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UK Human Rights Blog – 1 Crown Office Row

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25 October 2021 by

In Crowter & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Health And Social Care [2021] EWHC 2536 (Admin), the High Court considered the lawfulness of the provision in the Abortion Act 1967 which permits termination of a foetus after 24 weeks where there is a substantial risk that, if born, a child would be “seriously handicapped”.

The Claimants sought a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act in respect of section 1(1)(d) of the 1967 Act. It was their contention that this section is incompatible with Articles 2, 3, 8 and 14 of the ECHR. The Court dismissed the claim in its entirety.

The Claimants

The First Claimant was a 25-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome. The Second Claimant was the mother of the Third Claimant. At 35 weeks’ gestation, the Third Claimant was identified as being very likely to have Down’s syndrome and the Second Claimant’s evidence was that during her pregnancy that she had been made to feel that a life with Down’s syndrome was of no value. The Third Claimant is now two years old has met all his developmental milestones.

The Legal Framework

As is now in force, s.1(1) of the 1967 Act provides that there may be a medical termination of a pregnancy if two medical practitioners are of the opinion that, inter alia, “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” (under subsection (d)).

Whereas Parliament has set a general upper time limit for abortions at 24 weeks, this does not apply to abortions on grounds of foetal abnormality.

Whilst there is guidance from public medical authorities on the various factors influencing the severity of a “handicap”, the guidance does not offer a legal definition of “substantial risk” or “serious handicap”.

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22 October 2021 by

The Court of Justice of the European Union. Image: Flickr

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) sparked controversy with its recent judgment passed down in IX v Wabe eV and MH Müller Handels GmbH v MJ. This case required the CJEU to again consider the right to freedom of religion. It ruled that employers can ban workers from observing religious symbols, including headscarves, to maintain a neutral image in front of its customers.

Case Background

This ruling was brought by two Muslim women in Germany who were suspended from their jobs because of wearing a headscarf. IX and MJ, were employed in companies governed by German law as a special needs caregiver and a sales assistant respectively. They both wore the Islamic headscarf at their workplaces. The employers held the view that wearing a headscarf for religious purposes did not correspond to the policy of political, philosophical, and religious neutrality pursued with regard to parents, children, and third parties, and asked the women to remove their headscarf and suspended them from their duties on their refusal to do so. MJ’s employer, MH Müller Handels GmbH, particularly instructed her to “attend her workplace without conspicuous, large-sized signs of any political, philosophical or religious beliefs.”

IX and MJ brought actions before the Arbeitsgericht Hamburg (Hamburg Labour Court, Germany) and the Bundesarbeitsgericht (Federal Labour Court, Germany), respectively. The courts referred the questions to the CJEU concerning the interpretation of Directive 2000/78. This directive establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.

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19 October 2021 by

In the news:

In a landmark decision handed down on Tuesday, the High Court ruled that discretionary leave to remain should be granted to recognised modern slavery victims seeking asylum based on the fear of being re-trafficked upon return to their home countries. Linden J delivered judgment in KTT, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] EWHC 2722 (Admin) (12 October 2021).

The judicial review challenge was brought by a 33-year-old Vietnamese national who had been subjected to forced labour, including prostitution and cannabis production, in a number of countries, including Russia, Ukraine, France and the UK. Having been recognised by the Home Office as a victim of modern slavery, she was refused discretionary leave to remain while her asylum claim was being processed, meaning that she was subject to the so-called hostile environment underpinned by the Immigration Act 2014. 

Linden J held that this position violated Article 14 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005, which provides that states must

issue a renewable residence permit to [modern slavery] victims…[if] the competent authority considers that their stay is necessary owing to their personal situation.

On a common-sense interpretation of the provision’s language and purpose, it was clear that human trafficking victims must be allowed to stay and access attendant benefits. The Home Office policy of denying people in the Claimant’s position recourse to public funds was incompatible with this reading. 

As a result of the decision, thousands of recognised human trafficking victims seeking asylum in the UK are to be granted discretionary leave to remain en masse. If the Home Office decides to appeal it must lodge an application seeking permission to do so by 19 October.

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19 October 2021 by

One of the most keenly-awaited judgments from the Northern Ireland High Court, Gallagher’s application [2021] NIQB 85 is a roughly-300-paragraph deep-dive into some of the abiding legal controversies surrounding the Omagh bombing of 15 August 1998. The bombing, for which the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) later claimed responsibility, killed 29 men, women and children and 2 unborn children and injured many others. It continues to reverberate down the years as the deadliest single incident in the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Gallagher is a paradigm example of Convention rights at play. As such, it provides food for thought when considered against the scrutiny of both the Human Rights Act 1998 and Legacy litigation. This post sets out some of the main facts before analysing the main Convention-related arguments and the Court’s treatment of them.

