Archive for janvier, 2012

Criticism of ECHR not Based on Fact

Vendredi, janvier 27th, 2012

The criticism of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by the British Prime Minister is wrong and panders to popular opinion without an understanding of the facts, says Sir Nicolas Bratza QC, the new president of the Strasbourg-based court.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/
9034397/David-Camerons-criticism-of-ECHR-not-based-on-facts-says-top-judge.html

Writing under the headline Britain should be defending European justice, not attacking it, he added: The UK can be proud of its real contribution to this unique system and its influence in bringing about effective human rights protection throughout the European continent.
However, in his speech on the 25th January, 2011 (see Telegraph article below) to the Council of Europe which the UK currently chairs, Prime Minister David Cameron was addressing what appears in certain sections of the press to be a popular cause with the British people, in calling for reform of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/9037045/David-Camerons-stand-on-EU-human-rights-reform.html
Last week the ECHR was again criticised after it ruled that the radical Islamist Abu Qatada, cannot be extradited from the UK to Jordan as he would not receive a fair trial on terrorism charges. Mr Cameron claims the 47 members of the Council have a once-in-a-generation chance to improve the way we enhance the cause of human rights, freedom and dignity. He addresses his critics by saying that belief in human rights is part of the British character. We are not and never will be a country that walks on by while human rights are trampled into the dust.
However, he could face a difficult task convincing members to return more power on human rights decisions to national courts:
■The 160,000 backlog of human rights cases that had built up within the ECHR can be also traced to the increase in members of the Council of Europe following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
■The UK has lost 3 out of 4 cases brought before the Court since its establishment after WWII and only 8 cases brought against Britain last year (less than 1% of the total) were defended successfully; however, most recently and concerning the extradition of two alleged murderers to the US, the judges decided in the favour of the UK.
■In the case of Abu Qatada one underlying issue seems to be torture and the related inadmissability of evidence obtained through torture, the latter that might well have undermined the UK’s case for extradition. Kenneth Clark the Justice Minister has also suggested that the ECHR should concentrate on more major issues impacting human rights such as torture.

The Scottish Referendum

Jeudi, janvier 19th, 2012

Aidan O’Neill QC of Matrix Chambers has provided some interesting background to the promotion of the Scotland Bill through the House of Lords in 1998, and as to whether or not it was considered at the time to be within the legal competence of the Scottish Parliament to organise a referendum concerning the dissolution of the United Kingdom. This pertains to whether or not an act of the Scottish Parliament can modify or confer power by subordinate legislation to modify laws which relate to so-termed reserved matters.
http://ukscblog.com/now-were-talking-about-the-scottish-referendum
When promoting the Scotland Bill through the House at the time, Lord Sewell stated that it was the understanding and intention of the UK Government that the provisions on reserved matters would prevent the Scottish Parliament from legislating unilaterally to provide for any independence referendum. Similarly in promoting the Scotland Bill through the House of Commons, the then Secretary of State for Scotland Donald Dewar MP said, in response to three direct questions from MPs on whether or not the Scottish Parliament itself could initiate a referendum on independence, that:
It is clear that constitutional change–the political bones of the parliamentary system and any alteration to that system–is a reserved matter. That would obviously include any change or any preparations for change ….A referendum that purported to pave the way for something that was ultra vires is itself ultra vires . . . [M]atters relating to reserved matters are also reserved. It would not be competent for the Scottish Parliament to spend money on such a matter in those circumstances.
However, the current SNP-led Scottish administration claims that it would be lawful for the Scottish Parliament to make provisions for an advisory referendum on independence which was not legally binding but would give the Scottish government a political mandate to open independence negotiations with the UK Government.
In a statement to the UK Parliament on 10 January 2011 Michael Moore MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland, stated that it remains the view of the current UK Government – consistently with the position taken by Donald Dewar MP and Lord Sewel in 1998 – that the Scottish devolved authorities had no power to legislate for an independence referendum, since its purpose and intended effect would ultimately be to seek to achieve Scottish independence.
As regards the political/moral legitimacy of Westminster intervening in internal Scottish affairs, of the 59 MPs elected from Scotland in the 2010 General elections to the UK Parliament, only 6 were from the Scottish National party, with the remaining 53 of MPs elected from Scotland made up of parties (Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats) all committed to the maintenance of the Union between Scotland and England.

