By Alan Travis
Appeal court judges have ruled the government’s mass digital surveillance regime unlawful in a case brought by the Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson.
Liberty, the human rights campaign group which represented Watson in the case, said the ruling meant significant parts of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – known as the snooper’s charter – are effectively unlawful and must be urgently changed.
The government defended its use of communications data to fight serious and organised crime and said that the judgment related to out of date legislation. Minister Ben Wallace said that it would not affect the way law enforcement would tackle crime.
The court of appeal ruling on Tuesday said the powers in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, which paved the way for the snooper’s charter legislation, did not restrict the accessing of confidential personal phone and web browsing records to investigations of serious crime, and allowed police and other public bodies to authorise their own access without adequate oversight.
The three judges said Dripa was “inconsistent with EU law” because of this lack of safeguards, including the absence of “prior review by a court or independent administrative authority”.
Responding to the ruling, Watson said: “This legislation was flawed from the start. It was rushed through parliament just before recess without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
“The government must now bring forward changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are innocent victims or witnesses to crime, are protected by a system of independent approval for access to communications data. I’m proud to have played my part in safeguarding citizens’ fundamental rights.”
Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said: “Yet again a UK court has ruled the government’s extreme mass surveillance regime unlawful. This judgement tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public’s human rights.”
She said no politician was above the law. “When will the government stop bartering with judges and start drawing up a surveillance law that upholds our democratic freedoms?”
The Home Office announced a series of safeguards in November in anticipation of the ruling. They include removing the power of self-authorisation for senior police officers and requiring approval for requests for confidential communications data to be granted by the new investigatory powers commissioner. Watson and other campaigners said the safeguards were “half-baked” and did not go far enough.
The judges, headed by Sir Geoffrey Vos, declined to rule on the Home Office claim that the more rigorous “Watson safeguards” were not necessary for the use of bulk communications data for wider national security purposes.
The judges said the appeal court did not need to rule on this point because it had already been referred to the European court of justice in a case which is due to be heard in February.
Watson launched his legal challenge in 2014 in partnership with David Davis, who withdrew when he entered the government as Brexit secretary in 2016. The European court of justice ruled in December 2016 that the “general and indiscriminate retention” of confidential personal communications data was unlawful without safeguards, including independent judicial authorisation.
Security minister Ben Wallace responded to the ruling saying: “Communications data is used in the vast majority of serious and organised crime prosecutions and has been used in every major security service counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade. It is often the only way to identify paedophiles involved in online child abuse as it can be used to find where and when these horrendous crimes have taken place.”
He said the judgment related to legislation which was no longer in force and did not change the way in which law enforcement agencies could detect and disrupt crimes.
“We had already announced that we would be amending the Investigatory Powers Act to address the two areas in which the court of appeal has found against the previous data retention regime. We welcome the fact that the court of appeal ruling does not undermine the regime and we will continue to defend these vital powers, which Parliament agreed were necessary in 2016, in ongoing litigation,” he said.
Published on The Guardian on January 30, 2018
By Annie Kelly
Victims of slavery who have acted as witnesses in the prosecution of their traffickers are ending up destitute and homeless on the streets of Britain, campaigners have warned.
Other potential whistleblowers, left without accommodation or access to support services for weeks after being identified as victims of slavery, have been forced to return to their traffickers simply to keep a roof over their heads.
“We know that once they have been formally identified as victims of slavery, most victims are not given a secure immigration status or right to remain and so find themselves almost instantly destitute and without anywhere to live,” said Kate Roberts of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
She said there was a lack of reliable data on what happened to people following positive identification as victims of slavery under the government’s national referral mechanism (NRM).
“Anecdotally, we know that some victims who have done everything they have been asked to by the authorities are actively re-entering exploitation just to get a roof over their heads. Others who have helped secure the prosecution of their traffickers are finding themselves on the streets,” said Roberts.
“At a time when the government and police services are under fire for failing to use the Modern Slavery Act to secure more prosecutions, the failure to provide victims with basic support services immediately is utterly counterproductive.”
