Public Interest Litigation Update:

24th February 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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Government tuition fees' raise was not in accordance with equality duties but still lawful
  • Re Hurley and Moore’s Application [2012] EWHC
Judicial review proceedings taken by two A-Level students to the Government’s decision to raise the cap on tuition fees that universities can charge has been unsuccessful.
 
The court accepted that although some students will be discouraged from applying to university because of the increase in fees it is too soon to tell whether this will disproportionately affect students from poorer backgrounds.  The court ruled that the Secretary of State failed to fully comply with the Public Sector Equality Duties for the whole package of measures on higher education reform.  However, the judge was satisfied that there was adequate analysis of the decision to raise the cap on university fees. The conclusion reached by the court was that the decision should not be quashed given the fact that the rise in tuition fees has already proceeded and it would cause ‘administrative chaos’ and have significant economic implications to interfere with the decision.
 
Read the judgment here, a press release by Public Interest Lawyers, which represented the students, here, a summary on the Guardian here and an analysis of the case on the Human Rights in Ireland blog here.


More on budget cuts and welfare reform
  • More successes and failures in challenges to library closures and reforms
The Supreme Court has refused campaigners from Brent permission to appeal a December 2011 judgment which ruled that the local council’s plan to cut provision for their libraries was unlawful. 
 
In the same week permission was granted in the High Court to campaigners in Surrey to judicially review the decision of the local County Council to reform the operation of its libraries, in particular the decision to have 10 of its 52 libraries run by volunteers.
 
Read the news article covering both cases here.
  • EU Social Protection Committee report on the social impact of the economic crisis
In February 2012, the Social Protection Committee of the Council of the European Union published ‘The social impact of the economic crisis and ongoing fiscal consolidation: Third Report of the Social Protection Committee (2011)’.
 
The report maps the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU and shows that the depth of poverty and social exclusion has worsened.  Click here to read the report.

  • “More cuts mean more riots”
Research at the University of Kent suggests that the cuts enforced by the UK government will generate social disorder.  The research found that across 26 developed welfare states between 1980 and 2005 greater poverty, privatisation of public services and job insecurity led to increased social disorder.  Read more here.
  •  Welfare reform and financial privilege in parliament
A House of Commons Committee has decided that the Welfare Reform Bill engages ‘financial privilege’, which means the Commons has sole power to pass legislation on financial matters.  This follows amendments proposed by the House of Lords on housing benefit, benefits for cancer patients and for children in the Welfare Reform Bill.  The result is that the House of Commons may pass the Bill without any of the Lords amendments.
 
Read a House of Lords briefing paper on ‘financial privilege’ here and an analysis of the issue by Jeff King, writing on the Constitutional Law Blog, here.
  • PSED and cuts training papers
Louise Whitfield, Solicitor with Pierce Glynn Solicitors (who is speaking at the PILS Project/Equality Coalition seminar on 2nd March 2012) and Helen Mountfield QC have prepared a number of presentations for training on the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) in Great Britain in the context of the cuts, including case studies.  Click here to view the presentation.
  • Joint NICVA/Law Centre NI event on welfare reform (06.03.2012)
See the events section below for further information.
Environmental rights
  • Friends of the Earth challenge to changes to solar panel scheme successful
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change v Friends of the Earth and others [2012] EWCA Civ 28
 
The Court of Appeal has held that the Minister for Energy and Climate Change had no power to make a modification to the rules for subsidising small solar power schemes.  This successful case, which was brought by Friends of the Earth in England, will impact on people who signed up for the schemes on the basis that they would receive a higher subsidy rate who, under the changes, would have received lower subsidies.
 
David Hart QC, on the UK Human Rights Blog (UKHRB), points out that Ministers and officials should be careful about proposing changes with retrospective effect unless statute firmly authorises it.  Read his full analysis here.  Read the full judgment here.


Immigration and asylum
  • Unlawful to remove individuals from the UK without access to a solicitor
R, on the application of Medical Justice v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWCA Civ 1710
 
A Government policy which permits, in exceptional circumstances, the removal of individuals whose claims to enter or remain in the UK have been unsuccessful without giving them the standard 72 hours’ notice, has been ruled by the Court of Appeal to be unlawful.
 
The policy was intended to be used when it was deemed necessary to expedite the process, for example to maintain order in immigration centres.  The court found it unlawful because the policy failed to include provision for ensuring that such individuals would have access to a solicitor.
 
