So long to EU?

Photo by Olia Nayda on Unsplash

Just when the UK Government thought it was coming out of an area of turbulence with all things EU related, the Europeans strike back.

Things were going splendidly: the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill had passed through the Commons with a “stonking” majority. Only the House of Lords to go and Brexit will be achieved by 31 January 2020.

Then the consequences of the Flybe affair hit the fan. Flybe is a British, regional airline and is in financial difficulty (again). The UK Government backed an emergency rescue plan which involved a tax break for the airline i.e. a temporary exemption from Air Passenger Duty.

Good old fashioned state interventionism? Yes, but legally problematic in today’s world of competitive markets. Lest we forget, the UK remains an EU member state until 31 January and, even then, the Johnson Government has committed itself to follow the organisation’s rules until December 2020.

Arguably, by backing Flybe’s rescue plan, the UK Government has given the company a form of State Aid (or subsidy). In terms of Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) this is potentially unlawful. Such support is also a potential breach of Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty (the competition provisions). The UK Government, of course, disputes these interpretations of its actions.

It’s not just other British airlines that will object to this support (British Airways has already done so), Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ireland’s Ryanair has entered the fray by declaring that he will launch a legal challenge. In essence, what the UK Government is doing is a distortion of the Single European Market; the intervention has more than just national ramifications.

Even the World Trade Organisation (of which the UK is a member) forbids the provision of State Aid in terms of its Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.

There is a wider (and harder) lesson for the UK Government to learn: if it wants this country to have some sort of continued access to EU markets, it will have to play by EU rules. The UK, despite Prime Minister Johnson’s ongoing bluster, is the weaker party in the negotiations which will lead to a trade deal with the EU. It is very unlikely that the EU will allow the UK to gain a competitive advantage by ignoring the rules of the Single Market. Norway, which is not an EU member but which enjoys some access to European markets, could probably give the UK Prime Minister some sound advice on this matter:

https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/norway/index_en.htm

https://www.politico.eu/article/norwegian-pm-uk-cannot-cherry-pick-eu-membership/

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/brexit-explained-what-is-the-norway-model-and-is-it-an-option-for-the-uk-1.3712387

That said, Mr Johnson is not alone this morning in believing that EU rules can be ignored, his Chancellor Sajid Javid is telling UK businesses to expect increasing divergence or non-alignment:

http://news.sky.com/story/pm-to-give-brexit-day-speech-as-chancellor-tells-businesses-to-adjust-11911290

Ironically, taking back control (one of the Brexit campaign’s mantras) has never seemed so hollow. On 31 January 2020, be in no doubt, the UK will lose its status as a rule maker and become a rule taker.

Expect the European Commission to investigate the intervention by the UK Government and enforcement action for breach of EU rules in terms of Article 267 TFEU to follow. Welcome to Global Britain!

Links to the Flybe affair can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/flybe-disappointment-as-struggling-airline-scraps-newquay-to-heathrow-flights-11910413

https://news.sky.com/video/share-11910076

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 18 January 2020

Cash flows?

Photo by Didier Weemaels on Unsplash

Here, in the United Kingdom, the Brexit saga seems to be drawing to the end of stage 1 i.e. ratification of the withdrawal agreement that the EU and British Government of Boris Johnson have negotiated. The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is likely to pass through the House of Lords this week or early next week.

Meanwhile in the rest of the EU, business seems to be going on fairly normally and, it was with some relief this week that I read about a forthcoming decision of the Court of Justice concerning the operation of the Single European Market – and not about Brexit.

