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.

No Grants, No Fair? – Guest post by Super Cyan…

 

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No Grants:

I finally have something worthwhile to say in 2016, and unfortunately it’s in response to a Conservative measure. An article by @JBeattieMirror highlighted that the Tories have blocked a debate concerning the end of maintenance grants. On Thursday the 14th of January this year, the Third Delegated Legislation Committee discussed the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (Regulations) which was voted in favour for with a ten to eight majority. The explanatory memorandum to these Regulations maintain that 2016 cohort students, will no longer qualify for maintenance grant or special support grant, but will instead qualify for an increased loan for living costs in 2016/17 (para 4.2). A 2016 cohort student according to Regulation 4(iv) is a full-time student who begins their academic course on or after August 2016. Regulation 19 inserts the following into Regulation 56 of its predecessor:

A current system student who is not a 2016 cohort student qualifies in accordance with this regulation for a maintenance grant in connection with the student’s attendance on a designated course (other than a distance learning course) (bolded for emphasis).

Meaning precisely what has been said above, that grants and special support are to be made obsolete for students starting courses this year.

Human Rights

From a human rights perspective, what exactly are the implications of these Regulations? The starting point would be that university courses fall within the realm of higher education (Leyla Şahin v. Turkey – (Application no. 44774/98) para 141), and the corresponding right from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is Article 2 Protocol 1 (A2P1) which stipulates that:

[i] No person shall be denied the right to education.

[ii] In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

This Protocol is incorporated into UK law through Schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998). Section 15(1)(a) of the HRA 1998 sets out reservations in Part II Schedule 3 to the effect that the principle affirmed in the second sentence of A2P1 only so far as compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure. This as noted, by implication, that the UK accepts unreservedly the principle that “no person shall be denied the right to education” set out in the first sentence of A2P1.

The basis the argument would be that removing the maintenance grant and special support will indirectly discriminate against those from poorer backgrounds making them less likely to go into higher education. As the amount of grant was relative to household income, for example under the old Regulation 57(3)(a), a student whose household income was below £25,000 would receive £2,984. This is where Article 14 would take effect, this is the discrimination Article which states that:

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention 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 used in conjunction with another substantive right (Sommerfield v Germany – (Application no. 31871/96) para 84) in this instance A2P1. In terms of the poorest students, they would likely fall under the ‘social origin’ category which the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) refers to a person’s inherited social status (para 24). Also according to a handbook jointly collaborated upon by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (EUAFR) who regarded social origin as possibly relating to a position that they have acquired through birth into a particular social class or community (such as those based on ethnicity, religion, or ideology), or from one’s social situation such as poverty and homelessness. In the unlikely event poorer students would fall outside the ambit of ‘social origin’ they would fall under ‘other status’ where the Grand Chamber (GC) of the ECtHR in Carson and Others v United Kingdom (Application no. 42184/05) noted that only differences in treatment based on a personal characteristic (or “status”) by which persons or groups of persons are distinguishable from each other are capable of amounting to discrimination within the meaning of Article 14. Economic status based on residential income would and should quite easily fall into this as noted in Hurley and Moore, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Business Innovation & Skills [2012] EWHC 201 (Admin) (para 29).

The jurisprudence of A2P1 has grown from not guaranteeing access to any particular educational institution the domestic system does provide, or that a breach requires evidence of a systemic failure of the national educational system as a whole resulting in the individual not having access to a minimum level of education within it (Simpson v United Kingdom (1989) 64 DR 188) to the point where for example A2P1 must be read in light of Articles 8-10 ((Leyla Şahin v. Turkey – (Application no. 44774/98) para 155). In the Belgian linguistic case the ECtHR held that although Article 8 does not grant a right to education as it mainly concerns protecting the individual against arbitrary interference by the public authorities in his private family life, that does not mean measures taken in the field of education won’t affect those rights (B para 7). Similarly A2P1 must be read in light of Article 10 which pertain to the freedom … to receive and impart information and ideas (Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen – (Application no. 5095/71; 5920/72; 5926/72) (para 52)). Thus the argument would be that the removal of maintenance grants and other forms of support create a restriction (Leyla Şahin v. Turkey – (Application no. 44774/98) para 157) on the right to education based on social origin/other status and also interferes with Article 8 and 10 in an indirectly discriminatory manner. But for the sake of (shortening) this blog post, A2P1 in conjunction with Article 14 will only be considered .

