Guest post: Data Retention: I can’t believe it’s not lawful, can you? A response to Anthony Speaight QC

Guest post by Matthew White

Introduction:

Ladies and gentlemen, Bagginses and Boffins. Tooks and Brandybucks. Grubbs! Chubbs! Hornblowers! Bolgers! Bracegirdles! Proudfoots. Put your butter away for I am about to respond, rebut, rebuke and more to a recent blog post for Judicial Power Project, by Anthony Speaight QC on data retention.

Blanket data retention is unlawful, please deal with it:

Speaight starts off by referring to the recent Court of Appeal (CoA) judgment in  Tom Watson and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2018] EWCA Civ 70 and how the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has created problems and uncertainties with regards to data retention. As David Allen Green would say, ‘Well…’ Well, just to be clear, the position of the CJEU on blanket indiscriminate data retention is crystal clear. It . Is . Unlawful . It just happens that the CoA took the position of sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending that the CJEU’s ruling doesn’t apply to UK law, because its somehow (it’s not) different.

Just billing data is retained? Oh really?

Next, Speaight recaps the data retention saga so far, in that telecommunications companies have always recorded who uses their services, when and where, often for billing purposes. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (a few years ago, and anywhere with an internet connection) this position was a robust one. But the European Commission (Commission) in 2011 highlighted that:

[T]rends in business models and service offerings, such as the growth in flat rate tariffs, pre-paid and free electronic communications services, meant that operators gradually stopped storing traffic and location data for billing purposes thus reducing the availability of such data for criminal justice and law enforcement purposes.

So, in a nutshell, data for billing purposes are on the decrease. This would explain why the Data Retention Directive (DRD) (discussed more below) affected:

[P]roviders of electronic communication services by requiring such providers to retain large amounts of traffic and location data, instead of retaining only data necessary for billing purposes; this shift in priority results in an increase in costs to retain and secure the data.

So, it’s simply untrue to refer to just billing data when talking about data retention, because this isn’t the only data that is or has ever been sought.

It’s the Islamists fault why we have data retention:

Speaight next points out that it was the advent of Islamist international terrorism that made it advantageous to place data retention obligations on companies. Oh really? Are we going down this route? Well….. demands for data retention can be traced back to the ‘International Law Enforcement and Telecommunications Seminars’ (ILETS) (6) and in its 1999 report, it was realised that Directive 97/66/EC (the old ePrivacy Directive) which made retention of communications data possible only for billing purposes was a problem. The report sought to ‘consider options for improving the retention of data by Communication Service Providers.’ Improve? Ha. Notice how 1999 was before 9/11? Funny that.

It doesn’t stop there though. A year later (still before 9/11), the UK’s National Crime and Intelligence Service (NCIS) made a submission (on behalf of the Mi5/6, GCHQ etc) to the Home Office on data retention laws. They ironically argued that a targeted approach would be a greater infringement on personal privacy (para 3.1.5). Of course, they didn’t say how or why this was the case, because, reasons. Charles Clarke, the then junior Home Office Minister, and Patricia Hewitt, an ‘E-Minister’ both made the claim such proposals would never happen (Judith Rauhofer, ‘Just Because You’re Paranoid, Doesn’t Mean They’re Not After You: Legislative Developments in Relation to the Retention of Communications Data’ (2006) SCRIPTed 3, 228; Patricia Hewitt and Charles Clarke, Joint letter to Independent on Sunday, 28 Jan 2000) and should not be implemented (Trade and Industry Committee, UK Online Reviewed: the First Annual Report of the E-Minister and E-Envoy Report (HC 66 1999-2000), Q93).

Guess what? A year later Part 11 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA 2001) came into force three months after 9/11 (Judith Rauhofer, 331). The Earl of Northesk, however, pointed out that ‘there is no evidence whatever that a lack of data retained has proved an impediment to the investigation of the atrocities’ on 9/11 (HL Deb 4 Dec vol 629 col. 808-9). What this demonstrates is that data retention was always on the cards, even when its utility wasn’t proven, where the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, noted that ‘all the surveillance in the world’ could not have prevented the 7/7 bombings. It’s just that as Roger Clarke succinctly puts it:

“[M]ost critical driver of change, however, has been the dominance of national security extremism since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA, and the preparedness of parliaments in many countries to grant law enforcement agencies any request that they can somehow link to the idea of counter-terrorism.” (Roger Clarke, ‘Data retention as mass surveillance: the need for an evaluative framework’ (2015) International Data Privacy Law 5:2 121, 122).

Islamic terrorism was just fresh justification (7,9) for something that ‘the EU governments always intended to introduce an EC law to bind all member states to adopt data retention.’ Mandatory data retention was championed by the UK during its Presidency of the European Council (Council) (9) (and yes, that includes the ‘no data retention from us’ Charles Clarke (who was accused of threatening the European Parliament to agree to data retention (9))) and described as a master class in diplomacy and political manoeuvring (Judith Rauhofer, 341) (and they say it’s the EU that tells us what to do!!). Politicians goin’ politicate. Yes, the DRD makes reference to the Madrid bombings, but the DRD was not limited to combating terrorism (6), just as the reasons for accessing communications data in UK law under s.22 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA 2000) were not solely based on fighting terrorism. There is nothing wrong with saying that data retention (yeah, but not blanket, of course) and access to said data can be important in the fight against Islamist terrorism, but would you please stop pretending that was the basis on which data retention was sought?

Data retention was smooth like rocks:

Next, Speaight points to the ‘smooth operation’ of the data retention system. Smooth how and in what ways? Harder to answer that is, yess! Well….. in 2010, the Article 29 Working Party (WP29) pointed out that ‘the lack of available sensible statistics hinders the assessment of whether the [data retention] directive has achieved its objectives.’ The WP29 went further pointing out that there was a lack of harmonisation in national implementation of the DRD (2). This was, the purpose of the DRD (harmonising data retention across the EU), and it didn’t even achieve what it set out.

What about its true purpose? You know, spying on every EU citizen? Well the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) responded to the Commission’s evaluation of the DRD. WARNING: EDPS pulls no punches. First, the EDPS reiterated that the DRD was based upon the assumption of necessity (para 38). Secondly, the EDPS criticised the Commission’s assertion that most Member States considered data retention a necessary tool when conclusions were based on just over a third (that’s less than half, right?) of them (para 40). Thirdly, these conclusions were in fact, only statements (para 41). Fourthly, the EDPS highlighted there should be sufficient quantitative and qualitative information to assess whether the DRD is actually working and whether less privacy intrusive measures could achieve the same result, information should show the relationship between use and result (43).

Surprise, surprise, the EDPS didn’t find sufficient evidence to demonstrate the necessity of the DRD and that further investigations into alternatives should commence (para 44). Fifthly, the EDPS pretty much savaged the quantitative and qualitative information available (para 45-52). A few years later, the CJEU asked for proof of the necessity of the DRD. There was a lack of statistical evidence from EU Member States, the Commission, the Council and European Parliament, and despite that, they had the cheek to ask the CJEU to reject the complaints made by Digital Rights Ireland and others anyway (ibid). Only the Austrian government were able to provide statistical evidence on the use (not retention) of communications data which didn’t involve any cases of terrorism (ibid). The UK’s representatives admitted (come again? The UK admits something?) there was no ‘scientific data’ to underpin the need of data retention (ibid), so the question begs, wtaf had the DRD been based upon? Was it the assumption of necessity the EDPS referred to? Draw your own conclusions. The moral of the story is that the DRD did not operate smoothly.

Ruling against data retention was a surprise?

Speaight then moves onto the judgment that started it all, Joined Cases C‑293/12 and C‑594/12, Digital Rights Ireland in which the CJEU invalidated the DRD across the EU. According to Speaight, this came as a ‘surprise.’

I felt a great disturbance in the Law, as if thousands of spies, police, other public authorities, politicians and lawyers suddenly cried out in terror, as the State were suddenly unable to spy anymore. I fear something terrible has happened.

So, who was surprised? Was it the European Parliament who had initially opposed this form of data retention as they urged its use must be entirely exceptional, based on specific comprehensible law, authorised by judicial or other competent authorities for individual cases and be consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)? Was it a surprise to them when they also noted that that ‘a general data retention principle must be forbidden’ and that ‘any general obligation concerning data retention’ is contrary to the proportionality principle’ (Abu Bakar Munir and Siti Hajar Mohd Yasin, ‘Retention of communications data: A bumpy road ahead’ (2004) The John Marshall Journal of Computer & Information Law 22:4 731, 734; Clive Walker and Yaman Akdeniz, ‘Anti-Terrorism Laws and Data Retention: War is over?’ (2003) Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 54:2 159, 167)?