The Republic of Hungary, a fellow EU member state – for the present time anyway, may be on course to lose this case which, at its heart, addresses the free movement of capital. Essentially, Hungarian law may well be incompatible with the operation of the Single European Market and, as well we know, EU Law enjoys primacy over domestic law:

  • Case 26/62 Van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie der Belastingen [1963] ECR 1
  • Case 6/64 Costa v ENEL [1964] ECR 585, 593
  • HP Bulmer Ltd & Anor v J. Bollinger SA & Ors [1974] EWCA Civ 14
  • Case 148/78 Pubblico Ministero v Ratti (1979) ECR 1629
  • Defrenne v Sabena [1976] ECR 455, [1976] ICR 547, [1981] 1 All ER 122
  • C-106/77 Simmenthal [1978] ECR 629
  • C-106/89 Marleasing [1991] ECR I-7321

‘Stop Soros’

In 2017, Hungary passed a law which compelled non governmental organisations (NGOs) to declare their sources of funding to the Government (this information would then be available via a publicly accessible website). If a group received funding from a foreign individual or organisation above the value of 500,000 Hungarian Forints (or €1500 euros), this had to be made public. Furthermore, groups finding themselves in receipt of such funding had to declare themselves as ‘organisations in receipt of support from abroad’ on their websites and in their official communications.

The measure became popularly known in Hungary as the ‘Stop Soros’ Law – a reference to the antipathy of the Government of Hungary towards George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire. Soros is an energetic supporter of liberal social values which are often at complete odds with the right wing and ultra conservative views of the Hungarian Government.

A link to a story about the background to the Law can be found on the Reuters’ website below:

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-hungary-orban-ngos/civil-organisations-in-hungary-brace-for-government-crackdown-on-ngos-idUKKBN1HW1ZL

The Advocate General’s Opinion

Advocate General Campos Sánchez-Bordona has just issued an Opinion about the legality of Hungarian law in this respect. The controversial Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has long been hostile to groups in civil society who are opposed to his Government’s aims and objectives and which receive funding from abroad.

According to the Advocate General, Hungarian law potentially breaches the free movement provisions of the Single European Market in relation to capital – as well as data protection, freedom of association and privacy rules contained in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (see Case C-78/18 European Commission v Hungary).

A link to the Advocate General’s Opinion can be found below:

http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=222223&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=15406

This Opinion is not the end of the matter because it is always worth remembering that the Court of Justice may not approve it when it makes its decision on the matter. As the Advocate General currently sees things, Hungarian law disproprotionately discriminates against those individuals and organisations who are not Hungarian. It is a barrier to the legitimate, free flow of capital across the borders of EU member states.

Project 1992

The Single Market (or Project 1992) came into existence on 1 January 1993. The Project saw the 12 member states of what was then the European Communities (the Coal and Steel Community, Euratom and the EEC collectively) implement ambitious plans to ensure frictionless trade. It was said that British businesses would find it as easy to sell goods or to provide services in Madrid as they presently were able to do so in Manchester.

The Single Market was based on 4 fundamental principles:

  • Free movement of persons
  • Free movement of goods
  • Free movement of services
  • Free movement of capital

Over the years, a huge amount of case law has built up around free movement of persons, goods and services, but it is rarer to see a decision of the Court of Justice regarding free movement of capital or money. Yet, free movement of capital is an essential corollary to the smooth operation of the Single Market.

How, for example, would consumers of goods and services in one member state pay for these if legitimate or honest money cannot flow back and forth across borders? Please note that I am not advocating the removal of all barriers to free movement – I am all too aware of the necessity to combat the money laundering activities of organised crime. Anyone who has read Misha Glenny’s excellent and terrifying book, McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime (2017: Vintage), will appreciate the real challenges that free movement of capital represents for law enforcement agencies across the EU.

Put simply, the 3 more prominent freedoms of the Single Market would grind to a halt if money was subject to all sorts of unrealistic barriers e.g. member states being able to impose very restrictive limits on the amount of money citizens could move in and out of the country. With the globalisation of financial services, many of us will either have forgotten these types of restrictions – or never experienced them.

When speaking to younger people, it often strikes me that many of them, who do travel regularly to Europe, have any real concept about things like tariff barriers, currency restrictions or passport controls. Brexit (and all its ramifications) may well be something of a wake -up call.

