20 June 2024

Downstream Emissions as Climate Impacts

In a 3-2 majority, the UK Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling today, significantly impacting the consideration of climate impacts in the oil and gas licensing process. While the Government’s approach so far has been to only consider exploration and production emissions, the Court’s decision establishes that emissions resulting from burning the produced oil and gas (regardless of where it occurs) have to also be considered. The ruling is significant as it is the first highest court decision to adopt this interpretation on climate impacts of fossil fuel production. It will no doubt have a knock-on effect on at least three other cases pending before lower courts in the UK, and potentially affect cases both within and outside the European Union.

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03 June 2024

Deepfakes, the Weaponisation of AI Against Women and Possible Solutions

In January 2024, social media platforms were flooded with intimate images of pop icon Taylor Swift, quickly reaching millions of users. However, the abusive content was not real; they were deepfakes – synthetic media generated by artificial intelligence (AI) to depict a person’s likeness. But the threat goes beyond celebrities. Virtually anyone (with women being disproportionately targeted) can be a victim of non-consensual intimate deepfakes (NCID). Albeit most agree that companies must be held accountable for disseminating potentially extremely harmful content like NCIDs, effective legal responsibility mechanisms remain elusive. This article proposes concrete changes to content moderation rules as well as enhanced liability for AI providers that enable such abusive content in the first place.

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14 May 2024

Bend it like Britain?

After months of parliamentary ping-pong, the UK Parliament passed the “Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act” in late April. Not even two weeks later, 66 persons were detained to be deported to Rwanda, and the FDA launched an unprecedented legal action before the High Court, claiming the Act conflicts with the Civil Service Code obligation to “uphold the rule of law and administration of justice.” By seeking to avoid the prohibition of refoulement, the Act undermines both core principles of the rule of law and disapplies fundamental human rights protections. This blog post discusses key provisions of the new Act, the concerns they raise and some remaining avenues for legal challenges.

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06 May 2024

Unconstitutionality à l’Anglaise

After long and tortuous proceedings in Parliament, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 finally received Royal Assent on Thursday 25 April. There are so many problems with the Act and they are so fundamental that there has been speculation that the courts might refuse to apply some of the Act’s provisions. In this blogpost, I suggest that aside from the ‘hard-line’ approach of striking down or disapplying the statute in whole or in part, the courts also have a ‘soft-line’ option of declaring its unconstitutionality without denying its status as binding law. I explain how such an intervention might fit into the constitutional tradition of the UK and what may make it attractive in the case at hand.

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03 May 2024
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The UK Parliament, the UK-Rwanda Agreement and the CPTPP

On April 1, 2024, the Ponsonby Rule, the constitutional convention that set the standard for Parliament’s role in how the UK makes treaties, turned 100. But the procedure for Parliament’s involvement in treaty-making is no longer fit for purpose. As the UK-Rwanda and CPTPPP Agreements show, the UK Parliament’s role in treaty-making must be reformed. In particular, the House of Commons must obtain the power to have a formal vote on international agreements before they can become binding on the UK.

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29 February 2024

When Treaties are Forbidden

A few months ago the UK’s Supreme Court held that the Secretary of State’s policy to remove protection seekers to Rwanda to have their claims determined there was unlawful. The British government responded to this decision with a Treaty and Bill that seek to legislate the fiction, or indeed, the falsehood, of Rwanda’s safety. This move demonstrates the fragility of the rule of law, both domestically and internationally. Addressing the latter, this essay shifts focus from domestic challenges to international ones, exploring whether STCs could be contested as ‘forbidden treaties’.

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Humanitarian Externalisation

Why are the reasons given in support of the declared aim of the current asylum policies in the UK, EU and USA of breaking the business model of smugglers expressed in humanitarian terms? It is, no doubt, tempting to simply dismiss this humanitarian rhetoric as hypocrisy, as the compliment that vice pays to virtue. Yet however justified that dismissal may be in particular cases, to turn away too quickly from this phenomenon would be to miss something of political significance in its form and to fail to register the historical entanglement of humanitarianism and border externalisation.

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27 February 2024

Abschreckung um jeden Preis?

Zurzeit berät das Oberhaus des britischen Parlaments (House of Lords) die sog. Safety of Rwanda Bill. Zusammen mit dem Illegal Immigration Act soll dieses Gesetz die Abschiebung von Flüchtlingen nach Ruanda ermöglichen, um dort deren Asylverfahren durchzuführen. Während entsprechende Pläne auch in Deutschland Anklang finden, zeigt das Gesetzesvorhaben in bedenkenswerter Deutlichkeit, welche rechtsstaatlichen Konsequenzen mit einem solchen Outsourcing von Asylverfahren verbunden sind. Denn um einen möglichst wirksamen Abschreckungseffekt auf andere Flüchtende zu erzielen, haben die britische Regierung und das Unterhaus des Parlaments (House of Commons) bereits dafür gestimmt, Tatsachen zu erfinden, Grundrechte außer Kraft zu setzen und internationales Recht zu brechen.

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26 February 2024

Rethinking the Law and Politics of Migration

2023 was, to put it mildly, a terrible year for (im)migrants and their human rights. With the declared end of the Covid pandemic came an end to the exceptional border policies it had led to which had further restricted already weakened migrants’ rights. Yet governments have largely chosen to replace them with legal frameworks that incorporated many of the same rights negating policies and ideas- except for this time they put them on a permanent legal basis. Liberated from their initial emergency rationales, asylum bans have now joined outsourcing and overpopulated mass detention camps as standard methods of migration governance. What is the role of legal scholarship and discourse at a time where governments seem increasingly comfortable to eschew many long-standing legal rules and norms, often with majority support?

