Our letter to Conservative MPs and Peers

On October 2nd, we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Human Rights Act (HRA) coming into effect.

Britain in Europe experts, and independent experts working with our think tank and Knowing Our Rights research project, from across UK academia as well as legal professionals, NGO experts and politicians, have written to Conservative MPs and Peers, to highlight this important milestone and request that the Conservative party reflects upon the highly positive and beneficial influence that the Act has had on the lives of UK citizens.

The signatories include Wera Hobhouse MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Justice and Women & Equalities, and Shadow Leader of the House; former Labour MEP Julie Ward; former Labour MP, Roger Casale; and Baroness Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (on Exiting the European Union).

In their letter, our experts request that the government uses the opportunity of this seminal anniversary – in tandem with the forthcoming one, of November 4th, which will mark 70 years from the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in Rome – to renew the UK’s commitment to the ECHR and HRA.

In 2015, the Conservative party manifesto pledged to repeal the HRA; the 2017 manifesto committed to stay temporarily in the European Convention on Human Rights; and the 2019 manifesto promised to “update” the HRA.

In the most recent development in this area, the Lord Chancellor, HH Robert Buckland QC MP, has stated, in a letter to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, that the government plans for “an independent review” into the operation of the Human Rights Act to be launched “in due course”, and that the review will look into “the balance between the rights of individuals and effective government”, in line with the 2019 manifesto.

You can read the full letter here.
Human Rights Act – Twentieth anniversary. Download • 266KB

You can see the full list of signatories below:

Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, Goldsmiths University of London

Dr Ed Bates, University of Leicester

Kirsty Brimelow QC, Doughty Street Chambers and Visiting Professor, Goldsmiths University of London

Roger Casale, secretary general and chief executive, New Europeans

Prof Andrew Choo, City, University of London

Jonathan Cooper OBE, Doughty Street Chambers

Prof Conor Gearty, LSE

Wera Hobhouse MP, Spokesperson for Justice and Women & Equalities, Shadow Leader of the House

Dr Kirsty Hughes, University of Cambridge

Prof Paul Johnson, University of York

Dr Ed Johnston, University of the West of England

Dr Dimitrios Kagiaros, Durham University

John King, 9 Bedford Row

Prof Francesca Klug, LSE

Prof Dora Kostakopoulou, University of Warwick

Baroness Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

Dr Dagmar Myslinska, Goldsmiths University of London

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Visiting Professor, Goldsmiths University of London

Prof Colm O’Cinneide, UCL

Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, LSE

Prof Julian Petley, Brunel University

Dr Hannah Quirk, King’s College

HH Jeremy Roberts QC, member of the Parole Board

Prof Paul Roberts, University of Nottingham

Jago Russell, chief executive, Fair Trials

Prof Cris Shore, Goldsmiths University of London

Maya Sikand, Doughty Street Chambers

Prof Iyiola Solanke, University of Leeds

Prof Leslie Thomas QC, Garden Court Chambers

Adam Wagner, Doughty Street Chambers and Visiting Professor, Goldsmiths University of London

Julie Ward, former MEP

Josie Welland, Rahman Ravelli

Dr Ruvi Ziegler, University of Reading

Covid-19 and human rights in the UK

Analysis of Covid-19 legislation from a human rights perspective, by Adam Wagner (barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, Visiting Professor in Law at Goldsmiths University of London and special advisor to UK Parliament’s inquiry into Covid-19), in conversation with Professor Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos (Head of the department of Law at Goldsmiths).

Covid-19 deaths are very likely to give rise to significant number of legal claims in courts, in the context of the duty to protect the right to life (under Art 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights). The ensuing litigation will be highly complex: (a) the key question will be whether the government provided wrong or insufficient equipment, despite having an opportunity to provide the right equipment; (b) causation issues will be difficult to tackle, ie did the victim die as a result of having not been provided with the right PPE?; (c) courts are likely to take into account the global shortage in PPE, and generally tend to shy away from what may be considered pure political decision making; (d) whether failures could be seen as systematic would be key (in line with ECHR case law).

On the Covid-19 lockdown legislation in the UK:
Differences in the content of legislation, official guidelines and government guidance to the public have caused confusion and unpredictability as to police enforcement, e.g. regarding restrictions on the amount of times you can go out to exercise: there is no such restriction in the law in England, Scotland and NI, for instance, though government guidance is to go out only once, which is also what the law in Wales provides.
The question whether the police response to the Covid-19 legislation is good or not is an open one too. There were signs of police adopting a heavy-handed approach early on. For example, the Derbyshire Police engaged drones to monitor the lockdown in the Peak District, followed by “lockdown shaming”. The police should have adopted a public-health centred approach instead, ie focus on stopping mass gatherings only (the obvious big threat here), not worrying about “people going out to buy an Easter egg” or “having a picnic in the middle of nowhere” for instance. The powers that police were afforded should be used as a last resort.