The trebling of tuition fees:

The starting point is the High Court decision in Hurley and Moore, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Business Innovation & Skills [2012] EWHC 201 (Admin). This case concerned the trebling of tuition fees and its potential for (indirect) discrimination towards those from poorer backgrounds (para 4), the Secretary of State contested this (para 5). In order to demonstrate evidence of indirect discrimination, the GC in D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic – (Application no. 57325/00) held that it adopts conclusions that are:

[S]upported by the free evaluation of all evidence, including such inferences as may flow from the facts and the parties’ submissions. According to its established case-law, proof may follow from the coexistence of sufficiently strong, clear and concordant inferences or of similar unrebutted presumptions of fact. Moreover, the level of persuasion necessary for reaching a particular conclusion and, in this connection, the distribution of the burden of proof are intrinsically linked to the specificity of the facts, the nature of the allegation made and the Convention right at stake. (para 178).

The GC also accepted that statistic (although not in the past) can be relied upon to demonstrate a difference in treatment between two groups (para 180). Once a rebuttable assumption has been established the onus then shifts on the respondent State/Government (para 189), nor is discriminatory intent required (para 184 and 194).

In Hurley, evidence took the form of the Browne Report, which looked at higher education funding. It drew from research regarding participation rates from more socially deprived students. One such research paper titled Assessing the Impact of the New Student Support Arrangements carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies maintained that since the reintroduction of grants and other support arrangements, there was no significant change in participation but acknowledged that any potentially negative impact on the propensity to enter HE amongst those from lower socio-economic backgrounds may have been masked by the counter pressures arising from the recession. They concluded that the introduction of grants and bursaries did not encouraged greater participation (p60-61). Other research also supported this assertion (para 17). However, it was incorrectly noted that research on the Impact of Tuition Fees and Support on University Participation in the UK which stipulated that a £1,000 increase in loan increased participation by 3.2% (para 17). When in actual fact, the research demonstrated that an increase in £1,000 in fees resulted in a decrease in participation of 3.9 percentage points (not 4.4% stated by the court), and maintenance grants with an increase of £1,000 had an increase in participation of a 2.6 percentage points (not 2.1% stated by the court) and the increase in loans the participation percentage points was never measured. Thus it seems the court itself made an error of fact (which I will come to later).

In the case, Elias LJ accepted that the case law of the ECtHR regarded tuition fees as a restriction on A2P1 (para 40) but that it did not agree that it impair the essence of the right (para 42). When it came to discrimination because of the hike in fees, Elias LJ accepted that an increase in fees alone would discourage many from going to university and would in particular be likely to have a disproportionate impact on the poorer sections of the community, but an increase in fees cannot be looked at in isolation (para 51). Furthermore, the increases in fees were mitigated by loans and various measures (i.e. maintenance grants) targeted at increasing university access to the poorest students (para 52). Elias LJ found that he did not think that at this stage it is sufficiently clear that as a group they will be disadvantaged under the new scheme (para 52). Elias LJ did not find the evidence whether statistical or by way of rebuttable presumption satisfactory to rule in the claimants favour, but accepted that in time the facts may prove them right. However, overall with Mr Justice King agreeing (para 101-102) the High Court did not conclude in the claimants favour (notwithstanding a declaration that there had been a failure in the Public Sector Equality Duty) of a violation of A2P1 in conjunction with Article 14.

Applying Human Rights and Hurley to the present facts:

Before going further into arguments, it is important to note, a certain obstacle, the ECtHR have noted that a Member State’s margin of appreciation (discretion) when it comes to university (the particular case regarded tuition fees) is much wider than it would be when compared to primary and secondary education (Ponomaryovi v Bulgaria – (Application no. 5335/05) para 56). This is why the trebling in fees was ruled as Convention compliant.

But the present situation is different. Firstly when Elias’ LJ referred to an increase in £1,000 loans increased participation, it was noted that the study did not consider this (unless I’m reading the wrong study) and should therefore be rejected and that particular study cannot be used to justify an argument that an increase in loans will increase participation.

Secondly, Elias LJ noted the importance (para 52) of measures directly targeted at increasing university access to poorer students. In the report titled Urgent reforms to higher education funding and student finance it was maintained that an increase in maintenance grants for the most socially deprived was aimed at ensuring that the 2010 Regulations i.e. trebling in tuition fees did not affect individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds disproportionately (p5). This however, would no longer be the case if grants are to be removed.