Read the judgment here and a full analysis of the case by Rosalind English writing on the UKHRB here.
  •  £2 million paid out by Home Office to 40 child asylum seekers who were detained as adults
A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Guardian has revealed that the Home Office has paid out almost £2 million in compensation and legal costs to 40 child asylum seekers who were detained as adults.
 
   The pay-out followed a case which was settled out of court in 2010.  At that time the Home Office accepted that the policy was unlawful and the policy was changed.  However, the Guardian alleges to have been provided with evidence from the Refugee Council that the practice of detaining child asylum seekers as adults is still taking place.  The Guardian article also states that this is the first case of its kind and is the biggest payout for an immigration detention case of its kind.
 
Read the full article here.
  • Role of children must be considered in automatic deportation cases
Sanade, Harrison & Walker v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKUT 00048 (IAC)
 
The Upper Tribunal has ruled that the failure of the Lower Tribunal to take into account the interests of the British national child of an individual under consideration for deportation was unlawful.  This was on the basis that considerations under ECHR Art.8 provide an exception to automatic deportation rules.
 
Read a full analysis on the UKHRB here.
  • Two recent ECtHR judgments on less stringent measures in immigration detention
A post on the Strasbourg Observers Blog analyses two recent European Court of Human Rights’ judgments and discusses whether the test of detention as ‘a measure of last resort’ is entering the Court’s immigration and detention case-law.  It goes on to consider whether this may signify a departure from the approach in Saadi v UK[2008], in which the Court refrained from applying the ‘less stringent measures’ test.
 
Read the article in full here.


ECHR Art. 2: Right to life
  • Supreme Court rules that hospital had duty to protect patient from committing suicide
Rabone and Anor. v Penine Care NHS Trust [2012] UKSC 2
 
The Supreme Court has ruled that a hospital had an ‘operational’ duty under ECHR Art. 2 to protect a voluntary patient from committing suicide.  Previously this duty only covered those who were detained under the Mental Health Act.
 
The case concerned a young woman who was assessed by the hospital as being a moderate to high suicide risk.  She was admitted on a voluntary basis but on the proviso that, should she attempt to leave the hospital, she should be assessed for detention under the Mental Health Act.  In what the hospital has since admitted to have been a negligent decision, the woman was granted home leave.  She proceeded to take her own life. The court ruled that the hospital had failed in its duty under Art. 2.
 
Liberty, which intervened alongside MIND, JUSTICE and INQUEST, issued a statement describing the judgment as an important step; It means that hospitals must take reasonable steps – no more, no less – to safeguard the right to life of mental health patients in their care, regardless of whether or not they are detained, in circumstances where the hospital knows, or ought to know, of a real and immediate risk to life”.
 
A post on the UKHRB highlights the potential impact of the decision of the Supreme Court, claiming that it endorses an “each case on its own facts” approach, and will affect human rights damages claims and arguably Article 2 inquests.  A second post on the case on the same blog examines in further detail the effect this judgment has on the scope of Art.2. 
 
The UK Supreme Court blog also provides an overview of the case here, and discusses the interesting issue of standing that arose when the parents of the woman were granted ‘victim status’ for the purposes of the Human Rights Act. This was not affected by the settlement of the negligence claim.  A third post on the case on the UKHRB looks at this issue in more detail as well.
 
Read the full judgment here.


ECHR Art. 5: Right to liberty
  • Delayed deportation of German former prisoner renders detention unlawful
Reuter’s (Hans) Application [2012] NIQB 6
 
The Northern Ireland High Court has ruled that the failure of the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) to deport a German national within a reasonable timeframe rendered the man’s detention unlawful.
 
The man had completed a prison sentence in Northern Ireland on 20th June 2011 but was not deported to Germany until 25th June 2011.  In the interim period he was detained in the prison for a further night and then at a number of different immigration removal centres in Scotland and England.  The delay resulted from “an in-country escort administrative error” (the company contracted by the UKBA to escort the man went to the wrong prison) and his flight had to be rescheduled.
 
The court found that the extended detention period (usually it is a maximum of 72 hours) was due to the failure of the UKBA to act with “reasonable diligence” and “expedition”.  The UKBA had a duty to act with urgency to rectify the problem caused by the escort company and they did not do so.  As a result the man’s detention was found to be unlawful.
 
