Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 3’ Category

Prisoners’ Voting Rights: Supreme Court judgement

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The decision of the UK Supreme Court on Prisoners’ voting rights, published on 16 October 2013, seems to me to be rather more nuanced than much of the media coverage I have read and heard.

The case which reached the Supreme Court involved two appeals, one from England  (Chester) and one from Scotland (McKeoch). Only the Chester case invoked the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. Both cases also raised a question of EU law.

The issue under EU law arose from the focus in the EU on the core concerns of ensuring equal treatment between EU citizens residing in Member States other than that of their nationality, and so safeguarding freedom of movement within the EU. However, eligibility to vote in Member States is basically a matter for national legislatures, and a matter for each individual legislature to determine. In any event, the EU legal principle of non-discrimination would still not be engaged. Convicted prisoners serving their sentence are not in a comparable position to persons not in prison. Thus, in both cases, the Supreme Court held that EU law did not apply.

As regards the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998, the Supreme Court noted that in a series of cases (Hirst (No 2) v UK, Greens v UK and Scoppola v Italy) the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) had held that a blanket prohibition of this nature is an indiscriminate restriction on a vitally important right and, as such, incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol No 1, the duty to hold free and fair elections.

Under the HRA, the Supreme Court is required to “take into account” decisions of the ECtHR, not necessarily to follow them. This enables the national courts to engage in a constructive dialogue with the ECtHR. However, the prohibition on prisoner voting in the UK has now been considered by the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR twice and, on each occasion, found to be incompatible with Article 3 Protocol 1. In these circumstances, it would have to involve some truly fundamental principle of law or the most egregious oversight or misunderstanding before it could be appropriate for the Supreme Court to refuse to follow Grand Chamber decisions of the ECtHR. The ban on prisoner voting is not, in the Supreme Court’s view, a fundamental principle of law in the UK, and the circumstances do not justify a departure from the ECtHR’s caselaw.

Thus contrary to some reporting, the Supreme Court has upheld the ECtHR’s view  that the UK’s blanket ban on voting rights is incompatible with the European Convention. The Supreme Court did not issue a declaration of incompatibility, however, because that is a discretionary remedy; the Court had already issued such a declaration; the Government was undertaking work to respond to the initial declaration; it was not for the Court to say how the Government should ultimately resolve the matter; and that therefore, being a discretionary remedy, the Court would not exercise its discretion in this case.

So the ball is still very much in the Government’s court.

The full judgement of the Supreme Court and a press release prepared by the Court are available at http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/news/latest-judgments.html

Written by lwtmp

October 17, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Compulsory voting? The experience in Australia

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In Chapter 3 of the book, I raise the question of whether voting in elections should be made compulsory (p. 28). I note that this is already the law in Australia.

The up-coming Australian general election has caused a number of commentators to revisit this issue. The BBC News website carried a very interesting piece on just this question. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23810381.

The article makes a number of points worth noting:

  • compulsory voting has been the law for the best part of a century;
  • turnout in elections is very high – around 94%
  • but penalties for non voting are not severe – a small fine;
  • and many people avoid voting by not registering to vote;
  • thus the ‘real’ turnout is not as high as the headline figure suggests;
  • that compulsory voting is the law in 22 other countries but the law is enforced in only 10 of them.

The article quotes arguments for and against the position in Australia.

There is no suggestion that compulsory voting will be introduced in the UK. But I think it is an issue that should at least be raised for public debate. What do you think?

Written by lwtmp

August 28, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Chapter 3

Queen’s Speech 2013-2014

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The Queen’s Speech 2013 contains few measures that seem likely to impact directly on the English Legal system. The two most obvious candidates are:

1. Offender Rehabilitation Bill

This is designed to extend statutory supervision after release to offenders serving short custodial sentences, allowing probation providers to deal with the causes of re-offending. This would mean that all offenders released from prison will receive at least 12 months’ statutory supervision.

For sentences served in the community, the Bill would create greater flexibility for probation providers so that they are free to deliver innovative and effective interventions to tackle re-offending.

The main benefits of the Bill would be to:

  • Reduce re-offending rates for the most prolific offenders.
  • Support Government plans to open up probation services to a wide range of providers(including private and voluntary sector providers) through competition and develop use of a system of payment by results for providers

The Bill would provide for drug-abusing offenders to be required to attend treatment appointments, and expand the drugs that an offender can be required to be tested for from class A to class B.