Was it a surprise to Patrick Breyer who argued that data retention was incompatible with Articles 8 and 10 of the ECHR back in 2005 (372, 374, 375)? Was it a surprise to Mariuca Morariu who argued that the DRD had failed to demonstrate its necessity (Mariuca Morariu, ‘How Secure is to Remain Private? On the Controversies of the European Data Retention Directive’ Amsterdam Social Science 1:2 46, 54-9)? Was it a surprise to Privacy International (PI), the European Digital Rights Initiative (EDRi), 90 NGOs and 80 telecommunications service providers (9) who were against the DRD? Was it a surprise to the 40 civil liberties organisations who urged the European Parliament to vote against the retention of communications data?

Was it a surprise to the WP29, the European Data Protection Commissioners, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), European Internet Services Providers Association (EuroISPA), the US Internet Service Provider Association (USISPA), the All Party Internet Group (APIG) (Abu Bakar Munir and Siti Hajar Mohd Yasin, 746-749) and those at the G8 Tokyo Conference? Hell, even our own assistant Information Commissioner, Jonathan Bamford, back in 2001 wouldn’t be surprised because he said ‘Part 11 isn’t necessary, and if it is necessary it should be made clear why’ (HL Deb 27 Nov 2001 vol 629 cc183-290, 252). Was it a surprise when prior to Digital Rights Ireland:

Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court, the Romanian, German Federal, Czech Republic Constitutional Courts and the Supreme Court of Cyprus all [declared] national implementation of the DRD either invalid or unconstitutional (in some or all regards) and incompatible with Article 8 ECHR?

Was Jules Winnfield surprised?

The point I’m trying to hammer home is that (you’ve guessed it), the CJEU’s ruling in Digital Rights Ireland should come as no surprise. Still on the issue of surprise, for Speaight it was because it departed from decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the CJEU itself. Ok, let’s look at these ECtHR cases Speaight refers to. The first is Weber and Saravia v Germany, a case on ‘strategic monitoring.’ This is a whole different kettle of fish when compared to the DRD as this concerned the surveillance of 10% (I’m not saying this is cool either btw) [30, 110] of German telecommunications, not the surveillance of ‘practically the entire European population’ [56]. Ok, that may have been an exaggeration by the CJEU as there are only 28 (we’re not so sure about one though) EU Member States, but the point is, the powers in question are not comparable. The DRD was confined to serious crime, without even defining it [61]. Whereas German law in Weber concerned six defined purposes for strategic monitoring, [27] and could only be triggered through catch words [32]. In Digital Rights Ireland, authorisation for access to communications data in the DRD was not dependent upon ‘prior review carried out by a court or by an independent administrative body’ [62] where in Weber this was the case [21, 25]. Apples and oranges.

The second ECtHR case was Kennedy v UK, and it’s funny that this case is brought up. The ECtHR in this case referred to a previous case, Liberty v UK in which the virtually unfettered power of capturing external communications [64] violated Article 8 of the ECHR [70]. The ECtHR in Kennedy referred to this as an indiscriminate power [160, 162] (bit like data retention huh?), and the UK only succeeded in Kennedy because the ECtHR were acting upon the assumption that interception warrants only related to one person [160, 162]. Of course, the ECtHR didn’t know that ‘person’ for the purposes of RIPA 2000 meant ‘any organisation and any association or combination of persons,’ so you know, not one person literally.

And this was, of course, prior to Edward Snowden’s bombshell of surveillance revelations, which triggered further proceedings by Big Brother Watch. A couple of years ago, in Roman Zakharov v Russia, the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber (GC) ruled that surveillance measures that are ‘ordered haphazardly, irregularly or without due and proper consideration’ [267] violates Article 8 [305]. That is because the automatic storage of clearly irrelevant data would contravene Article 8 [255]. This coincides with Advocate General (AG) Saugmandsgaard Øe’s opinion that the ‘disadvantages of general data retention obligations arise from the fact that the vast majority of the data retained will relate to persons who will never be connected in any way with serious crime’ [252]. That’s a lot of irrelevant data if you ask me. Judge Pinto de Albuquerque, in his concurring opinion in Szabo and Vissy v Hungary regards Zakharov as a rebuke of the ‘widespread, non-(reasonable) suspicion-based, “strategic surveillance” for the purposes of national security’ [35]. So, I’d say that even Weber v Saravia is put into doubt. And so, even if the CJEU rules that data retention in the national security context is outside its competence, there is enough ECtHR case law to bite the UK on its arse.

Probably the most important ECtHR case not mentioned by Speaight (why is that?) is that of S and Marper v UK, this is the data retention case. Although this concerned DNA data retention, the ECtHR’s concerns ‘have clear applications to the detailed information revealed about individuals’ private lives by communications data.’ What did the GC rule in S and Marper? Oh, was it that blanket indiscriminate data retention ‘even on a specific group of individuals (suspects and convicts) violated Article 8’? Yes, they did and it was S and Marper to which the CJEU referred to on three separate occasions in Digital Rights Ireland [47, 54-5]. Tele 2 and Watson (where the CJEU reconfirmed that blanket indiscriminate data retention is prohibited under EU law) is just the next logical step with regards to communications data. And so far from being surprising, the CJEU in Digital Rights Ireland and Tele2 and Watson are acting in a manner that is consistent with the case law of the ECtHR.

The CJEU case law that Speaight refers to is Ireland v Parliament and Council which was a challenge to the DRD’s legal basis, not whether it was compatible with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, so I’m not entirely sure what Speaight is trying to get at. All in all, Speaight hasn’t shown anything to demonstrate that Digital Rights Ireland has departed from ECtHR or CJEU case law.

You forgot to say the UK extended data retention laws:

Speaight then rightly acknowledges how the UK government replaced UK law implementing the DRD with the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA 2014) in lightspeed fashion. What Speaight omits, however, is that DRIPA 2014 extended retention obligations from telephone companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to Over-The-Top (OTT) services such as Skype, Twitter, Google, Facebook etc. James Brokenshire MP attested that DRIPA 2014 was introduced to clarify what was always covered by the definition of telecommunications services (HC Deb 14 July, vol 584, 786). This, of course, was total bullshit (5), but like I said, politicians goin’ politicate.

Claimants don’t ask questions, courts do:

Speaight moves onto the challenges to DRIPA 2014, we know the story already, the High Court (HC) said it was inconsistent with Digital Rights Ireland, whereas the CoA disagreed, blah, blah. Speaight points out that the claimants had no issue with data retention in principle, which is true, but so what? Speaight also points out that the CJEU went further than what the claimants asked by ruling that blanket indiscriminate data retention was not permissible under EU law. Wait, what the fark? It’s not the bloody claimants’ that ask the CJEU a question on the interpretation of EU law as I’m pretty sure it was the Swedish referring court (via Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, you know, a preliminary reference) that asked the CJEU:

Is a general obligation to retain traffic data covering all persons, all means of electronic communication and all traffic data without any distinctions, limitations or exceptions for the purpose of combating crime (as described [below under points 1-6]) compatible with Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58/EC, 1 taking account of Articles 7, 8 and 15(1) of the Charter?

And the CJEU said no. End of discussion.

The ends don’t always justify the means and for clarity, the CJEU didn’t reject shit:

Speaight also says that the CJEU in Tele2 and Watson rejected AG Saugmandsgaard Øe’s advice that the French governments found access to communications data useful in its investigations into terrorist attacks in 2015. Such a position however, falls victim to several questions, such as under what circumstances was the data sought? Was it accessed as a consequence of the legal obligation to retain? Or was it already retained for business purposes? What were the results of the use of that data? Could the same results have been achieved using less intrusive means? Saying it is useful tells us nothing as the ECtHR has plainly said necessity (in a democratic society) is not as flexible as expressions such as ‘useful’ [48], and as the CJEU rightly noted, a measure in and of itself, even in the general interest cannot justify general indiscriminate data retention [103]. This demonstrates that the CJEU didn’t reject anything, they didn’t even refer to the French government’s evidence, they just said as fundamental as fighting serious crime may be, and the measures employed, cannot by themselves justify such a fundamental departure from the protection of human rights. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. A certain ECtHR said something similar in Klass v Germany in that States ‘may not, in the name of the struggle against espionage and terrorism, adopt whatever measures they deem appropriate’ [49].

The CJEU doesn’t have to answer what it wasn’t asked:

Speaight then whines about the CJEU not addressing the issue of national security, well they weren’t asked about national security in Tele2 and Watson, were they? Like I said, even if the CJEU doesn’t have competence to rule on national security based data retention, Roman Zakharov is watching you from Strasbourg (he’s not actually in Strasbourg, I don’t think, but you dig).