Admittedly, the original founding Treaty of the European Economic Community or the EEC (the Treaty of Rome) did envisage free movement of capital.

One of the first cases that I remember from my studies in EEC Law was Case 286/82 Luisi and Carbone v Ministero del Tesoro [1984] ECR -00377. At that time, Italy operated currency restrictions which meant that its citizens were limited to the amount of money that they could take out of the country. Luisi and Carbone were both fined by the authorities for taking more money out of the country than they were permitted under current domestic law. They argued that Italian law was in breach of the Treaty of Rome because it prevented them from going to another member state in order to receive services (and to pay for these). The Court of Justice was of the view that the restrictions imposed by Italy were unduly excessive.

Conclusion

In the 21st Century, we often forget that restrictions on movements of people, goods, services and capital were very common place. It is the direct influence of the European Single Market that consigned many of these barriers to trade to the status of historical curiosities.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 15 January 2020

Banning smoking in the streets of Paris …

Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash

If anyone or anything wanted to ban smoking in the streets of Paris, you would think that (logically), this would be a matter for the French National Assembly or even Paris City Council (Conseil de Paris).

… And you would be quite correct.

You might be thinking what relevance does this have to Scots or indeed English law?

The supremacy of Parliament (or its limits)

The constitutional lawyers amongst the Blog readership, however, might guess where I’m going with the title. When studying the area of Westminster parliamentary sovereignty many, many years ago, I was struck by the words of Sir Ivor Jennings QC, a very famous British constitutional lawyer.

Jennings was explaining that the Westminster Parliament, as the supreme law making body in the UK, had the power to pass any law – even making it unlawful to smoke cigarettes or cigars in the streets of Paris. Now Jennings fully appreciated that this was a slightly absurdist statement; that wasn’t his point (to which I shall return shortly).

Would our French neighbours obey such an Act of the Westminster Parliament? They would not; quite rightly recognising that such a law lacked any legitimacy in their eyes.

So, what was Jennings driving at when he uttered his remark about the scope of the law making powers of the Westminster Parliament? He was recognising that Parliament could pass any law that it wished irrespective of how absurd it was or how unlikely it was to be obeyed in practice.

The English have placed great emphasis on the notion of parliamentary sovereignty. This principle, of course, can be challenged. The American colonists who participated in the protest popularly known as the Boston Tea Party in 1773 were directly challenging Westminster parliamentary supremacy. Several years later, with the successful conclusion of the American Revolution, it would be the new legal order of the United States of America that would supplant the British parliamentary tradition and thus make it a matter of history.

In 1919, Irish Republicans refused to send Members of Parliament to take their seats at Westminster following the UK General Election of 14 December 1918. Instead 27 Sinn Fein MPs chose to sit in Dáil Éireann (effectively an embryonic Irish National Assembly) in Dublin. Highly unconstitutional in British eyes; yes but it spelled the beginning of the end for Westminster parliamentary sovereignty in 26 of the 32 counties comprising the Island of Ireland.

More recently, in 1965, the White minority Government of the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia (under the leadership of Premier Ian Smith) declared independence unilaterally from the mother country. There was very little that the Westminster Parliament and British Government could do to prevent this situation. The Rhodesian Government would ultimately be brought crashing down to earth because of the armed struggle of the Black majority liberation movement. This would eventually lead to independence and majority rule for the territory (to be known as Zimbabwe).

Brexit

To return to Sir Ivor Jennings, his remarks about smoking in the streets of Paris were brought home to me today when reading about the remarks made by Simon Coveney, the Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister about Brexit.

Mr Coveney was being asked about the implications of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – introduced in the House of Commons by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson shortly after his Conservative Party won the General Election of 12 December 2019.

This Bill will has just passed through the Commons and will now go on to the House of Lords (where it will pass) and receive the Royal Assent in the next week or two. The exit of the UK will happen by 31 January 2020.