The Bill would create a new rehabilitation activity requirement that can be imposed as part of sentences served in the community. This would provide a flexible requirement within which probation providers can require offenders to attend appointments or activities that support their rehabilitation.

2. Anti-social Behaviour,  Crime and Policing Bill which  contains a variety of measures including policies to tackle anti-social behaviour, forced marriage, dangerous dogs and illegal firearms used  by gangs and in organised crime. It also includes measures to enhance the professional capabilities and integrity of the police, and continuing the process of modernising police pay and conditions.

3. Immigration Bill may have a significant impact on rights of appeal in immigration disputes.

In addition there are two draft Bill which will have an impact on the English Legal system, when enacted.

1 Draft Deregulation Bill, be published in draft for pre – legislative scrutiny. While many regulations are being scrapped and reformed either administratively or via secondary legislation, the main aims of this Bill are, in the Government’s words, to:

  • ·         Reduce or remove burdens on businesses and Civil Society and facilitate growth
  • ·         Reduce or remove burdens on public bodies, the taxpayer or individuals
  • ·         Tidying up the statute book by repealing legislation that is no longer of any practical use.

 2 Draft  Consumer Rights Bill, designed to

  •  Give consumers clearer rights in law and to make sure that consumer rights keep pace with technological advances.
  • Provide important new protections for consumers alongside measures to  reduce regulation for business, all with the aim of making markets work  better.

Written by lwtmp

May 11, 2013 at 8:34 am

Legislation 2012-2013: end of term report

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In May 2012, I outlined those features of the Queen’s speech which I thought would impact on the English Legal System. Here is my end of term report on those measures:

Dropped
House of Lords reform, I said this was potentially the ‘big one’ in terms of constitutional change and political controversy. But my observation that ‘it is far from certain that sufficient political consensus will be created to make its enactment an inevitability’ proved accurate – it fell at the first fence and now seems firmly in the long grass.

Incomplete
1. The Children and Families Bill designed to amend the law on adoption and bring into law changes to the Family Justice system recommended by the Norgrove report, did not complete its Parliamentary passage and has been carried over into the 2013-2014 session.

2.The draft Local Audit Bill, which was designed to abolish the Audit Commission, got a pretty hostile reception from the ad hoc Parliamentary Committee that undertook a pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft. See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmdraftlocaudit/696/69602.htm. However, the Government made it clear that it would proceed with the bill. See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/192495/29073_Cm_8566_v0_4.pdf. A Local Audit and Accountability Bill has been announced in the Queen’s Speech 2013 to take this proposal forward.

Completed
1. Most important for the English Legal System, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 gives statutory authority for the creation of the National Crime Agency. It provides for the creation of a single family court, which will change the infrastructure currently in place. It also amends some of the current provisions relating to the making of judicial appointments and provides for the televising of some court proceedings.
2. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 implements proposals which seek to ensure that more employment disputes are resolved by conciliation. It also abolishes the Competition Commission and Office for Fair Trading and replaces them with a Competition and Markets Authority.
3. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 aims to make it easier for people to register to vote.
4.The Groceries Adjudicator Act 2013 formally creates the new scheme for adjudicating disputes between consumers and the ‘big name retailers’ – another area of disputes taken from the courts. (There are over 60 industry adjudication schemes already in existence in the UK – many of them not well understood but doing work of resolving disputes that otherwise might have gone to courts). Although the Act did not receive Royal Assent until April 2013, Christine Tacon was appointed to the post in January 2013.

Comment

It is perhaps a consequence of Coalition Government that the passage of legislation is not as predictable as when a single political party is in Government. Even so, most of the key measures, apart from House of Lords Reform, have made progress. It should of course be noted that major policy changes – effected by legislation passed in previous years – came into effect. These include: the reform of legal aid; fundamental change to the health service; changes to social welfare and benefits.

Written by lwtmp

May 11, 2013 at 7:54 am

Report of the Commission on a New Bill of Rights for the UK

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The Commission, established in the early days of the Coalition Government, has now reported. The outcome does not give clear advice to Government.

