Wednesday, 17 October 2012

News roundup - Savile ~ Hillsborough ~ Prince Charles ~ Supreme Court


The BBC has announced that Dame Janet Smith (formerly Lady Justice Smith) is to lead their internal inquiry into the Savile affair - BBC 17th October and The Guardian 16th October - but her work will not begin until the Police give the go-ahead.   Dame Janet Smith conducted the inquiry into the Harold Shipman case.  Her inquiry produced six reports in the period 2002 to 2005.

Previous post on Savile - 4th October 2012

Government appoint barrister to oversee four investigations - The Guardian 18th October.   These investigations concern three hospitals where Savile had involvement and also the Department of Health itself.  The Department of Health had responsibility for "Broadmoor" prior to its transfer to a NHS Mental Health Trust in 2001.

Savile scandal - government could face civil claims - The Guardian 12th October



The Attorney-General has stated his intention to apply to the High Court under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988.  His application will be to ask the High Court to quash the verdicts reached in the 96 inquests conducted in the aftermath of that tragedy.  The Attorney emphasises that it will take some time yet before the application is actually ready but he considered that he should take the exceptional course of announcing his intention to apply to the court.

Attorney-General - Statement 16th October 2012

Previous posts - Hillsborough Independent Panel No. 1 and Hillsborough Independent Panel No. 2

HRH The Prince of Wales:

The Attorney-General has exercised his power under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to prevent disclosure of letters sent by the Prince of Wales to Ministers in the period September 2004 to April 2005.  The Attorney's certificate overrides the order of the Upper Tribunal which favoured disclosure - Evans v Information Commissioner and Seven Government Departments [2012] UKUT 313 (AAC).

The Attorney's reasons for this decision are available and are based on the right of the heir to the throne to be "instructed in the business of government" but such "instruction" must be confidential.  Are the reasons convincing?  Of that, you be the judge.  There must surely be a strong public interest in knowing whether and to what extent (if any) such letters actually influence Ministerial decision-making.  A further point is that the Prince of Wales, in his capacity as Duke of Cornwall, has considerable vested interests.  The thought also occurred to me that, since HRH is 64 years old in November, perhaps he has already received all the necessary "instruction" - but there we are!

This is the second time this year that the Attorney has blocked publication.  The other occasion related to Cabinet minutes in the prelude to the Iraq War of 2003 - see Watching the Law (August 2012).

For a most interesting post on this, take a look at A(nother) lawyer writes - Prince Charles and his letters
A further post is on the UK Freedom of Information Blog 16th October - 'Criticism for government veto over release of Prince Charles' lobbying correspondence'

The use of this statutory power of 'executive override' is, according to government policy, only to be used in exceptional circumstances and only following a collective decision of the Cabinet - Policy Statement.

Note:  The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2011 section 46 and Schedule 7 was enacted to amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 s.37 with a view to giving greater protection to communications with the Sovereign and heir to the throne etc.   The amendments came in to force on 19th January 2011.

Prince Charles letters: the attorney general's statement deciphered - The Guardian 17th October.

See also Freedom of Information Man and UK Constitutional Law Group blog - Hayley J. Hooper: Keep Calm and Carry On?

Supreme Court ~ Some speeches and three new justices wanted:

Supreme Court Justices Lords Kerr and Wilson have made recent speeches - see Supreme Court website.  Lord Kerr spoke about dissenting judgments and Lord Wilson talked about the long struggle of wives under English law.

On the UK Human Rights blog, David hart QC has commented on Lord Kerr's speech - "Why we allow dissent - by our judges"

By the way, the Supreme Court has three vacancies coming up - see the announcement.

There is one immediate vacancy created by Lord Dyson’s appointment as Master of the Rolls. Further vacancies will arise in March 2013 when Lord Walker retires, and in June 2013 when Lord Hope retires.

The selection commission is anxious to attract applications from the widest field, and in making recommendations will bear in mind the nature of the work done by the Court and the way it is likely to develop over the next few years.

(An interesting statement - just what lies behind 'develop over the next few years' is not particularly clear.)

The statutory minimum qualification for appointment is to have held high judicial office for a period of at least two years, or to have satisfied the judicial appointment eligibility condition on a 15-year basis or to have been a qualifying practitioner for a period of at least 15 years. By convention there have for many years been two Scottish Law Lords and, more recently, two Scottish Justices of the Supreme Court. On Lord Hope’s retirement, Lord Reed will be the only Justice from Scotland. In making its recommendations the selection commission will have regard to the requirement under section 27(8) of the Act to “ensure that between them the Judges will have knowledge of, and experience of practice in, the law of each part of the United Kingdom.”

(Thus, the appointment of someone from Scotland seems highly likely and, who knows, it might be the first of the three appointments).

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