Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR, 12 December 2022
This week’s roundup of legal news includes human rights, constitutional reform, the Post Office IT scandal, and more. Plus recent case law and commentary.
World Human Rights Day 2022
On 10 December the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) commemorated the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The UDHR is the foundation stone for the universal respect for, and guarantee of, human rights as inalienable rights for all of humanity.
This year’s theme is “Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All”. According to the CLA,
“This year’s theme is apt as the world grapples with challenges such as the global pandemic, climate change, exploding in-equalities, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, socio- economic injustice, and rising unfettered nationalism, all of which undermine the promise of dignity and equality in the enjoyment of these fundamental human rights.”
The United Nations will be embarking on a year-long campaign to promote and recognise the 75th anniversary of the UDHR. According to the UN:
“In the decades since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, human rights have become more recognised and more guaranteed across the globe. It has since served as the foundation for an expanding system of human rights protection that today focuses also on vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrants.
However, the promise of the UDHR, of dignity and equality in rights, has been under a sustained assault in recent years. As the world faces challenges new and ongoing — pandemics, conflicts, exploding inequalities, morally bankrupt global financial system, racism, climate change — the values, and rights enshrined in the UDHR provide guideposts for our collective actions that do not leave anyone behind.
The year-long campaign seeks to shift the needle of understanding and action towards greater knowledge of the universality of the UDHR and the activism associated with it.”
Meanwhile, back in Blighty, the UK government appears once more to be dithering over its plans to reform the Human Rights Act. According to The Times last week, Dominic Raab’s long-awaited bill of rights seems doomed again. The article explained that
“Dominic Raab’s bill of rights may be ditched again as Rishi Sunak has decided to prioritise legislation to tackle small boats, The Times has learnt. Sunak is understood to have told the deputy prime minister this week that he has ‘deprioritised’ the long-awaited overhaul of the Human Rights Act. However, Raab is ‘fighting back’, a government source said, and is trying to convince the prime minister that the bill is crucial, arguing that several other proposed laws ‘hinge’ on his reforms.”
Raab’s Bill of Rights Bill, aka the BORB, has had an uncertain progress. It’s been the target of a good deal of criticism, as we’ve reported here before, from academics, lawyers and judges, as well as leading politicians. Earlier this year it was dropped altogether, along with Raab’s ministerial role, during the (mercifully) brief Truss ascendancy, and then picked up again when Sunak took over. But with so much else on the legislative agenda, it’s hard to see it getting the parliamentary time needed to overcome all the likely opposition. Even the Daily Mail seems to agree that other things are more important: Bill of Rights is shelved for THIRD time: Dominic Raab’s flagship act is put on hold again so ministers can focus on law over Channel migrants crisis
In those circumstances, David Allen Green on the Law & Policy Blog asks What is going to now happen with the Bill of Rights? He warns opponents of the Bill against any premature triumphalism.
“Those generally supportive of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights should not be tempted into complacency by the apparent dropping of the Bill.
There are many ways a canny government can subvert human rights protections — subtle, hidden ways.”
House of Lords reform
The Labour Party published the report of its Commission on the UK’s Future, chaired by Gordon Brown, A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy. This proposes “an irreversible shift in power, outwards to people across the country”. While its headline recommendation involves abolishing the House of Lords as currently constituted and replacing it with an elected Assembly of the Nations and Regions, there are a number of other recommendations about redistributing power to the regions and improving social mobility and opportunity for all.
“To deliver security and prosperity for all parts of the United Kingdom we must change not only who governs but the way we are governed.”
“Our vision must be to ensure that no matter which party is in government, and no matter where they reside, all people and all areas can enjoy the same access to opportunity and prosperity and right to be listened to.”
Commenting in this week’s Law and Religion roundup, Frank Cranmer points out that
“Obviously, an elected second chamber would have no place for bishops (unless some of them stood for election, which is a vanishingly unlikely prospect). But as Nick Robinson pointed out ten years ago, ‘Lords reform has always been defeated by those passionately opposed to change finding a way to vote with those passionately in favour of change but opposed to whatever plan happens to be on the table at the time’.”
