The new guidance on prisoner voting is not an elegant solution, it’s a cowardly gesture

David Lidington, the Secretary of State for Justice, made a formal statement in Parliament on Thursday about the troublesome issue of prisoners voting. Understandably, in the rather excitable atmosphere gripping Westminster at the moment it did not attract a great deal of attention. It was praised by some of those present as a limited but “elegant” solution to the problem that the United Kingdom has, for at least the last 12 years, been in breach of its obligations under international law. This praise was misplaced. It amounted to no solution at all. It was a dismal, empty gesture which at best may buy a little time, but it will besmirch this country’s international reputation and lead inevitably to further embarrassment in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Continue reading “The new guidance on prisoner voting is not an elegant solution, it’s a cowardly gesture”

How much is the CPS to blame for not prosecuting perpetrators of FGM?

The assertion that thousands of British Muslim girls are getting mutilated with the passive acquiescence of the police and CPS seems to have settled  into public consciousness as a matter of established fact. Last month the Crown Prosecution Service proudly tweeted that it was:

“Prosecuting more people than ever for hate crime and ensuring they receive tougher sentences.”

The response to the tweet was instructive. I haven’t read through all 671 replies. One or two questioned whether it was actually proper or desirable for the CPS to be “ensuring heavier sentences,” but the tone of a huge proportion was the same: why are you bragging about prosecuting hate crime when you haven’t prosecuted anyone successfully for FGM? Continue reading “How much is the CPS to blame for not prosecuting perpetrators of FGM?”

It’s time for a Churchillian approach to our disgraceful prisons

In 1910 the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, told the House of Commons:

The first real principle which should guide anyone trying to establish a good system of prisons should be to prevent as many people as possible getting there at all. There is an injury to the individual, there is a loss to the State whenever a person is committed to prison for the first time, and every care, consistent with the maintenance of law and order, must be taken constantly to minimise the number of persons who are committed to gaol.”

Churchill was as good as his word. He did his best to reduce prison numbers and his immediate successors agreed with him. Prison numbers fell until 1915. They then remained roughly stable until the 1940s, since when, with the exception of a blip here and there, they have continued to rise. Continue reading “It’s time for a Churchillian approach to our disgraceful prisons”

An open letter about Charlie Gard to House Speaker Paul Ryan

Dear Speaker Ryan

Like many of your fellow countrymen and women, you have been following the heart-breaking case of Charlie Gard, the little baby who is desperately ill with mitochondrial disease in London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Despite a ruling from our highest courts that doctors would be acting lawfully if they turned off the ventilator which is keeping him alive, a tiny flame of hope continues to flicker. Charlie’s remarkable parents refused to concede that his condition was hopeless and – despite having had the legal authority to stop treating him – his doctors have in fact continued to keep him alive.

The Family Court has now agreed to re-examine the case in the light of possible fresh evidence. The latest development is that Dr Michio Hirano, a neurologist and specialist in mitochondrial disease from Columbia University, will examine Charlie at Great Ormond Street tomorrow. Dr Hirano has been very cautious. At best he gives about a 10% chance of his treatment being effective, and even if it does work to some extent it may not produce much improvement. Charlie has suffered brain damage and even Dr Hirano is not optimistic that that can be reversed. The odds are still against him surviving and even more against him improving but we all hope, and those who share your strong religious faith will pray.

You have tweeted about the case. As Speaker of the House of Representatives your tweets are seen by millions. There is no problem with that. It is a good thing to contribute to the discussion about our healthcare and legal systems. No doubt there is a great deal that we can learn from each other about our respective medical and legal systems. We are some way off perfection in both, as (if you will forgive me for saying) are you. But I am just a little concerned that in your rush to support Charlie’s parents you may have inadvertently overlooked some of the complicated issues that the case has highlighted.

You tweeted this:

I stand with #CharlieGard & his parents. Health care should be between patients & doctors—govt has no place in the life or death business.” Continue reading “An open letter about Charlie Gard to House Speaker Paul Ryan”

Harriet Harman’s proposed ban on sexual history evidence would be grotesquely unfair

Over the last few years there have been a number of powerful nominations for the title of stupidest Parliamentarian. This blog has in the past made what I thought was a powerful case for the prize to be jointly shared between Messrs Peter Bone and Phillip Hollobone, and the Secret Barrister has repeatedly and persuasively argued the case for Phillip Davies, and indeed may do so again at greater length in his eagerly awaited book. Just to prove that Conservatives do not have a stranglehold on the competition along comes Harriet Harman with a legislative proposal which is guaranteed to produce injustice and, for good measure, is virtually certain to be ruled incompatible with the Article 6 right to a fair trial under the European Convention on Human Rights. Continue reading “Harriet Harman’s proposed ban on sexual history evidence would be grotesquely unfair”

Exclusive: Guest Post by Sir Roger Scruton. How do we decide which human rights should be protected in law?