Mr Coveney was not taking exception to this development: in fact he was pointing out some hard realities for the British Prime Minister. The easy part of Brexit will have been completed, but the harder part remains: concluding a trade deal between the UK and the EU by the British Government’s self-imposed deadline of December 2020. Needless to say, but this has not been accepted by the remaining 27 EU member states.

Mr Coveney noted that a provision of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (currently Clause 33) prohibits the UK Government from extending negotiations with the EU 27 in order to obtain a trade agreement if one is not concluded before the end of 2020:

“I know that Prime Minister Johnson has set a very ambitious timetable to get this done. He has even put it into British law, but just because a British parliament decides that British laws say something doesn’t mean that that law applies to the other 27 countries of the European Union and so the European Union will approach this on the basis of getting the best deal possible – a fair and balanced deal to ensure the EU and the UK can interact as friends in the future. But the EU will not be rushed on this just because Britain passes law.”

Conclusion

When Sir Ivor Jennings made his oft quoted remark about parliamentary legislative powers, he was acknowledging the theoretical supremacy of Westminster. I also believe that he used the particular example of banning smoking in the streets of Paris to demonstrate the clear limits of Westminster supremacy: practical and political realities will often combine to frustrate the will of Parliament.

In speaking today in the terms that he did, the Irish Deputy Prime Minister clearly recognises this reality.

Does the UK Government?

A link to an article on the Sky News website about Simon Coveney’s remarks can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/eu-will-not-be-rushed-in-post-brexit-talks-irish-deputy-simon-coveney-warns-11907060

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 12 January 2020

Presumption of innocence?

Photo by Kay on Unsplash

A deeply embedded principle?

Should the accused in a criminal trial enjoy the presumption of innocence?

This is a long established principle of criminal law in the Western World that I have taken for granted since my first days at university. I always remember Professor Kenny Miller (of Strathclyde University’s Law School) correcting students who spoke in error about the ‘guilty’ person in a Scottish criminal trial. They were quickly admonished and reminded of the maxim that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Indeed, Article 11 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights takes the view that the presumption of innocence is a fundamental human right.

Furthermore, Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights establishes the right to a fair trial and this includes the presumption of innocence. In the United Kingdom, this very important right has been incorporated into Scots, English and Northern Irish law via the Human Rights Act 1998. In Scotland, we, of course, have an additional layer of protection with the Scotland Act 1998.

Article 48 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights also echoes Article 6 of the European Convention.

Going back to the historical record, the Byzantine or Roman Emperor Justinian I emphasised the presumption of innocence for the accused as part of codification of Roman Law between 529-534 CE. Admittedly, Justinian was building on previous Roman legal practice as the Emperor Antoninus Pius (he of the less well known Wall for our Scottish readers) had introduced the principle during his reign between 138 and 161 CE.

The Romans would say Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat; translated as Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies.

Jewish and Islamic scholars have, historically, also placed huge importance on the presumption of innocence as a cornerstone of their legal practices. Both the Jewish Talmud and Islamic Hadiths (sayings or practices of the Prophet) testify to this.

The Carlos Ghosn Affair

So, why am I reflecting on this area this dull and rainy second day of the New Year?

The escape from Japan of Carlos Ghosn brought the principle forcibly to mind this New Year. Mr Ghosn is the former Chief Executive of Nissan who has been accused of defrauding his former employer.

Mr Ghosn was under effective house arrest in Japan until a few days ago. Allegedly, with the help of his wife, he escaped from that country to the Republic of Lebanon (of which he is a citizen) The escape reads like something from a Hollywood movie script (the Mission: Impossible series anyone?) with Mr Ghosn hiding in a musical instrument case (presumably not a violin case) in order to make good his unauthorised exit from Japan.

