Monday, 5 December 2016

Battle Over Brexit

The battle over 'Brexit' shifted focus to the Supreme Court today, but the real fight is over the terms on which the UK will continue to trade with its European neighbours.

I though the issues were summarised well in a reported conversation between Carlo Calenda, Italy's economic development minister and Boris Johnson, the UK's foreign secretary.

Calenda recalled their exchange as follows:

Johnson: "I don’t want free movement of people but I want the single market." 

Calenda. “I said, ‘No way." 

Johnson: "You’ll sell less prosecco.’ 

Calenda: "I said, OK, you’ll sell less fish and chips, but I’ll sell less prosecco to one country and you’ll sell less to 27 countries.’ 

Game, set and match to the Italian minister, if you ask me.


Safe Pair of Hands (19/11/16)Image result for UK supreme court

A confected row has broken out over comments by a judges in the UK Supreme Court (Lady Hale) who observed recently that the Brexit referendum was not legally binding.

Now the dogs in the street know this to be true, even Nigel Farage accepts the advisory nature of the EU referendum, yet some of our politicians and the right-wing press are up in arms because Lady Hale has set out the pros and cons of an appeal case that the Supreme Court has to consider in December. 

All I can say is that Lady Hale was one of the five judges who sat on the landmark FoI (Freedom of Information) case against South Lanarkshire Council back in 2013 - and that turned out OK, as regular readers know.

Read the full story via the following link to The Guardian, but if you ask me the decision is in safe hands.

Supreme court judge hints at legal hitch that could seriously delay Brexit

Lady Hale raises possibility of PM having to replace 1972 act before triggering article 50, incurring wrath of anti-EU Tories


Lady Hale is one of 11 judges due to rule on whether the government can trigger article 50 without a vote by MPs. Photograph: Supreme Court/PA

By Anushka Asthana and Rowena Mason - The Guardian

A supreme court judge has raised the prospect that Theresa May would have to comprehensively replace existing EU legislation before the government could even begin Brexit, in a move that could seriously delay the process.

In a speech that angered leave campaigners, Lady Hale said the supreme court judges could go further than simply forcing May to publish a short piece of legislation to approve the triggering of article 50.

The deputy president of the court said that next month’s case – in which the supreme court will hear the government’s appeal against a high court ruling that MPs must approve the triggering of article 50 – raised “difficult and delicate issues” about the relationship between government and parliament.

“Another question is whether it would be enough for a simple act of parliament to authorise the government to give notice, or whether it would have to be a comprehensive replacement of the 1972 act,” she said in comments to law students in Kuala Lumpur that were published online on Tuesday. The European Communities Act 1972 took the UK into the then European Economic Community.

Herald Editorial - 30 July 2013

Council budget concerns should not trump justice

SO South Lanarkshire Council has lost its Supreme Court bid to allow it to continue withholding information relating to pay scales.
Does the council leadership truly believe this legal battle amounted to £100,0000 of public money well spent?

It is very difficult to see how. The local authority, which is currently fighting a £10m back- pay claim from 1500 female staff, must have known there was a high probability of losing. After its arguments had been rejected first by the Scottish Information Commissioner and then by the Court of Session, there was clearly a substantial risk that the Supreme Court too would rule against it, but the council ploughed on regardless. Now it faces a huge legal bill at a time when money is tight.

South Lanarkshire council tax payers could be forgiven for being angry. Such a sum of money would make a significant difference to any number of cash-strapped services funded by the council. This is the council, after all, that has warned 120 jobs are at risk as part of a £12m cuts package. Its legal costs are hefty and South Lanarkshire should not have risked incurring them; instead, it should have agreed to hand over the information when the Scottish Information Commissioner ordered it to do so. 

It is not only the council's unwise decision to risk wasting money pursuing the case to the Supreme Court that is at issue. It is also the fact of having proved itself so unwilling to be open about the information in question in the first place.

South Lanarkshire is not the only council to have faced equal pay claims. Many others have had to face up to their obligations. Whichever council it may be, it is not hard to understand the dismay councillors and officials must feel at the thought of potentially having to fund costly pay-outs to some workers at a time of fiscal retrenchment, but budgetary concerns cannot be allowed to trump the interests of justice. Where there is the suspicion that women have been discriminated against by being paid less than men for doing similarly skilled jobs, every council has a duty to investigate and right any wrongs that emerge, promptly. 

Where South Lanarkshire is concerned, its vehement attempts to block publication of pay banding information that might reveal whether women have been discriminated against, leave it open to the suspicion that it is less interested in rooting out examples of sex discrimination than in keeping its bills down. That is what will infuriate workers and rightly so. The current spate of sex discrimination claims being brought against councils are about trying to put right a long-standing wrong. Councils perceived as resisting what is right, will be judged, by employees and by voters, as acting dishonourably.