Thirdly, Elias LJ did not buy into the assertion that the motivations for the measures were to save money (see para 59 and 62). However, one of the objectives announced by George Osborne last year, was to make savings in the higher education and further education budgets. Andrew McGettigan maintained back then (in 2015) that the cuts would likely affect grants (see here, and here) which was later confirmed by Osborne himself noting that it was unfair on the taxpayer to subsidise people who are more likely to earn more than them (divide and conquer much?). McGettigan also questioned whether the obligation to make savings on the public sector net debt, rather than the deficit, then a switch from grants to loans would not be sufficient as the loans would contribute to the debt. Therefore the argument of saving money would need to be taken into consideration.

One of the criticisms made by Elias LJ in Hurley was rejecting the contention that the decision was made without proper consultation and analysis. To my knowledge there had been no consultation, and thus no responses, so already these measures would be on the back foot.

When it comes to analysis, pointing back to research which stipulated that an increase in tuition fee decreased participation, whilst an increase in maintenance grant increased participation, further research was carried out which stipulated that an £1,000 increase grants lead to an 3.9% increase in participation where it was concluded that ‘[t]hese results underlie the importance of government commitment to non-repayable forms of upfront support such as maintenance grants for undergraduate degree participation.’ Moreover, the analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies in their executive summary (p5) noted the possible effects of the measures as a whole. They said that reduction in participation of those from the poorest backgrounds depended upon how debt averse students are and how credit constrained they are, as well as on how responsive participation decisions are to expected increases in the long-run cost of higher education. Furthermore, although participation did not decrease due to the price hikes, the situations are not analogous as grants went up for the poorest and the net present of loans went down. They contend a system that abolishes grants and d the net present value of repayments is likely to increase substantially for those from the poorest backgrounds and therefore would expect ‘both of those changes to have negative effects on participation for the poorest students.’ However, the up-front support would be increased and may have an offsetting effect if these individuals are not very forward looking and/or they are very credit constrained and/or they expect to have low lifetime income. They concluded that t the potential negative effects on participation to be stronger if all of the proposed reforms are introduced.

With regards to debt aversion, research by the University of Edinburgh concluded that interviewees from Scotland and England were concerned that tuition fees may deter young people from poorer backgrounds from going to university (p13). Back in 2005, it was noted that students from poorer backgrounds were more debt averse than those from other social classes (p 15). In a research briefing paper, the National Union of Students, Sutton Trust, University and Colleges Union were not in favour of abolishing grants, whilst University Alliance would have preferred an increase in grants understood that the government had hard decisions to make. Million+ noted the importance of grants, and urged the government to assess the impact of this switch on university access. Universities UK noted financially the situation is no different bar the increased debt, but that changes to the funding systems do not deter students from the poorest background (p14-15). Therefore, some were totally against the idea, and others were concerned that assessments need to be made to determine whether the measures acted as a deterrence to higher education.

According to the Higher education: (student support) regulations 2015 – equality analysis the switch to loans will have a positive impact on students from low income backgrounds by potentially easing financial worries, reducing the need to work excessive hours during term time and supporting students in their studies. At the margin, for some students, it might make the difference between attending University or not (p52). This increase in £766 seems like a lot to a student (because it is) but actually wouldn’t require excessive hours of work, on minimum wage, 12 hours a week spread out of term time. This £766 may well even have been superseded anyway by bursaries that universities offer in combination with the £4k loan and £3k grant). Not that I’m assuming all universities offer them, but they are means tested like the maintenance grant, and the poorest receive the most. All it would seem that switching to loans as the analysis points out, equals more debt (p52), which indeed may never be paid back, but for those that do, perhaps another post on the loan freeze will be necessary.

Furthermore, the impact assessment specifically highlights that woman, mature students, those from ethnic minority backgrounds, those with disabilities, and certain groups of Muslims students are likely to feel the disproportionate effect of these measures (all within the ambit of Article 14) (p82-83). It also acknowledged that single parent mothers and mature students could be negatively impacted upon without any resolution, the other groups were regarded as either not being a significant risk (disability and religious belief), proposals were being put in place (ethnic minority background) (p84-85). Annex 2 points to various factors of increased participation from said groups above, but it would be unwise to ignore grants etc were available then. Either way, the onus would be on the government to disprove all this, as I would contend there are ample inferences to create a rebuttable presumption.