What’s your problem with notification?

Speaight also bemoans the obligation to notify saying this requirement could damage investigations and surveillance and went beyond what the claimants had asked. Well, again, the claimants weren’t asking the questions, ffs, and the CJEU made this point by referring to previous case law, notably, Schrems [95]. The CJEU made very clear that notification should be done ‘as soon as that notification is no longer liable to jeopardise the investigations being undertaken by those authorities’ [121]. This is consistent with the ECtHR’s stance. Both courts are aware that notification can defeat the purpose of the investigation, and sometimes even after it has concluded, notification may still not be appropriate. But Speaight seems to omit this crucial detail.

Lawyers getting mad:

Speaight notes that criticism of Tele2 is not confined to Eurosceptics. Sure, but you don’t have to be a Europhile to defend it either. He also noted that it was roundly condemned by all the participants at a meeting of the Society of Conservative Lawyers. Well, no shit to my Sherlock, the name kinda gave it away. He also notes that the former Independent Reviewer of Terror law, David Anderson QC, said it was the worst judgment he knew of. Wait til Anderson reads the ECtHR’s case law on this matter then, which if anything, on proper reading goes further than Tele2. Speaight also points out that Demonic Grieve QC MP was pissed and that a well distinguished member of the French Bar, Francois-Henri Briard basically saying we need more conservative judges to trample on fundamental rights. If a judgment that protects the fundamental rights of all EU citizens pisses off a few lawyers, so be it.

Conclusions:

I’ve spent way too much time on Speaight’s post, and the really sad thing is, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s hard to have a conversation about data retention when you first have to sift through a load of bollocks, and there was plenty of bollocks, just to make your point. And by the time you’ve cleared through all the falsities and misleading or exaggerated points, you run close to 4k words without actually saying what your position is. So, my position for this blog post is, we should always shoot down rubbish when it shows its ugly face or else it festers. Actually, the point is, I can believe that blanket indiscriminate data retention is unlawful.

Free speech, safe spaces and hypocrisy

The unedifying ‘scuffle’ at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appearance at the University of the West of England has provoked a great deal of reaction – some of it distinctly over-the-top. Precisely what happened, who started the fight and why, remains a little unclear – and is not the topic of this post. It is Theresa May’s reaction, to suggest a new law to protect MPs against intimidation, that is more interesting for those of us who are interested in freedom of speech – not only in its practice but its purpose.

The need for a new law is at best contentious – there is already plenty of law to deal with threats and intimidation, public order law, law to protect against harassment and much more – and it is entirely possible that nothing will materialise from Theresa May’s pronouncement other than a few headlines in the Daily Mail. The reasons behind the desire for the law, however, reveal a lot about Theresa May and those who share her views. Effectively, though she and they would be very unlikely to use the words, they’re looking for a ‘safe space’ for MPs. This, coming from the same people who have been actively campaigning against ‘safe spaces’ in universities for others, has more than a whiff of hypocrisy about it. It is, however, remarkably familiar. Many – perhaps most – of those who claim to be great champions of free speech are often very keen on protecting the free speech of people like them, or of people who share their views, but far less keen on providing the same protection for those they disagree with.

Safe Spaces can be a good thing

What the supporters of a law to protect MPs from intimidation might understand, if they thought a little further, is that safe spaces can be a good thing. If we want a civilised debate, if we want people not to be intimidated into silence, if we want to encourage those whose voices are rarely heard, then a supportive – or at the very least not threatening – environment really helps. Theresa May understands that for MPs – because she understands MPs, and supports them in that role. That much is easy – making the leap to understand that others need that protection and that safety too seems to be much harder.

Safe Spaces can be a bad thing

On the other hand, if the creation of a ‘safe space’ is to stop particular voices being challenged, it is not so clearly a good thing – and that may well be what happens at times. For debate to function, challenging needs to be possible – banning hecklers and protestors is not always a good thing. Drawing a line is not always easy – as the UWE fracas showed. The initial protest, and indeed Jacob Rees-Mogg’s first response to it, seemed relatively civilised and harmless. Protest is a critical part of freedom of speech – the vehemence with which authoritarian regimes deal with it should at least give pause for thought. The idea that Donald Trump might only visit the UK if Theresa May stops protests is not something we should accept, for example.

Safe Spaces for whom?

What should give us even more pause for thought is who we need to provide safe spaces for, and why – and this is where the idea that we should legislate for safe spaces for MPs whilst actively working against safe spaces for others feels particularly wrong. MPs already have plenty of ‘safe spaces’ to air their views. Parliament itself, for one. The studios of all the TV and radio broadcasters. Columns in major newspapers and magazines. Others – particularly vulnerable or marginalised people and groups – have almost no access to these. They have neither freedom of speech in practice nor safe spaces in which to hear others. They don’t have powerful friends and allies to open doors, provide platforms – or bring in legislation.

That is the thing about rights – and human rights in particular. The main need for those rights is for the relatively weak, to protect them from the relatively strong. People with strength and power already have many means to protect themselves – in free speech terms, they have many ways to express themselves and a ready audience to listen. For others none of that is true – and that is what we need to remember.

Free speech is not simple – it is messy and complicated, nuanced and difficult to find our way through. That complication needs to be taken on board – because free speech is also really important. We should be particularly wary of those proclaiming themselves champions of free speech – what they are championing is often at best an oversimplification, and often a complete distortion. In Theresa May’s case, it may be even worse. The kind of law envisaged would not support free speech – it would support the powerful against the weak. It should be thoroughly resisted.

Guest Post: Your Immigration Status, Please!

Guest post by Matthew White

Graphic 1

On 21 September 2017, the Guardian published an article warning that from January 2018, UK banks and building societies are to carry out immigration checks on 70 million current accounts. 70 million?

Graphic 2

The article continues that this measure is expected to identify 6000 visa overstayers, failed asylum seekers and foreign national offenders facing deportation. Accounts that are identified will be closed down or frozen, to make it difficult to maintain a settled life in the UK. This is said to act as a powerful incentive for an agreement on voluntary departure so money can be secured once they’ve left the country. Hang on, if accounts can be closed or frozen, how are home returners supposed to pay for leaving the UK if they can only access their money after they have left?

Emoji 1Emoji 2

Of course, the Home Office may contribute up to £2000 for an assisted return (in 6% of cases) but this does not apply to immigration offenders, European Economic Area (EEA) citizens etc (I’m watching you post-Brexit Britain). Speaking to the Guardian, Satbir Singh, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, pointed out that

“The government’s own record shows it cannot be trusted even to implement this system properly. Immigration status is very complex, and the Home Office consistently gives out incorrect information and guidance…Migrants and ethnic minorities with every right to be here will be affected by the imposition of these new checks.”

This is hard to disagree with given that the Home Office ‘accidently’ sent out 100 letters to European Union (EU) citizens warning them to leave or face removal, defied UK courts, has a high error rate which all contributes to the hostile environment the Guardian refers to.

What is the Hostile Environment?

This began with the then Home Secretary (now Prime Minister) Theresa May in an interview with the Telegraph where said:

“The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration… What we don’t want is a situation where people think that they can come here and overstay because they’re able to access everything they need.”

Colin Yeo describes it as a:

“[P]ackage of measures designed to make life so difficult for individuals without permission to remain that they will not seek to enter the UK to begin with or if already present will leave voluntarily.”

This includes ‘measures to limit access to work, housing, health care, bank accounts and to reduce and restrict rights of appeal against Home Office decisions’ (ibid). The defining feature is the reliance on indirect means to encourage compliance with and punish breaches of immigration control (ibid) effectively turning the UK into a nation of border cops.

So, what is the legal basis for latest in the Hostile Environment Saga?

As Yeo highlights, the legal basis for this new measure appears to come from Schedule 7 of the Immigration Act 2014 (IA 2014) which inserts s.40A into the IA 2014. Section 40(A)(1) requires banks and building societies to carry out immigration checks (specified by regulations) into each current account which is not an excluded account. Excluded accounts consists of accounts used for purposes of trade, business or profession, which can be found in Regulation 2 of the IA 2014 (Current Accounts) (Excluded Accounts and Notification Requirements) Regulations 2017. Section 40B concerns the bank or building societies duty to notify the existence of current accounts for disqualified persons. A disqualified person is spelt out in s.40(A)(3) of the IA 2014, is a person who is in the UK, does not have leave to remain and for the Secretary of State to consider the account to be frozen (see s.40D and E of the IA 2014 respectively).

