Saturday, April 12, 2008

Judges 3, Politicians 0 (again)

Another day, another few Government strategies overturned by the courts.

Thousands of failed asylum-seekers won the right to free healthcare yesterday, when the High Court ruled that restrictions on NHS treatment were unlawful. The court victory by a Palestinian, known only as A, was the latest of several judicial rulings against Government policies this week.

Regulations barring failed asylum-seekers from receiving free NHS treatment while they wait to be sent home were declared unlawful by Mr Justice Mitting. He said that guidance advising NHS trusts to charge unsuccessful asylum applicants for treatment did not apply when the person would otherwise be treated as “ordinarily resident” in the UK. The ruling affects an estimated 11,000 failed asylum-seekers whose return home has been delayed.

The Palestinian who brought the case is suffering from chronic liver disease but his return home has been held up because of the situation in the West Bank and problems with his documentation. He brought the case against the West Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, seeking to challenge their refusal to provide him with care. The trust is now providing care and the claimant is being supported financially by the Home Office pending his return home. Mr Justice Mitting granted the Department of Health, which had fought the case, permission to appeal against the ruling. Adam Hundt, the man’s solicitor, said: “ He has never broken the law and the Home Office recognises that it has to provide him with accommodation so as not to breach his human rights.

“It seems perverse that housing is considered a basic human right and that healthcare is not.”

He's right. It does seem perverse that they're given anything short of a minimum. But given that they're not allowed to work, the taxpayer has to pay, and they should not be treated inhumanely. The Afghan hijackers got asylum, which makes you wonder how anyone could be turned down. But some are, it takes years to deport them, and meanwhile we stump up for food, clothing, housing, education and healthcare.

Families of British troops killed in war zones because of faulty equipment may be able to sue the Government for a breach of human rights after a landmark High Court ruling yesterday. The court set out new grounds for legal action by stating that the Army’s duty to protect soldiers could extend to patrols outside a military base and even to a battlefield. After the judgment, some relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq — and who blame the Ministry of Defence for inadequate equipment, training or care — said they would consider bringing a group legal action.

Mr Justice Collins, in a judgment on the conduct of inquests into the deaths of service personnel, said that members of the Armed Forces serving abroad could not receive absolute protection. But he ruled that the MoD had an obligation to avoid or minimise risks to the lives of its troops, wherever they were serving, under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards the right to life.

The MoD reacted with alarm, as defence sources privately said that it raised questions over whether troops could ever be sent on operations since their protection could never be guaranteed in theatres of war.

No one, unless it be the estimable EU Referendum (IMHO the best, most serious politics blog of them all), is a greater critic of the poor kit we give our soldiers than I am. But this judgement appears to signal the end of Britain's armed forces. Doubtless some fudge will be arranged and another administrative burden added to the armed forces.

"We're going in tonight"

"Just a moment. Have you completed the risk assessment ?"

The High Court has ruled that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully by dropping a corruption inquiry into a £43bn Saudi arms deal. In a hard-hitting ruling, two High Court judges described the SFO's decision as an "outrage".

Defence firm BAE was accused of making illegal payments to Saudi officials to secure contracts, but the firm maintains that it acted lawfully. The SFO said national security would have been undermined by the inquiry.

The legal challenge had been made by Corner House and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

While I can see the appeal to our rulers of making British law applicable throughout the world (last time we tried it, it was called imperialism), I do think we should start by trying to apply UK law in the UK, an area where it seems particularly toothless, rather than in Saudi Arabia, a low-crime country which has a great deal to teach us.