A separate hearing will take place as to how much damages the man will be awarded (if agreement cannot be reached by the parties in advance).  If this hearing proceeds the judge has ordered the UKBA to explain why the man was moved from the prison to the immigration removal centres in Scotland and England, why he needed to be detained in three different centres and how much the escort company’s “error” cost the UKBA in having to remake the deportation arrangements.
 
Click here to read the full judgment.


ECHR Art. 6: Right to a fair trial
  • Anonymity granted to police officer despite not meeting Art. 6 criteria
A Police Officer’s Application (Leave Stage) [2012] NIQB 3
 
In this case a police officer requested to have his name and further details kept anonymous following unsuccessful judicial review proceedings. The officer had been the subject of misconduct proceedings within the PSNI and had been under consideration by the Public Prosecution Service for suspected drugs offences. He had sought to judicially review the continuance of the misconduct proceedings on the basis that they would prejudice the fairness of any potential prosecution. The application for judicial review was refused but the, now former, police officer applied to have his details in the judicial review kept anonymous because he believed his safety to be at risk from dissident republicans.
 
In his judgment Justice McCloskey outlined the approach of the court to such requests.  If a police officer is a defendant in criminal proceedings, or a party to other proceedings, there will be a strong presumption against anonymity in line with the principle of open justice.  Under ECHR Article 6, departure from that rule can be justified when publishing the litigant’s identity would prejudice the interests of justice.
 
When an application for anonymity is made in order to protect rights under ECHR Article 2, such as in this case, the court is under a positive obligation under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act to assess whether there is an objectively verified, present and continuing risk to the life of the litigant concerned. If such a risk is found the court then needs to decide if it would be reasonable to grant anonymity; balancing the risk and Article 6 duties of the court against the general public’s ECHR Article 10 right to receive information.  In his judgment Justice McCloskey stated that where the Article 2 or 3 rights of the Applicant are at risk the case for granting anonymity may, in principle, be stronger than cases in which Article 8 rights are at risk.  Justice McCloskey also stressed that applications of this kind must be made at the earliest possible stage of the case; failure to do so may lessen the prospect of success. 
 
However despite the application for anonymity in this case having been made belatedly, little evidence of the alleged terrorist threats being provided and Justice McCloskey not being convinced that there was a real risk to the Applicant’s life, the request for anonymity was granted.  The rationale provided was that “it would be inimical to the over-riding objective in Order 1, Rule 1A of the Rules of the Court of Judicature for the court to invest further time and resources in perpetuating these proceedings in pursuit of this discrete inquiry and for no other purpose.  Accordingly, with some misgivings, I accede to the Applicant’s quest for annonymisation…”.
 
Read the full judgment here.


ECHR Art. 8: Right to respect for private and family life
  • Disclosure in Enhanced Criminal Records Checks not in breach of Article 8
R (T) v (1) Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, (2) Secretary of State for the Home Department (Secretary of State for Justice an interested party) [2012] EWHC 147 (Admin)
 
A twenty year old applying for university challenged the requirement to disclose all prior convictions, cautions and warnings in Enhanced Criminal Records Checks.  The individual had received a warning for the theft of two bicycles when he was 11 but had had a clear record since then.  It was argued that the inflexible nature of the requirement to make such disclosures is in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention.
 
The judge had sympathy for the Applicant’s argument but was bound to rule that the requirement was compatible with Article 8 following the Supreme Court ruling in R (L) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2009] UKSC 3 [2010] 1 AC 41.  He did however grant leave to appeal and stated:
 
“A system that allows no exceptions imposes a very heavy cost in terms of effect on the fundamental rights protected by Article 8 ECHR.  I am not persuaded that the marginal benefit that a system which admits no exceptions brings to, admittedly important, competing interests is justified as a matter of proportionality when the serious detrimental effects of such a system, particularly on child offenders, are weighed in the balance.”
 
Read the judgment here and an overview on the Panopticon blog here.

LGBT
  • Discrimination ruling against hotel couple upheld
Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy[2012] EWCA Civ 83
 
The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling that a couple discriminated against a gay couple on the basis of their sexual orientation by refusing to let them stay in their hotel in the same bedroom.
 