Although there was a Parliamentary discussion which favoured the Regulations, there is also a debate going on as I type, so the Parliamentary angle is still up in the air.

What makes the argument different than what was advocated in Hurley is obviously an increase in fees plus a removal of grants adds a further restriction to accessing universities. But what wasn’t used in the claimants arguments was that discrimination should be seen in light of Thlimennos v Greece – 34369/97 [2000] ECHR 162, where the ECtHR held that Article 14s can also be violated when States without an objective and reasonable justification fail to treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different (para 44). And this is the crucial point when in concerns the poorest, disabled, single parents etc. The situation for those eligible for Special Support Grants (SSG) the human rights argument may be stronger as in Burnip v Birmingham City Council (Rev 1) [2012] EWCA Civ 629 (a bedroom tax case) found a violation in line with Thlimennos for failing to treat different circumstances differently without objective reasonable justification. The Court of Appeal further held that the Thlimennos principle was not barred from applying positive obligation to the allocate resources (para 18). Thus this reasoning could be used to suggest that Thlimennos could be interpreted as creating a positive obligation to cater for those who are disadvantaged. However, a similar case in that of MA & Ors, R (on the application of) v The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWCA Civ 13 the Court of Appeal , felt that the tax was justified based on the discretionary payments were available. Unlike maintenance grants and SSP, there will be no discretion in their allocation, this would work against the abolition of grants.

Conclusion:

Although the UK has a wider discretion when it comes to universities and how it is financed, they are not barred from treating different groups differently to correct factual inequalities (Stec and Others v United Kingdom – 65731/01 [2006] ECHR 1162 para 51), but consideration must also be taken into account when it comes to those a general rule will affect the most, thus applying Thlimennos may oblige them to permit grants for the most disadvantaged. The jury is out on whether a court would actually buy into my points (THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE, I’m looking at you NUS ;)), but whatever the matter, the argument is now stronger than it was in 2012 because of the further restriction of access to education on the grounds of A2P1 in conjunction with Article 14. The government if taken to court would have to use stronger justifications rather than rhetoric such as ‘why should tax payers subsidise X?’ which could be used to justify essentially anything ever. I couldn’t go into a full ECHR analysis of all the Convention Rights at stake or even all the measures (loan freeze etc) because those require just as much consideration as this one post.

Notes from the IP Bill Committee session

I was one of the panel of academic witnesses before the specially convened Draft Investigatory Powers Bill Select Committee on Monday 7th December. It was my first time before a Parliamentary Committee and I have to admit I was a little intimidated: from queueing up beneath the statue of Oliver Cromwell to walking through what CP Snow referred to as the ‘corridors of power’. It’s a cliché, but there really is a corridor off from which the Committee Rooms are reached – it has a little of the Alice in Wonderland about it, but the thing that I noticed the most whilst waiting to be called was that almost everyone seemed to be a bit lost. In relation to the Investigatory Powers Bill that might be more than a little appropriate.

The panel I was on was pretty intimidating too, from Professor Ross Anderson, one of the best computer science brains on the planet, Professor Sir David Omand, former head of GCHQ, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office and then Permanent Secretary and Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office under Blair, and Professor Mark Ryan of Birmingham University, another highly distinguished computer scientist. It really was intimidating at first – feeling the weight of the place, the seriousness of the subject and the crucial part that a Parliamentary Committee is supposed to play in the process of scrutinising and passing laws. And as the chair of the Committee, Lord Murphy of Torfaen said in his opening remarks, this bill was crucial – perhaps the most important bill in this parliamentary session.

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Once the session started, though, I found the level of intimidation diminished rapidly – because, in part at least, it was impossible for me not to become immersed in the discussion. It is easy (and often appropriate) to be cynical about our parliamentary process, but seeing it first hand, in this committee at least, it was clear that enough of the members of the committee really wanted to learn, and really wanted to understand the issues, that there was at least a chance that their scrutiny would have some kind of effect. The initial questions, which had been set out before the session, were reasonably good, but the follow ups and the discussions that arose were much better.

The choice of witnesses was interesting: having Ross Anderson at one end of the panel and Sir David Omand at the other end created an interesting dynamic from the start. Sir David seemed to have a particular role in mind from the start – a ‘reasonable’ voice, confirming that everything was OK, that the Bill, as it was written, was clear, balanced, fair and ‘world-leading’. As a number of people pointed out to me after the event, you could tell whether you’d made a good point by the speed and vehemence with which Sir David responded. There were a few key moments on that score, and I hope there is proper follow up on them.