Northern Ireland: 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29 people could have been  prevented, says UK court | Euronews
The aftermath of the Omagh bombing. Copyright AP/Paul McErlane 1998

The facts

First, this case did not determine who was to blame for the bombing. The issue was a challenge to a 2013 decision, by then Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers MP, not to order an inquiry into the Omagh bombing. This was important was because of the series of investigations that had preceded the 2013 decision – and failed to answer lingering questions.

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15 October 2021 by

In Episode 150 Rosalind English talks to Professor Ryan Abbott about the recent ruling in the Court of Appeal on whether an invention made by Artificial Intelligence without a traditional human inventor is entitled to a patent. The Court (with one of the judges dissenting) said no.

And in the matter of patent applications GB 1816909.4 and GB 1818161.0 in the name of Dr Stephen Thaler [2020] EWHC 2412 (Pat) and see my post on this case.

Ryan Abbott is the author of The Reasonable Robot: Artificial Intelligence and the Law published last year and he has published widely on issues associated with law and technology, health law, and intellectual property in leading legal, medical, and scientific books and journals. He is also a licensed physician, attorney, and acupuncturist in the United States, as well as a solicitor advocate in England and Wales.

He is also architect of this important test case. We discuss the obstacles faced by the inventor of an AI set out in the Patents Act 1977 and speculate whether there needs to be a root and branch review of patent eligibility, given that so many inventions are produced by AI across the world.

Law Pod UK is available on Spotify, Apple PodcastsAudioboomPlayer FM,  ListenNotesPodbeaniHeartRadio PublicDeezer  or wherever you listen to our podcasts. 

Please remember to rate and review us if you like what you hear.

13 October 2021 by

In Dove v HM Assistant Coroner to Teesside and Hartlepool & Anor [2021] EWHC 2511, the High Court considered the State’s obligations under article 2 ECHR with respect to those in receipt of welfare benefits as well as the scope of coronial inquiries both where article 2 is and isn’t engaged. Although it was argued that failings by the Department of Work and Pensions were relevant to a death by suicide, a fresh inquest was refused in the circumstances.

Background Facts

The Applicant’s daughter, Ms Whiting suffered with spinal conditions and numerous mental health conditions. As a result, she was awarded employment support allowance [ESA] under the ‘support group’ category.

In September 2016, Ms Whiting began reassessment. By way of questionnaire she requested a home assessment, indicating she rarely left the house due to mobility issues and anxiety. This was not passed to the Centre for Health and Disability Services [CHDA] who decided that she was to attend a face-to-face appointment on 16th January 2017. On 6th February 2017, Ms Whiting was informed that her ESA would be stopped as she had not shown ‘good cause’ for her failure to attend and had not therefore demonstrated limited capacity for work.

On 21st February 2017 Ms Whiting, was tragically found unresponsive and was later pronounced dead. An inquest concluded she had died by suicide as a short-form conclusion. The Coroner told attendees that she had noted that there were ongoing discussions with the Department of Work and Pensions, but that it was not her function to question any decisions made by the Department.

However, a report by the Independent Case Examiner [ICE] in February 2019 (following a complaint made before the inquest had concluded) subsequently found that there had been “significant failings” by the Department in the events leading up to Ms Whiting’s death.

The Applicant applied to the Court under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 for an order quashing the Coroner’s determination and directing that a new inquest take place.

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13 October 2021 by

Henrietta Lacks was a young Black woman who in 1951 was diagnosed with a particularly agressive form of cervical cancer. Her treating doctors at the Johns Hopkins hospital took a sample from the tumour and that was the birth of “HeLa” – an “immortal” line of fast-replicating cells that have been reproduced every since, used in scientific and medical innovations including the development of the polio vaccine, infertility research and even the early research into a vaccine against Covid19. The HeLa cell line was in essence the first time human cells could be successfully cloned and it has been in use continually for research that has touched nearly every realm of medicine.

In October 2021, her estate filed suit against Thermo Fisher, the pharmaceutical company that bought the cells from the hospital. Her family, represented by Ben Crump, the attorney who represented the family of George Floyd in 2020, is asking the company to pay back the full profits gained over 70 years of using her cells without consent. This is the US remedy of “disgorgement of profits”, which essentially involves the transfer of all the company’s patents and profits from the HeLa line to the Lacks estate. In essence, disgorgement removes the incentive to unjustly enrich yourself at another’s expense.