The couple had argued that due to their Christian beliefs they only permitted married couples to share bedrooms in their hotel and that this policy was applied to both heterosexual and homosexual couples.  The court found that this was indirectly discriminatory against homosexual couples because they currently cannot legally marry, and therefore cannot comply with the hotel policy, whereas unmarried heterosexual couples may at some time in the future be married and therefore be able to meet the requirements of the policy.
 
Read a full analysis on the UKHRB here, a statement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which represented the gay couple here and the full judgment here.



Employment law
  • UK tribunal can hear unfair dismissal case of man working in Libya
Ravat (Respondent) v Halliburton Manufacturing and Services Limited (Appellant) (Scotland)[2012] UKSC 1 
 
This case was taken by a British national who had been employed by a UK subsidiary of Haliburton Inc., a US corporation.  His job required working for 28 days at a time in Libya, followed by 28 days off in the UK.  He was paid in sterling and paid national insurance and tax in the UK.  During the time of his dismissal he was working in Libya. 
 
The question for the Supreme Court was whether the man can sue for unfair dismissal in a UK employment tribunal.  The Court ruled that the man was an employee within the jurisdiction of the UK employment tribunal since his home was in the UK and he effectively commuted to Libya.  It also found that his employment was within the tribunal’s jurisdiction since the connection between his work and the UK was sufficiently close, his contract was drafted using UK employment law and the termination of his employment had been handled by the corporation’s Aberdeen human resources office.
 
Read the full judgment here and a summary of the case on the UKHRB here.
  • Is the UK Government’s unpaid work experience scheme in breach of human rights?
The Guardian reports that a case has been lodged in the High Court in England alleging that the Government’s unpaid work experience scheme is in breach of forced labour legislation and the Human Rights Act.  The case is being taken by a woman who was told to work in a local Poundland or risk losing her benefits. 
 
Under the Department for Work and Pension’s ‘Work Program’ scheme individuals can volunteer with a range of retailers, including Tesco, Argos and Sainsbury’s, for up to two weeks but are exempt from minimum wage laws for this period.  If jobseekers ‘express an interest’ in such an offer of work experience they must continue to work there, following a one week cooling off period or face having their benefits docked. 
 
The individual who has brought the case was not told about the one week cooling off period.  Similar claims have been made by a number of others and it is thought the case could have an impact on hundreds of thousands of job-seekers.
 
For further information read the full article here.


Discrimination
  • Cases seeking clarity on age discrimination exception heard in the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has recently heard two cases that seek clarity on the rule that allows employers to justify age discrimination if they can prove it is a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.  These are the first two cases to be taken on the new law banning age discrimination following its introduction in April 2011.
 
The individuals in both cases are funded and represented by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The first Applicant is a man who was forced to retire from his position as a senior partner with a law firm because he turned 65.  The second man, who was a senior legal advisor with a Police force in England, alleges indirect discrimination on the grounds of age after the criteria for reaching the highest pay grade was changed to include the requirement to have obtained a university degree.  The man did not have one nor did he have enough time before his retirement to complete one.
 
The EHRC is therefore seeking clarity as to when age discrimination can be justified by employers.
 
Read the EHRC’s press statement here and an overview of the case, including the relevant legal framework, on the UK Supreme Court Blog here.
  • Mandatory prayers in council meeting unlawful
R on the Application of the National Secular Society and Clive Bone v Bideford Town Council [2012] EWHC 175 Admin
 
A High Court judgment has ruled that a local council’s insistence on holding prayers before each formal council meeting is unlawful.
 
The case was taken by the National Secular Society (NSS), which campaigns for the separation of religion from public and civil life, on behalf of a former councillor whose objections to the prayers had been dismissed.
 
It was ruled that there is no basis in law for prayers to form part of formal meetings.  The judge clarified that the local authority has the power to do anything which aims to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the discharge of any of their functions.  This does not, however, permit the religious views of some councillors to exclude or impose a burden on others.
 
It was also argued by the NSS that including prayers in formal meetings was indirectly discriminatory and in breach of Articles 9 and 14 of the Human Rights Act (freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination).  The court did not accept these arguments in the circumstances of this particular case however.
 
The judgment will affect other councils and public authorities that include prayers as part of their formal meetings without there being a statutory basis for it.  A Guardian article estimates that this may include as many as half of local councils in the UK.
 
Read the judgment here and an analysis on the UKHRB here.