The Regulation responsible for the immigration checks made under s.40(A)(1) of the IA 2014 can be found in the Immigration Act 2014 (Current Accounts) (Compliance &c) Regulations 2016. Regulation 2 notes that immigration checks must be carried out during each successive quarter of each year. Four times a year, every year! So, these ridiculous powers appear to have a sound legal basis, I guess that is the end of that chapter, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Give me a E, give me a C, give me a H, give me a R:

That pesky human rights document that the UK helped draft all them years ago just won’t stop being a pain in its ass. Yes, I am referring to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Why is this relevant? Because as Yeo correctly notes the hostile environment measures have great potential of intruding into people’s private lives. And what does Article 8 of the ECHR protect? Private life. For those who are unfamiliar with probably the most elusive (Luke Clements, Nuala Mole, and Alan Simmons, EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS: TAKING A CASE UNDER THE CONVENTION p. 176 (2d ed. 1999)) Convention Right, it states that:

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

In a nutshell, this Article says that the State should leave us the hell alone in the enjoyment of these rights (negative obligations). This is not absolute, and there are certain circumstances in which the State can intervene (as detailed in Article 8(2)), there may even be instances where the State has failed to intervene and thus failed to protect Article 8 rights based on positive obligations (X and Y v Netherlands, (para 23)).

For this blog, only the aspect of private life will be considered. For Article 8 to be applicable, it first has to be engaged/triggered/interfered with, and because private life is not susceptible to exhaustive definition (Bărbulescu v Romania, (para 70)), this is easy-peasy to establish. Immigration checks requires the processing of personal data which is detailed in many data protection instruments, and as such involves an interference with private life (Amann v Switzerland, (paras 65-7)). The mere fact that personal data is even stored interferes with Article 8 whatever the subsequent use of said data (S and Marper, (para 67)). This is due to the protection of personal data being of fundamental importance to the enjoyment of private life (ibid, (para 103)).  There are various other ways in which Article 8 could be engaged, whether it is based on removal (which would also interfere with ‘family life’ (Al-Nashif v Bulgaria, (para 102-103)) and ‘home’ (Slivenko and others v Latvia, (para 96)), or disrupting professional activities (Niemietz v Germany, (para 29) etc. Once interference has been established, this must be ‘in accordance with the law’ and ‘necessary in a democratic society.’

In Accordance with the Law:

Here comes some legal Kung Fu. The first legal test of whether a measure complies with human rights is to determine whether the law is ‘in accordance with the law.’ Essentially whether the law itself is lawful. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have ruled extensively on the matter and has set out some clear requirements. The law has to have some basis in domestic law (M.M. v UK, (para 193)), and has to have quality e.g. be accessible and foreseeable (S and Marper, (para 95).

This first requirement of having some basis in domestic law is satisfied due to the power to compel banks and building societies comes from an Act of Parliament which enables Regulations to be created to that effect. The law will probably also satisfy accessibility because its published online (Leander v Sweden, paras 52-3). Now, foreseeability is a little trickier, a law is foreseeable if it is formulated with sufficient precision to enable any individual – if need be with appropriate advice – to regulate their conduct (Amann v Switzerland, (para 56). This ensures there are adequate indication of the conditions and circumstances in which the authorities are empowered to resort to any such measures (Uzun v Germany, (para 61). After all:

[I]t would be contrary to the rule of law for the discretion granted to the executive or to a judge to be expressed in terms of an unfettered power. Consequently, the law must indicate the scope of any such discretion conferred on the competent authorities and the manner of its exercise with sufficient clarity to give the individual adequate protection against arbitrary interference…(Szabo and Vissy v Hungary, (paras 230-1).

Forgive the dense legal jargon, but correct me if I’m wrong, the power to compel banks and building societies to conduct immigration checks applies to all current accounts, yeah? In addition to this, these checks occur four times a year every year. So, first of all, where is the adequate indication that the state will resort to these measures if they affect every current account? Yeah, there isn’t any because they affect every current account. What are the circumstances for when an immigration check may occur (like for example, when there is reason to suspect (Roman Zakharov, (para 260) this current account belongs to someone who has outstayed their visa)? That’s right, the law says nothing on this. So, if this affects 70 million accounts and the Home Office is looking to catch 6000 (where did this figure even come from btw?) people, then 69994000 (assuming there are no multiple current accounts by overstayers) current accounts have just been screened for no reason at all. This is a textbook example of arbitrary interference due to the unfettered power this law provides. So, in a nutshell, this law is not foreseeable because it does not indicate when and in what circumstances a current account may be screened, it affects all current accounts, arbitrarily interferes with Article 8 rights, and grants unfettered powers. Therefore, (you guessed it) the power to compel immigration checks on current accounts is not in accordance with the law, and thus violates Article 8. Did I miss anything? Oh yes, the next human rights test.

Necessary in a Democratic Society:

Finding that s.40(A)(1) of the IA 2014 is not in accordance with the law usually means it is no longer necessary to consider whether such measures are ‘necessary in a democratic society’ (M.M., (para 207); Amann, (para 63)). I could have finished this blog post in the previous paragraph, but where is the fun in that (Kurić and others v Slovenia, (para 350))?

For a measure to be ‘necessary in a democratic society’ interfering with said rights must correspond to ‘pressing social need,’ whether it was ‘proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued,’ and ‘whether the reasons given by the national authorities to justify it are relevant and sufficient’ (S and Marper, (para 101)).

Pressing social need:

Are these blanket checks necessary? After all, ‘necessary’ is not synonymous with ‘indispensable’ but that doesn’t mean it’s as flexible as ‘desirable,’ ‘reasonable’ or ‘useful’ either (Handyside v United Kingdom, (para 48)). Therefore, relying on its utility (proven or unproven) is not enough and the state requires a greater justification (Pullen & Ors -v- Dublin City Council, (para 12(c)). The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) have pointed out that ‘[t]here must be a sufficient factual basis for believing that there was a real danger to the interest which the State claims there was a pressing social need to protect’ (Joint Committee on Human Rights, First Report (HL 42/HC 296, 23 April 2001), Annex 2).

So, are these measures necessary? Let’s consider the justifications for them from the impact assessment. The Government argue that they want to catch irregular migrants who created current accounts before it was lawful to run immigration checks when they were first set up or those who created current accounts lawfully but subsequently became irregular (so you know, all migrants are kinda suspects now). The next sentence is very suspect, the Government said they want banks and building societies to check the accounts of known irregular migrants which is a tad different from requiring them to check every current account, four times a year, just in case. The impact assessment later acknowledges the process of immigration checks is to check every current account for matches (ibid, para 20), so essentially a panoptic sort (Oscar H. Gandy Jr, The Panoptic Sort: A Political Economy Of Personal Information (Critical Studies in Communication and in the Cultural Industries) 1993 Westview Press). The impact assessment does not consider the impact on human rights, particularly Article 8 for example (SO HOW DO THEY KNOW IT IS COMPLIANT? OH WAIT…), the fact that bank details are processed for another purpose unconnected to its original purpose of processing (purpose limitation). The impact assessment does not entertain the possibility of only checking current accounts where there are reasonable and objective grounds to believe it belongs to an irregular migrant. Furthermore, the impact assessment acknowledges that after the first year, only about 900 matches will be made (ibid, para 20) even though 70 million current accounts will be checked four times a year. In essence the immigration checks are done ‘haphazardly, irregularly or without due and proper consideration’ (Roman Zakharov, (para 257)). There might be a pressing social need to remove over stayers by checking current accounts that are linked to them, but there can be no pressing social need that subjects every current account to the whims of a Government hell bent cementing its hostile environment. And on a deeper level, what has the right to live in the UK have to do with having a current account? This link is never established and so weakens the justifications for this measure further. Not establishing a pressing social need for such wide-reaching powers would too violate the ECHR (Faber v Hungary, (para 59)).

Relevant and sufficient:

This mainly concerns the effectiveness of the measure which relies upon factual, statistical, or empirical information as to the effectiveness of a certain measure (Janneke Gerards, ‘How to improve the necessity test of the European Court of Human Rights’ (2013) I•CON 11:2 466, p473). The effectiveness of the impact assessment is based purely on guesstimation as the impact assessment admits (impact assessment, para 24). The Home Office and HM Treasury would conduct an informal review 12 months after implementation to ensure effectiveness (impact assessment, para 24). Not only is there no evidence to back up any assertions i.e. pilot studies etc, the Governmental department for controlling immigration will assess its own effectiveness (that’s some independence right there), which is not even guaranteed because this is not mandated by the IA 2014, but there is no explanation of what ‘informal review’ means. Sounds a bit cloak and dagger substituting intrigue with concern. A measure is not sufficient just because its subject-matter fell within a particular category or was caught by a legal rule formulated in general or absolute terms (Sunday Times v UK, (para 65)). Not only is there no evidence to justify this measure, the screening subjects all current accounts to a rule formulated in general terms i.e. by virtue of having a current account, your immigration status will be checked. Even if the justifications were relevant, this does not mean they are sufficient, and a lack sufficient reasons too would violate the ECHR (ibid, (paras 63 and 67)).