The problem with this remedy is it is dependent on the enrichment being based on the other person’s property. In US law, as in the UK, there is no property in the body. In fact US law is silent on ownership of bodily resources. The only statute that governs this subject is the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act which bans the sale of all organs including kidneys. The ban only extends to the sale of kidneys for transplantation; there is no ban on the sale of kidneys for research and experimentation.

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11 October 2021 by

In the news:

The Sunday Times, now committed to its campaign to change the law on assisted dying, has shared the story of Len and Karen Williamson, who spent £45,000 travelling to Switzerland with the assistance of private ambulances and a private flight, in order for Karen to elect the timing of her own death. Physician assisted suicide remains illegal in the UK, with the Suicide Act 1961 (which simultaneously legalised suicide) rendering liable those who aid, abet or procure the suicide of another to fourteen years’ imprisonment. Repeated challenges have been made against this law, with the most prominent being the leading case of Nicklinson & Anor R (on the application of) (Rev 1) [2014] UKSC 38. A nine-judge Supreme Court rejected the application of Tony Nicklinson, who was paralysed from the neck down and who described his life as a ‘living nightmare’, refusing to issue a declaration of incompatibility under s.4 of the Human Rights Act (see Rosalind English’s post on that decision.) This would have rendered the blanket ban on physician assisted suicide incompatible with the article 8 right to private and family life. Instead, the court expressly left the difficult decision up to Parliament. Since then, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed its position in the case of Noel Conway. Conway’s earlier Court of Appeal decision was considered in full on the UK Human Rights Blog.

Now, there appears to be some new hope for advocates of the right to die, a movement which (where the terminally ill are concerned) is supported by over 90% of the UK population. Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill has now reached its second reading in the House of Lords, though it has a long way to go yet. The new Bill would permit attending doctors to provide medicines that would bring about the end of the lives of patients with a committed wish to die, where they are mentally competent and within six months of natural death. They would not be permitted to administer the medicines themselves (potentially leaving out individuals with locked-in syndrome who are not able even to swallow). Parliamentary intervention, strongly recommended by the Commission on Assisted Dying in 2012, would go some way towards curing the unprincipled approaches the courts have been forced to take in tragic cases such as Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] UKHL 17 and A (Children), Re [2000] EWCA Civ 254, two cases which legalised the removal of life support by doctors, and the killing by separation of conjoined twins whose lives are parasitic upon and deadly for their stronger siblings, respectively.

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7 October 2021 by

R (Cornerstone) v Ofsted  [2021] EWCA Civ 1390

In this claim for judicial review, the issue was whether it was lawful for the claimant independent fostering agency (Cornerstone) only to accept heterosexual evangelical Christians as potential carers under the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010) and the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention).

Ofsted wrote a draft report in which they considered this policy to be unlawful when reviewed in the context of the EA 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998) and in a report issued in draft on 12 June 2019 Ofsted assessed the effectiveness of Cornerstone’s leaders and managers as ‘Inadequate’.

The High Court dismissed Cornerstone’s claim, including holding that whilst its policy was not unlawfully discriminatory on the grounds of religious belief, it was unlawfully discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Cornerstone’s appeal.

Background law and facts

Cornerstone are a small Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) founded in 1999 based in the North East of England, which at the time of Ofsted’s inspection in 2019 had 14 approved fostering households and cared for 18 children. They claim to provide high quality adoption and fostering services according to Christian principles for children who are hard to place.

The wording of the policy, which potential carers were required to sign up to, under scrutiny appears at paragraph 10 of their Code of Practice under which

There is an expectation on all Cornerstone carers to: […] Set a high standard in personal morality which recognises that God’s gift of sexual intercourse is to be enjoyed exclusively within Christian marriage; abstain from all sexual sins including immodesty, the viewing of pornography, fornication adultery, cohabitation, homosexual behaviour and wilful violation of your birth sex. [21]

Cornerstone argued that its policy in its entirety was essential to the continuation of its work, both because of the funding it receives and because of the shared faith and values of its carers which led to a community of fellowship and worship.

The Charity Commission Review in 2010

Notably the Charity Commission had also reviewed Cornerstone’s work in 2010 after the judgment in Catholic Care ((Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission for England and Wales [2010] EWHC 520 (Ch)) noting that the implications from that judgment were that an organisation that discriminates in a way that is not justified is not likely to be established for the public benefit and as such will not be a charity.

Cornerstone’s response to the Charity Commission was, amongst other things, that it did not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation but sexual behaviour. The Charity Commission accepted this but without reason. The Charity Commission also accepted that Cornerstone’s provision of services fell within paragraph 2 of Schedule 23 to the EA 2010 which permits the restriction of services because of the purpose of the organisation and/or to avoid causing offence on the grounds of religion or belief.