Disability
  • No damages for breach of disability law after boarding a plane
Stott v Thomas Cook Operators and British Airways PLC [2012] EWCA 66
 
A recent Court of Appeal decision in England has reaffirmed that once passengers board a plane they have limited rights to obtain damages for discrimination or breach of disability laws.
 
Cases were taken by two men with disabilities, both of whom were represented by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  On entering the plane the first claimant, Mr Stott’s, wheelchair overturned and he fell to the floor.  He was then not permitted to have his wife, who was responsible for catheterising him among other things, sit next to him on his flight.  The court accepted that the airline had breached Mr Stott’s rights under EC disability regulations.  His claim for damages was refused, however, due to the Montreal Regulations which limit liability.
 
The second claimant, Mr Hook, has mobility and learning disabilities.  Like Mr Stott, he was not permitted to sit next to relatives on his outgoing and return flights, despite having been promised such arrangements by the airline in advance.  This created so much distress for him and his family that they resolved never to fly again.  The judge accepted that Mr Hook’s needs as a disabled person were not met but, again, refused to award damages on the basis of the Montreal Regulations.
 
According to the EHRC’s press statement “the ruling means that, after boarding the plane, disabled passengers are not covered by UK law and the European Regulation on air travel.  Nor can disabled people seek compensation from the airline if they are discriminated against during a flight.” 
 
Read the UKHRB’s full analysis of the case here and the judgment here.


Mental capacity
  • Autistic woman banned from having sex by court
A Local Authority v H[2012] EWHC 49 (COP)
 
A 29 year old woman with Autism and an IQ of 64 has been banned by the Court of Protection in England from having sex.  The woman had previously been subject to both non-consensual and consensual but exploitive sex.  Despite attempts to educate her and ascertain her understanding of sexual relations she consistently behaved in a ‘high-sexualised’ manner.  The judge pointed to an important question in reaching his conclusion; “does the person whose capacity is in question understand that they do have a choice and that they can refuse?”  The judge ruled thatthe woman lacked the mental capacity to understand the implications of having sex and to make an informed decision and therefore should not be permitted to engage in sexual activity.
 
Read the judgment here, an analysis on the UKHRB here and an article on capacity to make unwise decisions on The Small Places blog here.
  • ECtHR landmark judgment on capacity, guardianship and social care institutions
Rusi Stanev is a Bulgarian national with schizophrenia who was declared by the Bulgarian courts to be partially incapacitated. Mr Stanev was placed under partial guardianship and was subsequently admitted to a social care institution without being informed or without consenting.  He was forced to live in conditions judged to be inhuman and degrading by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture following their examinations in 2003 and 2004, and degrading treatment and punishment (CPT) by his guardian.
 
Under Bulgarian law Mr Stanev was prevented from challenging restrictions on his legal capacity, as he required his guardian’s consent to initiate proceedings. Due to the restrictions imposed upon him, the European Court found that his right to a fair trial under Article 6 had been violated. In addition, the Court made its first finding on the rights of persons with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities, addressing access to justice and Mr Stanev’s inability to obtain permission to leave the home. The Court held that Article 5, the right to liberty and security and Article 13, the right to an effective remedy before a national authority had been breached.
 
Mr Stanev also alleged that the restrictions resulting from the guardianship regime, including his placement in the home, violated his right to private life under Article 8. However, the Court did not accept this but did find a violation of Article 3, stating “the Court considers that, taken as a whole, the living conditions to which the applicant was exposed during a period of approximately seven years amounted to degrading treatment”.
 
Read the judgment here, the Court’s press release of the judgment here,  a statement from the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre which represented Mr. Stanev here and an analysis of the case and its implications for litigation on mental capacity in the UK on The Small Places blog here.



Other public interest cases
  • Balancing the right to freedom of expression and assembly in today’s society
The latest development in the Occupy London movement has come to the forefront of debate surrounding the law on certain types of protest and the government’s response to them. The City of London recently succeeded in the High Court against the Occupy London movement, which is currently occupying an area close to St Paul’s Cathedral. Following the movement debate has quickly turned to ‘kettling’, a tactic used by police to contain protesters. To read the judgment on the Metropolitan Police’s appeal to the Court of Appeal relating to ‘kettling’ click here.
 