Seven of the Commission’s nine members believe that, on balance, there is a strong argument in favour of a UK Bill of Rights on the basis that such a Bill would incorporate and build on all of the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, and that it would provide no less protection than is contained in the current Human Rights Act and the devolution settlements.  Some of the majority believe that it could usefully define more clearly the scope of some rights and adjust the balance between different rights. For the majority as a whole, the most powerful arguments for a new constitutional instrument are what is called ‘the lack of ownership’ by the public of the existing Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, and the opportunity which a UK Bill of Rights would offer to provide greater protection against possible abuses of power.

The two members are strongly opposed to this conclusion – Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands. They believe that now is not the time to focus on a new UK Bill of Rights. They believe that the majority has failed to identify or declare any shortcomings in the Human Rights Act or its application by our courts. While they remain open to the idea of a UK Bill of Rights were they to be satisfied that it carried no risk of decoupling the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights, they fear that one of the principal arguments relied upon by the majority – the issue of public ownership of rights – will be used to promote other aims, including the diminution of rights available to all people in our community, and a decoupling of the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Press reporting of the Commission’s report was pretty sketchy – not the subject of big headlines. The consensus seems to be that little action is likely to be taken in the short-term – it is one of those issues that divides the Coalition. However, in the run up to the 2015 General Election, commentators anticipate the Conservatives in particular returning to the attack, and arguing for closing off the existing routes to the European Court of Human Rights.

To read the report go to http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/press-releases/cbr/the-commission-on-a-bill-of-rights-report-a-uk-bill-of-rights-the-choice-before-us

Written by lwtmp

December 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Chapter 3

Prisoners’ voting rights

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A topic which has excited considerable debate, both in and out of Parliament, is whether prisoners should have voting rights.

Current law in the UK is that those in jail don’t vote.

The issue has been raised in the European Court of Human Rights in a number of different cases. Article 3 of the First Protocol of the Europen Convention on Human Rights gives the right to free and fair elections.

In 2005, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found in Hirst v UK (No 2) that the UK’s blanket ban on serving prisoners voting was in contravention of this provision in the Convention.

The Greens and MT v UK judgment, which became final on 11 April 2011, set a deadline of six months for the UK to bring forward legislative proposals to end the blanket ban, i.e. 11 October 2011.

However, action was further delayed because another case, this time from Italy, was to be decided by the Court. On 30 August 2011, the original deadline was extended to six months after judgment delivery in the case of Scoppola no. 3. The delivery of Scoppola No. 3, became final on 22 May 2012. Thus the six month period referred to in Greens and M.T. began to run on 22 May 2012. It expired on 22 November 2012.

The UK Government has actually argued quite successfully that the opposite to a blanket ban should not be all prisoners getting the vote. Indeed in Scoppola it was acknowledged that the UK argument, that there should be a considerable ‘margin of appreciation’ in implementation, was accepted.

The Court found that under Italian law only prisoners convicted of certain offences against the State or the judicial system, or sentenced to at least three years’ imprisonment, lost the right to vote. There was, therefore, no general, automatic, indiscriminate measure of the kind that led the Court to find a violation of Article 3 in the case of the UK. The restrictions imposed under Italian Law were not in controvention of the Human Rights Convention.

With this flexibility in mind, the Government has published a draft bill offering three options:

  • no change to the law – i.e. retention of the blanket ban;
  • ban for those sentenced to more than 6 months; or
  • ban for those sentenced to more than four years.

In parliament itself, strong arguments have been heard that the UK Government should make its own mind up on these matters and that to allow prisoners vote would make some MPs ‘sick. Equally strong arguments have been heard that, actually, the Convention right guaranteeing the right to vote and the Court’s judgement that there can be much flexibility in how this right is protected is a sensible compromise.

Given recent Government statements about the importance of sentencing leading to rehabilitation and preventing recidivism, it seems to me surprising that the argument for keeping the current blanket ban is not really that strong. But I accept that, for some, this is a very controversial viewpoint. What do you think?

To read the Government proposals go to http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/features/prisoner-voting-rights.
The draft Bill is to be subject to review by a Joint Committee of MPs in the Commons and the House of Lords. It will report in 2013.

Written by lwtmp

December 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Chapter 2, Chapter 3

Post-legislative scrutiny; reviewing the impact of legislation

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In the book (Chapter 3) I note various ways in the legislative process has changed over recent years. At present, however, there is no mention of a new process of post-legislative scrutiny that has been in place for the last 2 or three years.