Reforming the House of Lords has been a long-running problem, as the House of Lords itself reports in a page on its own website dedicated to, you guessed it, House of Lords reform. This lists “milestones” in the actual land proposed reform of the House dating back to the 18th century. Meanwhile, the House itself gets bigger and bigger, as each new appointment is made in the hope of correcting the perceived lack of balance or proportionality in the existing membership, whether temporal, spiritual, judicial or political. (And, one hopes, incorruptible. Though reform of individual Lords is not, apparently, on the agenda.)
Post Office IT Scandal
Last week the Post Office public inquiry held its third special hearing on the issue of compensation. Rebecca Thomson has been covering it in her newsletter: Post Office compensation: Postmasters’ continuing anger and pain
“On the one hand, the institutions running the compensation schemes say progress has been made, and they have figures to back it up. On the other hand, postmasters whose lives were ruined decades ago continue to report being unable to heat their homes, buy food, or pay off debts.”
The whole process is agonisingly slow, adding to the loss and injury already suffered by the victims of this most outrageous collective miscarriage of justice. The impression is that officialdom doesn’t care enough to prioritise the matter at more than lip-service level.
“There are also growing parallels with the way Windrush victims, Grenfell victims and asylum seekers are treated — difficulty accessing legal funding, apparent institutional indifference, a pre-disposition towards not believing people, confusing forms, and people falling through the cracks to spend years in destitution waiting for answers.”
Meanwhile, as Nick Wallis explains on his blog covering the scandal, the government has unveiled yet another compensation scheme, specifically for the civil claimants in the Bates litigation (who settled the claim but whose compensation was mostly swallowed up in costs). The scheme will be run by BEIS, the government’s business department, and overseen by an ‘independent advisory board’ to ‘ensure the scheme works effectively’.
If you can, do please support the excellent reporting by Rebecca and Nick by subscribing to their blogs and podcast.
See also, on Prof Richard Moorhead’s blog covering this scandal, A lesson in conventional injustice. Commenting on the compensation process, he says:
“The Post Office claims to want to wipe the slate clean. Whether a lack of wisdom or insincerity, it colours any view of why, by design or incompetence (and I suspect there is a bit of both), the system delivers up compensation slowly, and it emerged yesterday likely inadequately. Some compensation offers made by Post Office were out by tens of thousands of pounds on matters which counsel for some of the victims claimed, plausibly, were obvious (and predicted).
Whatever the cause, the result is that everything the Post Office, and BEIS, does, appears drizzled in incompetence, and makes room for perceptions of bad faith.”
Other recent items
Legal Response to Russia’s War in Ukraine
The speech of the Attorney General Victoria Prentis at a recent conference, hosted in London, on the legal response to Russia’s war with Ukraine, has been published. “My view,” she says, “and the view of the UK government, is that nothing should be off the table. We will carefully consider all options for accountability.”
Digital support for court users
HM Courts and Tribunals Service say that their new digital support service “aims to remove the barriers that some users face when accessing our online services”. After a successful pilot, they are offering a free national digital support service to help users who cannot get online, including those who cannot access the internet or a computer. The service can also be used by those who are less confident or less able to access online services. The new service is provided through a partnership with We Are Digital, a social impact company dedicated to helping people access digital services.
Researching the Court of Protection: Accessing hearings as a PhD student
Interesting post on the Open Justice Court of Protection blog from a PhD student reflecting on their experience in attending hearings for academic research, and seeking the help of others.
“As part of my project, I obviously want to study hearings, understand how journalists have access to and negotiate what they can say about a case and look at published judgments, as well as press and TV coverage.
I hope my work will be useful to the Court of Protection, all those involved in court cases, and to journalists. I also hope it will contribute to open justice principles and to general public understanding of the work of the court.”
