Public Interest Litigation Update:

21st December 2012

 

Welcome to the PILS Project's Public Interest Litigation Update. The Update provides you with information on current public interest cases, judgments, news and events.
 
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Final Update of 2012

The PILS Project would like to wish all our stakeholders a very Happy Christmas and New Year. We hope you all enjoy the break!

Here’s a final short roundup of recent cases since the last update.

Our next publication will be a newsletter featuring articles from stakeholders, and will be circulated at the end of January.


Health
  • Ireland’s First Right-To-Die Case Launched
A terminally ill woman has brought court action in the Republic of Ireland for the first time asking to be allowed the right to die. Marie Fleming was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986 and seeks to establish her partner’s legal right to help her die if and when she chooses. The case was heard at Dublin High Court on Tuesday 4th December 2012. Currently in the Republic of Ireland, there is a ban on assisting another person to commit suicide, with a jail sentence of up to 14 years for the offence. Ms Fleming challenged the constitutionality of the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993 alleging that it discriminates between able-bodied and disabled people. The judgment in the case is expected on January 10th 2013.

Criminal Law
  • Teenage Prisoners Seek Judicial Review For Unlawful Punishment Regime
Seven young offenders have brought a case before the High Court of England and Wales claiming that they were unlawfully punished at a privately run Bristol prison. The inmates, who are 18 years old, were punished following a sit-in protest. They have brought the action against Serco, which runs the prison. Following the protest, on a sports pitch, equipment was damaged and the young offenders were punished by being awarded additional days; being subjected to an informal version of segregation without any safeguards; and having privileges and rights removed, such as restriction to education and the gym.

Criminal Justice
  • Met Police Settle Out Of Court On Issue Of Complaint Not Properly Dealt With
A woman who brought legal action against Scotland Yard for their failure to address her complaint of rape has reached an out-of-court settlement. This is a landmark compensation payment and the first time that human rights legislation has been used in this way. The woman had reported the rape in 2005, but vital evidence was lost by the police and the defendant was acquitted. In 2009, four officers were reprimanded for the failings, while an internal Metropolitan police report detailed how the team involved with investigating sexual offences included untrained officers. Following further failings by the team in cases of serial sex offenders, the team was revamped and placed under a unified command. The complainant in this case was hoping to establish that police have a duty to victims of rape and sexual assault that the crimes will be investigated properly. The complainant hoped to establish that if the police failed to do so then it was a breach of the victim’s human rights. After a legal battle in the civil courts, the complainant and her mother agreed to settle for fear of incurring further significant costs. Scotland Yard has acknowledged the failings of the team involved with the investigation and says that changes have been made. However they have also stressed that this is not an admission of liability. Further complaints have been made on this issue. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has been investigating and will report in the New Year.

Mental Health
  • Man Jailed For Hospital Arson Has Sentence Quashed While Conviction Stands
A severely mentally ill young man, Joe Paraskeva, who set fire to a hospital door in an attempt to escape from a  psychiatric unit had his indefinite prison sentence quashed following a two year campaign. In 2011, he had pleaded guilty to arson and was given an indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP) with a two year minimum sentence and no maximum limit, meaning that, depending on his behaviour, he could be detained for life. This sentence was changed to a hospital order at a high court appeal, following new evidence from doctors that indicated he was having a psychotic episode at the time of the offence. Under the new ruling, Mr. Paraskeva will now be treated as a patient rather than as a prisoner. As of the appeal, Mr. Paraskeva’s conviction for arson stands and campaigners will continue to fight for it to be overturned.  See article in the Guardian Law here for further details.

Disability
  • Volunteers Not Entitled To Protection Of Disability Discrimination Laws
X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau and another [2012] UKSC 59
UK Human Rights Blog reports that the Supreme Court has confirmed the Court of Appeal’s view that voluntary occupation does not attract the protections of the Equality Act of the Framework directive. The appellant had worked as a volunteer adviser for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau since 2006 and in 2007 claimed that she was asked to cease work in circumstances amounting to discrimination on grounds of disability. She sought to bring proceedings against the respondent but the Court of Appeal held that the Employment Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the case as she was a volunteer rather than an employee. She therefore fell outside the reach of protections against discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now covered by the Equality Act 2010) and Directive 2000/78/EEC  (“the Framework Directive”). In this appeal the appellant contended that her voluntary activities constituted an “occupation” for the purpose of the Framework Directive and therefore the effect of the Directive should extend to her. The Court held unanimously that the appellant had no contract and therefore did not on the face of it benefit by the domestic protection afforded by the Disability Discrimination Act. The Supreme Court dismissed her appeal in its entirety.



Private Information The High Court in Northern Ireland has found that the contents of a Facebook page amounted to unlawful harassment of a man who had been convicted of sex offences. The page had been set up to monitor the activity of paedophiles in Northern Ireland. It contained photographs of the plaintiff as well as threatening comments towards him. He claimed harassment, misuse of private information and a breach of his rights to a private life (Article 8) and freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3) under the ECHR. The court granted the plaintiff an injunction, deemed to be at minimal inconvenience for Facebook, which  would grant the plaintiff a measure of  protection. The court also noted that the plaintiff had served punishment for his offences in accordance with the rule of law, and he had been punished appropriately. Facebook were ordered to remove the page.
Pro Bono
  • PILS Project Seeks Lawyers….
The PILS Project has a register of legal practitioners who are interested in undertaking pro bono work with the PILS Project.  Opportunities range from writing an initial opinion to involvement in a test case, contributing to publications on public interest cases/issues and delivering training and talks to NGOs and legal practitioners. If you would like to find out more about opportunities to do pro bono work please email caoimhe@pilsni.org.

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