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Shut up!


The Broadcasting Act 2009 contains an impractical idea; that nothing that causes “offence” should be broadcast. Section 39 reads:

“Every broadcaster shall
ensure that-

…anything which may reasonably be regarded as causing harm or offence, or as being likely to promote, or incite to, crime or as tending to undermine the authority of the State, is not broadcast by the broadcaster…”

It is impractical to limit public broadcasting to anodyne subject matter. A nation which gets anodyne broadcasting is unlikely to be healthy (socially, not to speak of mentally).

Peculiarly, the courts have had trouble understanding the Irish Constitution on the point. One judge felt that Article 40.3 (Personal Rights) was the source of the “right of free expression” as opposed to Article 40.6.1 (Freedom of Expression). He was of the view that Article 40.6.1 did not ground a right to convey information; that it related to
the expression of “opinion” as opposed to the communication of “fact”.

How would he have framed a defence of Galileo Galilei in 1633 if he had been called upon to act for him? (Galileo was of the strong opinion that it was a fact that the Earth moved about the Sun, and not the reverse).

That aside, nobody should be in a position to suppress “free speech” on the basis that it is offensive to them. That they are violent or extreme in their rejection of the communication is not, or should not be, a buttress to their claim of right to suppress free speech. Of those people, members of the political class, including the Executive, are least deserving of a hearing on the point. It is too dangerous to society to permit politicians, or anybody else, to silence the polity or any section of it.

European Arrest Warrant Act 2003: Procedures and Problems. “A Serious Trivial Problem”

In the EU, “extradition” is by means of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). Any member state may issue an EAW and request its execution in any other member state. Very serious problems can arise in the system. The EAW system is professedly based on the high regard that the national judiciaries have for each other. In fact, they do not have such a high regard for each other. Notwithstanding, like characters in a Samuel Beckett play, they “go on” with the EAW process, being rescued on occasions by indefatigable work of defence lawyers across the EU.

Fair Trials International has listed the problems HERE

Legal practitioners in Ireland will have encountered the judicial system of Poland, for instance, and have had practical experience of the disproportionate lengths to which that system follows some of its citizens. (Trivial offences can be resurrected years after the events on which they are allegedly based).

Most significantly, the inspiration of the EAW is political, not judicial but the execution is vested in the judiciary.

The Fair Trials International criticisms are as follows:

  • European Arrest Warrants have been issued many years after the alleged offence was committed.
  • Once warrants have been issued there is no effective way of removing them, even after extradition has been refused.
  • They have been used to send people to another EU member state to serve a prison sentence resulting from an unfair trial.
  • Warrants have been used to force a person to face trial when the charges are based on evidence obtained by police brutality.
  • Sometimes people surrendered under an Arrest Warrant have to spend months or even years in detention before they can appear in court to establish their innocence

There is one particular feature of the EAW that helps to propel it forward; the cost of executing an EAW falls on the receiving member state, not the requesting member state. So, think of a national service industry, generating good employment figures, whose cost is borne by another national economy; that’s the EAW.

Domestic courts in EU member states are aware of these problems. Their solution to date has been to say the problem must be corrected elsewhere. The “elsewhere”, presumably, is the European Commission or the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament. There is no sign that these institutions will even recognize the problem, let alone correct it.

The problem is very significant. At a minimum, it is evidence of an absence of any real attempt to establish ethical and practical standards for a unified legal profession in the EU.

Back to School

Photo credit; Creative Commons

Donald Trump is living proof that the relevant issue in the US presidential election race is education.
His slogan “Make America Great” is a (double) solecism. It is great because of the Constitution of the United States.

Article VI of the Constitution of the United States of America (the correct name of the country) provides;

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Ideas and “aul pencils”

“The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” So claimed Oliver Wendell Holmes.

In fact this statement contains its own contradiction; it is an idea, and the life of the law is in ideas. It is impossible to understand the world, or even a part of it, without having an idea. An idea is an abstract concept.

Take any word as an example; now put it in a sentence. Invariably, the meaning of the word will grow, or expand, when placed in the sentence. The sentence has its own meaning, of which the meaning of the word is a part.

Bertie Ahern once had an idea. He expressed it when he scoffed at “aul pencils”. His idea was to have the electorate vote by electronic machines. (The idea was not his, but he embraced it).

Someone else had a contrary idea; that no electronic voting machine was a reliable means of recording votes. This contrary idea was far more abstract than Bertie’s idea, which was constrained by the application of Bertie’s limited experience of computers to what he no doubt saw as a mundane element of government; voting him back into office.

There are many ideas in our constitution. One of them is clearly expressed in Article 15.2. It vests the sole and exclusive law-making power of the state in the Oireachtas.

This idea, as it seems, is so impractical or radical that it was necessary to “explain” it. That happened in Cityview Press v Anco [1980] IR 381.

Leaving aside what was decided in Cityview Press, the reality of law-making in Ireland is that the government (“the Executive”) decides what the law should be. The Executive is
the dominant element in the Irish state. Its members are members of the Oireachtas, but they are a very small part of it.

