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The round-up of the stories that a budding Student Lawyer should be aware of this week. Sign up here to get these updates in your inbox every week.
Right to Marriage
Julian Assange and fiancée to take legal action for their right to marriage
Reported by Jutha Cheewat
Julian Assange and his fiancée, Stella Moris, said they are preparing to take legal action against Dominic Raab, the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, and Jenny Louis, the governor of Belmarsh prison, following the ongoing allegations with the US government.
Wikileaks became prominent in 2010 after thousands of classified reports were published.
Since then, the US authorities have been seeking his extradition.
Amid the on-going allegations, the couple argued that the secretary and governor are denying theirs and their children's human rights after receiving no response for their request to seek agreement for a ceremony to take place at the prison.
Their lawyer stated that the lack of response from the said officials implied the hostility, linking the involvement of WikiLeaks and the relationship with the US. This included the assassination and kidnapping plots while Assange was at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Earlier this year, Assange’s fiancée had been in the news since June to join forces with the mayor of Geneva and UN’s torture expert to seek Assange’s immediate release from British prison while awaiting a US appeal.
Later in October 2021, Moris told the press that she believed the CIA's plot to kill and kidnap Assange, published by Yahoo, would have a game-changing effect on his fight against extradition from the UK to the US, despite the CIA spokesman no comment response.
The US lawyers recently put forward an argument that the WikiLeaks founder’s mental health should not prevent him from the extradition, as assured by the US government, to allow Assange to serve any custodial sentence imposed by the US court in Australia.
Nevertheless, his lawyers presented to the Court of Appeal that such assurances should be disregarded, as there is a high chance for him to be subject to a harsh detention condition under so-called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs).
The UK Supreme Court blocks a lawsuit over internet tracking
Reported by Emma Ducroix
The legal action, led by data privacy campaigners, amounts to a claim for £3 billion in damages against Google. Google is alleged to have secretly tracked the internet activity of millions of iPhone users. This action was blocked by the UK Supreme Court.
Legal experts said the ruling meant the “floodgates” remained closed to data privacy class actions in England and Wales, although the judgment noted the ability of digital technology to cause “massive harm” to individuals.
Richard Lloyd, former director of the consumer organisation Which?, also wanted to bring a class action in the US against Google on behalf of around 4.4 million people in England and Wales. He claimed that the high-profile search engine illegally used the data of millions of iPhone users via Safari in 2011 and 2012, even though users were assured that they would be excluded from this tracking by default.
Lloyd and the campaign group Google You Owe Us hoped to sue the US company for damages for alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act (DPA). However, the high court initially ruled that Lloyd could not serve the claim on Google outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales in October 2018 – because Lloyd needed permission to serve it in the US state of Delaware where Google is incorporated – but this was overturned by the Court of Appeal in October 2019.
However, on Wednesday, a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court allowed an appeal by Google against that decision.
Delivering the main ruling, Lord Leggatt said Lloyd’s intention that affected users could be awarded a flat sum, without having to prove financial loss or mental distress, was “unsustainable”.
Leggatt said that the section of the DPA on which the complaint was based referred to the property damage and mental distress caused by the unlawful processing of the data – not the unlawful processing itself. A catch-all suit that did not detail the suffering of each individual in terms of property damage or mental distress was therefore not feasible.
The judge said: “The claimant seeks damages without attempting to prove that this allegation is true in relation to any individual for whom damages are sought.
“Without proof of unlawful processing of an individual’s personal data beyond the bare minimum required to bring it within the definition of the class represented, a claim on behalf of that individual has no chance of meeting the threshold for an award of damages.”
Google’s lawyers argued at a hearing in April that the landmark appeals court ruling could “open the floodgates” to broad claims on behalf of millions of people against companies responsible for processing personal data.
Emily Cox, head of litigation at law firm Stewarts, said the decision was a relief for the large technology companies that handle the data of millions of people in England and Wales every day. However she said the decision left consumers without a viable route to compensation for breaches of their privacy rights by big business and thus limits access to justice.”
Google You Owe Us and Lloyd have said the “browser-generated information” collected by Google included racial or ethnic origin, physical and mental health, political affiliations or views, sexual interests and social class. Google’s lawyers said there was no evidence that the Safari workaround had resulted in the disclosure of information to third parties.
Lloyd said, “We are bitterly disappointed that the Supreme Court did not do enough to protect the public from Google and other large technology companies breaking the law.”
A Google spokesperson said, “This complaint was related to events that took place ten years ago and which we dealt with at the time. People want to know they are safe online, which is why for years we have focused on building products and infrastructure that respect and protect people’s privacy.”
Meanwhile, a European Union court on Wednesday rejected Google’s appeal against a €2.4bn (£2.1bn) fine imposed by regulators, who had found that the tech giant had abused its considerable online influence by making its own shopping recommendations illegal.
Controversial death penalty
Suspension of an execution for a Covid positive man in Singapore.
Reported by Emma Ducroix
Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, who has a learning disability and faces the death penalty in Singapore for smuggling a small amount of heroin, has had his appeal adjourned and received an indefinite stay of execution after testing positive for Covid. He has been on death row since 2010.
The Malaysian was arrested in April 2009 at the age of 21 for attempting to smuggle 43 grams of heroin into Singapore, and was due to be executed on Wednesday.
His lawyer, Mr Ravi, applied for a stay of execution on Monday on the grounds that his client was suffering from “serious mental disorder” and that his execution would be illegal.
The application was rejected, but the execution was stayed as Dharmalingam had the right to appeal. The appeal was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, and Dharmalingam’s supporters feared the execution would take place on Wednesday.
But it was announced on Tuesday that Dharmalingam had tested positive for Covid, prompting the court to adjourn the hearing. It ordered an indefinite stay of execution.
The case has sparked worldwide outrage, with Singaporean activists, UN experts, international rights groups and legal groups calling for a halt to the execution.
Businessman Richard Branson, who has previously campaigned against the death penalty, also issued a statement condemning the sentence. “Proceeding with the execution of a man who may not have fully understood the consequences of his actions, nor his rights in court, would cast serious doubt on Singapore’s commitment to upholding international law,” he said.
Dharmalingam has an IQ of 69, a level known to indicate a learning disability, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There is even evidence that he was forced to transport drugs as a victim of human trafficking.
Dharmalingam’s older sister, Sarmila, said she was relieved that the execution had been stayed, but stressed that it was only temporary. In a statement shared on Twitter by journalist Kirsten Han, she said, “It took me a long time to get to sleep last night because I was worried about my brother, and when I woke up in the morning I couldn’t stop thinking about him and crying, waiting for 2:30 for the court hearing today…”
Dharmalingam’s family is no longer allowed to visit him and will only be allowed phone calls.
A group of 11 British MPs and peers have written to the Singapore High Commissioner asking that Dharmalingam’s life be spared. In the letter, they said they had been told that Dharmalingam “appears to be unaware that he is facing execution, due to his mental state, and that he is hallucinating, incoherent and imagines his prison cell as a garden in which he is safe.
The UN experts urged Singapore to stop the execution permanently. “We are concerned that Mr Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam did not have access to procedural accommodations for his disability during his interrogation. We further stress that death sentences should not be carried out on people with severe psychosocial and intellectual disabilities. We are also concerned that the eleven years spent on death row would have led to a further deterioration of his mental health.
In a statement issued after Monday’s hearing, the Attorney General’s office said: “The high court reaffirmed that Dharmalingam was afforded due process of law. The high court said it is not possible for Dharmalingam to challenge the court’s findings of mental responsibility, either directly or indirectly, in a further attempt to review and unravel the finality of those findings.”