A level students reflect on government attitudes towards liberty and the rule of law

Professor Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, from Goldsmiths University of London, Faculty of Law, gave a lecture to Collyers’ students on the operation and significance of human rights against the socio-political backdrop of continuing Euroscepticism and Brexit.

Janene Weymouth, Head of Law at Collyers, who organised the event, was extremely pleased with its success: “The lecture theatre was full to maximum capacity of students from all disciplines. The event truly demonstrated the enthusiasm of the younger generation engaging in contemporary political/legal issues.”

A-Level Law student Jacob Tasker commented: “The Human Rights lecture was incredibly interesting and highly informative. In addition to the content being an excellent supplement to our A-Level Law course, it encouraged the audience to consider the significance of the European Convention on Human Rights, now more than 50 years old, within a modern society. In particular, the importance of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, and respect and tolerance within a pluralistic society.”

Deputy Principal Steve Martell was delighted: “Huge thanks to Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos for today’s inspiring and informative lecture. We are also incredibly grateful to Janene Weymouth for co-ordinating this wonderful learning opportunity for our students.”

How is illegally obtained evidence a challenge for human rights?
Inaugurating Goldsmiths Law’s “European encounters”: The Council of Europe and Artificial Intelligence

Goldsmiths Law is delighted to launch a programme of “European encounters”, intended to bring our students, academics and the wider public in the UK in contact with European institutions, to shed light on the work they are doing in key areas of activity influencing our day-to-day lives; justice, security, the environment, commerce, financial services, the rule of law, technology, international human rights.

Picture1 - Inaugurating Goldsmiths Law’s “European encounters”: The Council of Europe and Artificial Intelligence

In this first session in the series, on Tuesday, March 5, 09.30 to 11.30, we have the pleasure of welcoming to the College the Council of Europe’s Charlotte Altenhöner-Dion, who is the Head of the Internet Governance Unit and Secretary to the Expert Committee on Human Rights Dimensions of Automated Data Processing and Different Forms of Artificial Intelligence (MSI-AUT). Book your place here.

Charlotte will bring to our attention the Council of Europe’s efforts to assess both the threats and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for human rights. The Council of Europe’s new website on AI provides a useful illustration of recent initiatives, forthcoming events, and projects planned.

The Council of Europe with its 47 member states is the continent’s leading human rights organisation and guardian of the rights of some 830 million Europeans. Technological advancement over the last decades has fundamentally transformed societies by providing new tools for communication, news consumption, education, entertainment, commercial transactions and multiple other facets of everyday activities. Operating on the detection and reinforcement of patterns in large datasets, information processing technology offers the potential to rationalise services and deliver enormous efficiency gains in task and systems performance, which may enhance human flourishing and contribute to creating optimal conditions for the exercise of human rights.

algorithm 3859539 1920 300x200 - Inaugurating Goldsmiths Law’s “European encounters”: The Council of Europe and Artificial Intelligence

Increasing numbers of Europeans reap the benefits of AI every day as unprecedented progress is made in a wide range of fields, including industrial productivity, health care, transportation and logistics. At the same time, there is growing concern amongst the public about the broader implications of the use, and possible abuse, of automated data processing and mathematical modelling for individuals, for communities, and for societies. Can computational data analytics replace the reasoning of a trained judge when applying the law to a specific context? How does algorithmic decision-making affect the delivery of essential public services and our recruitment and employment conditions? Can individuals remain visible as independent agents in societies that are shaped by optimisation processes? What is the effect on freedom of expression and the plurality of public communication spaces when individuals are micro-targeted with messages that are based on profiling? And finally: how does the increasing reliance on mainly privately developed and run technology square with the rule of law and the fundamental principle of democratic societies that all power must be accountable before the law?

Charlotte Altenhöner-Dion will attempt to provide answers to these questions, reflecting on Council of Europe work in this area, including  the adoption of the first European text defining the ethical framework for the use of AI in judicial systems; the draft ‘Declaration on the manipulative capabilities of algorithmic processes’ (which is being discussed on February 12) and the high-level conference in Helsinki on 26 and 27 February 2019 on ‘Governing the Game Changer – Impacts of AI on Human rights, Democracy and the Rule of law’.

Charlotte Altenhöner-Dion has a law degree from Hamburg University and an LL.M. in International Law from Georgetown University. She has been with the Council of Europe for the past ten years, having previously worked for the OSCE and the UN, including in Central Asia, the Balkans, and East Africa. Her current professional focus lies on the human rights impacts of digital transformation, intermediary liability, and the institutional challenges of governing fast-moving technologies in a rights-compliant manner, while adhering to the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

The ”European Encounter” series echoes the Law programme’s intention to offer its students unique opportunities to engage with UK and European policy makers, and to explore cutting edge issues such as the relationship between technology and European human rights. You can read more about areas of specialisation in the LLB Law programme here

Britain in Europe Open Society Foundation Goldsmiths University