Hope for Justice, which provides pro bono legal support to victims of slavery, said that in 2015, 70% of their clients faced homelessness and reported problems accessing welfare support.
“If someone disappears or is homeless and potentially re-trafficked, we have not only failed in a basic moral duty, we have also lost them as a potential prosecution witness,” said Phillipa Roberts, the organisation’s legal director.
Roberts said that while funding shortfalls since 2015 have meant the charity could only take on the “most at need” cases, the situation facing clients has become increasingly desperate.
Last year, a highly critical report by the House of Commons work and pensions committee said there was an “inexcusable” lack of support for the estimated 13,000 modern victims in the UK.
The committee recommended the introduction of a system to give all confirmed victims of slavery at least one year’s leave to remain, with recourse to benefits and services.
Currently, the Home Office provides victims of trafficking with 45 days of support while they go through the NRM process, with an additional two weeks if they receive a positive identification. Last October, the government announced it was extending post-identification support to 45 days.
“Obviously we welcome any extension but, while this is some help, it is still not sufficient to ensure that victims are not falling off a cliff-edge at the end of this period,” said Roberts.
Anti-trafficking charities have formed a new coalition, Free for Good, to support new victim support legislation written by Lord McColl of Dulwich, aiming to implement the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee in law.
“The government does not have an understanding of what happens to victims of modern slavery once they have been rescued, leaving them impoverished, homeless and often deported to a country where they have no friends or family,” said Frank Field, the Labour MP taking the bill through the House of Commons.
In a statement, the Home Office said: “In October 2017 we announced a package of reforms to the national referral mechanism, the system for identifying and supporting victims. Confirmed victims of modern slavery will receive a minimum of 90 days’ specialist support, including accommodation, subsistence, counselling, access to mental, physical and dental health services, and signposting to legal support.”
Published on The Guardian on January 25, 2018
By Jamie Doward
A human rights deficit will be created by the government’s EU withdrawal bill, leaving many different groups in society without adequate protection, leading civil rights bodies warn in a letter published in the Observer.
The organisations spell out profound concerns that a raft of rights will be jettisoned with no adequate replacement once the bill becomes law and the UK leaves the EU.
Among others, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Amnesty International, Liberty, the Fawcett Society and National Aids Trust warn that the bill, which is returning to the House of Commons on 16 January, “will not protect people’s rights in the UK as the government promised”. They say: “This is in large part because the bill removes the EU charter of fundamental rights from our law.”
David Isaac, the chair of the EHRC, the UK’s own independent human rights watchdog, said: “The government has promised there will be no rowing back on people’s rights after Brexit. If we lose the charter protections, that promise will be broken. It will cause legal confusion and there will be gaps in the law.
“While securing trade deals is vital for our economy, equality and human rights are also essential. They must also be the focus for the type of country we want to be after Brexit. Current protections must not be jeopardised.”
According to the signatories to the letter, “The charter protects rights important to all of us: including rights to dignity, protection of personal data and health; and protections for workers, women, children, and older people, LGBTI and disabled people.”
The government maintains that the charter will cease to be part of UK law when Britain leaves the EU but insists that rights will not be weakened following Brexit. However, the signatories claim that independent legal advice shows this to be wrong.
“Losing it creates a human rights hole because the charter provides some rights and judicial remedies that have no clear equivalents in UK law,” they write.
“Furthermore, by keeping the wide and complex body of EU law while throwing away the charter, which is the code to unlock it, the government risks creating confusion, jamming itself in a mountain of legal cases.” According to the EHRC, rights that would be lost, and which do not have direct equivalents in other UK human rights law, include a freestanding right to non-discrimination, protection of a child’s best interests and the right to human dignity.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, has said that Labour will propose an amendment to the withdrawal bill when it returns to the Commons on Tuesday, aimed at retaining the charter as part of UK law.
