How (not) to counter extremism

By Prof Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence (University of Bristol Law School).*

The ‘Peace Window’ memorial to Dag Hammarskjøld, by Marc Chagall

Earlier this year, the Government fulfilled one of its General Election Manifesto commitments by appointing Sara Khan as the first chair of a new Commission for Countering Extremism. The Commission’s task is not an enviable one, since if not exactly an admission of failure, its establishment represents at least a significant pause for thought. Its job will be to support society in countering extremism and to advise the Government on new policies and powers. We have some idea of what it aspires to achieve, and how it will work, but as yet no concrete proposals have emerged.

The creation of the Commission is the latest stage in a fairly rapid process of policy development. In its current guise, the idea of countering extremism first emerged in the 2011 version of Prevent, the counter-terrorism strategy. Extremism was defined there as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. It was identified as a problem because, it was claimed, extremist ideologies can lead to terrorism – the use or threat of serious violence or other damaging attacks on the public to advance a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. However, at that point the only thing the Government suggested should be done about it was ‘challenge’ – in other words the use of informal social and political pressure to reinforce liberal values in the face of illiberal ones.

In October 2015 – after the ending of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition – the Government’s counter-terrorism policy took another turn. A new counter-extremism strategy identified extremism as a harm in its own right, requiring new legal responses and new Government powers. Ever since, the Government has been trying to work out what these should be. (more…)

Standing of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in the UK Supreme Court Abortion Decision

By Dr Jane Rooney, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

In its much-awaited decision on Northern Irish abortion laws, a majority in the UK Supreme Court dismissed the appeal brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (the Commission) on the basis that it lacked standing to bring legal proceedings [In the matter of an application by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission for Judicial Review [2018] UKSC 27]. Kathryn McNeilly, Fiona Bloomer, and Claire Pierson explain the context and implications of the ruling here. Despite agreement ‘that the current law in Northern Ireland on abortion is disproportionate and incompatible with Article 8 of the [European] Convention’ on Human Rights (see UK Supreme Court press release), the Commission had no standing and therefore the Supreme Court could not make a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act and their statements on rights violations were obiter dicta.

This blog considers the Supreme Court’s adjudication on standing. It argues for a literal interpretation of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) to argue that, contrary to the UK Supreme Court’s majority judgment, the Commission is empowered under the Northern Ireland Act to bring proceedings in cases of an unlawful act of a public authority and for review of the compatibility of Northern Irish primary legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). (more…)

Regulatory defection in electricity markets

By Dr Colin Nolden, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow researching in Sustainable City Business Models (University of Bristol Law School).*

Graphic by Sarah Harman. Taken from energy.gov.

Electricity systems are undergoing rapid transformation. An increasing share of previously passive consumers is defecting energy demand and supply from the public electricity network (grid) as active ‘prosumers’ while technological and business model innovation is enabling demand-side resources to provide reliable and cost competitive alternatives to supply capacity.

Yet, centralised supply-focused market structures dominated by legacy infrastructures, technologies and supply chains associated with path-dependencies and technological lock-ins continue to dominate. Regulation has been designed around these existing supply-focused markets and structures rather than networks of the future capable of integrating and facilitating smart, flexible systems. Current systems and their regulatory frameworks are struggling to engage and integrate a range of technological, economic and social innovations promising consumer-oriented solutions to environmental problems. (more…)

Withdrawal of same-sex marriage in Bermuda: low hanging fruit in the constitutional living tree?

By Mr Marc Johnson, Teaching Associate in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© Procsilas Moscas

On 7 February 2018, Bermuda’s Governor approved the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 (DPA) which withdraws the right for same-sex couples to marry in Bermuda. The ‘Domestic Partnership’ purports to offer the same legal standing as marriage though there is a degree of scepticism around whether this will be the case. There is a substantial body of writing in the UK on whether the civil partnerships established under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 were in fact equal to marriage, or whether creating a second form of legal partnership also created a subordinate form of legal partnership.

This may not however, be the end of the story. According to Reuters News Agency, on 20 February 2018, a Bermudian Lawyer has filed a motion asking for the Supreme Court of Bermuda (a court of first instance unlike the Supreme Court of the UK which is the UK’s final appellate court), to consider whether the DPA is inconsistent with the Bermudian Human Rights Act 1981 (HRA). This blog piece will briefly consider whether the Bermudian constitution has been altered by the HRA to include protections for same-sex marriage, to what extent is the HRA constitutional, and can rights given under the HRA be removed. (more…)

Planning Law and the Housing Crisis in Bristol

By Mr Ed Burtonshaw-Gunn, PhD Researcher and Land Law Tutor (University of Bristol Law School).

The housing crisis ignites local and national media coverage. It is near impossible to pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news without reading or hearing a story about the nation’s obsession with (or need for) housing. Soaring house prices, new housebuilding targets championed by politicians or think tanks, or calls to abolish on the much-loved green belt land protection are all on the news agenda. Yet, while covering these stories the media often focus on the effects of the housing crisis, and not the root cause(s). My research is examining how planning law, policy, and practice, shape the production of housing in Bristol, and argues that the housing crisis can be fundamentally reduced to one major factor. For 40 years, the supply of new housing has failed to meet nation’s demand.

