Tuesday 17 May 2022

Levi Bellfield ~ Human Rights

In the UK, some 60 prisoners are serving "whole life" sentences for murder. One of them is Levi Bellfield who has received whole life terms on two occasions. His first whole life term relates to the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amélie Delagrange. His second whole life term was imposed in June 2011 for the murder of 13-year old Amanda ("Milly") Dowler.

In May 2022, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that Bellfield was engaged and had applied to marry while in a prison. He proposed to a woman who started writing to him two years ago, before becoming a visitor on a regular basis. 

The Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Dominic Raab MP) is reported to have said that granting Bellfield's request is "inconceivable" unless "serious safeguarding concerns are addressed "-  Levi Bellfield: Raab says granting marriage request ‘inconceivable’ | Prisons and probation | The Guardian

The Guardian article also notes that, when asked what powers he had to stop the wedding, Raab criticised the Human Rights Act 1998 which, according to Raab, "puts all sorts of obstacles in our way in that regard, which is I think one more reason why we are introducing a bill of rights to add a bit more common sense."

The domestic legal systems of the UK do not prevent a serving prisoner either marrying or entering into a civil partnership. Application must be made to the prison authorities and such applications are handled in accordance with prison instructions -  see Handling prisoner applications to marry or form a civil partnership: PSI 14/2016 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The European Convention on Human Rights Article 12 states - "Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.”

A fuller guide on Article 12 and how it has been approached in European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence may be seen at Guide on Article 12 - Right to marry (coe.int)

Key words in Article 12 include "national laws governing the exercise of this right." Domestic law in the UK imposes some restrictions such as a minimum age* but certainly does not even attempt to restrict the right of individuals like Bellfield to marry. It may be that some people think that he, and similarly despicable individuals, ought not to have that right but that is not a road that the UK has gone down and, I hope, never does.

It is a great pity that Raab chose to use this as an opportunity to attack the Human Rights Act. In my view he was handed a "political opportunity" to further criticise the Act which he and his political party dislike so much. As announced in the recent Queen's Speech, the government is pushing ahead with plans for a new so-called "Bill of Rights" - Law and Lawyers: Queen's Speech May 2022 (obiterj.blogspot.com).

Raab and others will dress up their plans to lead us to believe that they are somehow improving human rights protections in the UK. Ministers will highlight how "human rights law" prevents them from taking action that they consider to be required for the public good. We will be told how human rights law benefits criminals and others considered by politicians to be "undeserving." Ministers will trumpet how "human rights lawyers" use the courts to prevent deportations even to places like Rwanda - Law and Lawyers: UK and Rwanda ~ "mechanism" to relocate asylum seekers (obiterj.blogspot.com)

The reality is that the present government's plans for a Bill of Rights will weaken the legal protection of those hard-fought rights currently held by the British people. I hope that this point is not discovered when it is too late.

17 May 2022

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