A link to an article about Mr Ghosn’s escape in The Independent can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.020120/data/9266461/index.html

A link to a YouTube film about the Affair can be found below:

https://youtu.be/BAxwWW5Ldqo

What is Mr Ghosn’s motivation for leaving Japan in this dramatic way? He claims to have no faith in Japanese justice in that the legal system of that country presumes his guilt.

The Japanese criminal justice system

Not possessing a great deal of knowledge about Japanese criminal practice, I admit that I was somewhat intrigued by Mr Ghosn’s assertions.

I had also just finished reading Owen Matthew’s excellent biography* of Richard Sorge, probably the most successful spy in modern history (and a possible role model for James Bond). Sorge had been spying for the Soviet Union in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s until he was unmasked and arrested in 1941. The treatment of Sorge at the hands of the Japanese criminal justice authorities forms part of the climax to the book.

As Owen Matthews notes:

Japanese justice, surprisingly, for an authoritarian state, turned out to be both thorough and scrupulous. The three volumes of investigative documents prepared by the Tokko [the Japanese Police] are exhaustive, far more professional than the cursory evidence which the NKVD [the forerunner of the Soviet KGB] assembled to convict hundreds of thousands of suspected spies in the 1930s.’ [p345]

Does the Japanese criminal code presume the guilt of persons on trial, as opposed to their innocence?

I decided to investigate …

… what I discovered was something rather more subtle.

The Japanese legal system does recognise the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise – despite Mr Ghosn’s claims. The burden of proof rests on the prosecution to demonstrate the guilt of the accused (as in Scotland, England, the United States etc).

There are indeed criticisms of the Japanese legal system that could be made (but no legal system is immune from criticism). In particular, the practice of not allowing suspects to have access to a lawyer during Police interrogation has been highlighted as a weakness of the system.

Before Scots lawyers get too smug, we would do well to remember the Peter Cadder case which led to an overhaul of Scottish criminal practice (see Cadder v HMA [2010] UKSC 43).

Another criticism of the Japanese legal system seems to centre around the practice of prosecutors rearresting an accused when s/he has been acquitted by a lower court. The accused is then taken before a superior criminal court for a further trial and, possibly, conviction.

That said, in Scotland (and in England), we have abolished the double jeopardy rule, but this does not mean that prosecutors have free range to do what they like.

Finally, an accused who maintains his/her innocence under the Japanese legal system, is often not granted bail and can therefore be expected to undergo a lengthy period of detention until the case is brought to trial (Mr Ghosn was perhaps luckier than most being under house arrest). Critics of this aspect of the legal system have pointed out that it puts suspects under duress making them more likely to make an admission of guilt. Mr Ghosn had apparently spent 120 days in detention before bail (with very strict conditions) was granted last year.

Links to articles about the Japanese legal system from the local media can be found below:

https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-topics/c05403/at-the-mercy-of-the-system-criminal-justice-and-capital-punishment-in-japan.html

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190109/p2a/00m/0na/015000c

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2003/12/09/issues/burden-of-proof-impossible-to-bear/#.Xg456i-nyhA

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/01/05/national/media-national/international-scrutiny-japans-criminal-justice-system-fair/#.XhUY0S-nyhA

Conclusion

The principle of presuming the innocence of the accused in a criminal trial until proven otherwise is a deeply rooted one in the Western World. It is a cornerstone of our justice systems. The United Nations regards it as a fundamental human right in terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet, to assume that it is a Western concept alone, would be a monstrous conceit. Jewish and Islamic legal scholarship have both emphasised the importance of this principle.

Japan, as a member of the United Nations, also recognises the importance of the principle – which makes some of Mr Ghosn’s claims somewhat misjudged. Yes, the operation of the Japanese criminal justice system can and is the subject of criticism, but this observation also applies to every other legal system in the World.

* “An Impeccable Spy – Richard Sorge – Stalin’s Master Agent” by Owen Matthews (Bloomsbury Publishing: 2019)

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 2 January 2020

Enemies of the people?