The idea of post-legislative scrutiny is fairly simple. After a period following the enactment of a new Act of Parliament the question should be posed: is the Act working as it was intended to do?

The idea has been floating around academic circles for many years. The House of Lords Constitution Committee considered it in 2004. Things moved forward significantly when the former Labour Administration asked the Law Commission to consider the issue and how it could be turned into a practical reality.

Its report was published in 2006; the then Government’s reponse was published in 2008.

Since then there has been a programme of post-legislative scrutinies.

The key features of the programme are:

  • not all Acts of Parliament are subject to scrutiny;
  • where there is scrutiny, the review is undertaken by the relevant Departmental Select Committee – it is a process driven by back-bench MPs, taking evidence and reaching conclusions as they do in other inquiries they undertake;
  • the scrutiny process is started by the preparation within the Government department concerned of a memorandum on the Act of Parliament concerned being presented to the Select Committee, who then invite wider observations and inputs from outside government on the Act’s operation.

The Law Commission’s report is at:http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/docs/lc302_Post-legislative_Scrutiny.pdf

The Government’s response is at: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm73/7320/7320.pdf

For an example of a current post-legislative scrutiny exercise, see the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into the operation of the Freedom of Information Act. In relation to this, evidence has been sought and obtained; the final report is being written.
For further information see:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/foi/
The Ministry of Justice’s memorandum which formed the basis for the inquiry is at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/foi/

Clearly at some point there needs to be an evaluation of the scrutiny process. Are lessons being learned from the process which can be fed back into the legislative process?

Written by lwtmp

November 20, 2012 at 10:40 am

Posted in Chapter 3

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

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This Act of Parliament deals with a somewhat miscellaneous series of matters, but ones which had caused political controversy, where it was argued (and the Coalition Government had accepted) that the balance between the rights of the individual and the interests of the State was not right. (It had indeed been preceded by the Identity Documents Act 2010, which abolished measures relating to the introduction of identity cards, introduced by the previous Labour administration.) Among the measures included in the 2012 Act are:
• reducing the maximum period of pre-charge detention (without trial) for terrorist suspects to 14 days;
• deleting the DNA samples and fingerprints of more than 1m innocent people from police databases;
• deleting the DNA samples and fingerprints of more than 1m innocent people from police databases;
• abolishing a law to permit trials without juries in serious fraud cases;
• ending the fingerprinting of children in schools without parental consent; and
• introduction of a code of practice for CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems
For more detail of these and other provisions go to http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/news/protection-of-freedoms and follow the links.

Written by lwtmp

October 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Reshuffling the judicial top jobs: Supreme Court President and Master of the Rolls

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As well as ministerial changes there have been changes in two of the top judicial jobs.

Lord Phillips, who was the first President of the Supreme Court, reached retirement age this autumn. He is replaced as President, from 1 October 2012, by Lord David Neuberger – who was formerly the Master of the Rolls. See http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/news/new-president-of-the-supreme-court.html.

The resultant vacancy as Master of the Rolls is filled by Lord John Dyson, currently a member of the Supreme Court. See http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/appointment-of-master-of-the-rolls/

Written by lwtmp

September 27, 2012 at 8:28 am

New Lord Chancellor

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Over the summer, the Prime Minister shuffled his ministerial team. Ken Clarke, the former Lord Chancellor, was one of the minister to lose his job (though he remains in the Cabinet).

Replacing him is Chris Grayling. You can read a bit about him at http://www.justice.gov.uk/about/moj/departmental-board/chris-grayling-mp.

Press coverage suggests that Grayling is likely to be ‘tougher on crime’ than his predecessor – a reputation arising from the time he was the Shadow Home Secretary before the arrival of the Coalition Government.

I’m not so sure. While his predecessor sought to argue for changes in penal policy based on their efficacy, he was also seeking to save money – putting people in jail is expensive. The need for public expenditure cuts remains – so it is not clear how far Grayling will be able to lock more people up, even assuming that that is what he wants to do.

Recent press stories suggest that Grayling’s first challenge will be to try to get the judiciary to accept a cut in their pension entitlements (in fact a process started by Clarke). Now that is a challenge. See, e.g. http://www.solicitorsjournal.com/node/14064

Written by lwtmp

September 27, 2012 at 8:18 am

Posted in Chapter 3

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