Proportionality:

This test comes in many flavours (Thomas Hickman, ‘Proportionality: Comparative Law Lessons’ (2007) 12 Jud. Rev. 31.) but two aspects from the ECHR perspective will be considered for this blog post. The two aspects are whether the measure was the least restrictive to obtain the objective, and whether a fair balance has been struck.

The least restrictive measure (LRM) is exactly what it is, don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, we have nutcrackers for that (Eva Brems and Laurens Lavrysen ‘‘Don’t Use a Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut’: Less Restrictive Means in the Case Law of the European Court of Human Rights’ (2015) HRLR 15 139-168, p140). By virtue of checking all current accounts (which leads to net loss, p11) instead of checking accounts where there is reason to believe it is linked with an irregular migrant, a sledgehammer has indeed been used.

With regards to striking the fair balance, the ECtHR has never been a fan of indiscriminate powers (S and Marper, (para 125); Kennedy v UK, (para 160)) because it fails to strike a fair balance. So, checking all current accounts is an indiscriminate power, and too would violate the ECHR (S and Marper, (para 126)). The disproportionality intensifies because the interference caused by immigration checks are indefinite in that it occurs four times a year every year until, well, the Government feels like it and the fact that the number likely to be caught are miniscule in comparison to the amount of current accounts checked.

Oh, but we’re checking immigration status regardless of nationality:

This is what a Barclays spokesperson said to the Guardian regarding the new law. I am not suggesting nationality should be the basis for the exercise of power, but as I’ve pointed out above, indiscriminate powers such as these are not compatible with the ECHR. There is another reason why this is not compatible with the ECHR, and that is because of Article 14, which is the anti-discrimination right. Its only applicable when a Convention Right is engaged, in this case, Article 8, and this is where Barclays’s stance (through no fault of their own of course as they are complying with the law) becomes problematic. Indiscriminate powers triggers what is known as Thlimmenos discrimination in that:

[T]he right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed under the Convention is also violated when States without an objective and reasonable justification fail to treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different (Thlimmenos v Greece, (para 44)).

And so, the position is this, ‘If there is no reason to suspect I am an irregular migrant, why are you running an immigration check on me?’ ‘Where is your objective reasonable justification for singling me out?’ ‘You want to catch 6000 people in your first year, and 900 every year there in after, if I’m not on your list why again are you running an immigration check and furthermore, once I’ve been ruled out, why are you still checking my immigration status four times a year every year?’ ‘You know why you can’t answer these questions? Because you don’t have an answer.’ ‘Do you know what this means? You’ve violated Article 8 in conjunction with Article 14’ (ibid, (para 55)).

Conclusions:

Natalie Bloomer and Samir Jeraj point out that Prime Minister May’s obsession with immigration has turned Britain into a surveillance state. Sadly, we have been a surveillance state for some time before the hostile environment even took form. We are going through a phase where hard won fundamental rights are slowly being nibbled away, each and every measure may seem mundane at the time it was enacted, but this has only emboldened the state to ever-more take the next logical step in cementing hold as a surveillance state whether it be through the hostile environment or electronic mass surveillance. Liberty dies by inches (Verena Zöller, ‘Liberty Dies by Inches: German Counter-Terrorism Measures and Human Rights’ (2004) German Law Journal 5:5 469) and becomes under severe threats from populist movements. This post didn’t really consider the data protection implications of this measure, but the Information Commissioner has linked Article 8 to unlawful processing, so there’s that. What this post has sought to do, is highlight at every legal hurdle, the powers that mandate immigration checks on current accounts, fails.

 

A disturbing plan for control…

The Conservative Manifesto, unlike the Labour Manifesto, has some quite detailed proposals for digital policy – and in particular for the internet. Sadly, however, though there are a few bright spots, the major proposals are deeply disturbing and will send shivers down the spine of anyone interested in internet freedom.

Their idea of a ‘digital charter’ is safe, bland, motherhood and apple-pie stuff about safely and security online, with all the appropriate buzzwords of prosperity and growth. It seems a surprise, indeed, that they haven’t talked about having a ‘strong and stable internet’. They want Britain to be the best place to start and run a digital business, and to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online. Don’t we all?

When the detail comes in, some of it sounds very familiar to people who know what the law already says – and in particular what EU law already says – the eIDAS, the E-Commerce Directive, the Directive on Consumer Rights already say much of what the Tory Manifesto says. Then, moving onto data protection, it gets even more familiar:

“We will give people new rights to ensure they are in control of their own data, including the ability to require major social media platforms to delete information held about them at the age of 18, the ability to access and export personal data, and an expectation that personal data held should be stored in a secure way.”

This is all from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), passed in 2016, and due to come into force in 2018. Effectively, the Tories are trying to take credit for a piece of EU law – or they’re committing (as they’ve almost done before) to keeping compliant with that law after we’ve left the EU. That will be problematic, given that our surveillance law may make compliance impossible, but that’s for another time…

“…we will institute an expert Data Use and Ethics Commission to advise regulators and parliament on the nature of data use and how best to prevent its abuse.”

This is quite interesting – though notable that the word ‘privacy’ is conspicuous by its absence. It is, perhaps, the only genuinely positive thing in the Tory manifesto as it relates to the internet.

“We will make sure that our public services, businesses, charities and individual users are protected from cyber risks.”

Of course you will. The Investigatory Powers Act, however, does the opposite, as does the continued rhetoric against encryption. The NHS cyber attack, it must be remembered, was performed using a tool developed by GCHQ’s partners in the NSA. If the Tories really want to protect public services, businesses, charities and individuals, they need to change tack on this completely, and start promoting and supporting good practice and good, secure technology. Instead, they again double-down in the fight against encryption (and thus against security):

“….we do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability.”

…but as anyone with any understanding of technology knows, if you stop terrorists communicating safely, you stop all of us from communicating safely.

Next:

“…we also need to take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy and a free and independent press.”

This presumably means some kind of measures against ‘fake news’. Most proposed measures elsewhere in the world are likely to amount to censorship – and given what else is in the manifesto (see below) I think that is the only reasonable conclusion here.

“We will ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online.”

This looks as though it almost certainly means harsher and more intense copyright enforcement. That, again, is only to be expected.

Then, on internet safety, they say:

“…we must take steps to protect the vulnerable… …online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline…”

Yes, We already do.

“We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm”

Note that this says ‘pornography’, not ‘illegal pornography’, and the ‘unintentionally’ part begins the more disturbing part of the manifesto. Intermediaries seem likely to be stripped of much of their ‘mere conduit’ protection – and be required to monitor much more closely what happens through their systems. This, in general, has two effects: to encourage surveillance, and to encourage caution about content (effectively to chill speech). This needs to be watched very carefully indeed.

“…we will establish a regulatory framework in law to underpin our digital charter and to ensure that digital companies, social media platforms and content providers abide by these principles. We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law.”

This is the most worrying part of the whole piece. Essentially it looks like a clampdown on the social media – and, to all intents and purposes, the establishment of a full-scale internet censorship system (see the ‘fake news’ point above). Where the Tories are refusing to implement statutory regulation for the press (the abandonment of part 2 of Leveson is mentioned specifically in the manifesto, along with the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which was one of the few bits of Leveson part 1 that was implemented) they look very much as though they want to impose it upon the online media. The Daily Mail will have more freedom than blogging platforms, Facebook and Twitter – and you can draw your own conclusions from that.

When this is all combined with the Investigatory Powers Act, it looks very much like a solid clampdown on internet freedom. Surveillance has been enabled – this will strengthen the second part of the authoritarian pincer movement, the censorship side. Privacy has been wounded, now it’s the turn of freedom of expression to be attacked. I can see how this will be attractive to some – and will go down very well indeed with both the proprietors and the readers of the Daily Mail – but anyone interested in internet freedom should be very much disturbed.

 

Guest post: A rebuttal of what constitutes discrimination

Guest post by Super__Cyan

panther-meanie

On 11 November 2016, Jamie Foster, a solicitor had an opinion piece posted on countrysquire titled Trump, Brexit and a new Freedom. Foster begins with a critique about the left wing intelligentsia and their political correctness which was shattered by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Foster remarks that free speech is breaking bounds much to the anxiety of its guardians. Of course, Foster continues with his critique of ‘experts’ and the like, but for the sake of this post, it’s not relevant for this discussion, so let’s just skip it right?