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

Have British judges become too politicised?

Michael Howard, former UK Conservative Party Leader from 2003 until 2005 (and, somewhat ironically, an unelected member of the House of Lords) certainly thinks so – and he hasn’t been afraid to make his views known on the subject during the last few days.

A link to an article in The Independent discussing Mr Howard’s remarks can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.291219/data/9262576/index.html

In an interview on the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Howard posited the question as to whether the law should be made by “elected, accountable politicians, answerable to their constituents and vulnerable to summary dismissal at election, or by unaccountable, unelected judges who can’t be removed”.

Sour grapes?

To some extent, we could accuse Mr Howard of sour grapes or dissatisfaction with a number of recent legal judgements which have gone against the express wishes of the previous UK Conservative Government (2017-19) which wished to prioritise the exit of the UK from the European Union (Brexit).

It is also worth remembering that Mr Howard’s tenure as British Home Secretary (the Minister of the Interior) from 1993 until 1997 was characterised by conflicts with judges who often ruled against Government policy when making decisions about applications for judicial review.

Brexit

As a long established Eurosceptic (and as one of the suspects for membership of group of of “3 b*stards” in former Prime Minister John Major’s cabinet (1992-97), you would not really have expected Mr Howard to be terribly happy about the lack of progress on Brexit (some three and a half years on from the Referendum of 23 June 2016).

In R (on the application of Miller and another) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC 5, the former Prime Minister, Theresa May was forced to concede that she personally could not trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union in order to begin the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. Brexit wasn’t going to ‘get done’ without first having undergone a series of confirmatory votes in both Houses of the Westminster Parliament. The use of the Royal prerogative (the ancient powers of the Monarch) by the then Prime Minister to ignore Parliament was not an appropriate legal action in a modern democracy.

In Wightman and Others (Notification by a Member State of its intention to withdraw from the European Union – Judgment) [2018] EUECJ C-621/18 (10 December 2018), the Court of Justice of the European Union, in a preliminary ruling, stated that a member state which had initiated Article 50 proceedings to leave the EU could reverse its decision unilaterally without first seeking the consent of all the other member states.

The request for the preliminary ruling (in terms of terms of Article 267: Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) had been submitted by the Inner House of the Court of Session; but critically the action had been initiated by a group of democratically elected politicians (in the main).

In R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland) [2019] UKSC 41 (On appeals from: [2019] EWHC 2381 (QB) and [2019] CSIH 49), the proverbial really hit the fan when the UK Supreme Court ruled (unanimously) that the decision by current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to suspend or prorogue the Westminster Parliament for 5 weeks was nothing less than unlawful.

As Baroness Hale, President of the Supreme Court, stated:

It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, from 9th or 12th September until 14th October. We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.

The Human Rights Act 1998

The mask really slips from Mr Howard’s face (possibly revealing something of the night about him?) when he turns his ire upon the effect of the Human Rights Act 1998. He begins by acknowledging that the UK Parliament conferred powers on senior judges to determine whether UK legislation was human rights compliant and then blames the judges for this situation! As a former barrister, Mr Howard really should know better.

Opponents of human rights legislation have always beaten the drum that the discretion given to (unelected) judges to attack or strike down laws which are deemed not to comply with those parts of the European Convention are a threat to British democracy. In the febrile atmosphere of Brexit, judges are now acutely aware that they can and will be accused of meddling in politics.

As I have previously remarked, statements such as Mr Howard’s recent remarks are factually incorrect when viewed through the prism of Westminster legislation. It soon becomes apparent that his arguments are highly misleading because all that superior court judges can do is to issue a declaration of incompatibility if a particular law or legal provision is found not to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998.