The first is the Danish ‘session-logging’ experience – the nearest equivalent to the proposed ‘Internet Connection Record’ idea in the new Bill – which resulted in around 7 years of wasted money, time and effort, providing almost no help to the police at all, before it was abandoned. When I mentioned it, Sir David interjected immediately that the Home Office was planning to do it very differently. It would be interesting to know how they are doing it differently. I suspect that further investigation could convince the Committee that the problem wasn’t (and isn’t) the technical implementation but the fundamental approach. Session logging didn’t work in Denmark not because the Danes don’t have our technological expertise, but because it’s a fundamentally flawed approach.

The second was the idea that communications data is less intrusive than content – as all the other three member of the panel know, that might have been true once, but it’s no longer true. The intrusion is different, but it isn’t less. Indeed, because of the possibilities for analysis, the greater difficulty in disguising and the increasing ability to use for profiling, it is likely that the balance will shift very much the other way, with communications data being much more important and more intrusive than content.

There were many other things covered – but we had far less time than we needed to explore them in as much depth as we needed. That’s why I shall also be taking up the invitation of the Committee to submit written evidence as well as oral – and why I would seriously advise others to do the same. I was lucky enough to be on a panel – but the written evidence will be even more critical. This Committee, it seemed to me, wanted to learn and should be given the opportunity. Do take it up! Written submissions will be accepted until 21st December. To submit, follow the link here:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/draft-investigatory-powers-bill/publications/written-evidence-form/

The video of the session can be found here:

http://videoplayback.parliamentlive.tv/Player/Index/80ee52fd-8719-4a57-85a3-f64ad9567559?audioOnly=False&autoStart=False&statsEnabled=True

Rifkind of the ISC…

Sir Malcolm Leslie Rifkind, KCMG, QC, MP, former Defence Secretary, former Foreign Secretary, distinguished member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, long standing member of parliament, has become ensnared in a ‘cash for access’ scandal. This has many implications – and many different angles to examine, from his claim that it would be ‘unrealistic’ to expect an MP to live on £67k per annum onward – but the one that may be the most important is his role as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the ISC. The ISC is the only parliamentary body that oversees the activities of the intelligence services – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It is a body that is made up only of people personally nominated by the Prime Minister, and given the nod by the leader of the opposition – and until last year, it operated effectively in private. It has had one public session (about which I have written before) in November last year, and it wasn’t exactly impressive – it felt rehearsed, and scripted, the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ having been given details of the questions beforehand.

In practice, therefore, there is an enormous amount of responsibility on the ISC, and on its chair in particular. What they do is largely behind closed doors – so we have to trust that they do a good job. The latest events for Sir Malcolm Rifkind make that seem very doubtful. I have met Rifkind – I sat next to him at the ‘Round Table’ events as part of the ISC’s inquiry into surveillance – and I have to admit I liked him. He was charming, affable, a good listener, clearly intelligent, and in some ways what appears to be a consummate politician. His experience is enormous, his ability to ‘manage’ meetings very impressive – but does that make him suitable for the key role overseeing the UK’s intelligence services?

He does not have the technical knowledge or understanding of the technology – he made that entirely clear from the start of the Round Table discussion, asking for the most basic information and demonstrating some critical levels of technical ignorance. He does not have the legal understanding either – he admitted to me directly that he didn’t understand RIPA – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that is central to the governance of surveillance in the UK. So what is left? His ‘gravitas’, his position as a ‘safe pair of hands’. And that, importantly, is what is now compromised. He is supposed to represent us – and from what we have seen about his ‘cash for access’ scandal, it seems pretty clear that his main representation is of himself. He was duped by a fake Chinese company, set up by journalists, for the chance of making money. What he said may (it has yet to be confirmed) be within the parliamentary guidelines, but in this context that cannot be nearly enough. Being Chair of the ISC is a huge responsibility – and it has huge sensitivity.

It isn’t just personal issues that are at stake, but national security to: just imagine the possibilities if the fake Chinese company had been a cover for Chinese Intelligence rather than journalists from Channel 4 and the Telegraph. It is almost a classic trap – the sort of thing that has been played out in many thrillers. Some thrillers, these days, would have had Rifkind compromised by people within the intelligence services, so that they can bend him to their will – but I don’t believe that is the real risk here. Rather, it shows inappropriate priorities – when priorities are particularly critical.

