PILC has been acting on behalf of clinically vulnerable families to challenge the government’s policy on school attendance during Covid-19.
We have today published a briefing note outlining the government’s official position as set out in response to a pre-action letter from PILC, and explaining how this official position deviates from published guidance.
We will continue to push the government both to amend its published guidance to reflect its official position on local discretion and to change its guidance around school attendance and vulnerable family members.
In the meantime we wanted to bring the government’s official position to the attention of parents, school and local authorities so that they are clear that they are able to exercise discretion when authorising a child’s absence. This discretion can include taking into account the vulnerabilities of family members as well as other factors such as mental health or special educational needs.
We hope parents will be able to make use of this briefing note when liaising with schools and local authorities
On Wednesday 3rd December 2020 the case of the former Sri Lankan defence attaché Brigadier Priyanka Fernando will be heard in the High Court.
On 4th February 2018 Brigadier Fernando was filmed threatening peaceful protestors outside the Sri Lankan Embassy by drawing his fingers across his neck in a cut-throat action. The gesture was directed against Tamil community groups protesting peacefully outside the embassy.
On 6th February 2018, a private prosecutor, whom we represent, laid information against the Brigadier before Westminster Magistrates’ Court. On 22nd March 2018, a summons was issued.
The defendant left his diplomatic post shortly afterwards and returned to Sri Lanka.
At a re-trial on 6th December 2019 Brigadier Fernando was convicted of public order offences in relation to the cut-throat gesture.
The Senior District Judge found that the defendant’s actions did not form part the exercise of his functions as a diplomatic agent and so fell outside the residual immunity provided by Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention. The judge also found on the evidence of the witnesses that our client was alarmed by the gesture and that the Brigadier Fernando had intended to cause alarm.
The Brigadier’s legal representatives applied to have the matter ‘case stated’. This is a procedure by which a court can ask another court for its opinion on a point of law. The Senior District Judge in the Magistrates Court agreed to this on 10th March 2020. The Senior District Judge has phrased the question as such: was she right to find that the Brigadier enjoyed residual diplomatic immunity at the time of the trial?
The High Court will decide a number of issues relating to diplomatic immunity, the job of the Brigadier and the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court.
During the hearings that took place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the Brigadier’s legal team attempted to invoke immunity. They were not successful. In our view, immunity cannot be invoked in order to defend a diplomat from all unlawful acts indefinitely. It is our view that Brigadier Fernando did not and does not have the protection of diplomatic immunity.
Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 states that:
“When the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country, or on expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so, but shall subsist until that time, even in case of armed conflict. However, with respect to acts performed by such a person in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission, immunity shall continue to subsist.”
This is incorporated into UK law by the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, which provides that immunity ends a reasonable time after the diplomat leaves their post.
Immunity will only be maintained thereafter for activities carried out in the course of official duties.
Immediately after the threats made by Brigadier Fernando, the Sri Lankan Government not only stripped him of his position (and therefore, we argue, of his immunity) but also sent him back to Sri Lanka. Brigadier Fernando is no longer listed on the 2019 or 2020 London Diplomat List and therefore is no longer a diplomat in the UK. He no longer comes under the protection of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention in respect of proceedings in England and Wales.
We therefore hope that the High Court upholds the original decision of Westminster Magistrates’ Court and finds the Brigadier guilty of breaching section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. This would be a small but significant victory for our client.
We have been instructed by the Tamil Information Centre (TIC) to file a complaint with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)’s War Crimes Unit. The complaint relates to alleged war crimes commited by British mercenaries in Sri Lanka.
The MPS has completed a scoping exercise into the allegations and detectives from the War Crimes Unit are now proceeding with a full investigation. This comes after PILC, acting for TIC, sent a detailed dossier of evidence to the MPS last month.
The complaint is supported by copies of declassified Foreign Office files and other documents relating to Keenie Meenie Services (KMS), a mercenary company that worked for Sri Lanka’s military during the 1980s.
We allege that helicopter gunships manned by KMS personnel were involved in attacks on Tamil civilians. KMS also trained Sri Lankan paramilitaries and commandos, as well as giving operational advice at the highest level, during a period in which repeated atrocities were committed against Tamils.
Paul Heron, senior solicitor at PILC, told the Sunday Times: “This is the first investigation that we know of into British mercenaries operating overseas and alleged to have committed war crimes. KMS was involved in covert activities across the planet, from Nicaragua to Sri Lanka.”
“Our clients are appalled by the activities of these mercenaries and the tacit approval given to them by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
Earlier this year TIC also submitted a complaint about KMS to the United Nation’s Working Group on Mercenaries.
PILC has instructed Shanthi Sivakumaran from No.5 Chambers in the current matter.
PILC is also working closely with the journalist Phil Miller, author of Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away With War Crimes.
This morning we made our opening statement to the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI), which began on Monday.
The Inquiry will investigate undercover operations conducted by police forces in England and Wales since 1968. It will examine in particular the activities of two units: the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).
Our opening statement can be read and downloaded here. It calls for a thorough investigation of the activities of both the SDS and NPOIU and the officials who authorised the use of spying against our clients.
It is our view that the Inquiry must examine not only the role of senior civil servants, but also of successive Conservative and Labour Home Secretaries, who, we submit, must have been aware of and sanctioned the activities of undercover policing units . We also submit that Prime Ministers of the day were aware of the activities of the political police.
Finally, our opening statement demands a full and detailed analysis of the role of Special Branch departments and the security services, including MI5. These agencies were also involved in the surveillance of MPs, social-justice campaigners and trade unionists.
Political policing has ruined lives, derailed campaigns, led to the blacklisting of workers and brought democracy into disrepute.
In preparing this opening statement we are grateful to Piers Marquis of Doughty Street Chambers and James Scobie QC of Garden Court Chambers. Huge thanks are also due to our clients: Lois Austin; Richard Chessum; ‘Mary’; Dave Nellist; Hannah Sell; and Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE).
This Inquiry will be a long journey. We are committed to it.
The Court of Appeal has granted permission to appeal against the planning approval for the demolition and redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre.
The permission to appeal follows an unsuccessful High Court challenge in October 2019, when Mr Justice Dove refused to quash the planning approval after a two-day hearing. No date has yet been set for the Court of Appeal hearing.
The case raises a number of important legal issues regarding how local authorities handle planning applications.