The Court of Appeal held that the distinction between sexual behaviour and sexual orientation was a nullity because sexual behaviour was a manifestation of sexual orientation. Additionally, the Court found that, as per the judgment in the High Court, Parliament had allowed discrimination on religious grounds except in respect of acts done on behalf of a public authority pursuant to contract which are discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation.

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4 October 2021 by

In the news:

The relationship between women’s rights and the police has been at the forefront of the news again this week, with shocking new revelations in the Sarah Everard case increasing concerns about institutional sexism in the police force, in addition to a scathing judgement from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) condemning the sexual relationship carried out by a male undercover police officer as a human rights abuse.

Further details about the tactics used by the police officer Wayne Couzens to kidnap Sarah Everard before her rape and murder were released earlier this week after being presented in court. Couzens used his Metropolitan police-issued warrant card to convince Everard that she was being legitimately arrested for breaching Covid regulations. The new information has heightened debates about whether the Met has an internal culture which tolerates sexism, misogyny, and abuse, with many female police officers reporting inappropriate behaviour and sexual assaults. Towards the end of the week, it was revealed that two officers in a WhatsApp group with Couzens, which allegedly swapped misogynistic, racist, and homophobic messages, remain on duty. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Police’s response to Couzens’ sentencing hearing has been seen by many as completely inadequate, with Commissioner Cressida Dick suggesting that women approached by a plain clothes police officer should consider, inter alia, ‘waving a bus down’ to avoid kidnap. The Met has recently unveiled an action plan to restore trust, but campaigners argue that it is more concerned with changing women’s behaviour than addressing the underlying culture that enables misogynistic behaviour to thrive.

The police were also severely criticised in an IPT judgement handed down last week for violating the human rights of a woman, Kate Wilson, who was tricked into a relationship with undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. Kennedy is thought to have exploited his relationships with Wilson and numerous other women to ingratiate himself with the political organisations he infiltrated. The report found that Wilson’s treatment contravened five rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment (Art.3); respect for private and family life (Art.8); freedom of expression (Art.10); freedom of assembly and association (Art.11); and the right for convention rights to be applied without discrimination, in this case on the ground of sex (Art.14). The IPT asserted that the senior officers were either ‘… quite extraordinarily naïve, totally unquestioning, or chose to turn a blind eye’. While numerous women have brought civil suits against undercover officers who employed similar tactics, Wilson is the first to bring a claim to the IPT. The Met issued a statement responding to the judgement, accepting and apologising for the ‘damage caused’.

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28 September 2021 by

Thaler v Comptroller General of Patents Trade Marks and Designs [2021] EWCA Civ 1374

The Court of Appeal has ruled that an artificial intelligence machine cannot qualify as an “inventor” for the purposes of Sections 7 and 13 of the Patents Act because it is not a person. Further, in determining whether a person had the right to apply for a patent under Section 7(2)(b), there was no rule of law that new intangible property produced by existing tangible property was the property of the owner of the tangible property, and certainly no rule that property in an invention created by a machine was owned by the owner of the machine. 

Background Facts and Law

This was an appeal by the owner of an artificial intelligence machine against a decision upholding the respondent Comptroller’s refusal of his patent applications in respect of inventions generated by the machine.The appellant had submitted two patent applications designating an artificial intelligence machine (DABUS), as the inventor. DABUS stands for “Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience”, an artificial neural system owned by Dr Thaler. The first invention was entitled “Food Container” and concerned the shape of parts of packaging for food. The second was entitled “Devices and Methods for Attracting Enhanced Attention”, and was a form of flashing light. On the face of it each disclosed a potentially patentable invention, that is to say patentable as defined by s1 of the 1977 Act. The appellant owned the machine, but had also created it and set it up to produce the inventions in issue. In response to the box requiring him to indicate how he had the right to be granted a patent, he wrote: “by ownership of the creativity machine ‘DABUS’”. The Intellectual Property Office indicated that the statement of inventorship form did not satisfy the Patents Act 1977 Pt I s.13(2), which required him to identify a person as the inventor (section 13 (2) (a) and to indicate how he had derived his right to be granted the patent (section 13(2) (b)). It therefore determined that the applications were deemed to be withdrawn. The applicant was still not entitled to apply for a patent simply by virtue of ownership of DABUS, because a satisfactory derivation of right had not been provided (as machine cannot pass on ownership). The High Court upheld that decision. First, it considered Section 7, which sets out the circumstances in which a person might right to apply and obtain a patent, and found that its natural meaning was that the inventor was a person. Second, it found that although the appellant could perhaps have claimed a right to be granted a patent as the inventor under Section 7(2)(a), he had not advanced such a case. Third, it found that an applicant’s subjective and honest belief that they were entitled to apply for a patent was insufficient to entitle them to the grant of a patent as that would render the provisions of s.7 otiose.

