Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1985]

English Constitutional Law

Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1985]
‘Yarra Bank (Trade Union) Meeting’ by Patrick Harford

Executive powers and national security form the footing of this call for judicial review under the argument that changes to civil servant working conditions were executed without due consideration for those affected.

In a relationship with a chequered history it was decided by the Minister of the Civil Service (aka Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher) that since the previous strike actions of key staff within the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had proven destructive, it was necessary to execute instructions to ban any affiliation by government employees with trade unions of any sort, and while this unprecedented move was carried out under legitimate sovereign powers, it directly conflicted with the principle that governmental decisions were first offered to consultation with the trade unions as an inherent duty to exercise fairness when carrying out executive function.

On this occasion the instructions were carried out under art.4 of the Civil Service Order 1982 but orally released within the House of Commons, and so greeted with natural anger and confusion, while the aim of this sudden prohibition was simply to circumvent open discussion in lieu of avoiding future strike actions now considered a significant threat to national security.

When heard at court level the presiding judge had held that the instructions were issued on grounds demonstrating no effort toward consultation and were therefore invalid in their application, while under challenge the Court of Appeal had held that the executive action itself was not exempt from judicial review because the order came from prerogative powers rather than statute, and that despite the latter source forming the premise for most reviews, the Court saw no distinction between a self-executed order and that of an act of Parliament.

In response the defence used by the Minister for the Civil Service relied upon operational safety measures, and how under those circumstances it was felt that the same people responsible for the previous compromises were right to be excluded from using consultation as leverage to create further damage, while it was further argued that any discussions between trade unions and Government would have amounted to the same outcome regardless of protests by those affected. 

This position was further supported by the fact that s.(a) and (a)(ii) of art.4 of the Order in Council 1982 allowed the Minister to create regulations controlling the conduct of those employed, therefore denial of trade union membership lawfully fell within those remits.

When the Court upheld the Minister’s actions, the appellants pressed the issue, whereupon the House of Lords sought to establish whether (i) judicial review was necessary, and (ii) whether the respondents had acted in manner that precluded fairness and a duty to follow precedent, after which it was held that while the avoidance of discussion demonstrated a clear breach of that duty, it was not the responsibility of the courts to determine what constituted a threat to national security and that the executive itself was empowered to prove or disprove itself as to its own actions, all of which led the House to conclude that:

“[W]here a question as to the interest of national security arises in judicial proceedings the court has to act on evidence.”

A v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004]

English Constitutional Law

A v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004]
‘Freedom’ by Abed Alem

The unlawful detention of individuals suspected of terrorist activity is central to this collective appeal amidst the unprecedented attacks of September 11th 2001 in New York, when in light of this historic event the United Kingdom took swift measures to derogate from their commitment to the Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act 1998.

Following a number of arrests, there were nine men of various nationalities detained under s.23 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. In order to facilitate such action the Home Secretary had worked closely with Parliament to both execute and enact Part 4 of the 2001 Act, which provided powers to issue freezing orders upon those suspected of threats to the stability or security of the country. To further support this measure, statutory instrument SI/2001/3644 (also known as the ‘Derogation Order’) was drafted as to allow for specific actions peripheral to the Human Rights Act 1998 where those suspected were subject to the terms of the 2001 Act.

Prior to this amendment it was only possible under para.2(2) of sch.3 of the Immigration Act 1971 for the Secretary of State to detain non-British nationals while awaiting deportation, and such action was only deemed justifiable for a reasonable period of time, as this allowed the United Kingdom to remain fully compliant with its obligations to the ECHR, in particular art.5(1) (Right to liberty and security). However, in Chahal v United Kingdom Parliament attempted to circumvent art.3 of the Convention (No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) in order to excessively detain and deport a Sikh separatist on grounds of an affiliation to terrorism, but were overruled by the EU Commission on democratic principles.

In this instance the appellants were challenging the derogation from ECHR principles for the purposes of detainment and deportation of foreign nationals, on grounds that the United Kingdom was not in a state of public emergency as required by art.15(1) of the Convention, and that further clarification of that article had been found in The Greek Case, where the Commission had explained that:

“Such a public emergency may then be seen to have, in particular, the following characteristics: (1) It must be actual or imminent. (2) Its e­ffects must involve the whole nation. (3) The continuance of the organised life of the community must be threatened. (4) The crisis or danger must be exceptional, in that the normal measures or restrictions, permitted by the Convention for the maintenance of public safety, health and order, are plainly inadequate.”

It was thus contended that none of the above elements were visible when derogating from the ECHR and applying the terms of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 in order to both arrest and detain the appellants, and further noted that recent ministerial statements indicated that the United Kingdom was under no immediate threat, and so while alert to international attacks they had no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Having considered the voluminous evidence provided by both sides, and the decision taken by the Court of Appeal, the House of Lords reemphasised the course of action taken by the Secretary of State, who had countered that failure to adopt a pre-emptive state of emergency was tantamount to a breach of national security. And so while no immediate evidence suggested imminent danger to the general public and economic infrastructure, proportionate measures taken, now far outweighed the argument for adherence to Convention policy, despite overwhelming disagreement by the European Commission. 

There was also discussion around unlawful use of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) as provided for in s.24 of the 2001 Act, who were granted exclusive jurisdiction over the rights and appeals of detainees, as opposed to referral to the courts, which was another obvious attempt to circumvent due process under principles of national security.

With knowledge of deviant use of policy and a flagrant appreciation of the English judicial system the House unanimously allowed the appeals, while quashing the Derogation Order and declaring s.23 of the Ant-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 incompatible with arts.5 and 14 of the ECHR on grounds of discrimination through the use of immigration status, before reminding the court that:

“[A] non-national who faces the prospect of torture or inhuman treatment if returned to his own country, and who cannot be deported to any third country and is not charged with any crime, may not under article 5(1)(f) of the Convention and Schedule 3 to the Immigration Act 1971 be detained here even if judged to be a threat to national security.”