The declaration of incompatibility is like a football referee issuing a yellow card: foul play is being acknowledged, but the player remains on the field … for now. It will then be over to the Westminster Parliament (as the highest legal authority in the land) to bring in corrective measures to ensure that the law is changed, but this is Parliament’s decision alone

The consequences of declaring UK parliamentary legislation incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights can be fully appreciated if we refer to the Supreme Court’s decision in R (Nicklinson) Ministry of Justice (CNK Alliance Ltd intervening) [2014] UKSC 38:

An essential element of the structure of the Human Rights Act 1998 is the call which Parliament has made on the courts to review the legislation which it passes in order to tell it whether the provisions contained in that legislation comply with the Convention. By responding to that call and sending the message to Parliament that a particular provision is incompatible with the Convention, the courts do not usurp the role of Parliament, much less offend the separation of powers. A declaration of incompatibility is merely an expression of the court’s conclusion as to whether, as enacted, a particular item of legislation cannot be considered compatible with a Convention right. In other words, the courts say to Parliament, ‘This particular piece of legislation is incompatible, now it is for you to decide what to do about it.’ And under the scheme of the Human Rights Act 1998 it is open to Parliament to decide to do nothing.”

Judicial Review

It is also apparent that Mr Howard is not a big fan of judicial review: he obviously thinks that this area of the law has expanded. True, it has but this is because the role of Government across the UK has dramatically expanded since the Second World War. This is due to a large part with the expansion of the Welfare State. Government policies which affect education, employment, health, immigration, taxation etc can be challenged by members of the public via an application for judicial review before either the Court of Session (Scotland); the High Court (England and Wales); and the High Court (Northern Ireland).

Conclusion

The UK has an unwritten Constitution – unlike other countries which have written constitutions (France, Germany, Italy and the USA). In political systems with a written constitution, there are often very clear rules governing the conduct of elected politicians.

This does not mean that, in political systems with written constitutions, the courts have no role to play. Of course they do.

It is an accepted part of the political culture of these countries that a Supreme Court or a Constitutional Court will be the final arbiter of very thorny legal and political issues e.g. the role of the US Supreme Court in legalising abortion (Roe v Wade 410 U.S. 113 (1973)) or same sex marriage (Obergefell v Hodges576 U.S. ___ (2015)). They may be controversial in nature and generate heated debate for decades to come, but very few US citizens would contest the right of the Supreme Court to make such judgements.

As a point of contrast, note the hysteria which was generated when judges of the English High Court permitted Gina Miller’s action to succeed in blocking former Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union without, first, securing UK parliamentary approval (see R (Miller) Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC 5). 

The UK tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mail ran an astonishing front page on 4 November 2016 branding the judges “enemies of the people”. More prosaically, the High Court’s judgement (later approved by the UK Supreme Court in early 2017) was merely clarifying the law surrounding the Prime Minister’s use of the Royal prerogative in foreign affairs. You would not have thought this from the media and political reaction in certain quarters.

Governments, just as much as individuals, should think themselves to be above the law. The rule of law in a democratic society is a principle worth hanging on to.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 December 2019

Coffee, Sir?

Photo by Edward Eyer on Unsplash

You get on the plane for a routine flight between Palma de Mallorca to Vienna and, next thing, you’re thinking about instructing lawyers to pursue a personal injury claim on your daughter’s behalf.

Like billions of air travellers before him, HM probably had no idea when asked by the flight attendant whether he wanted a coffee that it would lead to legal action before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (see Case C532/18 Niki Luftfahrt).

When we think of accidents involving airlines, we often fear the worst consequences, but what about a coffee cup which spills over and scalds a 6 year old child?

This is precisely what happened on the flight from Palma to Vienna. The coffee had been served to the child’s father (HM) and placed on his folding table. For unknown reasons, the cup tipped over and injury occurred to the child (GN).

The young girl then sought compensation for her injuries from the Austrian airline Niki Luftfahrt GmbH (which had subsequently gone into liquidation), so father took action (on her behalf) against the administrator of the airline (ZU).

