Judgment call: the case for leaving the ECHR

The debate about the European Convention on Human Rights is in danger of being diverted into irrelevant byways. Hostility to the convention has become a trademark of the right wing of the Conservative party, which invites unnecessary partisanship. This is unfortunate, because the United Kingdom’s adherence to the convention raises a major constitutional issue which ought to concern people all across the political spectrum. It is far more important than Suella Braverman’s battles with boat people and ‘lefty lawyers’. Yet so far, the debate has rarely risen above the level of empty slogans, meaningless mantras and misleading claims. The real purpose of the convention is to make us accept rights

Listen: Emily Thornberry’s car crash interview on Sunak smear

What do you do when you’re in a hole? Stop digging. Apparently Emily Thornberry didn’t get the memo. The Shadow Attorney General was wheeled out on the Easter Monday media round to defend Labour’s attack advert which claims that Rishi Sunak isn’t tough enough on criminals convicted of child sexual abuse. Thornberry did her best to sound authoritative and lawyerly but came unstuck multiple times during her seven-minute grilling on Radio 4’s Today programme. After allowing Thornberry to sound off on the importance of overhauling the sentencing guidelines on child sexual abuse, host Justin Webb asked her about Sir Keir Starmer’s own role in drawing them up. As Director of Public Prosecutions,

In praise of the speeding crackdown

We all needed a laugh, what with the pound tanking and inflation running away, my old pal Kwasi delivering a Budget, probably for a bet, like Milton Friedman’s last cheese-dream, and the threat of nuclear annihilation starting to seem like a welcome turn up for the books. Said laugh has just been obligingly provided by the Metropolitan Police. They have just, without broadcasting the fact, decided to enforce the speed limit with the tiniest bit more rigour – and as a result, they’ve nicked more than two and a half times as many people for speeding in the first six months of this year than they did in the last

The case for theft-tanks

The Conservative party leadership contest is a milestone for diversity and inclusion. This time, we get to choose between someone who studied philosophy, politics and economics at Lincoln College, Oxford and someone who studied philosophy, politics and economics at Merton College, Oxford. I can barely contain my excitement. I find the very idea of an undergraduate degree in politics alarming. It is often seen in business that people who complete an MBA straight after university turn out to be spectacularly useless employees, and it’s possible that this unhappy pattern recurs in politics. The reason is simple: there is an order effect at work. It’s one thing to theorise on the

The European court has seriously overstepped over Rwanda

Last night’s abrupt order from the European Court of Human Rights that led to the grounding of the first Rwanda deportation flight delighted progressives everywhere. They will of course say – rather in the fashion of twentieth-century home secretaries calmly refusing to reprieve a condemned murderer – that the law is merely taking its course, and that we should be proud that the rule of law has been upheld. This sounds comforting. It is also wrong-headed. The Rwanda debacle in fact raises very serious questions about the legitimacy of the Strasbourg judges and their interference with national administrations. To remind you of the background, concerted lawfare in the English courts

Stephen Daisley

Progressives, don’t cheer Rwanda’s setbacks

The last-minute halting of the first flight to Rwanda is humiliating for Boris Johnson’s government. An urgent interim measure from the European Court of Human Rights prompted a domino effect of domestic court orders that ended with the plane returning to base without passengers. The ECtHR’s order came down to three factors. First, that evidence from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others suggested asylum seekers transferred to Rwanda ‘will not have access to fair and efficient procedures for the determination of refugee status’. Second, that the High Court had found ‘serious triable issues’ in the government’s decision to treat Rwanda as a safe third country on the grounds that

Changing the Northern Ireland Protocol won’t break the law

The UK is about to publish a bill that will override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. We are doing this unilaterally – the EU doesn’t want us to do it, but we’re going to do it anyway. Surely that means we’re about to breach international law? It’s worth quickly going over why this is happening. The EU wanted to protect its common market, and no one wanted a border down the island of Ireland, so a trade border was placed in the Irish Sea. That has created trade friction between two constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Unionists are unhappy with that arrangement. And unhappy Unionists have led to

My list of Britain’s national character flaws

Before we start, let’s firmly establish my long-standing affection for the United Kingdom. Why, some of my best friends are British. Yet at the risk of overgeneralisation, recent events have exemplified a few shortcomings in the otherwise sterling national character. Nitpicking pettiness. We’ve whole front pages dedicated to the Labour leader’s carryout curry one evening during lockdown; to between which hours (8.40 p.m. to 10 p.m.) the offending curry was consumed (Keir Starmer’s failure to reveal if it was lamb korma or chicken vindaloo is deeply troubling); and to which other eateries were then still open. Thanks to this rigorous coverage, we all know that Starmer’s hotel was serving food

Ed Sheeran is right about British courts

As they say in the music business, where there’s a hit, there’s a writ. It is something that no one knows better than Ed Sheeran, who yesterday won a legal battle over claims that his song Shape of You plagiarised an earlier song, Oh Why by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue. The judge ruled that Sheeran had neither copied the song deliberately nor subconsciously. After his victory, Sheeran said: Claims like this are way too common now and have become a culture where a claim is made with the idea that a settlement will be cheaper than taking it to court, even if there is no basis for the claim,

Sex, trans rights and the Scottish census

It takes some doing to make a census interesting. So congratulations to the National Records of Scotland (NRS). NRS, which administers the decennial survey, is facing a judicial review over its guidance on the document. On the question of sex, it states that ‘if you are transgender the answer you give can be different from what is on your birth certificate’. That is, something other than your legal sex. Feminist group Fair Play For Women will challenge this guidance at the Court of Session on 2 February. If this sounds familiar, it’s because similar guidance for last year’s census in England and Wales was challenged at the High Court and found to

Have we reached peak human rights?

