Welcome to your weekly Lawyer Portal news summary. This post will cover the legal news stories from 3rd – 9th July. This week, the High Court found that a 16-year-old boy’s human rights were breached by his being kept in solitary confinement, the Metropolitan police have extended the controversial trial of spit hoods across London and a treaty banning nuclear weapons was approved at the United Nations headquarters (‘UN’) in New York.
A High Court judge has ruled that a young boy’s human rights have been breached by his being kept in solitary confinement for 23-and-a-half hours a day. On Tuesday, it was decided that the boy, known as AB, had been denied his right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’).
AB, who is detained in Feltham Young Offenders Institution, suffers from significant mental health problems and is due to be released later this month. The High Court held that AB was unlawfully denied access to education and the ability to mix with other inmates, however his treatment did not constitute a breach of Article 3 ECHR which prohibits torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The Ministry of Justice said it would “carefully” consider the decision of the court. The MoJ has previously said that “proportionate and justified segregation” was essential to managing inmates if they pose a risk to staff and other prisoners. Legal documents stated the teenager was initially placed in solitary confinement because of his “history in previous custody”.
The Howard League for Penal Reform, which brought the case on AB’s behalf, stated that AB’s treatment was deemed contrary to human rights and it was also against prison rules. However, chief executive Frances Cook has said the group will appeal against the decision that isolation was not contrary to Article 3 ECHR.
The Metropolitan Police have decided to roll out spit hoods in all London custody centres. However, the decision to extend the trial of the fine-mesh hoods has been labelled as “primitive” and “extreme” by human rights charity, Liberty. The Met have said that the initial trial across five custody centres had been successful.
The hoods are put over the heads of detainees who are considered likely to spit at officers and possibly pass on contagious infections. The highly controversial case of Ik Aihie is at the centre of the debate about the efficacy of spit hoods. Mr Aihie was released without charge but last year he was filmed screaming as British Transport Police held him down and put a hood over his head.
Liberty and other critics of the spit hoods are particularly concerned that they may be improperly used on children and disabled adults. The lack of a public debate or a published evaluation has only exacerbated worries. A statement by the Met announcing the extension of the trial noted that spit guards are necessary to protect police staff and are “a nationally approved piece of police personal safety equipment, already used by 22 forces across the UK.” Ultimately this issue rests on the delicate balance between the personal safety of police officers and the duties of care owed by the police to those in their custody.
There were celebrations at the UN this week as 122 countries backed a 10-page treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. After months of talks and strong opposition from nuclear-armed countries, only the Netherlands voted against the treaty. The countries that bear nuclear arms and many others that either come under their protection or host weapons on their soil have boycotted the negotiations. US delegates highlighted the escalation of North Korea’s nuclear arms programme as one of the main reasons to maintain US nuclear capability. The UK did not attend the talks.
Despite the lack of support from countries with nuclear weapons, supporters of the treaty have stated that this is an important step forward and an indication of the international community’s intention to ban nuclear weapons. Beatrice Fihn from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said, “we banned biological weapons 45 years ago, we banned chemical weapons 25 years ago, and today we are banning nuclear weapons.” Fihn expects that within two years the treaty could have the 50 signatures it needs to enter into international law.
There are examples of treaties being successful even without the support of major nations. In 1997, the US did not ratify the Landmine Ban Treaty but has completely aligned its landmines policy to comply nonetheless. Under the proposed nuclear weapons treaty, signatory states must agree not to develop, test, manufacture or possess nuclear weapons, or threaten to use them, or allow any nuclear arms to be stationed on their territory.
The new treaty reflects a frustration among non-nuclear states that the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons outside the original five nuclear powers, has not worked as hoped.
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