Notes from the Chair
What would you fight for?
Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC in Conversation
Clifford Chance, 11 April 2017
Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC should need no introduction to any room filled with practitioners and students of the law, nor to members of the Human Rights Lawyers Association. (If you aren’t already a member, you should be. Sign up now.)
Our founding President since 2003, the leaders of the HRLA could then – and now – find no more appropriate leader of an association of legal professionals dedicated to the practice of human rights law in the UK.
Although now a proud grandfather – Anthony has been called, with honour, the father of human rights in this country.
It was in 1968 he first posited the case for a Bill of Rights in the United Kingdom, building on our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. He worked for over four decades to secure the passage of what would become the Human Rights Act 1998. He appeared in many of the leading cases which integrate both ECHR and EU law with the law in the England and Wales both before and after the passage of the HRA 1998; and has worked to protect individual rights in courts domestic, international and European throughout his career.
As lawmaker – a life Peer since 1993 – he has been involved in, if not responsible for many of the rights building and rights respecting law reforms of the 20th and 21st Century.
The HRLA was delighted to host last night’s event to talk about his latest book. Not an autobiography but a manifesto – Five Ideas to Fight For – written with Zoe McCallum, for One World Publishing. The book is a modern call to arms for all who believe in liberal democracy.
I took particular pleasure in being able to join Anthony in conversation. His personal impact on my own career has been immeasurable. He gave me my first job as a lawyer, in his political office, The Odysseus Trust. Fresh from university, he hired me when I had far more passion and enthusiasm than skill.
Working with Anthony helped me understand both how the law could be a positive force for good and how committed individuals could work to affect good law by a combination of skilled lawyering, activism and political realism.
The Odysseus Trust to-do list for 2000 – 2001 – a crucial year when the HRA had its official birthday – might give you an idea of Anthony’s work rate and his commitment. The office – through Anthony’s political work at Westminster strived to put pressure on the Government to get the HRA right – including honouring its commitment to establish both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and what would become, eventually, the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act; the Freedom of Information Act; the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act; and the implementation of the International Criminal Court Statute – in the aptly titled – International Criminal Court Act 2000 rounded out a fairly full year.
On the morning of 9/11, I was in a meeting for the Odysseus Trust with a visiting Human Rights Commissioner from either Australia or Canada when it became clear that something monumental had happened. For the greater part of 2001-02, the work of the Trust was dominated by the Government’s new Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, its proposals for arbitrary detention of terrorist suspects and a whole panoply of other draconian and knee-jerk legislative responses to the then nascent “war on terror”. Yet, that year also saw the publication of a carefully drafted Private Members Civil Partnerships Bill designed – successfully – to drive forward the conversation on legal recognition for same-sex partnerships. The groundwork was laid for a model Single Equality Bill to be tabled the following year. That both of these projects eventually became Government Bills in some form are testament to Anthony’s ability to help inform necessary law reform.
However, Lord Lester’s commitment to the evolution of the law has reached beyond the development of jurisprudence and statute and into support for the next generation of lawyers committed to human rights in the UK and overseas. The Odysseus Trust alone has an alumnus of former employees which ranges from the respected echelons of academia through both professions; into government, public agencies and the third sector.
For my own part – I was deeply impressed that – as a fairly chippy Glaswegian post-graduate, even before I entered his employ, Anthony found the time to enter into a lengthy correspondence about the finer points of how the judiciary might grapple with Section 6 of the HRA 1998, then not in force. Having helped draft it, I never thought that a Peer of the realm might help me prepare my own thoughts in advance of my Masters exams. However, that he did; at length, and with an enthusiasm untempered by my own, then clumsy articulation.
His humanity and enthusiasm also shone through shortly after the deeply damp, and entirely depressing North London bedsit I then inhabited was burgled. Anthony arrived late to the office one morning, clutching a sheaf of estate agent’s flyers. South London was the place to be. Herne Hill was terribly lovely, and very convenient for the buses.
I hope that in the course of last night’s conversation, we encouraged our members to further commit to the cause of human rights protection in the law. I hope that those who attended – or who will listen to the recording online – will enjoy getting to know Anthony both as a brilliant inspiring legal mind and as a dedicated human of the best possible kind.
Angela Patrick, Chair, Human Rights Lawyers Association
12 April 2017
New Chair of the Human Rights Lawyers’ Association
Today we are excited to announce that the new Chair of the Human Rights Lawyers Association will be Angela Patrick, of Doughty Street Chambers.
Angela has served on the Executive Committee since 2011 and was appointed Vice-Chair in January. She brings a breadth of human rights experience to the role, as counsel, as a legal adviser to Parliament and as an advocate and litigator in the third sector.
We are grateful to Emma Fenelon, of 1 Crown Office Row, who will reprise the role of Vice-Chair of the organisation.
Eeva Heikkilä has acted as Chair for over two years and the Executive Committee is grateful to her for her commitment, time and energy.
Accepting her appointment as Chair, Angela Patrick said:
“As human rights law remains under political pressure; the skill, commitment and professionalism of human rights lawyers is needed more than ever.
The Human Rights Lawyers Association plays a crucial role. We bring together lawyers from across the professions; from practice and academia; Government and NGOs; law centres and the city, each using human rights law to protect individual rights and the rule of law.
I am delighted to take the Chair and excited to work with the Executive Committee on a great programme for 2017.”
Executive Committee, The Human Rights Lawyers’ Association
1 March 2017
Human Rights Lawyers’ Association hosted on 13 September an event with Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and the newly appointed director of Liberty, Martha Spurrier. In the wide ranging discussion the two eminent legal minds dissected the most pressing human rights concerns of today, Martha Spurrier highlighting in particular the importance to campaign against the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998, the dangers of Brexit and the need to fight for legal aid. She noted in particular the need to fight abuse of state power in the context of prisons, the police and mental health institutions. She told the audience that Liberty will be focusing on the Counter Extremism Bill and the Investigatory Powers Bill, noting that the Counter Extremism Bill appears to be “an Orwellian attempt to police thought”. There can be no doubt that Liberty will remain at the forefront of protection and promotion of human rights under the leadership of Ms Spurrier.
On 3 May 2016, HRLA and Article 19 co-organised an event on the effects that the UK’s Extremism Bill could have on freedom of expression. In today’s political climate, it is difficult to see a topic that would be more pertinent. The proposed Extremism Bill would outlaw vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs; and introduce legislation to combat groups and individuals who reject our values and promote messages of hate. From the debate it is clear that the terms contained in the Bill are deemed too vague and its scope too broad. It was suggested that while the measures proposed in the Bill may not only be counterproductive, but also unlawful, other, more effective, avenues remain to tackle the ills of hate speech and extremism.
On 9 March the Human Rights Lawyers Association held an event to discuss the right to privacy and the increasing government surveillance. The debate this evening revealed the astounding challenges the governments face in keeping our data protected while at the same time maintaining the ability to intercept our private communications and data to stave off threats to security. We heard how bulk surveillance is not a guarantee of safety; targeted, good quality surveillance is. The judicial standards of interception, oversight and accountability must be set higher than where they are now. The role of the legal community is to make sure the investigatory powers reach only as far as they must. There is not a more dangerous breach of security than wanton trespassing into the lives of private citizens.
Elected Chair of the HRLA
Angela Patrick is a barrister specialising in public law, civil liberties and human rights. She is a member of Doughty Street Chambers. Until 2016, she was Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE and was previously a legal adviser to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Angela is published widely on human rights and equality issues and is a contributing author to Human Rights Practice (Sweet & Maxwell).