Your round-up of the stories that you should discuss at interview this week.
- European Law
Reported by Jutha Cheewat
UK intelligence agencies face claims in the European Court
Following Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing revelations, claims involving the UK intelligence agencies intercepting private communications will be heard by the European court of human rights (ECHR).
One of the cases brought by civil rights groups will be heard by seven judges in Strasbourg. The main issue concerns the way in which GCHQ, MI5-and MI6 share surveillance material with the United States and other governments.
In the past, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled that the UK surveillance regime was unlawful as it had breached the right to privacy, contrary to article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court also found that GCHQ was wrongfully, and illegally, retaining and examining the data of Amnesty international and the South African non-profit Legal Resources Centre.
GCHQ defends its actions on the grounds that such conduct was the only way to target terrorism, making it a matter of national security.
Nick Williams, the Amnesty International’s senior legal counsel, said “this case concerns the UK, but its significance is global. It’s a watershed moment for people’s privacy and freedom of expression across the world”.
Read more here.
- Criminal Law
Reported by Radhika Morally
Court battle concerning prisoners’ legal aid abandoned by the Ministry of Justice
The government’s appeal against the earlier decision, made in April, has been let go by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). This means that April’s Court of Appeal ruling, restoring legal aid for prisoners in three key categories, is final.
Such a decision follows the department’s announcement that it has begun reviewing the impact of massive cuts to legal aid implemented five years ago, and is suggested to indicate a greater willingness to restore legal aid in areas where its removal has been extremely controversial.
The cuts in legal aid, imposed by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in December 2013, are reported to have had devastating effects on the prison community. The resulting rise in violence and self-harm in prisons has been linked to the suicide of almost 300 prisoners.
There have also been issues with lack of sufficient representation, which has meant that those who may have been suitable candidates for open prison or re-categorisation, due to an inability to receive legal aid, may be forced to remain as Category A prisoners for years longer than necessary.
Therefore, April’s Court of Appeal ruling in favour of the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service has been described as ‘ground-breaking’, in deciding to restore legal aid for inmates in the three areas of: pre-tariff reviews by the Parole Board, category A reviews and decisions on placing inmates in close supervision centres.
In addition to this, a recent report supported by Lord Bach recently pledged to introduce a more generous system and reverse several of the cuts imposed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act 2012.
Laura Janes, legal director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, has stated that she hopes these changes are ‘part of a wider respect for the rule of law and an understanding of the importance of access to justice for everybody’.
Despite the changes, legal aid still remains unavailable in the two other areas of appeals against disciplinary decisions and disputes over access to prison courses.
- Family Law
Reported by Anna Flaherty
Benefit cuts mean child poverty estimated to rise
The government, in an attempt to reduce public borrowing, plans to cut £12bn a year from the benefits bill. Among many of the cuts, one is that parents will only be able to claim the child benefit for their first two children. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that, if Parliament continues to cut benefits as it plans to do, it will reverse the falls in child poverty that we have seen since the early 2000’s. The think tank, led by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has estimated how UK household incomes will evolve through 2021-22. Its factors include the growth of employment and earnings, and also the tax and benefit changes that the government has announced.
In 2015-6, the percentage of children living in poverty was deemed to be 27.1%. The forecasts of the think tank suggest that by 2022, this percentage will have risen to 31.3%. This will mean that at least 1 in 3 children will be living in poverty. The think tank classifies living in “poverty” as meaning that someone lives in a household where, after paying for housing costs, the household income is less than 60% of the average household income. The cuts are expected to affect Wales, the North East, and the East Midlands the most. This may affect family law, as many children being removed from homes each year is due to the failure to be able to provide for them because of the family’s poverty. Furthermore, with families being are plunged into great financial difficulty, the question arises as to whether or not the economy will actually suffer, with fewer consumers being able to afford the higher costs of living and unable to spend on anything bar the essentials.
- Financial Law
Reported by Nathan Gore
Paradise Papers: Prince Charles Climate Policy Lobbying Conflict Exposed
A recent BBC Panorama investigation into information exposed by the so-called ‘Paradise Papers’ found that Prince Charles campaigned to alter climate-change agreements without disclosing a conflict on interest. This conflict of interest was that his private estate had an offshore financial interest in the outcome that he was promoting. The Paradise Papers show the Duchy of Cornwall in 2007 secretly bought shares worth $113,500 in a Bermuda company – Sustainable Forestry Management Ltd (SFM). The prince was a friend of a director of Sustainable Forestry Management Ltd. The Duchy of Cornwall says he has no direct involvement in its investments.
SFM traded in carbon credits, a market created by international treaties to tackle global warming. It wanted to trade in credits from “tropical and subtropical forests” but was hampered by two important climate change agreements, the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) and the Kyoto Protocol, which largely excluded carbon credits from rain forests. On 2 July, Prince Charles, made a speech that criticised the EU ETS and Kyoto Protocol for excluding carbon credits from rain forests, and called for change. Over the next six months, the future king made further speeches and videos about rain forests.
A Clarence House spokesman said the Prince of Wales had “certainly never chosen to speak out on a topic simply because of a company that it may have invested in…In the case of climate change his views are well known…carbon markets are just one example that the prince has championed since the 1990s and which he continues to promote today.”
Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said Prince Charles’s actions amounted to a serious conflict of interest. He said: “There’s a conflict of interest between his own investments of the Duchy of Cornwall and what he’s trying to achieve publicly…and I think it’s unfortunate that somebody of his importance, of his influence, becomes involved in such a serious conflict.”
The prince began campaigning for changes to two important environmental agreements weeks after Sustainable Forestry Management (SFM) sent his office lobbying documents. Prince Charles’s estate almost tripled its money in just over a year although it is not clear what caused the rise in the share value. Despite his high profile campaign, the environmental agreements were not changed.
Read more on the BBC here.