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27 September 2021 by

In the news:

A spokesman for the Taliban has said that working women must stay at home for their own safety as “a very temporary procedure” until systems are in place to ensure their safety.  The spokesman also told Afghans not to go to Kabul airport and said the US should not encourage them to leave Afghanistan.

Last week, the former head of religious police for the Taliban confirmed that punishments such as execution and amputation would return to Afghanistan.  Prior to the takeover of Kabul, a Taliban judge told the BBC that Sharia law was clear and included punishments of 100 lashes in public for sex out of marriage, being stoned to death for adultery, and “[f]or those who steal: if it’s proved, then his hand should be cut off.”

On Saturday it was reported that the Taliban hung the bodies of four alleged kidnappers from cranes in Herat city square, before moving them to other areas of the city for public display. An unidentified Taliban commander said the aim was “to alert all criminals that they are not safe”.

In other news:

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27 September 2021 by

The appeal by Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust was allowed. Image: The Guardian

In Bell and A v Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and others [2021] EWCA Civ 1363 the Court of Appeal advised judges to avoid formulating policy in an area of social and moral complexity.

Ever since the Divisional Court restricted the medical treatment of children experiencing gender dysphoria at the end of last year (see R (on the application of Bell and A) v Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and others), discussed on this blog here), the decision has provoked heated debate. Some lamented the distress of young sufferers deprived of treatment. Others applauded limits they said would prevent irreparable harm. On 17 September 2021 the Court of Appeal reversed the decision, but the dispute will continue to rage both in and outside the Courts.

The first Claimant, Keira Bell, is a former patient of the Tavistock who was prescribed puberty blockers at 16 to delay the onset of female sexual characteristics. She transitioned to a male using cross-sex hormones, had a double mastectomy, and then changed her mind, regretting the “brash decision” she said would negatively affect the rest of her life. Her case – accepted by the Divisional Court — was that the “innovative” and “experimental” nature of the treatment, specifically the use of puberty blockers, made it unlikely a child could validly consent to it.

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24 September 2021 by

Law Pod UK returns after the summer break with Episode 149: a fascinating interview with Special Advocate Angus McCullough QC on Closed Material Proceedings where evidence is so secretive the SAs cannot communicate directly with their clients. Anyone interested in drilling further down into the subject please go to Angus’s two posts on UKHRB: “Secret Justice”: An Oxymoron and the Overdue Review” and “Secret Justice – The Insiders’ View”, with links to the evolution of CMPs, the relevant legislation, the review process now under way and the submissions that Special Advocates have made to Sir Duncan Ouseley, the independent reviewer of this process: The Ouseley Review – SAs-Submission.

And you will notice a few changes: different signature tune, different voiceover: our very own head of Chambers, Richard Booth QC. Also welcome to our new producer Philip Lakka, who’s done a great job taking over the task of delivering this podcast from Simon Jarvis of Whistledown.

We have a terrific line up of guests following Angus for the Autumn. 

Law Pod UK is available on Spotify, Apple PodcastsAudioboomPlayer FM,  ListenNotesPodbeaniHeartRadio PublicDeezer  or wherever you listen to our podcasts. 

Please remember to rate and review us if you like what you hear.

21 September 2021 by

The judgment in Forstater v CDG Europe UKEAT/0105/20/JOJ has forced the courts yet again to grapple with the transgender debate. We have already seen the judiciary face up to the challenging issues of whether children with gender dysphoria can consent to receiving puberty blockers (see recent decision in Bell v Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust [2021] EWCA Civ 1363). In the present case, the issue was whether the Claimant’s belief that biological sex is real, important, immutable, and not to be conflated with gender identity was a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of section 10 of Equality Act 2010 (“EqA”).

Background

The claim arose from the Claimant’s statements on Twitter, which manifested her beliefs on the immutability of sex. Her colleagues found these offensive and complained. Her consultancy contract was not renewed, and she brought proceedings before the Central London Tribunal on the basis that she had been discriminated against because of her belief that sex, rather than gender, is fundamentally important and that there are no circumstances in which a trans woman is a woman or a trans man is a man. At a preliminary hearing, the Judge held that the Claimant’s belief was not a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of section 10 EqA.

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