Trevor Tayleur, an associate professor at the University of Law, explained that the charter, although narrower in focus than the Human Rights Act, offers a more robust defence of fundamental rights.
“At present, the main means of protecting human rights in the UK is the Human Rights Act 1998,” he said. “This incorporates the bulk of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the European convention on human rights into UK law and thereby enables individuals to enforce their convention rights in the UK courts. However, there is a significant limitation to the protection afforded by the HRA because it does not override acts of parliament.
“In contrast, the protection afforded by the EU charter of fundamental rights is much stronger because where there is a conflict between basic rights contained in the charter and an act of the Westminster parliament, the charter will prevail over the act.”
Koldo Casla, policy director at Just Fair, an NGO that monitors and campaigns for economic and social rights in the UK, is one of the letter’s signatories. He said: “Britain is the land of the Charter of the Forest, the Peasants’ Revolt and the Putney Debates, the birthplace of Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill, the country of the NHS, the home of the council house.
Social rights have been part of Britain’s tradition for centuries and Brexit should not change that. We must preserve the EU charter of fundamental rights and we must incorporate into our legal system all other social rights standards that the UK has voluntarily signed up to at the international level.”
Published on The Guardian on January 13, 2018
New package of support for humanitarian crises in the coming year, after UK aid delivered life-saving support to millions of people around the world in 2017.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt today announced a new package of support for humanitarian crises in the coming year, after UK aid delivered life-saving support to millions of people around the world and averted two famines in 2017.
In early 2017 the United Nations warned that the world was facing its worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. Ms Mordaunt says today that 2018 could be even worse with ongoing famines and conflicts in Yemen, South Sudan and Burma.
The new UK aid package will give a £21 million boost to the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) so agencies can respond even more quickly to under-funded emergencies around the world in 2018.
It will help to provide critical health services to 20 million people, plus clean water and sanitation to 13 million people and food to 9 million people.
The UK package is part of a wider international relief effort. Globally, the United Nations estimates that in 2018 some 136 million people in 25 countries will be in need of humanitarian assistance.
The UK is ready to deliver life-saving aid to those that need it most.
During 2017, UK aid has helped prevented famines in Nigeria and Somalia, as well as alleviating untold suffering in South Sudan and Yemen. We achieved this by providing:
In addition, this year UK aid delivered 827 tonnes of supplies in response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean. It also provided emergency shelter to 130,000 people affected by the Rohingya crisis and medical support for more than 1 million people in Syria.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said:
While 2017 was a year of harrowing humanitarian crises, the truth is 2018 could be even bleaker.
When we see suffering, we instinctively want to help. Britons are big-hearted, open-minded and far-sighted – qualities that define a great nation.
This year, through UK aid and further public donations, we helped avert famines in Nigeria and Somalia, gave emergency help to the survivors of the Caribbean hurricanes and provided a vital life-line to people suffering from conflict in Syria and Yemen.
Britain is giving life saving aid, but also hope, to millions of people around the world. In the challenges 2018 brings Britain will continue to be at the forefront of the global humanitarian response.
Ms Mordaunt also announced ¬ongoing support for people driven from their homes as a result of the conflict in Syria, which is in its seventh year. The UK aid package will give money directly to Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, so they can decide how best to look after their families.
The programme, delivered by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), will help stamp out child labour by providing more than 10,0000 families with an allowance so that they can buy essential food, shelter, household supplies and medical assistance.
Published on Reliefweb on December 31, 2017
By Damien Gayle and John Thalassites
Anti-war activists have begun a week of protests in east London in an effort to stop weapons and military equipment arriving at Britain’s biggest arms fair.
The biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), which bills itself as “the world leading event” for buyers and sellers of military equipment, begins next week at the ExCeL centre in Docklands.
More than 34,000 visitors are expected to attend the arms fair, including delegations from regimes accused of human rights abuses such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as representatives of the world’s 10 biggest arms companies.
Keynote speakers include Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, and Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, as well as the chiefs of staff of the British armed forces.