There is another side to this that should be deeply concerning. This kind of thing matters because companies – specifically companies involved in the development and supply of surveillance technology – are part of the problem with surveillance. They want to promote surveillance so they can be paid to develop and implement technology here that can then be exported elsewhere – there is a ready market for surveillance systems all over the world, particularly to the more oppressive and autocratic of governments. These companies can lobby, can manipulate, can bamboozle people without the technological knowledge or understanding to appreciate the risks. And Rifkind fits the bill.

I don’t believe it is just Rifkind that is the issue here – though the idea that he could remain as Chair of the ISC after this is frankly deeply disturbing – but our whole system of oversight of intelligence. Depending on individuals, particularly individuals appointed through a system which is rife with patronage and inside connections, just doesn’t work. It creates vulnerability – and destroys the possibility of accountability. It needs root and branch reform – the involvement of technical experts, civil society and the judiciary, not just politicians and civil servants. Will it happen? It seems unlikely. Eventually Rifkind will probably fall on his sword, but nothing more will change. If only it would.

UPDATE: 10:15 February 24th: Rifkind has stepped down as Chair of the ISC, though he remains a member of the committee.

10:30 February 24th: Rifkind will also be stepping down as an MP in May

Labour and torture…

One of the immediate effects of reading some of the Torture Report last night was a feeling of deep anger. My memories of 2003 and protesting against the planned invasion of Iraq came flooding back – and my anger towards Tony Blair in particular and the Labour Party in general came flooding back. I tweeted about it a bit last night and this morning – and though most people seemed to agree with me, a number seemed to think I was being unfair. After Polly Toynbee’s suggestion yesterday that we should ‘ignore the flaws’ of the Labour Party, having this particularly huge flaw shoved in my face seemed a touch ironic. So am I unfair to be angry with Labour? The people suggesting so seem to have a three main complaints:

This wasn’t Tony Blair – or even the UK. This is about the CIA.

It’s certainly true that the Torture Report is about the CIA’s activities – but the UK is not unconnected. Firstly, the UK was involved in the CIA’s activities, helping with rendition at the very least, and turning a blind eye to other things. Secondly, anyone who imagines that the UK is totally innocent of similar actions seems to me to be deeply naïve – the fact that we don’t know for sure may well have as much to do with our secretive and seemingly ineffective forms of oversight. A report like the Torture Report is almost unheard of in the UK. We have the odd whitewash from time to time, but nothing more. What’s more, Blair made the UK complicit in the whole ‘war on terror’ – and the torture was part of that.

Tony Blair didn’t know what was happening

For that to be true, he would have to be a complete fool – and that’s one thing I would never accuse him of. What’s more, over a million of us warned him.

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I was on that march – and we weren’t just saying ‘don’t invade Iraq’, we were saying ‘don’t go into bed with the most reactionary and objectionable US president in living memory.’ We may not have known the details – details confirmed by the Torture Report – but we knew who and what Bush was, and what joining him implied. Blair must also have known – and if he didn’t make the obvious inference about things like torture, then as I wrote before, he would have to be a fool. And he isn’t a fool.

Tony Blair isn’t the Labour Party

No he isn’t – but he led the Labour Party, and a very significant number of the current crop of MPs voted for Blair and Bush’s war, effectively voting for this torture. Some of the ‘big figures’ who actively supported the war are still very much part of the party – names like David Blunkett and Jack Straw spring to mind, but there are others. More importantly, the current Labour Party seem to be very much carrying on Blair’s agenda. Yvette Cooper seems to be almost as much an authoritarian as the rest of them!

 

So yes, I do blame Labour. And yes, I think that’s fair – and until Labour makes a proper break from the past, and shows that it understands what went wrong, or even that it was wrong, I will continue to blame Labour.

Immigration, xenophobia and racism…

Every so often, these days, someone says something about immigration that makes me think about racism, xenophobia, or both. Often it’s someone from UKIP, but recently Tory politicians have been joining in pretty regularly – and even Lib Dems and Labourites have been triggering the same reaction in me. Whenever I mention this on Twitter, in amongst the other reactions there will pretty much every time be someone who says something like ‘why does someone wanting to limit or control immigration have to be racist or xenophobic?’

The answer I generally give is that of course they don’t – but these days, all too often, the reasons behind such statements have racism or xenophobia in the background. That is, not all those people wanting to control or limit immigration are racists or xenophobes, but a lot of xenophobes or racists use the relative respectability of opposition to immigration as a cover story from xenophobia or racism.

