Human Rights in Ireland welcomes this guest post from Darragh Coffey. Darragh is a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Law, Darwin College, University of Cambridge.
The Court of Appeal is currently hearing arguments as to whether a man alleged to have links to the so-called Islamic State (IS) should be deported. While many of the facts of the current case, including the state to which the man is to be deported, remain subject to reporting restrictions, a number of issues are clear: The Government allege that the man in question poses a threat to national security and on that basis seek his deportation. For his part, the man claims that he has previously been tortured in the country to which he is to be sent and that if he is deported he will face a real risk of being ill-treated again due to the allegations of his links to IS, which he denies. Such challenges to deportation orders are not uncommon in European states; a notable example was the United Kingdom’s embattled attempt to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan which was finally successful in 2012.
Like the United Kingdom and all other EU member states, Ireland is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The central legal issue in cases such as this stems from Article 3 of that Convention and the 1989 decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Soering v UK. Article 3 States that ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ The Soering case established that if an ECHR contracting state expels an individual to another state where substantial grounds exist for believing that he or she would face a real risk of suffering treatment proscribed by Article 3, then the ECHR contracting state would violate that provision by so doing.
The European Court of Human Rights has therefore read an implicit prohibition of return to a risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment into the text of Article 3. Furthermore in 1996 and again in 2008 the Strasbourg Court held that this implicit ban on sending individuals to states where they may be ill treated is absolute. In other words the behaviour of the individual or the threat that he or she poses to the host state, no matter how serious, cannot be taken into account to justify the deportation if there is a real risk that he or she will be ill treated. Article 3 therefore enshrines a very robust and not uncontroversial protection against return to ill treatment.
This means that if, in the case currently before the Court of Appeal, the applicant’s legal team can show substantial grounds for believing that he will be at real risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment following deportation, then according to long standing jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights –and contrary to the High Court’s finding on Monday– the threat that he poses to Irish national security cannot be taken into account when deciding whether or not he should be deported. If the existence of such a real risk is established the Irish Government simply cannot deport him to the proposed receiving state without violating Ireland’s human rights obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. On Wednesday, 30 December, the European Court of Human Rights indicated a rule 39 interim measure to the Irish Government, which means that even if the injunction is lifted by the Court of Appeal the Government cannot, without violating the European Convention, deport the man until his case has been fully heard.
This case provides an example of the friction that can often arise between national security and the protection of individual human rights. In many ECHR contracting states deportation is often the preferred option in national security cases. This is because information indicating that the person is a threat may be inadmissible as evidence in a criminal trial or because such a trial may require the disclosure of information that could jeopardise on-going security operations. Because of these sensitivities some governments feel it vital to maintain the ability to deport individuals identified as threats to national security. The restraint of deportations under the ECHR has therefore long caused consternation among some ECHR contracting states where deportation plays a significant role in counterterrorism policy. This has seen the advent of the negotiation of diplomatic agreements with potential receiving states and the use of special closed-evidence tribunals such as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in the UK. The outcome of the current case may raise important questions about how the Irish legal system is equipped to handle such challenges.
This note is based on MacMenamin J.’s decision, available here. SCOIRL have a succinct post on the outcome in this case. A decision was also given by McKechnie J, and is not yet available. However, I understand that McKechnie J. came to the same conclusion, albeit for different reasons. With thanks to Patricia Brazil for providing me with a copy of the available decision. As this is a longer post that usual, you can find a copy of this post here.
On Friday, 13 March 2015, the Supreme Court gave an important decision in the case of O’Donnell v South Dublin County Council (not yet on courts.ie, Irish Times report here). The case revolved around the statutory duties upon South Dublin County Council (SDCC) in the area of housing and Traveller accommodation. The High Court, in a number of cases: Doherty v SDCC (2007), O’Donnell v SDCC (2007) (Laffoy J.) and O’Donnell v SDCC (2008) (Edwards J) (discussed here, pp 13-14), considered the duties of local authorities under Irish housing law and the impact of the ECHR Act 2003. The Irish Supreme Court have been exceptionally conservative when it has come to interpreting the Constitution as providing any form of socio-economic rights duties on the State.
The European Court of Human Rights has been reluctant to interfere with decisions of state/local housing authorities in the housing law arena. The ECtHR has stated that Article 3 and Article 8 ECHR cannot be interpreted as providing a duty on the State to provide everybody with a home, unless there are very exceptional circumstances at play (see, M.S.S. v Belgium and Greece, discussed in detail here).
The decision on Friday, 13 March 2015 in O’Donnell v South Dublin County Council provides at least a signal, that in very exceptional circumstances, legislative duties coupled with constitutional/ECHR rights may protect socio-economic rights. However, as will become clear below, the decision has not resulted in the provision of accommodation to Ellen (or other members of the O’Donnell family) and Ellen continues to live in accommodation that is inhuman and degrading. Continue reading “Socio-Economic Rights, the Constitution and the ECHR Act 2003: O’Donnell v South Dublin County Council in the Supreme Court”
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has today handed down a decision in O’Keeffe v Ireland. The facts of the case are generally that Louise O’Keeffe was subject to horrific sexual abuse by a school principle in a national school in the 1970s. A core question (played out also in the national courts) was whether Ireland failed in its legal obligations towards Louise O’Keeffe. Conor O’Mahony of UCC Law Faculty discussed this issue in his 2009 article (available here) rightly pointing out how the European Court of Human Rights would ultimately decide the issue.
The European Court of Human Rights judgment is complex, however one of the key parts of the decision is a finding that Ireland violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (press release here). Article 3 ECHR states:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Analysis of this decision will take some time, and this post is just to highlight to readers the significance of this case, where the judgment was released about 1 hour ago. Ireland has been found to have failed to have in place proper systems to prevent or punish sexual abuse in this particular case, where the sexual abuse took place in the early 1970s. This State has been judged by the European Court of Human Rights to have failed in its positive obligations towards Louise O’Keeffe to prevent and punish the torture, inhuman and degrading treatment that she suffered.
Ireland also violated Article 13 ECHR, which obliges the State to provide an effective remedy to complaints of rights violations.
In recent months the issue of inquiries into killings or torture which either involved, or which were strongly suspected of involving, the UK’s armed forces, police and security services, has seemed almost as regular a feature of newspaper stories as the state of the Euro Zone. Many of these stories come from Northern Ireland, including the re-opening of the Ballymurphy Inquests (into the deaths of eleven people shot dead by UK armed forces on the Ballymurphy estate during Operation Demetrius in 1971) and the pressure on the UK Government to hold a full Public Inquiry into allegations of police collusion in the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane (pictured above left) in 1989. At the end of October, David Cameron rejected Geraldine Finucane’s ongoing efforts to secure a full public inquiry into her husband’s murder (instead a QC will review UK Government papers regarding the murder). Continue reading “Death, Torture and the UK's "Inquiries Industry"”