The question which then arose was whether such an incident was within the meaning of the definition of ‘accident’ which is to be found within the international agreement known as the Montreal Convention. International Conventions are entered into by States to lay down common legal principles and thus avoid the (serious) problem of competing legal jurisdictions e.g. between France and the United States of America. The Montreal Convention has been incorporated into EU Law since 28 June 2004.

The Supreme Court of Austria referred the matter to the CJEU for clarification under the preliminary ruling procedure in terms of Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The CJEU noted that the liability of airlines for personal injuries under the Montreal Convention is strict (see paragraph 36 of the judgement). The Court made two other observations (at paragraphs 33 and 34 of its judgement):

‘In the present case, it is apparent from the wording of Article 17(1) of the Montreal Convention that, in order to engage the liability of the carrier, the event causing the death or bodily injury of the passenger must be classified as an ‘accident’ and that accident must take place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking. …

Since the concept of ‘accident’ is not defined anywhere in the Montreal Convention, reference must be made to the ordinary meaning of that concept in its context, in the light of the object and purpose of that convention.’

So was the incident which occurred on the flight from Palma to Vienna an ‘accident’ within the meaning of the Convention?

The answer to this question was an emphatic yes from the CJEU. According to the Court, ‘the ordinary meaning given to the concept of ‘accident’ is that of an unforeseen, harmful and involuntary event.’

As the CJEU stated:

‘… the concept of ‘accident’ … covers all situations occurring on board an aircraft in which an object used when serving passengers has caused bodily injury to a passenger, without it being necessary to examine whether those situations stem from a hazard typically associated with aviation.’

Airlines can always escape liability if they can show that the injury was caused by the acts or omissions of the passenger, but in this case this was not an option.

A link to a press release summarising the details of the Court’s judgement can be found below:

http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=221796&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=794192

A link to the judgement of the Court can be found below:

http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=221796&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=794192

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 24 December 2019

Club rules (or the Hotel California syndrome)

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Just in case you were in any doubt about the status of British membership of the EU, I’ve got a shock announcement to make:

Brexit is still not finished business and this country remains very much a member state with all the legal obligations this status entails.

The UK was supposed to leave the EU by 31 October 2019, but the British Prime Minister was forced by the Westminster Parliament to seek an extension as a result of the EU Withdrawal (No. 2) Act 2019. (aka the Benn Act). Parliament had passed this legislation in order to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU without a proper divorce or withdrawal agreement.

That brings me on to a recent development which highlights this situation perfectly.

Yesterday, Sky News reported that the European Commission is to take infringement proceedings against the UK for breach of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

Every EU member state must nominate an individual to the Commission. The UK has failed to do this and the Commission has deemed this failure as a breach of the TEU.

You can see the press release issued by the Commission concerning infringement proceedings against the UK by clicking on the link below:

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/api/files/document/print/en/ip_19_6286/IP_19_6286_EN.pdf

A link to the Sky News story can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/eu-legal-case-against-uk-over-failure-to-name-commissioner-11861369

When the European Council agreed to extend the period by which the UK would remain a member state, it explicitly stated:

“This further extension cannot be allowed to undermine the regular functioning of the Union and its institutions. Furthermore, it will have the consequence that the United Kingdom will remain a Member State until the new withdrawal date, with full rights and obligations in accordance with Article 50 TEU, including the obligation to suggest a candidate for appointment as a member of the Commission.”

A link to the Decision of the European Council of 28 October 2019 in this regard can be found below:

https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/XT-20024-2019-REV-2/en/pdf

This is like Groundhog Day: the UK thought that Brexit would be concluded before the date of the European Parliament elections on 23 May 2019. The Government of former Prime Minister Theresa May miscalculated and the country had to hold these elections in accordance with our EU membership obligations.

It would seem that there’s still plenty of life in the Greek politician and economist, Yannis Varoufakis’ statement likening the EU to the Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”

The basic line is that, when you’re a member of the club, you obey the rules until you leave; if you can …

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 15 November 2019