Theresa May’s Government has floated the idea that the next election might be contested on a pledge to incorporate all the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, while leaving the European Convention and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. There are plenty of arguments against such a course – not least the practical one that the midst of tricky Brexit and post-Brexit negotiations might not be the best time to take on an avoidable burden of human rights law reform – but it is in some ways a more coherent policy than the previous one which, insofar as it could be discerned at all, was to dilute some of the Convention rights in UK law while agreeing to abide by the decisions of a ECtHR which would not agree to any such dilution.

Critics have largely concentrated on the political and diplomatic pitfalls of abandoning the European Convention, and with it the Council of Europe. Would it really be right that Britain should join Belarus, Kosovo and The Holy See as the only sovereign nations outside the Council of Europe? On the other hand, do we really want to be part of a human rights club that includes Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

But leaving aside these international issues, should Theresa May’s proposal become official Conservative policy, it will mark the final acceptance by the Conservative Party that the common law alone is inadequate to protect human rights, and a recognition that “universal human rights” have a central part to play in British law.

But what are these “human rights?”

Should they all be equally protected by law?

Are some rights more universal than others, and if so how do we decide which are deserving of either protection or special status?

It is easy for lawyers to become complacent and to stop thinking. Nowhere is this tendency better demonstrated than in the law of human rights where each side of the debate tends to dig itself into deep trenches, while being more willing to engage in bad tempered name-calling than in constructive debate.

Barristerblogger is therefore proud to publish this exclusive guest post by the country’s leading conservative philosopher and thinker, Professor and Bencher of the Inner Temple, Sir Roger Scruton.

The European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights are courts whose decisions are made by judges trained in jurisdictions with distinct traditions of legal reasoning, many from former communist states in which law, as an independent source of authority, was deliberately extinguished. These judges cannot be removed from office by any procedure that a citizen could initiate, and their judgments override the legislative and judicial decisions of sovereign countries under their sway. This opens an avenue for transnational elites to impose their will on people in defiance of local customs and national sovereignty. Continue reading “Exclusive: Guest Post by Sir Roger Scruton. How do we decide which human rights should be protected in law?”

Professor Jay was brave but wrong to agree to chair the child abuse inquiry

I hate to be Cassandra yet again, but Amber Rudd has made the wrong decision in appointing Alexis Jay as the new Chairman (and like it or not, “Chairman” is the word used in the Inquiries Act 2005 under which she has been appointed) of the “independent inquiry into child sexual abuse” (“IICSA”); and Professor Jay was wrong to accept the appointment.

This is not, as some have suggested, because a social worker like Professor Jay is in some way compromised when the Inquiry examines the conduct of other social workers. She has in fact been an inspector of social work since 2005, criticism of other social workers has been her business for some time and she is well qualified to comment on social work failings should she come across any.

Nor is it because of any personal failings. Many of those who have worked with Prof Jay speak highly of her, and her report into sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 has been widely praised. Continue reading “Professor Jay was brave but wrong to agree to chair the child abuse inquiry”

This is no time for rejoicing: Erdogan is pulling Turkey towards despotism

There has been much rejoicing in the West that the attempted military coup in Turkey has been defeated by “people power.” People of all political persuasions, it has been said, including many strongly opposed to the governing AK Party, came onto the streets to defend democracy against a military putsch. They did so in answer to a call from President Erdogan in his now famous Facetime broadcast which was then repeated from minarets all over Istanbul and Ankara. There were acts of great bravery as unarmed civilians stood in the way of tanks, as well as scenes of horror, not least when bewildered conscripts appear to have been lynched. 

Meanwhile, pictures have been posted of the alleged coup leaders, now being held in custody. They look haggard and worried, as well they might.  Continue reading “This is no time for rejoicing: Erdogan is pulling Turkey towards despotism”

Don’t abuse the Brexit litigants: their action shows that we live in a free country

The law firm Mishcon de Reya is bringing an action to force the Prime Minister, whoever she (or just conceivably he) may be, to obtain Parliamentary approval before issuing that all-important Article 50 notification.

The question in issue is a deceptively simple one but it has divided lawyers. Can the Prime Minister invoke Article 50 as an act of Royal Prerogative; or will she need to persuade Parliament to pass legislation before doing so? Continue reading “Don’t abuse the Brexit litigants: their action shows that we live in a free country”

Why is it wrong to overturn wrongful convictions, Mr Bone?

It is a pretty safe bet that whenever Peter Bone MP opines on the criminal justice system he is wrong. He has voted to lower the abortion limit to 12 weeks, to retain the criminal offence of blasphemy and to reintroduce the death penalty (although not for blasphemy). One of his typical interventions last year was to sponsor a bill which would have forced judges to pass lengthy prison sentences even when they knew that it would be unjust to do so.

In fairness to him, he is wrong about plenty of other things too. In 2010 he signed an Early Day Motion in support of homeopathy (Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott were fellow signatories, as well as the completely barmy Conservative MP David Tredinnick, who believes in astrology). Continue reading “Why is it wrong to overturn wrongful convictions, Mr Bone?”