It is asserted that the Article 10 right to freedom of expression and the Article 11 right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are fundamental to a democratic society in order for individuals to express themselves on a range of social issues. However, following the Court of Appeal’s recent interpretation of the police perspective, the Court may only consider whether, in light of the evidence they possessed at the time, it was reasonable to fear an imminent breach of the peace.
 
A recent post by Dónal Kearney states that: “This brings us to the possibility that protesters may only be permitted to take to the streets if they are granted the right to assemble on a particular site as established by a prior court order.” Dónal Kearney has also stated that: “Public rights of assembly are facing challenge by conservative judicial decisions to the extent that protest in its current form may be under threat. A balance is necessary between freedom of assembly and the rights of private landowners.” To read the post click here.
  •  Media restricted from reporting on Inquest by NI Court of Appeal & judge highlights excessive satellite litigation surrounding Inquests
Dunkan McLuckie v the Coroner for Northern Ireland[2011] NICA 34
 
The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal ruled that the media should be restricted from reporting on an Inquest until the proceedings have concluded in order to avoid the risk of prejudice to a witness in the inquest who is currently serving a prison sentence for murder. 
 
The Inquest in question concerned the death of a Sergeant Major in the Royal Signals who was engaged in a training exercise with his regiment near the Northern Ireland border in 1972.  During the training exercise the Sergeant was struck by a live round fired by another solider and later died in hospital. No criminal charges were brought against the other solider but he was convicted of negligent handling of a weapon and fined.  An Inquest was conducted into the death of the solider in 1972 and the jury returned an ‘open’ verdict. However, in 2007 the Attorney General ordered a second Inquest into the death following an application made by the deceased’s family.
 
The soldier who fired the live bullet is currently serving a life sentence for murder.  Because he will have to provide his evidence via video-link from prison he requested that the media be restricted from reporting on this until the jury delivered its verdict in order to avoid prejudice. The Coroner refused this request and his decision was upheld in an application for judicial review.
 
The NI Court of Appeal however ruled that the media should be restricted from publishing details of the Inquest until the conclusion of the proceedings.
 
Delivering the lead judgment, Lord Justice Higgins took the opportunity to criticise the frequency of challenges to Coroners’ decisions leading to satellite litigation and protracted delays in Inquest proceedings.  He argued that such delays often frustrate the purpose of Inquests.  Lord Justice Higgins questioned the need for different considerations between judicial review and Inquest proceedings, and argued that:
 
“When an inquest results in a verdict that verdict may itself be challenged in an application for judicial review but that will be at a time when the court will have the benefit of appreciating the whole context of the inquest. What may appear to be of potential or theoretical importance during preliminary hearings or inquest proceedings before the Coroner, and which often leads to satellite litigation, may turn out to be of no such importance in the overall context of the inquest.”
 
It was suggested that this procedural issue may have to be considered by the court in future.
 
Read the full judgment here.


Pro bono news
  • Q&A on student pro bono
The Guardian website recently hosted a Q&A on student pro bono.  It looked at student, university and NGO perspectives with advice from staff at the BPP Law School Pro Bono Centre, the Legal Advice Centre at Queen Mary, University of London and the outgoing student pro bono expert at LawWorks.  Click here to read the contributions.
  • Lawyers sought
The PILS Project is compiling 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 marieanne@pilsni.org.
  •  Legal Support Project
In March 2012 Law Centre (NI) will be launching the Legal Support Project, a free representation unit that will concentrate on representation at social security appeals and employment tribunals. The initiative has come about because of an increased demand for representation which is currently not being met. The work will be undertaken by volunteers, trained and supported by the staff of the project.
 
The Legal Support Project is looking for volunteers from a variety of legal backgrounds including law graduates, newly qualified lawyers who want to gain valuable representation experience and experienced legal practitioners. For further information contact Sinéad Mulhern, Head of the Legal Support Project, directly at tel: 90244401 or sinead.mulhern@lawcentreni.org.