Foster asks, does Brexit and Tump bring a new Dark Age upon us? Foster quite rightly eludes to that it is more complicated than that. He then remarks about what he perceives as the overzealous use of phrases like ‘racist, sexist, homophobe’ to anyone inadvertently stepping on a taboo, which he argues has bred contempt. Of course, ‘taboo’ is not defined in this regard, so makes it difficult to make an assessment of what Foster may have meant. And sure, blindly saying anything and everything is racist, sexist and homophobic devalues the meaning of important phrases, phrases that should never be lost or forgotten, but that all depends upon context. Foster is also right to highlight that ‘[d]iscriminating against individuals on the basis of a prejudicial reaction to a characteristic common to a group is wrong.’

This is, however, when opinions sharply diverge. Foster argues that ‘labelling people you have never met as ‘racist, sexist or homophobic’ on the basis of words that you don’t like’ also amounts to prejudicial discrimination. First of all, that depends on the words in question used, which Foster does not elaborate upon. They may not be liked because they are racist, sexist or homophobic. Secondly, it may not be the person per se that is labelled a racist, sexist or homophobe, but the choice or words used. Thirdly, if it required actually meeting someone to establish whether they are racist, sexist or homophobic, then what is even the point of the internet? Fourthly, context is key. Foster follows that ‘[i]t is a prejudicial discrimination where a human being is branded as unworthy because they have dared to say something wrong.’ Here, Foster conflates calling someone a racist, sexist or homophobe as being unworthy when that may not be the case, depending upon the meaning attached by the person making the accusation, one could argue, such an ideology is dangerous. One does not need to document the many horrors of intolerance of others to hammer this point home. Foster implicitly admits that an accusation of racism, sexism and homophobia may stem from something wrongly said. And of course, Foster does not define what ‘wrong’ means in this context, as saying something factually incorrect could constitute racism, sexism, or homophobia, as is saying something that is based on a characteristic that is generalised to a group could also be wrong i.e. all black people are criminals, all women should stay in the kitchen. The presumption, is based on a clear characteristic i.e. race and gender. This of course, also accords with Foster’s own inclination to rely on ‘prejudicial reactions.’ What we have here, is Foster trying to equate a fundamental characteristic of a person with a possible opinion of another, they are not analogous. To do so would devalue the importance of said characteristic whilst simultaneously elevating a possible opinion.

Foster further argues prejudice is important and not the target. This ignores that the target is fundamental to determining whether or not discrimination has occurred. Foster continues that it is no worse to prejudice a black person than a white person. This is correct, but Foster himself identifies the target in both instances, the black and white person and therefore is betrayed by his own logic. If one targets a person because they are white or black, this highlights the importance of consideration for the target. Not considering the importance of a target would defeat the purpose of non-discrimination laws, because to what criteria is it to be assessed that discrimination has in fact occurred?

Foster then ironically states that terms like ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ exist only to ‘to allow the user their own prejudices while condemning those of others’ therefore implying those who use the term are projecting their own prejudices. Ironic because prejudice can be inferred from such a statement where Foster himself earlier notes ‘[a]ny chance of persuading them to a different view is lost.’ If one has already formed a view that words such as ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ are used for projection, then any chance of persuading them to a different view is equally lost. Furthermore, these prejudices are of course, not defined. There is no attempt to discern genuinely calling out racism, sexism and homophobia from the potential of it being used overzealously and carelessly. Foster calls for the challenging of prejudice, but not to fall prey to dehumanising those guilty of it. This sounds a lot like suggesting that one should not call someone racist, sexist or homophobic, if and when they are, whilst also ignoring the fact that calling people racist, sexist and homophobic can be the beginning of the challenge. Sometimes this can be followed by an explanation as to why it is believed what was said was racist, sexist or homophobic ‘this is x because…’, sometimes this may not be necessary.

Foster argues, tolerance is the willingness to put up with things we do not like. Sure, British weather can be unpredictably awful at times, and I deal with it because there is nothing I can do about it, bar moving. But putting up with things that someone does not like is not the same as expecting one to tolerate discrimination, because discrimination is discrimination irrespective of whether it is liked or not. Foster argues that discrimination ‘is a valuable tool that allows us to distinguish between that which is good and useful and that which isn’t.’ But that entirely depends upon the discriminatory measure at hand, and what is defined as ‘good’ and ‘useful.’ Foster highlights that being indiscriminate used to be frowned upon. But guess what? Not only can this still be frowned upon, in some instances it can be illegal. Foster continues that we should not confuse discrimination with prejudice, whilst also maintaining that prejudicial discrimination is wrong. This fails to acknowledge that discrimination need not be prejudicial to be wrong, all that is required is a difference in treatment of those in an analogous situation without objective justification.

Foster makes note that we should tolerate what is lawful and refuse to tolerate what is not. Then I suggest it is important to consider the law on this matter. There are various forms of non-discrimination laws set forth by the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe (CoE). But because we are supposed to be leaving the EU, it is useful to just consider discrimination from the perspective of the CoE, namely Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which states that:

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this European Convention on Human Rights shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

Article 14 is not a standalone right, and can only be utilised when in conjunction with another Convention Right. But it does create a non exhaustive list of characteristics that can be discriminated against, in particular it is noted that ‘political or other opinion’ can indeed be discriminated upon. The Handbook on European non-discrimination law highlights that this may be ‘where a particular conviction is held by an individual but it does not satisfy the requirements of being a ‘religion or belief’’ (p117). This seems to equate the political opinion for the purposes of Article 14 to be on a similar level of religion or belief, not just an ‘I like coffee’ opinion. It was further suggested that:

As with other areas of the ECHR, ‘political or other opinion’ is protected in its own right through the right to freedom of expression under Article 10, and from the case-law in this area it is possible to gain an appreciation of what may be covered by this ground. In practice it would seem that where an alleged victim feels that there has been differential treatment on this basis, it is more likely that the ECtHR would simply examine the claim under Article 10. (p.117).

And so it begins to unravel that this may not even be a discrimination issue at all, but one of freedom of expression. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Handyside v. United Kingdom noted that:

Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such a society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10 (art. 10-2), it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no “democratic society”. This means, amongst other things, that every “formality”, “condition”, “restriction” or “penalty” imposed in this sphere must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. (para 49).

And so from the ECtHR’s case law, it is clear that freedom of expression can allow us to be utter shits, but this can be subject to limitations, depending upon the manner to which we are utter shits. In Erbakan v. Turkey (in French) the ECtHR held that:

…[T]olerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the foundations of a democratic, pluralistic society. That being so, as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance…(para 56).

In the ECtHR’s admissibility decision in Seurot v. France (in French) it was maintained that:

[T]here is no doubt that any remark directed against the Convention’s underlying values would be removed from the protection of Article 10 [freedom of expression] by Article 17 [prohibition of abuse of rights].

Such intolerance and exclusion from Article 10 includes anti-Semitism, racial hate, homophobia etc. In essence, what the ECtHR are saying is that you cannot be a racist or say racist things, and then cry about it afterwards provided that the consequences are proportionate.

What about calling out racism? Is this problematic? It wouldn’t seem so. The case of Jersild v. Denmark was an ECtHR Grand Chamber (GC) case that concerned a journalist who had made a documentary which contained abusive opinions towards immigrants and ethnic groups from young people calling themselves the ‘Greenjackets.’ The journalist was convicted of aiding and abetting the dissemination of racist remarks. The journalist alleged a breach of Article 10. The GC emphasised that it was ‘particularly conscious of the vital importance of combating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations’ (para 30). The GC noted that the feature sought to ‘expose, analyse and explain this particular group of youths, limited and frustrated by their social situation, with criminal records and violent attitudes’ and ‘thus dealing with specific aspects of a matter that already then was of great public concern’ (para 33). The GC also noted that the journalist rebutted some of the racist statements although not explicitly ‘recall[ing] the immorality, dangers and unlawfulness of the promotion of racial hatred and of ideas of superiority of one race’ (para 34). In the end, the GC found a violation of Article 10 (para 37). This clearly demonstrates that challenging racism is protected by the same freedom of expression Foster was adamantly advocating for at the beginning of his article. Foster then, ironically gradually moves onto attacking the very thing he sought to defend. It’s ok to say things that are wrong or comment on the taboo, but you shouldn’t be called a racist, sexist, homophobe even if those sentiments ring true because they dehumanise the person making the comment?

droid-please

Under UK law under the Equality Act 2010, there are provisions of non-discrimination; one notably is ‘philosophical belief.’ In Olivier v Department for Work and Pensions ET/1701407/2013 it was noted by the Employment Appeal Tribunal that a philosophical belief must be a ‘belief, not an opinion or viewpoint’ which ‘must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.’ This poses two problems for Foster’s analysis. First of all, if it is an opinion i.e. vote Trump, vote Brexit, then it is not a characteristic that can be discriminated against. Secondly, if that opinion is a racist, sexist, or homophobic one, it cannot be regarded as worthy of respect, or compatible with the fundamental rights of others, and therefore, again, cannot be discriminated against.

