Monthly Law News Summary – May 2018
Welcome to The Lawyer Portal’s Monthly Law News Summary. This month’s post will cover the news stories from the 1st May 2018 to the 31st May 2018.
This month, thousands of women and men flew home to vote in the Irish referendum which repealed the controversial eighth amendment of the Irish constitution; a judge ruled that Trump cannot block people on twitter; the UK was referred to top court over air pollution ; and the information commissioner threatens legal action over police using facial recognition software.
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Following a landslide vote in favour of repealing the Republic of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said a new abortion law will be in place by the end of the year.
The proposed legislation will allow abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to the 24th week in exceptional circumstances. Irish Minister for Health will seek the cabinet’s backing on Tuesday to draft the new legislation.
The referendum saw more than two thirds of voters backing the decision to change the law in every constituency in the Republic of Ireland, with the exception of Donegal.
The referendum delivered a conclusive consensus for reform among men and women, nearly all age groups and across most counties. The final figures were 66.4% in favour of the change and 33.6% voting no.
The eighth amendment was inserted into the constitution in 1983 and it gave an equal right to life to the unborn and the mother. Since then, thousands of Irish women travelled to England every year for abortions, or sourced abortion pills.
In an emotional and symbolic contrast, Irish voters from around the world returned home to cast their ballots in the referendum. The #HomeToVote hashtag was trending on twitter throughout as men and women shared their journeys home with some travelling from Australia, Abu Dhabi and Singapore to cast their vote.
Moreover, the will of the Irish people to push social reform was highlighted in social media as hundreds of people could be seen offering to pay for transport from whatever destination in the world, car shares from the airport and beds for the night.
The result has shifted focus to Northern Irelands similarly strict abortion laws, with UK Prime Minister, facing calls to act. Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK and Ireland with an almost blanket ban on terminations.
However, any action Theresa May’s own administration depends on support from the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), who strongly oppose any reform to the law on abortion.
Federal judge rules Trump can’t block people on Twitter because it violates their first amendment rights. The judge says that the president’s twitter account constitutes what the Supreme Court would consider a “public forum.”
In her decision, US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote that the case requires us to consider whether it is against a citizens first amendment rights to be blocked by the Presidents’ twitter account for expressing their political views. The answer to this question is yes.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and seven people who were blocked by Trump had filed the lawsuit last year. Buchwald continued by saying that as the president’s twitter constitutes a “public forum” blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment. She also suggested Trump mute people he disagrees with.
Trump notably and consistently used Twitter to attack his political opponents and the media. The president has over 52 million followers and views it as a vital means of communication with the public.
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The UK is being taken to court by the European Commission over its long-standing failure to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide. Germany, France, Italy, Romania and Hungary have also been referred to the court for breaching pollution levels.
The European Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said the EU “owed to its citizens,” to take legal action. The UK has promised a comprehensive air pollution package shortly. But Britain could face fines totalling millions of pounds until the problem is solved.
The government has already lost a series of battles in the UK courts on air pollution. Commissioner Vella said it was the Commission’s responsibility to ensure people could breathe clean air.
Environmentalists have said that by taking the UK to the CJEU (European Court of Justice), the EU has demonstrated what will be lost after Brexit. However, Environment Secretary Michael Gove disagrees, promising that the governance of the environment will not be diluted post-Brexit.
The Green MEP Keith Taylor welcomes the EC’s decision. He said: “The commission is being forced to take legal action against the UK because the government remains apathetic in the face of a public health crisis.”
A DEFRA spokesperson said: “We continue to meet EU air quality limits for all pollutants apart from nitrogen dioxide, and data shows we are improving thanks to our efforts to bring level of it down”
Information commissioner threatens legal action against police using “dangerous and inaccurate” facial recognition technology. The watchdog issued its warning following research by The Independent showing 98% of returns by software used by the Metropolitan police were “false positives.”
A report by Big Brother Watch presented in Parliament called for the public authorities to stop using the surveillance camera technology.
Speaking at the event, Tottenham MP David Lammy said such powers, “must have scrutiny to ensure that they are not abused.” Mr. Lammy voiced concern that there was too much potential for “conscious and unconscious bias” and profiling of black communities after his own review found inequalities at all stages of the criminal justice system.
Police leaders have defended the software, saying that they do not arrest suspects based on a match alone and that they have checks and balances in place which delete images that do not generate an alert.
Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said the reach of facial recognition is important as there are “significant public safety benefits to enable the police to apprehend offenders and prevent crimes from occurring.” However, facial recognition technology can be very intrusive, and it is problematic change in the way law-abiding people are monitored as they go about their daily lives.
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Author: Alicia Gibson