In its turn, the Executive relies on the civil service to implement its policies. Very often it relies on the civil service for the ideas to underpin the law. The final form of Bertie Ahern’s idea to have the electorate vote by electronic machines came from a civil servant.

So, the law providing for electronic voting did not emerge from the Oireachtas; it emerged from the place that all Irish law comes from; the Executive. (There are very significant exceptions; they will be looked at in later posts.)

There are two final points to note; every law and every proposal for a law is the expression of an idea. Anyone can have an idea superior to the idea expressed in those laws or proposals and the idea that no electronic voting machine was a reliable means of recording votes was superior to Bertie Ahern’s contempt for pencils. If the law is wrong, it will fall.

Lawful War

France has done the world a favour by going to the United Nations Security Council on Friday the 20th November 2015.

That it got sanction for military action against ISIS (DAESH) is a sign of moving tectonic plates by the standards of the UN.

At the moment it is not important that France’s military response is in fact incompetent or ineffective from a military point of view. (That’s a common failing in military affairs).

It is important because France chose to seek legal authority for its actions and now has it. It is now more difficult for other states to try to pretend that the United Nations is irrelevant. Admittedly, there has been an impasse in the Security Council for many years, but that was a diplomatic not a legal issue.

The real solution to France’s terrorist problem lies in the United Nations at the diplomatic level. France can choke off ISIS funding. That funding is travelling through, and emanating from, member states of the UN. The UN has applied sanctions in such cases, even at the level of named persons. (That system has its problems, but that’s for another day).

France should forthwith seek and get sanctions against those UN members facilitating ISIS. The member states of the European Union should support France in these matters, subject to full and accurate evidence being produced by France to justify its requests.

Misreading Bara: The Irish State’s database crisis

Catherine Murphy TD has done the nation much service in her time in the Dáil. Her most recent efforts to extract information from the State apparatus may have as great an impact as anything she has done.

The Social Democrats leader set down a series of Parliamentary questions, asking Ministers if they were aware of the CJEU’s recent Bara judgment and if their Departments had undertaken any database building projects which were effected by it.

(Here’s a snappy explainer on the Bara Judgment and how it limits government database building)

It turns out that the Ministers are working on plenty of databases, spread across the State’s various Ministries and agencies. (I’ve detailed some of these previously) However, what was most notable in the answers is that Ministers still do not want to change plans that the highest court in the EU have found to be illegal. No Minister said that their database projects were being halted.

Most concerning is that some, such as the Minister for Finance, appear to have received factually inaccurate legal advice as to the actual meaning and content of the Bara case.

Minister Noonan described the facts of the Bara case and why they did not apply to Revenue’s Local Property Tax Database;

The Bara judgement concerned the sharing between two state entities in Romania of data without legislative authority or consent from data subjects.  On that basis the European Court of Justice found that the data sharing in question was illegal without notification to or consent from the data subjects.

Unlike the situation in the Bara case where there was no legislative basis for the transfer of the specific data, Section 151 of the Act explicitly states that Revenue can request ‘relevant persons’ to provide it with any information in their possession or control that may be required for the administration of LPT, including for the purposes of establishing and maintaining the Property Register. Section 153 also clearly sets out the entities that are considered to be ‘relevant persons’ for the purposes of LPT.

Revenue has confirmed to me that it is satisfied that all of the information sourced from the various ‘relevant persons’ was done in accordance with legislation. Therefore the Bara Judgment does not apply.

Whether the Local Property Tax Database is legitimate or not, this is simply an inaccurate description of the facts of the Bara case.

The Romanian government had, in fact, passed legislation to authorise the data sharing that was being challenged. The legislation is outlined in paragraphs 10-13 of the CJEU judgement itself under the subheading “Romanian Law”. The Irish Government has passed many similar laws here in recent years, from the Individual Health Identifiers Act to the rules governing the Primary Online Database. And, as the Minister explains in his answer, the Local Property Tax database was simlilarly built on such a legislative provision.

However, what the EU Court found was that national legislative provisions such as the Romanian (and, I would argue the Irish) government had passed to allow them to transfer citizens’ data between bodies were incompatible with the Data Rights of EU citizens and therefore illegal.

If the most powerful Minister in the Government is being given legal advice based on a significant misreading of CJEU caselaw, it does not bode well for the capacity of the State to demonstrate that they have not breached that law in their rush towards a database state.

War in Syria is Illegal

The people of France are in a difficult position. They, and others, are the victims of crime.

Confusingly, President Hollande has declared in response that France is at war. This is
confusing because France has no intention of “declaring” war on any other state (currently).

The problem comes from the careless use of the term “war”.

War is illegal, in principle, unless resorted to in self-defence. France signed the Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928 to that effect and later signed and fully subscribes to the UN Charter. The UN Charter provides for the illegality of war
in Articles 2.3 and 2.4.

2.3 All members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace, security and justice are not endangered.

2.4 All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

The UN Charter provides two justifications for the use of force:

(1) pursuant to a resolution of the UN Security Council that explicitly authorises armed force in order to maintain or restore international peace and security; or

(2) under Article 51, affirming states’ right to individual or collective self-defence.