Of course, calling out racism is subject to the laws of defamation and libel for example if such calling out does not ring true as Frankie Boyle demonstrated in 2012. However, across the pond in France, Marie Le Pen, leader of the French National Party, on two occasions did not have similar successes when called a ‘fascist.’

Racism, sexism, homophobia are the objects of discrimination, never the subjects to it. And when one of the prominent figures for leaving the EU feels that race discrimination laws should be scrapped, refused to support same sex marriage and supported its discrimination, it creates an association based on intolerance. This is not to quantify how many ‘racist, sexist, and homophobic’ votes Trump or leaving the EU gained, but to highlight the futility in ignoring that it did pander to those ideologies. Calling someone racist, sexist or homophobe can be correct at best, or ignorant, offensive and defamatory at worst, but never discriminatory.

Finally, Foster notes that people should put down their labels and sanctimony, and talk, because ‘It’s good to talk.’ In response to this it is stressed that these labels exist for a reason, a good talk cannot begin by controlling the narrative as to deny their existence and importance. These labels are important, it’s the exercise of those labels where a good talk can only begin.

Guest post: Turkey, the ECHR and the Death Penalty

Guest post  by Super Cyan:

Erdogan

The ECHR prevents the death penalty whatever the circumstances and leaving is not that simple

Following the failed military coup, the mass detention, sacking of judges and banning of academic travel, Turkey are now in the midst of suspending the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). There has been some concern that this measure has taken place to reintroduce the death penalty.

Not only has it been pointed out that Turkey has signed and ratified Protocol 13 (which concerns the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances) by Matthew Scott (@Barristerblog), but this as pointed out by Steve Peers and Shohib Khan under Article 15 of ECHR (which concerns derogations in times of war and emergency), Article 2 (the right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture) cannot be derogated from.

Add to this is Protocol 6 (which Turkey has signed and ratified)which concerns the abolition of the death penalty, Article 3 of that Protocol maintains that no derogations of this Protocol can be made under Article 15. Interestingly, Article 2 of that same Protocol seemingly allows States to make provisions for the death penalty in respect of acts committed in times of war or imminent threat of war (which is not the situation in Turkey in any event). However, read with Article 3 of Protocol 6, Protocol 13 and Article 15, Article 2 of Protocol 6 would be prohibited in any circumstances.

Suspension not derogation?

Guillaume Champeau has pointed out that Turkey may not be derogating from the Convention, but suspending or denouncing its membership via Article 58 of the Convention. However, to do so would require Turkey to give the Secretary General of the Council of Europe six months notice. If Turkey decides to denounce without the six months notice (because it assumed this is to be done immediately), this is clearly contrary to Article 58 itself. Under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe the Committee of Ministers can request any Council of Europe member to withdraw under Article 7 for violating Article 3 of the Statute. Article 3 stipulates that every member must:

‘[A]ccept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council as specified in Chapter I.’

By not adhering to the six month notification requirement of Article 58, it could well be suggested that Turkey is not accepting of the principles of the rule of law, by acting contrary to it. Then of course there is what has been mentioned above in the aftermath of the coup which many will say is not respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms especially now that spreading exaggerated news could be a crime (putting, not just journalists, but anyone who uses social media under threat).

Regarding Article 7, if Turkey notify the Secretary General by September, withdrawal could take effect at the end of the financial or fiscal year which would be at the end of 2016 (Turkey’s fiscal year is the calendar year). If the notification is given after September the 30th, Turkey would have to wait until the end of 2017. Under Article 58(2), Turkey would still have to respect the Convention up until that point. However, if Turkey does trigger the Committee of Ministers to act under Article 8 to force withdrawal, it is unlikely that Turkey would refuse (because that is the intention right?), and if they did the Committee can unilaterally expel them (which again might be the intention).

Suspension is not unprecedented in the history of the Council of Europe, here are the lists and reasons for suspension:

— Greece, following the installation of the Colonels’ military dictatorship in 1967. Greece withdrew from the organisation in 1969 before the Committee of Ministers voted for its suspension. The country was readmitted to the organisation in 1974 following the fall of the regime.

— Turkey, following the military coup in 1980. In 1984, the country regained its right to vote in the Assembly after democratic elections had taken place.

— Russia was suspended from the Assembly from 2000 to 2001 as a result of its policies on Chechnya.

Conclusions:

Turkey’s future in the Council of Europe is in considerable jeopardy. If Turkey reinstates the death penalty, whether or not they derogate from Article 15, they will be expelled. If Turkey suspends its membership without properly adhering to Article 58, they could be suspended. If Turkey’s post coup reaction is serious enough, they could be suspended or expelled. If Turkey does lose its Council of Europe status, then it is the people of Turkey who will suffer the most because Turkey will be relinquished of all the ECHR obligations (Article 58(3)). Worryingly, it may not be a question of if or could, but when will Turkey be suspended or expelled.

Guest post: The Wrong Prison! Sending trans women to male prisons is a breach of the ECHR

 

Guest post  by Super Cyan:

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Image by csifer.

A few days ago, Pink News reported that another transgender woman had been sent to a men’s prison. December last year, Caroline Dinenage, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Minister for Women, Equalities and Family Justice announced there would be a review that will ‘develop recommendations for revised guidelines which cover the future shape of prison and probation services for transgender prisoners and offenders in the community.’ The review was supposed to be released early this year, but as of yet, no review has been released.

Pink News highlighted that it is common for incarcerated trans individuals to be sent to the prison that reflects their legal gender, requiring a successful application for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) under s.1 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA 2004). This, as Pink News state, due to the complexity of the process, trans women facing prison are less likely to have secured said certificate.

What does the European Convention on Human Rights have to say?

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a collection of rights there to protect individuals from state action and inaction. However, Natasha Holcroft-Emmess, writing for @rights_info highlighted that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) were slow to find violations of Article 8 (the right to respect private and family life) despite obvious discriminatory treatment by the UK. That was, up until the case of Christine Goodwin v UK – 28957/95 [2002] ECHR 588, a post-operative trans woman (para 12) who had been the victim of mistreatment in the work place (para 15-16). The applicant’s complaint was that she was not eligible for a State pension at the age of 60 (the age for women at the time), the failure of the UK to take heed of previous warnings of the ECtHR for legal reform on the issue of gender identity, the failure to provide protection against discrimination, the failure to obtain a promotion due to her employer discovering her status through her National Insurance number and a failure to recognise the rapid changes in social attitudes on the subject matter (paras 60-63).

The ECtHR highlighted that previous case law did not recognise such issues interfering with Article 8 (para 73) but decided to depart from this as ‘Convention is first and foremost a system for the protection of human rights, the Court must have regard to the changing conditions within the respondent State and within Contracting States generally and respond, for example, to any evolving convergence as to the standards to be achieved’ (para 74) continuing that:

‘It is of crucial importance that the Convention is interpreted and applied in a manner which renders its rights practical and effective, not theoretical and illusory. A failure by the Court to maintain a dynamic and evolutive approach would indeed risk rendering it a bar to reform or improvement…In the present context the Court has, on several occasions since 1986, signalled its consciousness of the serious problems facing transsexuals and stressed the importance of keeping the need for appropriate legal measures in this area under review.’ (para 74).

Crucially, the ECtHR recognised the serious interference domestic law had on the important aspect of personal identity. The ECtHR also pointed towards the stress and alienation arising from a discordance between the position in society assumed by post-operative trans individuals and the status imposed by law. The ECtHR believed this was no minor inconvenience as it places trans individuals in an anomalous position creating feelings of vulnerability, humiliation and anxiety (para 77). The ECtHR felt it ‘illogical’ that the UK allowed gender reassignment surgery but none the less did not recognise this in the legal sense (para 78).

The ECtHR reminded the UK that the very essence of the ECHR is the respect for human dignity and freedom, where the notion of personal autonomy being an important principle underlying the interpretation of its guarantees (para 90). Most importantly before finding a violation of Article 8 (para 93) the ECtHR highlighted that:

‘In the twenty first century the right of transsexuals to personal development and to physical and moral security in the full sense enjoyed by others in society cannot be regarded as a matter of controversy requiring the lapse of time to cast clearer light on the issues involved.’ (para 90).

