Weekly News Summary – 7th August 2017
Welcome to another Lawyer Portal weekly news summary. This week’s post will cover the legal stories from 31st July to 5th August. This week, a bid to prosecute Tony Blair for his role in the Iraq War in 2003 was rejected, the President of the Family Division of the High Court attacks the government over failure to provide care for a mentally ill girl, and the NHS have announced their intention to fund a trial treatment to prevent HIV.
The High Court blocked an attempt to bring a private prosecution against Tony Blair after allegations were made about the decisions he made surrounding the Iraq War. The former Iraqi General, Abdulwaheed al-Rabbat, alleged that the former Prime Minister as well as former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, should be held accountable for choosing to invade Iraq in 2003.
In 2003, the UK joined the coalition led by the US to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein. Last year, the UK’s Iraq War inquiry ruled that the invasion was not the ‘last resort’ presented to MPs on the matter whilst also concluding that peaceful alternatives to war had not been exhausted. Mr. Mansfield QC, a human rights barrister acting for the General Al Rabbat, argued that this report justified the prosecution of Blair.
The Westminster Magistrates’ Court already rejected the bid last year on grounds that the ex-ministers were immune from legal action. However, Al-Rabbat then sought judicial review to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling of the 2006 House of Lords case, R v Jones. This case, which also covered the war in Iraq, ruled that the crime of aggression does not exist in the law of England and Wales.
Mr. Mansfield QC went on to argue that the international crime of aggression had been accepted by the then UK Attorney General, Sir Hartley Shawcross QC, in the 1940s, at the time of the Nuremberg Trials. Despite this, whilst recognizing that a crime of aggression does exist in international law, Lord Thomas and Mr. Justice Ouseley concluded that it did not apply retroactively and there was ‘no prospect’ of the Supreme Court moving away from the decision in Jones.
A spokesperson for the current Attorney General, who said that the challenge was ‘hopeless’, commented that this case highlights the limits the court must adhere to in ensuring that the creation of new criminal offences is left to Parliament alone.
Britain’s most senior family judge – Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court – has launched an attack on the government for the ‘disgraceful’ state of treatment for mentally ill young people. This came after he struggled to ensure the provision of a place in a hospital for a suicidal teenager.
The girl, kept anonymous for the case and known as X, had just completed a detention and training order at a secure unit but since completion had nowhere safe to go. Sir Munby was clear in showing the shame and embarrassment he felt at the failure to provide care. Moreover, he stated that government will have ‘blood on our hands’ if a 17-year old girl who is an overwhelmingly high risk to herself and others cannot be given the requisite care and support – at the time of the case she had harmed herself 102 times in the last 6 months and assaulted staff 45 times.
He highlighted his disgust at the ‘disgraceful’ lack of support services so desperately needed for vulnerable young people. He continued by stating that “our children and young people are our future, X is our future.”
The lack of care available for the young woman caused the judge to urge the government to question any right the UK has as a country to present themselves as civilised, suggesting that an inability to provide care for those most vulnerable is an affront to any pretence of basic human decency.
Earlier this week, government accepted that they needed to take on thousands more mental health staff to improve the current stark imbalance between mental and physical health care in the UK.
At the end of the week, NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens announced the decision for the NHS to fund the preventative HIV treatment Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) after losing a legal battle to force local authorities to pay for the drug.
The NHS had previously argued that local councils in control of preventative health should foot the bill. They also claimed that paying for this £5,000 per year drug would require cuts to be made to other specialised treatments such as cancer treatments, stem cell research and treatments for children with cystic fibrosis. However, last year the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision that said the NHS has the power to pay for the drug.
The conclusion of the appeal case itself did not mean that the treatment would be automatically funded by the NHS, but rather that it would be put on a list of specialised treatments to be considered for funding. However, this week’s announcement has ensured that the drug will be funded and trialled in England soon.
The introduction of the treatment has been hailed as pivotal in transforming HIV treatment with Shadow Public Health Minister Sharon Hodgson saying the trial is ‘long overdue’ as it will open the way for those with HIV-positive sexual partners to be given the drug.
However, the fact that it required a legal battle in the first place has raised criticism. Ian Green, executive of the HIV charity The Terrence Higgins Trust, has expressed that the conduct shown by NHS England around the funding of this treatment reminds us of the stigma which still surrounds HIV and its treatment in this country.
NHS England will begin to fund PrEP from September 2017.
Words: Alicia Gibson