I had three interesting altercations of this kind on Twitter last week – from what I remember, they came after the revelation that UKIP had done a deal with a Polish MEP who happened to be a Holocaust Denier. In all three cases, the starting point was a seemingly rational objection to immigration. I engaged with the argument – I don’t always, because these kinds of arguments can be exhausting and depressing – and in all three cases the ending was memorable. The first finished with the suggestion that Labour councils had been engaging in ‘ethnic cleansing of whites’ (the words of my opponent). The second peaked with the remarkable statement that everything always goes downhill when the proportion of whites in an area goes below 60% – a ‘fact’ that I was assured couldn’t be racist because my opponent has been told it by a black person. The third argument was much more rational, and specifically about immigration from the EU. It ended with a suggestion that one of the biggest problems with EU immigration was that communities didn’t integrate. When I pushed on this point, asking which EU communities didn’t integrate, the answer came Poles and West Africans. Aside from my own experience of the Poles as integrating very well into British society (as they have since their great contribution to the Battle of Britain), the way that West Africans somehow fitted the ‘EU migration’ story made that old feeling of racism and xenophobia come back again.

It happened again when I read of Michael Fallon’s comments of towns feeling ‘swamped’ and ‘under siege’ by EU immigrants. If he really was talking about EU immigrants, what was it that made him feel ‘swamped’? Too many Polish shops on his high street? Too many shopping aisles in his local Tesco with Eastern European specialist products on them? Hearing Czech spoken at the bus stop? Does he think he can tell an Eastern European from a Western European just by looking at them – I mean, Nigel Farage may be able to ‘know the difference’ between a Romanian and a German, but…

To me it feels like dog whistle politics. When Fallon talks about feeling under siege, he means that ‘they’ look different from ‘us’. ‘We’ should feel threatened by ‘them’. That’s feeding into racism and xenophobia – and I’m afraid that’s all too common in the anti-immigrant rhetoric going around at the moment. That’s where the ‘too many black faces’ talk comes from, the ‘ethnic cleansing of whites’, the ‘going downhill when the White faces go below 60%’, and the non-integration of West Africans goes. And whilst we’re at it, non-integrations is often a cypher in itself. It suggests people shouldn’t talk their own languages, even amongst themselves, shouldn’t wear any clothes that aren’t ‘British’ enough – and certainly shouldn’t practice any religion other than Christianity openly.

Of course there are rational arguments against immigration – though most of them fall apart under serious scrutiny. Those twin myths of ‘health tourism’ and ‘benefit tourism’ keep being trotted out though the figures show they’re negligible – and indeed immigrants tend to be younger, healthier and less likely to claim benefits than non-immigrants, as well as contributing more in taxes than they cost in terms of health and benefits. ‘They’ aren’t taking ‘our’ jobs either – in general immigration creates as many jobs as it takes, and boosts the economy. The problem problems we have with housing are connected with chronic underinvestment and a dysfunctional market – not immigration.

All this, however, is lost in the morass of misinformation, much of it fuelled by racism and xenophobia. What are also lost in this mess are the real causes of the real problems in places like Clacton, Rochester and elsewhere. Whilst focussing on the immigrants, the unscrupulous landlords, dodgy employers and tax-avoiding rich people and companies who mess up the housing market, pay poverty wages and massively reduce the tax take necessary to make the investments those communities need, are laughing all the way to their off-shore banks. Politicians wreaking havoc through austerity and ‘reform’ are left to enjoy their subsidised drinks in the Commons’ bars. The real villains are happy to see immigrants and immigration take the blame. Of course they are.

So no, talking about wanting to limit or control immigration isn’t racist or xenophobic – but plenty of xenophobes and racists talk about wanting to control immigration. And plenty of others are selfish enough to encourage them to do so, because it keeps their own actions away from the limelight. It keeps them from being held to account – and it allows the story to keep on going in exactly the same way. The side effects of the encouragement of racism and xenophobia are hideous, and the damage it does to us as a whole, as a culture, as a community, is incalculable. It divides, it stigmatises, it spreads suspicion, distrust and fear. It’s what makes people suspect any Muslim could be a terrorist, every African a carrier of Ebola, every Serb a war criminal, every Romanian a thief. It diminishes all of us. That it’s allowed to grow, to fester, is something that makes me, for one, deeply sad.