee issues new criticism of Theresa May over immigration

A UK Parliamentary committee has issued further criticism of Home Secretary Theresa May’s attempts to get flawed British immigration rules accepted by the courts.

May placed 290 pages of immigration code of practice rules in the House of Lords in an apparent kneejerk reaction to the Alvi case where the rules were struck down by the Supreme Court (reported here).

The court took the view that the Home Office was trying to treat the code as law for the purpose of barring immigration and for deportations even though they had passed through no proper parliamentary procedure. The day after the case, on 19 July, May sought to gain some sort of parliamentary sanction for the code by placing it before the Lords – a few days before their summer recess (the House of Commons was no longer sitting).

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has questioned this latest move on the grounds that the rules “may imperfectly achieve their policy objective”. Under the 1971 Immigration Act S.3(2) to count as legislation, such rules should lie in both Houses of Parliament for 40 days to allow parliamentarians to object or debate them if they wish – the so-called “negative procedure”.

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Theresa May’s meaningless statement on immigration rules

A UK parliamentary committee has expressed concerns about the procedure used by Home Secretary Theresa May to give enhanced democratic credibility to tougher action on immigration.

Her new Immigration Rules have been presented to Parliament in a constitutionally innovative manner that may have no legal validity. This involved not simply passing the rules through the two Houses of Parliament by the traditional means for secondary legislation but having an additional debate (with no vote) in the House of Commons (but not the House of Lords) to assert the legal power of the Rules against the claims of international human rights law.

The intention behind the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC 194) was to use the debate “as a vehicle to gain Parliament’s endorsement of its approach to Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights to assist the courts when deciding appeals on immigration matters”, noted the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of the House of Lords. (Committee Report 4.3 pdf)

However, the committee implies that the procedure was of dubious validity and constitutionally unlikely to have the desired effect – to force judges to reduce their reliance on Article 8(1) when judging immigration and deportation cases.

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Can Pepper v Hart save Julian Assange?

The UK Supreme Court Julian Assange European Arrest Warrant case has been delayed for two weeks for new legal arguments to be put regarding the meaning of the UK legislation that enacted the EAW system. Those arguments may draw on the minority pro-Assange judgment of Lord Mance who made interesting use of the principle in Pepper v Hart [1992] UKHL 3 (summarised below) – that judges may consult speeches in Parliament to establish the purpose or meaning of statutes.

The issue at stake is whether “judicial authority” (the words used in the 2003 Extradition Act) for the purpose of issuing the arrest warrants can include mere prosecuting authorities, as is the practice in some European countries.

Sweden’s prosecutors are seeking Assange’s arrest to question him on allegations of sexual offences. If UK law requires a court or judge to issue the warrants, then Sweden cannot have him. It is a question of how the words “judicial authority” are interpreted, and Mance cited parliamentary debate on the Extradition Bill in Hansard to suggest that MPs were clear in their minds that they were voting for judges and courts, not for prosecutors. Continue reading

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