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Weekly News Summary – 12th June 2017

Welcome to your Lawyer Portal weekly news summary covering the legal news from the past week; 5th  – 11th June. In the same week that the surprising general election result had everyone talking about the future of UK politics, there has been no shortage of legal news stories. This week, a New York court has ruled that chimpanzees are not entitled to human rights, the UK’s right to derogate from human rights in the name of terror prevention has been debated and law firm Leigh Day has been cleared of misconduct.

Chimpanzees are not entitled to human rights. An appeals court in New York has unanimously decided that chimpanzees are not legal persons. The Nonhuman Rights Project, an animal rights charity, had sought to free two chimpanzees from a cage in upstate New York.

It was argued that the chimpanzees’ conditions, selected for them by their owner, equated to unlawful solitary confinement. While the charity did not seek to establish that a chimpanzee is human, they did argue that as primates, apes and chimpanzees are entitled to legal personhood status, this would give them basic rights, including the right to be the subject of a writ of habeas corpus. The case cited experts like British primatologist Jane Goodall who highlighted that chimpanzees and humans share many behavioural, cognitive and social capabilities.

Ultimately, the judgement turned on the fact that chimpanzees cannot bear any legal responsibilities and therefore cannot possess the corresponding rights. Lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project has stated that this latest setback will not stop the fight to have the two chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko, released from their cages to be transferred to bigger enclosures.

Human rights are not the problem, police budget cuts are. In the wake of the recent terror attack, Theresa May has vowed to rip up human rights laws if necessary to tackle terror suspects. However, Damian Green has confirmed that these changes, which include an extension on the time permitted for the detention of terrorists, will involve a derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights which is only possible if a state of emergency is declared.  

According to Mr Green, “there is nothing in the Human Rights Act that gets in the way of effectively tackling terrorism.” Green accused Theresa May of blaming the Human Rights Act for the failure of the intelligence agencies to detect and monitor terrorists. He argued that the real issue is the cuts to the police budget, which May has consistently supported throughout her time as Home Secretary and Prime Minister.

The European Court of Human Rights fact sheet highlights that “the right to derogate can be invoked only in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”. Theresa May’s promise to “rip up” human rights laws if necessary is a complete contradiction of her manifesto promise not to repeal or replace the Human Rights Act or exit the European Convention on Human Rights while the Brexit process is underway.

Lawyers from Leigh Day have been cleared of Iraq case misconduct. Three lawyers from the firm were accused of wrongly pursuing murder and torture claims against British troops in the Al-Sweady Inquiry while ignoring key evidence to avoid undermining their case. The trial at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was the longest of its kind and each party’s costs is likely to run to seven figures

The main tribunal charge concerned Leigh Day’s failure to disclose a document identifying the Iraqi detainees as insurgents and members of a militia that had attacked British forces. Martyn Day, co-founder of the firm, and colleagues Sapna Malik and Anna Crowther were accused of purposefully failing to disclose ‘the OSM list’ which allegedly showed the firm’s clients were not civilians but were linked to a radical group. However, the three lawyers were cleared of a series of misconduct charges at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The ‘OSM list’ was ultimately destroyed by a junior lawyer. The Tribunal acknowledged that while this was a mistake, it was not sufficiently serious to amount to professional misconduct.

Words: Mariya Rankin

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