Thousands of protesters are expected to take action outside the the ExCeL centre throughout the week, with blockades, actions and demonstrations outside all main entrances in an effort to hamper exhibitors from setting up their stands for the four-day event, which opens on 12 September.
Protests on each day will have a different focus, from nuclear weapons to arms to Israel to free movement for people rather than weapons. Opponents to the fair say that some of the world’s most oppressive regimes are represented among buyers.
On Monday, protesters were demonstrating against arms to Israel. By 3pm, police had already made six arrests, according to Kat Hobbs of Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
“Five were arrested for obstructing the highway and one person was arrested when they climbed under one of the vehicles and attached themselves to it,” she said.
Among those arrested was Reverend Enid Gordon, a Methodist minister from North Shields. “I walked in front of the road when I saw a lorry coming, then other people joined. The other people left and I found myself the only one there,” she said.
Gordon said police at the custody suite she was taken to looked embarrassed to find a 4 ft 8 in clergywoman in detention. “The guy behind the counter seemed – and this is body language, so it’s my interpretation – he didn’t want to really be doing it.”
She added: “I didn’t want to be a naughty girl, I just wanted to protest! I know it’s against the law, but I think selling weapons is against the law. I just think we shouldn’t be selling weapons to Israel…and particularly to Saudi Arabia. It’s obscene, it’s against God’s will. I feel this [protesting] is more of God’s will.”
Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against the Arms Trade, which is helping to coordinate protests, said: “DSEI will bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies.
“Right now UK fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the destruction of Yemen; what will be the next atrocity they are used in? War, repression and injustice are fuelled by events like DSEI. It’s time to shut it down for good.”
Last year, nine defendants had charges of obstructing the highway outside DSEI dismissed after they successfully argued that they acted to stop greater crimes being committed using weapons bought in the UK.
“The defendants’ belief that weapons were being sold unlawfully at DSEI was supported by … detailed expert evidence,” said district judge Angus Hamilton as he dismissed the charges at Stratford magistrates court after hearing that illegal items, including torture implements and cluster munitions, had been found to be marketed there in previous years.
Angela Ditchfield, one of the nine defendants prosecuted last year, was present on Monday with her two sons. She said: “the case was stressful in some ways, but nothing compared to what people are going through in other countries where these weapons are in demand. I can’t turn away because things are difficult for me.”
“In some ways, the case strengthened my determination because we had a week of horrific evidence, going into detail about what’s happening in Yemen, and how the famine and cholera there is being fuelled by the British arms trade.”
Adie Mormech, from Manchester, had brought dozens of cardboard coffins, decorated with pictures of Palestinian children killed by Israeli drone strikes. He said he had seen the bloodshed caused by the occupation of Gaza as a teacher there. “Israel is using Gaza as a laboratory,” he said. “It’s testing a product that blows these kids up. I taught a family that lost 29 members in three days.”
He added: “It’s a horrible thing to imagine these little kids in coffins, but these were real kids and we wanted to show the connect between these people making money and this.”
More than 1,600 makers and sellers of weapons and military equipment will exhibit at this year’s DSEI, according to the exhibition’s website. “Visitors can enjoy a range of exciting showcases and demonstrations, visiting ships and world class speakers,” it says.
Published on The Guardian on September 4, 2017.
Campaign groups and legal experts have called on the UK to end arm sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies, warning that continuing to do so may be in violation of international law.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR) said British manufactured weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt were being used to carry out abuses in Yemen and Libya.
"[AOHR] is calling on the UK government to review its role in the sale of arms to a number of Arab governments that are known for gross human rights violation," the statement read.
In the past three years, the UK has approved arms export licences to Saudi Arabia worth $4.7bn, $1.6bn to the UAE, and $208m to Egypt.
During that period, the countries have been involved both directly and indirectly in conflicts in Libya and Yemen, where they face accusations of war crimes and other abuses.
"A Saudi-led coalition has killed hundreds of Yemenis, destroyed scores of homes in addition to obliterating most of Yemen's core infrastructure," the AOHR said, adding: "Saudi Arabia has also turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by UAE in southern parts of the country."