Legislative and policy update
  • House of Lords asks why outdated blasphemy law is still in force in NI
In the House of Lords Lord Lester of Herne Hill has asked why the common-law offence of blasphemy is maintained in Northern Ireland but not in the rest of the United Kingdom, in the light of the recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in paragraph 48 of General Comment 34 on freedom of opinion and expression, and the obligations imposed on the United Kingdom by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
 
In response Lord Shutt of Greetland said that “since the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland, policy relating to the law on blasphemy in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Department of Justice. We have, however, drawn the recommendations referred to by the noble Lord to the attention of the Northern Ireland Department of Justice.”
  • Lord Lester advocates for Protective Costs Orders in House of Lords
During the Committee stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Bill, Lord Lester of Herne Hill argued for the consideration of more creative ways of promoting public interest litigation in the face of cuts in legal aid.  In particular he suggested the relaxing of the “winner takes all” rule in public interest cases.  Read more here.
Useful resources
  • Revised Supreme Court Practice Directions
Click here for an overview of the UK Supreme Court blog and here to view the revised Directions.
  • New Council of Europe Fact Sheet on hate speech
Click here to view the fact sheet.
  • Human Rights Watch World Report 2012 published
The 22nd Annual World Report summarises human rights conditions in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide in 2011. It reflects extensive investigative work that Human Rights Watch staff have undertaken during the year, often in close partnership with domestic human rights activists.  Click here to read the report.

Events
  • NICVA & Law Centre NI joint conference on Welfare Reform: 06.03.2012
In light of the imminent changes and potential negative consequences for a substantial proportion of the citizens in Northern Ireland, NICVA, in conjunction with Law Centre (NI), will be hosting a welfare reform conference on Tuesday 6 March 2012 at NICVA from 9.30am to 3.30pm.

The conference will give members of the voluntary and community sector an opportunity to hear from, and directly engage with prominent decision-makers, policy-makers and eminent contributors to the welfare reform debate.

The conference will include contributions from chief executives and senior leaders of the voluntary and community sector, local MPs, a ministerial representative from DSD, Social Security Agency senior officials, and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Social Development.

Click here for further information.

  • SENAC Legal Conference: 15.03.2012
The Special Educational Needs Advice Centre (SENAC) is holding a conference on 15th March 2012 to look at legal aspects of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system in Northern Ireland.  Speakers at the event will include Mr. Justice Treacy, Senior Judicial Review Judge, High Court NI, Rachel Hogan B.L. Children’s Law Centre and Aidan Sands B.L.  Email: info@senac.co.uk to book a place.
  • NICEM’s 14th Annual Human Rights and Equality Conference: European Protection of Fundamental Rights: 23.03.2012
NICEM’s conference will focus on the European Protection of Fundamental Rights and will be divided into 4 sections: (1) The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (2) The Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Council of Europe (3) Judicial Review and Public Interest Law of the year in GB and NI (4) Recent Human Rights and Equality developments and case law in Europe.
 
For further information contact Sophie Romantzoff, NICEM, 3rd floor, Ascot House, 24-31 Shaftesbury Square, Belfast BT2 7DB, Tel: 028 90238645, Fax: 028 90319485, E-mail: sophie@nicem.org.uk.



Jobs, internship & competition
  • Public Interest Law Alliance seeks law students
PILA, based in Dublin, is seeking expressions of interest from law students in Ireland who would like to become more involved in their work to expand the use of law in the public interest and for the benefit of marginalised and disadvantaged people in Ireland. PILA wants to create a register of law students, similar to its register of pro bono lawyers.  Click here for further information.
  • Essay competition – UK Supreme Court Blog (closing date 27.02.2012)
The UKSCB, which is run jointly by law firm Olswang LLP and Matrix Chambers, has launched an essay-writing competition for current undergraduate or postgraduate students.
 
The title of the 500-1000 word essay can be either “What has been the most important Supreme Court case to date and why?” or “Is the Supreme Court independent?”
 
The winner will receive one week’s work experience at Olswang LLP, London, and publication of their essay on the UKSCB.  Runners-up will also have their essays published on the UKSCB.
  • Internship with Article 19 (closing date 28.02.2012)
ARTICLE 19 is currently looking for a highly motivated intern to join its Law Programme in London for Spring/Summer 2012.  Applicants should be law graduates able to demonstrate a strong interest in freedom of expression and freedom of information.  Click here for further information.
  • Essay competition - Law Society of England and Wales (closing date 23.03.2012)
Law students, trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and junior lawyers (current, prospective or in-between stages) are invited to enter the Law Society's annual Graham Turnbull essay competition.
 
This year's essay title is: “In the light of the growing prison population should we look for alternatives to imprisonment?”  The winner will receive £500 from the Graham Turnbull Memorial Fund. The runner-up will receive book tokens to the value of £250. Both essays will be published. Click here for further information.




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