The equal rights campaigner Mark Irvine has called on South Lanarkshire council leader Eddie McAvoy to resign, as being "ultimately responsible" for this waste of public money. The council certainly has questions to answer about the decision to push this serially unsuccessful case so far.

What The Papers Say (4) - 30 July 2013

South Lanarkshire Council loses pay scale disclosure challenge

A council had no right to withhold information on its salary scales from an equal pay campaigner, the UK's highest court ruled following a £100,000 legal battle.
Action 4 Equality Scotland campaigner Mark Irvine wanted to know if South Lanarkshire Council had paid more money for jobs traditionally done by men, and had asked the council for details about its pay scales in May last year.

The council refused claiming disclosure would breach the Data Protection Act, and ultimately took the Scottish Information Commissioner to the Supreme Court in London after the Commissioner said Mr Irvine had a right to the information.
The council also accused the Commissioner of "a breach of natural justice" because he did not copy its officials into all of his correspondence with Mr Irvine and two MSPs who were following the case during the course of his investigations.

Supreme Court deputy president Lady Hale today dismissed the council's arguments, and ruled that the Commissioner was right to back Mr Irvine's request for information.
The ruling states: "The Supreme Court unanimously dismisses the council's appeal.
"It holds that the Commissioner was entitled to reach his conclusion that disclosure of the information should be given by the council to Mr Irvine, and that there had been no breach of the rules of natural justice when the Commissioner did not copy the correspondence to the council."

The cost of the entire legal action is approximately £100,000, according to South Lanarkshire Council.

The Commissioner has spent £67,836 defending its ruling to date, although its costs have still to be finalised, bringing the total cost to the public purse so far to around £168,000.
The council said it is "disappointed" by the Supreme Court's decision but will now release the information "as soon as is practical".

The council had originally dismissed Mr Irvine's request as "vexatious", a legal term meaning burdensome, frivolous, annoying, disruptive, harassing, unreasonable or disproportionate, according to Commissioner guidance.

This was "principally because of Mr Irvine's blog for Action4Equality Scotland and his connections with the solicitor representing equal pay claimants against the council", the Supreme Court said.

The council later withdrew this claim and substituted it with a refusal on the grounds that it would breach the Data Protection Act (DPA), which protects the confidentiality of personal data.

It argued that "Mr Irvine had no legitimate interest in disclosure of the information and that disclosure was not necessary for the purpose of his legitimate interests".
However, the Commissioner ruled Mr Irvine did have a legitimate interest "given the considerable sums of public money involved and the fundamental issues of fair and equal treatment".

Furthermore, he could find no grounds to support the refusal on the grounds of DPA and subsequently asked for the information to be released.

The Supreme Court backed this decision today, stating: "As the processing requested would not enable Mr Irvine or anyone else to discover the identity of the data subjects, it is quite difficult to see why there is any interference with their right to respect for their private lives."
Current Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew, who took over the post from Kevin Dunion last year, said: "I am pleased that the ruling by the Supreme Court supports our own carefully considered conclusions on this case.

"While the relationship between FOI and data protection law can be complex, the Supreme Court's ruling confirms the robustness of our approach and is a clear guide to how similar cases should be handled by Scottish public authorities.

"Importantly, the ruling also means that the requester can, at long last, receive the information to which he is entitled."

In a statement on the Action4Equality website, Mr Irvine said: "After three long years, justice and common sense have finally prevailed - although no thanks to South Lanarkshire Council which has wasted over £200,000 of public money fighting this case.

"The council originally dismissed my request as 'vexatious' but now it is one of Scotland's largest council's which is left looking rather silly and, after this decision, with egg all over its face.

"The council and its political leadership have lots of questions to answer over this debacle and the terrible waste of public money involved.

"The wheels of justice turn very slowly at times, alas, but today they finally caught up with South Lanarkshire Council which should hang its head in shame."

Council leader Eddie McAvoy said: "I am very disappointed at this outcome, and all the more so because we were told repeatedly by our legal advisers that our case was sound and that there were good grounds for the council's arguments.

"Given the judges' ruling, I have instructed officers to release this information as soon as is practical."

A council spokeswoman said: "This judgment is disappointing. We have never denied this information to people with a legitimate interest in it, where it is necessary and warranted, and that's why it has been provided to those representing employees and ex-employees in tribunals.

"However, we have been acting on legal advice that, if we released it to a third party, we could be in breach of the Data Protection Act by disclosing information which could be used to identify specific people and their salaries.

"Given that concern and our legal advice, it was clear that these arguments had to be heard in the highest court in the land. Indeed, the judges make it clear that they took our arguments seriously and believed our case was worth putting before them."