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15 January 2024
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Legislating fiction

Members of Parliament in the UK will on 16 and 17 January 2024 debate the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which ‘gives effect to the judgement of Parliament that the Republic of Rwanda is a safe country’ for asylum-seekers. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in November 2023 that Rwanda was manifestly not safe as asylum seekers sent to the country would face a real risk of ill-treatment due to insufficient guarantees against refoulement. The Bill thus aims to use law to determine a factual situation for as long as the law is in force. This blog discusses the risks inherent in creating such a ‘legal fiction’ and how the Bill could be revised to mitigate this risk, before assessing the chances of it becoming law in the currently turbulent political context.

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21 December 2023
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Avoiding the Legacy of Impunity

This week for the second time in history the Irish Government has announced its intention to lodge an Inter-State application against the United Kingdom before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Irish government argues that the Northern Ireland Troubles (Reconciliation and Legacy) Act 2023 which was enacted in September 2023 and provides an extensive conditional amnesty is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

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20 November 2023
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Supreme Judgecraft

In R (on the application of AAA (Syria) and others) the UK Supreme Court held that the Secretary of State’s policy to remove protection seekers to Rwanda was unlawful. Rwanda is not, at present, a safe third country. There are, the Supreme Court found, “substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that asylum claims will not be determined properly, and that asylum seekers will in consequence be at risk of being returned directly or indirectly to their country of origin.” Should this occur “refugees will face a real risk of ill-treatment in circumstances where they should not have been returned at all.” We argue that the Supreme Court’s legal reasoning and evidential assessment are both impeccable, applying legal principles that are well-embedded in international and domestic law to very clear evidence. However, the UK government’s responses are deeply troubling, from the perspectives of refugee protection, international legality, and the rule of law in the UK.

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19 November 2023

Magical Thinking and Obsessive Desires

Two days before the UK Supreme Court declared the government’s Rwanda policy unlawful, PM Rishi Sunak rid himself of his Home Secretary, Suella Braverman. The sacking, the ruling, and the aftermath demonstrate both a key division in the Conservative Party and illustrate the choice it faces on the kind of politics it will promote after the next election: socially liberal technocratic nationalism (the Sunak option) or illiberal ‘culture war’ nationalism (the Braverman faction). The Supreme Court’s judgment raises the stakes in this conflict because its grounds for ruling the Rwanda Plan unlawful appear to provide ammunition for the radical illiberal wing of the Conservative Party.

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17 November 2023
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Defeat in the Supreme Court

On 15 November 2023, the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) unanimously declared the government’s policy of removing some asylum seekers to Rwanda to process their claims  unlawful. Like the Court of Appeal, it found substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers would face a real risk of ill-treatment because of insufficient guarantees against refoulement. This post explores the origin and significance of the UKSC judgment and the legal and policy implications of the UK government’s immediate response to it. 

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13 November 2023
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A Primer on the UK Online Safety Act

The Online Safety Act (OSA) has now become law, marking a significant milestone in platform regulation in the United Kingdom. The OSA introduces fresh obligations for technology firms to address illegal online content and activities, covering child sexual exploitation, fraud, and terrorism, adding the UK to the array of jurisdictions that have recently introduced new online safety and platform accountability regulations. However, the OSA is notably short on specifics. In this post, we dissect key aspects of the OSA structure and draw comparisons with similar legislation, including the EU Digital Services Act (DSA).

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08 August 2023

(In)tolerance to Civil Disobedience in the UK

Disruptive environmental protest has become a hugely controversial issue in the UK, both politically and legally. It is likely to be a wedge issue in the upcoming General Election. Both major political parties are talking tough on the issue, and the government has instituted draconian new laws. The courts, for their part, are permitting ever more 'Mega Persons Unknown injunctions' and imposing increasingly longer prison terms for peaceful – but disruptive – protests. Part of this is an international trend, caused by the indisputable evidence of global warming and the increasingly activist environmental movement. But from a UK practitioner’s perspective, it is deeply worrying that there are now a large number of peaceful protesters in the prison system, or facing huge bills for legal costs, or both.

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16 May 2023

Please Be Kind and Polite. Or Else…

Britain loves to project an image of polite calmness; of a stiff upper lip; of tea, crumpets, and lashings of ginger beer. The Paddington the Bear Twitter account epitomised this sentiment on the morning of the Coronation, reminding people to ‘be kind and polite today.’ Yet in England's green and pleasant land, as loyal British subjects scoffed their scones, quaffed their Pimm’s and raised a glass to their new Monarch, it was not soft-power but good ol’ fashioned state violence that ensured the historical Coronation went off without a hitch.

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05 May 2023
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The UK vs the ECtHR

In recent months, the UK government has tabled two Bills - the Bill of Rights Bill and the Illegal Migration Bill - before Parliament which would have the consequence - and almost certainly have the intention - of setting the UK on a collision course with the Council of Europe, and especially the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This post details how these Bills serve to undermine the UK’s obligations under the ECHR and explains their significance within the larger debate surrounding the UK’s possible withdrawal from the Convention. It places this debate in the context of the rarely-convened Council of Europe summit of heads of state and government in Reykjavik in May 2023, whose ambitious agenda is to protect the ‘common heritage’ of respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and other existential threats.

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19 April 2023