After the Colston debacle, you might be forgiven for having missed the other legal story that broke this week. The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed the complaint in the Ulster ‘gay cake’ case, so the decision in favour of the baker will stand. In case you need reminding, seven years ago a Belfast gay rights activist called Gareth Lee asked Ashers, a high-class bakery, to produce a cake inscribed with the phrase ‘Support Gay Marriage’ for an event he was organising. The bakery owners refused, citing Presbyterian religious scruples, whereupon Lee sued for discrimination. He lost. Our Supreme Court held that he had not been discriminated against because he

The Colston verdict is the triumph of values, not law

The verdict is in on the case of the Colston statue in Bristol. Not guilty. Every one of the accused is innocent. And I mean that: everyone is innocent until proven guilty. If found not guilty, they must — at all times — have retained their innocence. But something feels wrong. Eminent lawyers have described the verdict as both absurd and perverse. In the UK we ‘relate’ to law. We aren’t taught it in schools. Our parents, teachers, instead introduce it to us by osmosis. We have a feel for it, a grasp of it. We might have felt we knew what criminal damage was, and we might have felt that

Parliament, not judges, should decide our laws

The British commentariat has not covered itself in glory in its reaction to Dominic Raab’s proposed reforms to judicial review. The Times reported yesterday that the government is planning to introduce a novel legislative tactic, the ‘Interpretation Bill’, to try to shift the balance of power back towards parliament. To be clear: there is no prospect of ministers being given the power to strike down court judgments they dislike. In fact, the core of the proposal is perfectly orthodox. The proper way for parliament to change the law is through legislation, and an Interpretation Bill is legislation. It would need to be passed in the normal way, and MPs would

Raab’s law reforms are ridiculous

What should we make of the Times story yesterday, which appeared under the headline ‘Boris Johnson Plans To Let Ministers Throw Out Legal Rulings’? The impression given is that ministers will somehow be handed powers by the Prime Minister simply to ignore court rulings that they do not like. That would lead to an extraordinary constitutional crisis, involving either the arrest and imprisonment of ministers for contempt of court, or the arrest and imprisonment of judges with the government exercising Erdogan-style despotism. Nobody can seriously believe that this is what is intended, and the rest of the Times story makes clear that it is not. Instead, the idea which is

Insulate Britain are not martyrs

Throughout the Insulate Britain protests there was a suspicion that the group was deliberately trying to get its members behind bars during the COP26 conference — a suspicion that was enhanced when a spokesperson for the group told the Guardian on 24 October:  It’s fair to say that there is absolute disbelief and surprise that the campaign has lasted this long. We assumed that we would not be allowed to carry on disrupting the motorway network to the extent we have been. We thought that people would basically be in prison… if our actions are as dangerous and as disruptive as is being claimed, then I think the question has to

It’s time to take back control from our judges

The Judicial Review and Courts Bill has its second reading today. Writing for the Guardian yesterday, David Davis MP denounced the government’s plans as ‘an obvious attempt to avoid accountability [and] to consolidate power’ which is ‘profoundly un-conservative’. He could not be more wrong. The Bill is a welcome first step in restoring the balance of our constitution, a balance put in doubt by a decades-long expansion of judicial power. If anything, parliament should go further and amend the Bill to make it a more effective means to restore the traditional constitution. Judicial review, Mr Davis argues, is ‘a cornerstone of British democracy’, a ‘check on the balance of powers

The alarming human rights ruling on freedom of speech

‘You can’t libel the dead’ is burned into the consciousness of any serious journalist or writer. It provides much-needed comfort: however tactful you have to be about the living, once someone has died you can say what you like about them without getting sued. Or can you? Seven years ago the European Court of Human Rights dropped a worrying throwaway remark that this might be unacceptable because allowing untrammelled comment about a deceased person might infringe the human rights of his family. Last week, in a disconcerting decision that seems to have gone entirely unreported in the media (you can read the official report here), that same court built on

The EU’s rule of law crisis lets Britain change the Brexit deal

Following Germany’s example, courts in Poland have rejected the supremacy of EU law. That is the principle that, if you join the EU, you give away part of your sovereignty to it and you have to do what the European Court says. I have written before about the precedent set in Germany. Both states now say that their constitution trumps EU law and the rulings of the EU courts. Legally speaking, this declaration is simply untrue – as should be known to anybody who read and signed the Lisbon Treaty, joining the EU. The United Kingdom always upheld this legal truth. If we wanted our sovereignty back, we had to

How Raab plans to fix the law

How do you solve a problem like Britain’s creaking criminal justice system? To the newly appointed Secretary of State, the answer involves ripping up the Human Rights Act, rolling out more electronic tags for convicts and pumping cash into preventative projects. At a Spectator event this morning, held at Tory Party Conference, Dominic Raab explained that rewriting the UK’s human rights laws was central to his reforming mission. He told editor Fraser Nelson: The Prime Minister was very clear when he appointed me deputy PM and Justice Secretary that he wanted this done… Overhauling the Human Rights Act is not just a good way of dealing with the foreign nationals

The Supreme Court’s shameful statement on Hong Kong

In a statement which will doubtless surprise the scores of lawyers, democratic politicians and human rights activists who are currently in jail awaiting show trials under Hong Kong’s National Security Law, the UK Supreme Court today made an announcement which is the best piece of free PR that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has had in years. The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Reed, has issued a statement saying that UK judges will be staying on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal and that ‘the judiciary in Hong Kong continues to act largely independently of government and their decisions continue to be consistent with the rule of law.’ Lord Reed