PolLaw Express: 17th July edition

Your daily dose of politics and the law. NI intrigued? Covered. UK focused? Sure. US-centric? You got it.

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Welcome to the daily news round-up via my e-newspaper. Here are the top stories from today:

1. High Court rules data retention and surveillance legislation unlawful (via The Guardian)
~ There was an important legal victory for both Conservative MP David Davis and Labour’s Tom Watson (currently leading in the race to become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party) who had argued that there were ‘insufficient’ privacy safeguards in the emergency surveillance legislation introduced last year by the coalition government. The High Court ruled today that the lack of such privacy safeguards both is unlawful and inconsistent with current EU law.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (otherwise referred to as Dripa) requires internet and phone companies to keep their communications data for a year and also regulates how police and intelligence agencies may gain access to it. The two MPs had said the judgment clearly underlined the need for prior authorisation by a judge before officers are permitted to examine the retained information from the internet, social media or phone calls.

The Home Office, however, has since stated it would seek to appeal against the ruling, warning that this ruling may now result in police and agency investigators losing data that could potentially save lives and ensure the protection of national security. In bringing forth the judicial challenge, the MPs had argued that Dripa provided legal grounds for the police and security services to spy on UK citizens without sufficient privacy safeguards. They argued the legislation was in fact incompatible with Art 8 of the ECHR, that of the right to respect for private and family life, and also violated Arts 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, being the right for respect for private and family life and protection of personal data respectively.

Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Collins declared that section 1 of Dripa ‘does not lay down clear and precise rules providing for access to and use of communications data’ and consequently should be ‘disapplied’. The judges said that the order should now be suspended until after the 31st March 2016 in order to to give Parliament the ‘opportunity to put matters right’.

Parliament will now have to revisit and revise Dripa.


2. Review of Freedom of Information laws announced (via BBC News)
~Following in the theme of civil rights, the freedom to request information from the government, available to all citizens, could soon be curtailed. This could come about following the decision of the review of Freedom of Information laws launched today.

This Review is launched amid continued concerns within government that ‘sensitive information’ is being inadequately protected. It wills seek to examine and assess whether current disclosure rules which have been in force since 2005, are working in the public interest.

The passing of the Freedom of Information Act in 2000, which gave anyone the right to access recorded information held by government and other public sector bodies, is regarded one of the biggest achievements of the last Labour government. Interestingly enough, this comes following recent comments made by former Prime Minister Tony Blair that he considers the law as one of his ‘biggest regrets’. He has recently argued that the Freedom of Information Act, instead of promoting accountability and public scrutiny, has actually had the effect of denying civil servants a ‘safe space’ to properly advise ministers, fearing that this advice could become public in time.

Conservative ministers have previously expressed concerns about the law, specifically that exemptions – particularly  those relating to policy formulation and the exercise of a ministerial veto in the public interest – have been eroded by recent  court judgements. This, it has been argued, is evidenced by the recent decision of the Supreme Court to lift the ban on the release of correspondence between the Prince of Wales and ministers – the ‘Black Spider’ memos.


3. CBI urges Cameron to lift skilled migrant limit (via BBC News)
~ The CBI has stated that Prime Minister David Cameron is actually risking the economic recovery of the UK in his refusal to lift the cap on skilled foreign workers coming into the country to work.

CBI director general John Cridland today urged the Prime Minister to ‘push it up and give a bit of headroom’ as it becomes clear that the monthly limit on visas was reached for the first time since its introduction: in June and already again during the first few weeks of this month. As many as 20 firms have complained that due to the cap, they cannot bring the staff their business requires into the UK.

Cridland said that the 20,700 annual limit on Tier 2 business visas was acceptable in times when the country was enduring recession, but it was too tight and not suitable for a growing economy, such as the economy currently being witnessed in the UK.

He did, however, decline to suggest how high the cap should be and said this was a matter for the Migration Advisory Committee to decide. Cridland did attack the government’s policy of targeting net migration. He said the government should be instead focusing on gross migration.

In June, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire stated that there were ‘no plans to change the limit’ on the cap. In addition, the government had asked the Migration Advisory Committee to find ways to ‘significantly reduce economic migration from outside the EU’.


4. Carney indicates interest rates may rise ‘at turn of the year’ (via BBC News)
~ The Governor of the UK’s largest central bank, the Bank of England, has suggested that UK interest rates could rise ‘at the turn of this year’.

He stated that he believes rates could rise over the next three years and reach ‘about half as high as historical averages’ – or about 2% – in during a speech made at Lincoln Cathedral.

But he did add his belief that any shocks to the fragile economy could change the timing and the size of planned/considered any rate rise.

Interest rates have been at 0.5% for six years as the UK economy recovers from the financial crisis.

Carney’s comments come a day after unemployment rose for the first time in two years.

You can read my take on the comments and potential rise in interest rates at my blog post here.


5. UK ‘strikes deal’ over Greece bailout (via BBC News)
~ A legally binding agreement has been struck to protect UK taxpayers’ money from the impact of the Greek bailout, according to the Treasury.

Chancellor George Osborne said the ‘impregnable ring fence’ had followed ‘tough talks’ and would also apply to any future Eurozone rescue packages.

The Treasury’s announcement follows an ongoing row over the possible use of an EU-wide contingency fund to make bridging loans to Greece in an effort to prevent Grexit and the potential risk of Eurozone collapse. It centred on the use of the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM), an emergency fund set up to support any of the 28 EU member states suffering from financial difficulty.

There had been a war of words as Prime Minister David Cameron recently argued that a deal struck in 2010 should protect the UK from future Eurozone bailouts. However, EU officials had retorted by saying the European Commission has legal authority to use it for short-term loans that could be given to Greece as part of the €86 billion (£61 billion) rescue package agreed upon last Sunday.

In setting out the new deal, the Treasury stated that said EU law would be changed so that a cash fund held by the European Central Bank would cover any liabilities that would have fallen to the UK.

(The Telegraph discusses how Greek citizens have fled to the UK in a desperate attempt to find jobs and escape the ongoing debt crisis in Greece.)


6. Labour changes Welfare Bill tactics (via BBC News)
~ Poor Harriet Harman, acting leader of Labour. After agreeing with the measures included in the Chancellor’s recently announced Emergency Budget, particuarly in relation to the cuts directed towards Child Credit, she unwittingly prompted backlash and bitter rows – from within her own party. Labour has now changed its approach to the government’s Welfare Bill after this internal party row.

Three of the four Labour leadership candidates had called for a different approach to allow some elements of the Bill to be opposed, after interim leader Harriet Harman had warned against ‘blanket opposition’ to the government’s welfare reform proposals and stated Labour would back these proposals.

There will be a tabled amendment by the party leadership to determine and state which measures Labour backs, those it opposes and which it would therefore change.

Should the amendment be rejected, Labour MPs will be expected to abstain.


 To read these headlines and more besides, why not visit PolLaw Express?


PolLaw Express blog post round-ups will resume on Monday the 20th July. The e-newspaper, however, will continue to be posted over the weekend.

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