France’s terrorists should be pursued by the French police (and security forces) in France or elsewhere in Europe (with EU assistance). However, France must apply to the UN Security Council to authorise the use of force in Syria or Iraq. (Kofi Annan has confirmed in the past that the US and UK war in Iraq had no authorisation from the Security Council and was illegal).

It is not correct to seek support for war in Syria and military action there, in the Council of Ministers of the European Union. The EU has no authority to sanction war in Syria or Iraq, even where self-defence is claimed as its purpose.

France must urgently apply to the Security Council of the UN to sanction its actions, or intended actions, in Syria.

HSE has no record of legal advice re Health Identifier scheme

I have previously written about why I think the CJEU’s Bara Judgment makes Section 8 of the underlying Health Identifier Act illegal. (This is the Section that allows the state to try to pool the info they hold on citizens in other databases to populate this new one.)

An FOI reply has now been sent on to me about the Individual Health Identifier scheme. I am surprised to see an acknowledgement that, despite the extreme sensitivity in creating a new database of the population for medical use, the HSE has no record of any legal advice on the scheme, no assessment by their Data Protection officer of the scheme and, perhaps most perplexingly given the HSE’s repeated assurances that they have been engaged with the Data Protection Commissioner’s office, they have no records of any Data Protection Commissioner Office engagement on this project.

The reasons for refusing the release of the only category of document that actually exists are unsupportable, but that is almost becoming too common to bother remarking on.

Full reply below.

FOI Refusal for IHI Redacted

What’s the prognosis for Health Identifiers after the Bara Judgment?

The Irish State loves a good database, as regular readers will know.

I was doing the washing up recently, listening to the video of a recent event in TCD’s Science Gallery when I heard about the latest one.

A store of electronic health records for women and infants, starting in four maternity hospitals in the new year. This is a subsection of the wider eHealth project being run by the HSE, which also includes the Individual Health Identifier database system.

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

The Health Identifier Act 2014 provides the statutory basis for the creation of this database which is intended to eventually take in everyone born or resident in Ireland, citizen or not. To build this (latest) national identity database, the Government has spared itself no power. The Minister for Health has been given the power to take information from every other database within the reach of any part of the Government. Section 8 of the Act reads;

A Minister of the Government may, solely for the purpose of establishing, or maintaining the accuracy of, the National Register of Individual Health Identifiers, provide the Minister with an individual’s other identifying particulars and the Minister may use any such particulars so provided for that purpose.

The Department of Social Welfare’s register of PPS numbers, the Department of Education’s Primary and Post Primary Online Database, the Department of Environment’s Local Property Tax… personal data from all of them now combined into a single database.

We know this has already happened because Richard Corbridge, the official charged with bringing in the eHealth project, has confirmed that the data transfer has already taken place and that the IHI database is populated with a full cohort of real citizens’ data.

All of which is to say that this is a plan with far reaching consequences for the whole population, involving what most people would agree is the most sensitive of sensitive data.

All of which makes the impact of the recent judgment by the CJEU in the Bara case all the more significant.

The Irish Times has a report today arising from my questions on Twitter to Mr. Corbridge (which he admirably engaged with) on the new ruling forbidding the transfer of people’s personal data between state agencies without giving people prior notice of the intention to do so. I asked how Section 8, above, could be legal in the light of that judgment.

There were the usual reassurance statements made- The Dept of Health has legislation and, of course, the Data Protection Commissioner is happy.

Later, however, he confirmed that as a result of legal investigation the Department of Health is now ‘seeking advice’ on the impact of the Bara judgement before taking their next steps in the Health Indentifer project.

Section 8 of the Health Identifiers Act is now profoundly challenged by the CJEU’s finding of what is acceptable manipulation of private data by States under the EU Charter. And, more broadly, I would question the focus on patient privacy of a project where the Privacy Impact Accessment is still only in draft form at a time when the database has already been fully compiled and filled with our personal data.

The recent example of the UK’s project should give pause to the Department of Health in treating the question of patient privacy and consent as an afterthought. There, a multi-million pound project simply came off the rails as it became clear the patients did not trust officials to respect the privacy of their medical history.

Dr. Ben Goldacre, writing in the Guardian, set out the stakes if patient trust is lost in dealing with their medical data.

This breaks my heart. I love big medical datasets, I work on them in my day job, and I can think of a hundred life-saving uses for better ones. But patients’ medical records contain secrets, and we owe them our highest protection.

Time to Remember

Jean Claude Juncker has cited previous refugee crises in proposing the settlement of Syrian and other refugees in the EU.

He needed to look no further back in time than to 1945, and to look at Europe itself.
In preparation for administering Nazi-dominated Europe, the Allies estimated that 11.469 million people were “refugees” in Europe, with 7.738 million of them being in Germany itself. (Many were slave labourers in the Reich). The European nationalities were represented in the following proportions:

2.3 million French;
1.840 million Russians;
1.403 million Poles;
500,000 Belgians;
402,000 Dutch;
350,000 Czechs;
328,000 Yugoslavs;
195,000 Italians;
100,000 from the Baltic states;

(From “The Long Road Home” – Ben Shephard; The Bodley Head 2010, p. 59)