On the 6th December, I was invited to present my research to the Property Network of the Bristol Junior Chamber. The audience was made up of a range of Bristol housing stakeholders; property and planning lawyers, planning engagement and public-relations consultants, and housing association managers. The presentation covered three areas; the national housing crisis, house building in Bristol, and a prominent finding from my research, the importance and methods of delivering affordable housing in Bristol. (more…)

Six myths about the ‘Prevent duty’ in universities

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, and Dr Lindsey Bell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) has aroused great controversy by imposing a legal duty upon schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ (the ‘Prevent duty’). However, in an article published in the current issue of the academic journal Public Law, ‘Counter-Terrorist Law in British Universities: A Review of the “Prevent” Debate’, we argue that the campaign against the Act and the duty in higher education rests largely upon myths, six of which are particularly prevalent. In this blog, we provide a summary of those myths (you can also watch a short video outlining the main arguments). (more…)

The Models of Parliamentary Sovereignty

By Mr Marc Johnson, Teaching Associate in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

By Mайкл Гиммельфарб (Mike Gimelfarb) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5049123

The concept of Parliamentary Sovereignty (also referred to as Parliamentary Supremacy and Legislative Supremacy) deals with several concurrent principles and this makes it a complicated concept to grasp in its entirety. Coupled with this, the media portrayal of this subject through the campaigns on the referendum on exiting the European Union often gave a disingenuous or incomplete view of the Sovereignty of Parliament and as such there are many misconceptions.

This blog piece will address those misconceptions by setting out the models of Parliamentary Sovereignty. These models attempt to explain the way which sovereignty operates, though it may not have escaped the reader’s attention by this blog’s conclusion that each model has positive and negative attributes. This blog offers some opinion on each model of sovereignty to incite further discussion and debate on the topic.  (more…)

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Paving the way towards a very uncertain future

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The stated aim of the, then Great, Repeal Bill was to provide clarity and certainty for citizens and businesses, and to ensure a functioning statute book on exit from the EU. The key statement of principle in the White Paper was as follows: ‘In order to achieve a stable and smooth transition, the Government’s overall approach is to convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law, after which Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) will be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal once we have left the EU. This ensures that, as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as they did before’ (for analysis, see here).

However, the continuity provided by what is now the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, published last week, must be seen in the context of the reality that leaving the EU will also require major constitutional and policy changes in a relatively short, and currently uncertain, time frame (see here). After all, the Government’s aim is that, as a result of Brexit, the UK will be able to decide which parts of EU-derived law to keep, and which to amend or repeal. A number of Brexit Bills, which will change the law in relation to, among others, immigration, trade, customs, agriculture and fisheries, were promised in the Queen’s speech. The clarity and certainty promised in the White Paper, which at first glance appear to provide comfort to citizens and businesses concerned over the effects of Brexit, are more elusive than ever. (more…)

Abortion rights in Northern Ireland

A comment on R (on the application of A and B) v Secretary of State for Health [2017] UKSC 41.

By Dr Sheelagh McGuinness, Senior Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Prof Keith Syrett, Professor of Law (University of Cardiff, School of Law and Politics).

The start of June 2017 saw abortion law in Northern Ireland (NI) making the news for several reasons. On June 9th, Theresa May announced that she intended to try and form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Members of this radically conservative party from NI have long been vocal in their opposition to abortion. Some feared that restrictions on abortion legislation might form part of negotiations between the two parties.  On June 13th, the Department of Health published ‘The Report on abortion statistics in England and Wales for 2016’ which contained details on the number of women who travelled from NI to England to access abortion care. Then, on June 14th, the Supreme Court handed down an important decision on NHS funding for women who travel from NI to England to access abortions. These women, save in exceptional cases, must pay for abortion care privately, notwithstanding their status as UK citizens and (in many cases) UK taxpayers. In this blog we examine the Supreme Court decision and the context within which women travel from NI to have abortions in England.

The case

In 2012 A, a 15-year-old girl, became pregnant. She did not want to continue with the pregnancy and with the support of her mother, B, arranged to have a termination in England. A and B were surprised to find out that as A was resident in NI she would have to pay for the termination in England. Believing this to be unfair B, on A’s behalf, started proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of this policy. Their challenge contained two key claims. First, that the Secretary of State for Health was acting unlawfully in refusing to permit women from NI to access NHS funded abortions [the public law claim]. Second, that women in NI were being discriminated against as compared to other women in the UK [the human rights claim].

A and B were unsuccessful in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal. Their appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed by a majority of 3:2. (more…)

The dualist system of the English Constitution and the Victorian acquis

By Dr Eirik Bjorge, Senior Lecturer in Public International Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

The Supreme Court in Miller set out the model that ‘the dualist system is a necessary corollary of Parliamentary sovereignty’ (para 57), or in the words of Campbell McLachlan in his admirable Foreign Relations Law, cited by the Supreme Court:

If treaties have no effect within domestic law, Parliament’s legislative supremacy within its own polity is secure. If the executive must always seek the sanction of Parliament in the event that a proposed action on the international plane will require domestic implementation, parliamentary sovereignty is reinforced at the very point at which the legislative power is engaged (para 5.20).

As the Court said, this passage ‘neatly summarises’ the position: but, beyond the neatness of summarization, does it correctly capture the constitutional position? (more…)