Physical and moral security will be an important factor to be considered a little later, but the ECtHR’s judgment led to the GRA 2004 in which s.9 requires that once a GRC has been issued, that persons gender ‘becomes for all purposes the acquired gender.’

Transgender women in men’s prisons:

The case of AB, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice & Anor [2009] EWHC 2220 (Admin) concerned a 27 year old pre operative transgender woman who sought to challenge the Secretary of State for not transferring her to a female prison despite having a GRC (para 1). Despite living in her acquired gender for two years (as required by the GRA 2004) the Gender Identity Clinic treating her would not approve her gender reassignment surgery until she has spent a period living “in role” as a woman within a female prison (para 7). The High Court highlighted that the Secretary of State had the power to place women in a male prison but the circumstances for the present case were not met (para 10).

The questions before the High Court was whether such refusal violated Article 8 in light of s.9 of the GRA, whether Article 14 (securing Convention Rights without discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 was violated and whether the decision by the Secretary of State was Wednesbury unreasonable (para 28). Section 9 of the GRA requires as stated that for ‘all purposes’ an individual must be treated as their acquired gender, yet Deputy Judge Elvin QC felt that that the restrictions imposed on the applicant (such as movement, clothing, and ability to participate in ordinary prison life (para 5)) wouldn’t likely apply in the rare case of a biological woman held in a male prison (para 31).

With regards to Article 8, after careful consideration of its case law in this area, with an emphasis on personal autonomy (para 38-53) it was concluded that Article 8 was engaged and therefore the Secretary of State had to justify that measures satisfied Article 8(2) (the limitations of the right to privacy etc). Deputy Judge Elvin QC had already concluded that the decision to keep the claimant in a male prison had violated Article 8 (para 57) but went on to explain why. Deputy Judge Elvin QC placed emphasis on risk and resources and that although the state has a generous margin of appreciation (discretion), when such decisions places significant restriction on a prisoners personal autonomy then the Court should scrutinise carefully the basis upon which resources are said to justify such a significant infringement of personal freedom (para 58). Deputy Judge Elvin QC highlighted that severe frustration would be caused by the continuation of male imprisonment and the consequential denial of surgery (para 60), something which Mr Spurr (Chief Operating Officer of NOMS (the National Offender Management Service) in the Ministry of Justice (para 21)) omitted to consider (para 60-61). The Secretary of State was criticised for not taking into account the consequences of the frustration of the Claimant’s progress, and its possible effects on risk and the costs of keeping her within a male prison (para 64) whilst only considering the cost of segregation on the basis that it was likely to be required only if the Claimant were transferred into a female prison and only if it were required for a significant period of time (para 73). Moreover, the Secretary of State did not consider the possibility that the period might not be particularly long, but also wholly failed to consider, let alone balance, the costs which would be likely to arise if the denial of a transfer and the loss of hope at progressing to qualify for reassignment surgery were to increase the difficulties of the Claimant living in a male prison and themselves lead to segregation (para 73). Deputy Judge Elvin QC felt this was clear not only from the circumstances of the Claimant’s offending, but from Dr Travers’ reports (who maintained that keeping the Claimant in limbo would increase frustration, indicate a shift in her risk profile, risk of self harm and harm to others and deceitful behaviour increase (para 62)) which was not disputed (para 62-71) by the other experts (para 73). There were further criticisms of the Secretary of State ranging from adopting an ‘extreme position’ on the length of segregation (para 74) and ultimately concluded that ‘Secretary of State’s decision to continue to detain the Claimant in a male in prison is in breach of Article 8’ (para 78).

Deputy Judge Elvin QC did not consider it necessary to consider Article 14 based on the finding of Article 8 (para 79) but did find the Secretary of State’s decision to continue male detention as Wednesbury unreasonable (para 85). This is a ground which requires much higher threshold to be considered unlawful than human rights grounds, which serves to highlight just how flawed the Secretary of State’s decision to continue was.

This case demonstrated that post-operative reassignment surgery (as was in Goodwin) was not necessary to secure the Convention Rights of a transgendered individual provided that a GRC had been issued.

What about not having a GRC?:

The case of M v Revenue & Customs [2010] UKFTT 356 (TC) concerned a post operative transgender woman who would have to continue paying National Insurance Contributions (NICs) until she was issued with a GRC (para 1). It was argued that Article 8 as interpreted in Goodwin required recognition of the acquired gender of a post-operative transsexual person, something which the GRA 2004 did not, but instead imposed a disproportionate two-year waiting requirement (para 18). However, Judge Nicolas Paines maintained that s.9 of the GRA 2004 made it clear that prior to the issue of a GRC, a person’s sex for legal purposes is their biological sex (para 22).

Judge Nicolas Paines did refer to A v West Yorkshire Police [2004] UKHL 21, which is an important to summarise. The case concerned the decision of the Chief Constable rejecting the application of a post-operative transgender woman (Ms A) to join his force as a constable on the grounds that she could not search suspects (para 2-6). Ms A relied on a European Court of Justice (ECJ) case prior to the Chief Constable’s decision in P v S and Cornwall County Council (Case C-13/94) [1996] ICR 795 which as Lord Bingham noted that it was held in very clear and simple terms that the then Equal Treatment Directive prohibited unfavourable treatment on grounds of gender reassignment (para 10) and ultimately the House of Lords ruled in Ms A’s favour. However, Judge Nicolas Paines felt that this did not assist the human rights argument (para 26) and felt that he was constrained to hold that the appellant a man at all times prior to the issuing of a GRC even if it was considered contrary to the ECHR (para 28).

What this case highlights just as Pink News did, is of the complexities faced with obtaining a GRC and the consequences of not obtaining one when if one is sentenced to prison. This would likely mean that prior to having a GRC, any post and pre-operative transgendered individual would be sent to the prison of their birth gender i.e. the wrong prison.

But there is still hope:

In the case of Identoba and Others v. Georgia – 73235/12 – Chamber Judgment [2015] ECHR 474 the ECtHR held that Georgia’s failure to prevent, and effectively investigate, attacks against an anti-trans/homophobia march violated Articles 3 (freedom from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment) and 11 (freedom of assembly) of the ECHR in conjunction with Article 14.

One of the important criticisms that the ECtHR made against Georgia was that ‘domestic authorities knew or ought to have known of the risks associated with any public event concerning that vulnerable community, and were consequently under an obligation to provide heightened State protection’ (para 72). The risks and dangers associated with sending trans women to male prisons is well documented and even in the case of AB, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice & Anor the individual in question was segregated to a large extent from her male inmates, highlighting that the UK is indeed aware of this issue. The ECtHR held that:

‘[T]hat violence, which consisted mostly of hate speech and serious threats, but also some sporadic physical abuse in illustration of the reality of the threats, rendered the fear, anxiety and insecurity experienced by all thirteen applicants severe enough to reach the relevant threshold under Article 3 read in conjunction with Article 14 of the Convention.’ (para 79).

And subsequently held that Georgia had failed in its positive obligations under Article 3 in conjunction with Article 14 (para 81).

Arguably the most important aspect of this was when the ECtHR held that ‘the prohibition of discrimination under Article 14 of the Convention duly covers questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity’ (para 96). Such clarification was welcomed by Transgender Europe and with Peter Dunne (Enhancing sexual orientation and gender-identity protections in Strasbourg, The Cambridge Law Journal 75(01):4-8 · March 2016) correctly highlighting that:

‘Adopting the more inclusive terminology of “gender identity”, which focuses on internal and individual experiences of gender rather than physical appearance, the Fourth Section has confirmed that all transgender persons, irrespective of whether they seek medical intervention, have equal enjoyment of Convention rights.’

Conclusions:

What does this mean for sending transgender females to male prisons (and vice versa)? Based on Identoba and Others v. Georgia an Article 8 (and possibly Article 3) argument in conjunction with Article 14 would better protect transgender individuals who neither had a GRC issued at the relevant time or did not undergo reassignment surgery. It would mean that decisions to send trans individuals to the wrong prison are open to challenge irrespective of whether a GRC is issued or are in the post-operative stage. Based on AB, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice & Anor and taking into account what was previously maintained, that being ‘in the twenty first century the right of transsexuals to personal development and to physical and moral security in the full sense enjoyed by others in society cannot be regarded as a matter of controversy requiring the lapse of time to cast clearer light on the issues involved.’ It is very likely that the rights in question would be breached and thus would be in line with the Convention being practical and effective, not theoretical and illusory in the fight to protect the rights of all transgender people.