a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Supreme Court agreed (Lords Phillips, Hope, Rodger, Lady Hale and Lord Clarke). Thus, three English courts staffed by eminent judges all found that the absence of a review mechanism was a breach of human rights. On all other points the government's position was upheld. The court's judgment is not a judicial attack against Parliament or against the idea of keeping tabs on sex offenders.
Why then does Theresa May go to the Commons and say that the government is 'disappointed and appalled' the decision of the court? Theresa May's speech can be seen on the BBC "Home Secretary Theresa May: Government is "appalled" by sex offender ruling." Thus, in the space of two consecutive weeks, British politicians have attacked the European Court of Human Rights and our own judiciary.
Lord Rodger commented that F's case showed that a child offender is also subject to what amounts to a notification requirement which will affect the whole of his adult life. It was open to Parliament to take the precaution of requiring such offenders to notify indefinitely but that made it "all the more important for the legislation to include some provision for reviewing the position and ending the requirement if the time comes when it is appropriate."
The government now intends to amend the law as minimally as possible to comply with the court's ruling. This is interesting because Parliament does not actually have to do anything but, in that event, further cases on this point would clearly have to go to the European Court of Human Rights which would almost certainly come to the same conclusion as the English judges. In Scotland there is already an automatic review after 15 years but England and Wales is to have no such automatic reviews. The review in Scotland is in the courts. For England and Wales, a review will be possible 15 years after release from custody; the offender will have to apply and the review will be led by the Police and will involve other relevant agencies. The final decision will rest with the Police with no right of appeal. Whether such a review would meet Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights is questionable. It would probably not have sufficient independence from government.
Theresa May also informed Parliament that certain "loopholes" to the Sex Offender Register scheme will be closed. One is that a trip abroad for even one day will have to be notified (it is 3 or more at present). Finally, she announced that the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary will be announcing the establishment of a commission to take forward the idea of a British Bill of Rights which would make it clear that it is "Parliament which makes our laws and not the courts." Even allowing for political rhetoric, such an inaccurate statement about the role of the courts is disappointing. There is no question that it is Parliament which makes the law. Parliament has told the judges to apply the European Convention and Parliament has permitted judges to make a declaration that a legislative provision is incompatible with the Convention. The judges have not granted themselves such powers and such powers do not exist in the English common law system.
The UK Human Rights blog has also taken a look at this case. The Court of Appeal's judgment in this case is also worth reading. There is a suggestion that Parliament might choose to set a very high bar for any reviews to succeed. It would appear that the government has latched on to this suggestion.
Note: The age of criminal responsibility in English law is 10. In some countries, F would not have been convicted of an offence but would have been dealt with differently. See Telegraph 25th May 2010.
Addendum: Solicitor's Journal - "Euro Vision: Wrong Contest" and Liberty "Moral Outrage or Political Posturing"