Lords Debate on Electoral Registration - Overseas Voter Discrimination

Vendredi, janvier 13th, 2012

Click on this video link to the January 12th, 2012 debate in the House of Lords on Electoral Registration in which the issue of discrimination against overseas voters was raised, as well as the ineffectiveness of the postal voting system which results in overseas voters being “basically disenfranchised every time an election is held”.
Fast forward the timer 42 minutes, to hear Lord Lexden’s view that British overseas voters are essentially discriminated against, compared with the way other advanced democracies treat their expatriates’ voting rights.
On the ineffectiveness of the postal voting system which particularly impacts overseas voters, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws who spoke after Lord Lexden said that ” …. what I really want us to consider is the business of postal voting because I think that it should be revisited. If we are going to look at ways of making our electoral system better, we have to revisit it. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires Governments to hold free elections that will,
“ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”.
That is important whether it be for local elections, European elections or our general elections. In 2006, a motion was placed before the Council of Europe that there was enough fraud involved in the system of postal voting in the UK to make us fall foul of our duties under Article 3. I am afraid that we were criticised by the Council of Europe for the system that we have in operation, so it should be revisited”.
Lord Astor
who spoke after Baroness Kennedy then wished “to concentrate on postal voting, particularly postal voting from overseas” He went on to say that “perhaps I may quote a counting officer at the last election who said, “The timescale is too tight to allow sufficient time for overseas electors to complete and return their ballot papers. They are basically being disfranchised every time an election is held. One overseas elector called on polling day as he had just received his postal vote, despite an early turnaround and issue by airmail”.
Lord Astor concluded “that is the problem, and as my noble friend Lord Lexden said, there were only just over 30,000 overseas voters on the register at the last election out of 5 million British citizens who live abroad, of whom at least 3.5 million are probably eligible to vote. We ought to do something in this country to encourage them to take part in the electoral system. Many people go abroad or work abroad, but that does not mean to say that they have lost interest in this country. They read English newspapers on the internet every morning, and indeed many of them want to return to this country at some point in the future. They should be able to take part in our electoral system.”

The full transcript of the debate can be found here.

Business Boosting Measures Announced

Jeudi, janvier 5th, 2012

The official site of the office of the British Prime Minister has announced business boosting measures.
Thursday 5 January 2012

Tackling the compensation culture and freeing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from the stranglehold of health and safety red tape are part of a series of measures announced to back enterprise by Prime Minister David Cameron today.

Speaking to an audience of small businesses and entrepreneurs at Intuit UK in Maidenhead, David Cameron announced that:

•to tackle the compensation culture and address the fear from businesses of being sued for trivial or excessive claims – we will extend the current scheme that caps the amount that lawyers can earn from small value personal injury claims, and reduce overall costs in cases funded by ‘no win no fee’ deals. This will help bring down the cost of many cases and deter the speculative health and safety claims made against good businesses that would appear not to have done anything wrong.
•the health and safety law on strict liability for civil claims will be changed so that businesses are no longer automatically at fault if something goes wrong.
•we will investigate the demands made by insurance companies on businesses to ensure that levels of compliance do not force businesses to go far beyond what is actually required by the the law to secure their insurance cover.
•we will write to the Chief Executives of all major insurance companies, asking them to set out what they will do to deal with this problem – and they will be invited to a meeting at Downing Street next month to set out their plans.

The Prime Minister also announced that next month we will ask organisations to bid to manage the £1bn of Government funding available through the Business Finance Partnership. This fund will help businesses access the finance they need to grow.

David Cameron said:

“I am determined that we do everything possible to take the brakes off business: cutting taxes; slashing red tape; putting billions into big infrastructure projects; making it much easier for British firms to get out there and trade with the world.

“And there is something else we are doing: waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses.

“Talk of ‘health and safety’ can too often sound farcical or marginal. But for British businesses – especially the smaller ones that are so vital to the future of our economy – this is a massively important issue. Every day they battle against a tide of risk assessment forms and face the fear of being sued for massive sums. The financial cost of this culture runs into the billions each year.

“So this coalition has a clear New Year’s resolution: to kill off the health and safety culture for good. I want 2012 to go down in history not just as Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we get a lot of this pointless time-wasting out of the British economy and British life once and for all.”

The above are fine words but now is the time to move from rhetoric to reality with e.g. the Prime Minister already admitting that the special National Insurance scheme aimed at job creation has not been a success. The government is also being accused of attempting to kill off the UK Solar Industry, by reducing feed-in tariffs to half previous levels and reinforcing the view that it doesn”t understand and/or has never run a business.