Is long-awaited reform of the UK’s outdated corporate prosecution rules coming one step closer?
Post by Dr Susan Hawley via Spotlight on Corruption newsletter on hopes for amendments proposed by Margaret Hodge MP to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill that would help prosecutors take on big multinational companies suspected of committing serious economic crime such as fraud and money laundering.
“At the end of the day, corporate prosecutions are crucial for the fairness of our justice system, and for creating a credible deterrence against economic crime. They are also crucial to ensure that the private sector plays its part in tackling economic crime by having robust, meaningful preventative procedures in place. Let us hope that the winds of change are finally beginning to blow the right way on this issue.”
The Metaverse: laws of the second coming
Alex Heshmaty via InfoLaw explains what the Metaverse is and how lawyers might benefit — both from using it (eg as a virtual space for meetings and hearings) and resolving legal problems created by others’ use of it (eg copyright, data protection, tax etc).
Recent case summaries from ICLR
A selection of recently published WLR Daily case summaries from ICLR.4:
CONFLICT OF LAWS — Sovereign immunity — Sovereign: Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn v HM Juan Carlos de Borbón y Borbón, 06 Dec 2022  EWCA Civ 1595;  WLR(D) 483, CA
CRIME — Sentence — Confiscation order: R v Miller (Stanley), 02 Dec 2022  EWCA Crim 1589;  WLR(D) 481, CA
DATA PROTECTION — Personal data — Access to: R (Delo) v Information Comr, 02 Dec 2022  EWHC 3046 (Admin);  WLR(D) 486, KBD
DEVOLUTION — Northern Ireland — Devolution issue: In re Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill, 07 Dec 2022  UKSC 32;  WLR(D) 482, SC(NI)
EMPLOYMENT — Settlement agreement — Scope: Arvunescu v Quick Release (Automotive) Ltd, 06 Dec 2022  EWCA Civ 1600;  WLR(D) 487, CA
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION — Public records — Retention: R (Good Law Project Ltd) v Prime Minister (R (All the Citizens) v Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), 01 Dec 2022  EWCA Civ 1580;  WLR(D) 485, CA
INTEREST — Recovery of debt or damages — Breach of contract: Sagicor Bank Jamaica Ltd v Seaton, 08 Dec 2022  UKPC 48;  WLR(D) 490, PC
PATENT — European patent — Declaratory relief: Teva UK Ltd v Novartis AG (Novartis AG v Teva UK Ltd), 08 Dec 2022  EWCA Civ 1617;  WLR(D) 491, CA
PRACTICE — Family proceedings — Domestic abuse: A v B (D v E), 02 Dec 2022  EWHC 3089 (Fam);  WLR(D) 489, Fam D
REVENUE — Income tax — Assessment: Wilkes v Revenue and Customs Commissioners, 07 Dec 2022  EWCA Civ 1612;  WLR(D) 488, CA
Recent case comments on ICLR
Expert commentary from firms, chambers and legal bloggers recently indexed on ICLR.4 includes:
A Lawyer Writes: What the Sacoolas case taught us: R v Sacoolas (Anne) Sentencing remarks, CCC
Transparency Project: Mind the Gap — the welfare decisions for H-N, a child AH v AN & Anor  EWFC 148, Fam Ct
Free Movement: Failure to explicitly consider delay is error of law says Court of Appeal: KG (Turkey) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1578, CA
Nearly Legal: Not quite Notice to Quit: O G Thomas Amaethyddiaeth CYF v Turner  EWCA Civ 1446, CA
Free Movement: Unsuccessful High Court challenge reminder to adhere to visa conditions: Shah & Anor v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 3033 (Admin), KBD (Admin)
Tweet of the week
is from Freedom from Torture, via the underground railway, and seems apt for World Human Rights Day 2022.
That’s all folks! Thanks for reading, and thanks for all your toots, tweets, posts and links. Take care now.
This post was written by Paul Magrath, Head of Product Development and Online Content. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of ICLR as an organisation.