"The UAE has bought the loyalty of several tribal leaders and formed militias that continue to commit war crimes," the rights group said.
Last week, a report by Human Rights Watch accused the UAE of operating secret prisons in Yemen where torture was commonplace, and of carrying out forcible disappearances of its opponents in the country.
In Libya, the UAE has transferred British-produced arms to the renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who is also accused of a raft of abuses, including indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and summary executions.
Legal caseSpeaking at a news conference accompanying the AOHR statement, Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said the UK was complicit in alleged Saudi-led coalition abuses in Yemen.
"UK-made fighter jets are flying over Yemen, where they are being flown by UK-trained personnel and dropping UK-made bombs. The UK could not be any more complicit, " he said.
"The war [in Yemen] has led to social breakdown, including the destruction of schools, hospitals, and even funerals have become the sites of brutal massacres.
"We believe that the UK’s conduct in arming and supporting this brutal bombardment has not just been immoral, it has also been illegal."
CAAT is awaiting the verdict of a judicial review it lodged in February, which is aimed at halting British arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
Under both British and EU law, export licences must not be granted if there is clear risk that weapons could be used to contravene international law.
Human rights lawyer Sue Willman, who was also present at the event, said the UK was reluctant to accept the scale of evidence proving its weapons were being used to commit violations.
"The [UK] must deny export if it is clear that military technology might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law," she said.
"I think the lesson of the CAAT case is that even when there’s overwhelming evidence of abuses, the UK government continues to claim that there’s no evidence, and then insist on filing secret evidence, making it harder for us to challenge it."
Long standing tiesThe UK is one of the top suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with successive governments, both Labour and Conservative, signing major arms deals with the pair.
Under the Conservative government of John Major and the later Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the UK sold scores of Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets in exchange for oil shipments and tens of billions of pounds.
Those deals, known collectively as al-Yamamah, were riddled with accusations of corruption, with leading manufacturer BAE Systems accused of paying bribes worth tens of millions of dollars to Saudi officials to secure the purchases.
The deals were the subject of an investigation by the UK's Serious Fraud Office, which was later dropped after intervention by Blair.
While the current British government, under Prime Minister Theresa May, seems set to continue arms sales to Saudi Arabia, all major opposition parties are opposed to the transfer of arms.
Labour's current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been an outspoken critic of arming Saudi Arabia and its involvement in Yemen.
The Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats, and Green Party are also opposed to weapons sales to the country.
In a heated exchange in parliament on Monday, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas asked Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson whether he was "proud" of his role in selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, which were later used in Yemen.
Johnson responded: "Of course a humanitarian disaster is taking place, but it is a folly and an illusion to believe that that humanitarian disaster is in any way the responsibility of the UK."
War in YemenSaudi Arabia began its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015 after Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh took over large swaths of the country, including its capital, Sanaa.
The war has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 civilians, according to the UN, and has left it on the verge of famine with several urban centres besieged by either pro-rebel or pro-government forces.
The UN and rights groups have accused Riyadh and its allies of violating international law by targeting civilians, including the October 2016 bombing of a funeral procession in the Yemeni capital, which left at least 140 people dead and hundreds more wounded.
Published on Al Jazeera on June 28, 2017.
Can’t Stay. Can’t Go. Refused asylum seekers who cannot be returned’ (Catherine Blanchard and Sarah Joy for the British Red Cross, February 2017) examines the situation of persons who have been refused asylum in the UK, but cannot return to their country of origin, some because they are stateless. Many such persons live in hardship for extended periods of time, with minimal or no support, and suffer severe mental health conditions and other challenges. The British Red Cross concludes that ‘it is inhumane to keep them living in destitution for years’ and advocates for the government to grant such persons discretionary leave to remain in the UK, with the right to work and access higher education. Asylum Aid’s Legal Policy Officer, Cynthia Orchard, provided input for the research.