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Legal News Round Up: January 2023

U.S. Supreme Court Unable to Identify Dobbs Leaker

By Owen Whaley

The United States Supreme Court announced that it has not yet identified the person responsible for last year’s leak of a draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org, but noted that its investigation will continue.

“In May 2022, this Court suffered one of the worst breaches of trust in its history: the leak of a draft opinion,” the Court said in a statement released on January 19. “The leak was no mere misguided attempt at protest. It was a grave assault on the judicial process.”

On May 2, 2022, Politico took the extraordinary step of publishing a copy of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that indicated the Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 landmark decision that found that women have a constitutional right to abortion. The report ignited widespread outrage and made abortion a pivotal issue in that year’s midterm elections. One day later, on May 3, Chief Justice John Roberts directed the Marshal of the Supreme Court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak.

“Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court,” Chief Justice Roberts said in a statement at the time. “This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here.”

The Marshal’s investigation entailed 126 interviews with 97 employees as well as forensic analyses of computers, networks, printers, and call and text logs. By mid-January of 2023, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Court had narrowed its investigation to a small number of suspects, including at least one law clerk.

The leak marked the first time in modern history that a draft decision of the Court was released while the justices were still deliberating. That an employee of the Court knowingly breached rules surrounding confidentiality—and that they may go unidentified—has prompted concerns about the integrity of the Court’s proceedings.

“It is essential that we deliberate with one another candidly and in confidence,” the Court’s January 19 statement read. “That phase of the judicial process affords us an opportunity to hone initial thoughts, reconsider views, persuade one another, and work collaboratively to strengthen our collective judgment. It is no exaggeration to say that the integrity of judicial proceedings depends on the inviolability of internal deliberations.”

The Court Marshal has signaled her intentions to continue pursuing any new evidence or leads in the investigation that may arise.

UK government to Block Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill

By Anna Kelly

The UK government announced its plan to block the new Scottish gender reform bill with an unprecedented utilisation of Section 35 of the Scotland Act. The bill, which would streamline an individual’s process of legally changing gender, was passed 86 votes to 39 in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament outlines the reform here: “The Bill changes the process to get a gender recognition certificate (GRC). A GRC is a certificate that legally recognises that a person’s gender is not the gender they were assigned at birth, but is their “acquired gender”.”

To legally change gender within the current system, individuals must be at least 18 years of age, must have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, in addition to proving that they have been living in their chosen gender for a minimum of 2 years. The Scottish bill proposes a new system of recognition that no longer requires a medical diagnosis, rather allowing individuals the freedom of self-determination. It would also lower the age requirement to 16, and the individual would have to show they have been living in their chosen gender for 6 months.

Opponents of the bill argue that it would negatively affect matters of equal pay, single sex spaces, and prison transfers; the BBC reports that “UK ministers say the draft law would conflict with equality protections applying across Great Britain.” As the bill comes out of a system of devolved powers in the UK, potential challenges emerge regarding the right of the Scottish Parliament to issue such a decision. Within this system of powers, Scotland can make decisions and pass laws surrounding healthcare, education and environment. Equality, alongside a plethora of other national issues, falls under Westminster’s jurisdiction.

The tense discourse surrounding the bill is wrapped up in matters of both equality and sovereignty. Westminster’s blocking of the Scottish bill is unprecedented, and in light of the recent denial of a second Scottish independence referendum, has added further pressure to Holyrood and Westminster’s relationship.

The UK government has “no grounds to challenge this legislation… it is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament” affirmed Nicola Sturgeon, going on to emphasise the “contempt [shown] for Scottish Parliament and for Devolution in principle”.

European Parliament Pushes for the Establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal for Russia and Belarus

By Anna Kelly

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches its 1-year anniversary, the European Parliament (EP) bolsters its plan to punish Russia for the war crimes committed in Ukraine. The MEPs push to create a special international tribunal alongside the International Criminal Court’s ongoing investigation which began in November 2022. The resolution passed with 472 votes in favour of the tribunal’s formation on January 19, 2023.

Though the resolution is not legally binding, it signals vital normative change and sets in motion a plan to maintain international legal accountability and legitimacy. The message is clear: Russia cannot revert back to its previous position in the global international order and can be convicted of serious crimes of aggression against Ukraine.

The EP tribunal plans to thoroughly investigate Russian and Belarussian military and political leadership, including Vladimir Putin and Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

The Associated Press reports that “The Hague-based ICC has launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine but can’t prosecute the crime of aggression – the act of invading another country – because the Russian Federation is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the court”.

The increasing, deadly targeting of civilian institutions and further Russian encroachment of Ukrainian sovereignty ladens MEPs with an escalating sense of urgency. In the statement issued by the EP, the tribunal would “fill a vacuum in international criminal justice and complement the investigative efforts of the International Criminal Court”. The European Parliament plans to start work within the tribunal immediately, and in cooperation with the Ukrainian government.

Latest News on Qatargate - the European Parliament Corruption Scandal

By Victoria Martin Veneti

On December 9 2022, Greek MEP and one of the Vice-President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili was arrested and charged with “participation in a criminal organization, corruption and money laundering”. Along with her, three more suspects were arrested on the same charges, including her Italian partner Francesco Giorgi, an assistant in the EP, Pier Antonio Panzeri former member of the EP, and Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, the secretary-general of No Peace Without Justice NGO.

At the core of the scandal is the suspicion that the four individuals accepted cash and other gifts from Qatari and Moroccan officials in exchange for political influence in the policy of the Parliament. After multiple home and office searches by the Belgian police, 1.5 million euro were found. Soon after Ms Kaili’s arrest, she was suspended from the Socialists & Democrats group of the EP and eventually stripped of her vice-presidency. An MEP has parliamentary immunity unless they are “found in the act of committing an offense” which is why her arrest was possible.

Kaili’s lawyers have rejected all charges of wrongdoing and claim her innocence on the grounds of her having no knowledge about the money. They also requested a pre-trial release, under electronic surveillance, which was denied. Another request was made in January along with claims of her facing torture in prison but once again, the Brussels court decided that she should remain in prison.

Meanwhile, Mr Panzeri has admitted guilt and agrees to provide information about the scheme in exchange for a limited sentence. His plea bargain involves revealing key intelligence on the financial arrangements and countries and names of those involved. Mr Giorgi has attempted to exonerate his partner, Ms Kaili, by confessing he was responsible for accepting bribes from Qatar to advance its agenda within the Parliament. Finally, even though Mr Figà-Talamanca had denied any accusations of wrongdoing and was originally set to be released under an electronic monitor; in a turn of events, that decision was abruptly halted. Even more unexpectedly a Belgian judge eventually ordered his release just three days ago but the reason is still unknown.

On the other side of the scheme, Qatar has revoked any corruption accusations against it. When the EP made the executive decision to suspend any legislative work involving Qatar, the Gulf state responded by warning EU officials that such a restriction will have repercussions on their global security and energy cooperation.

The scandal widens as just four days ago two more left-wing MEPs, Andrea Cozzolino and Marc Tarabella, were stripped of their parliamentary immunity. Mr Tarabella is accused of supporting “certain positions within the European Parliament in favor of a third country in return for cash payments" and Mr Cozzolino is also accused of accepting money in exchange for blocking policy that would oppose the agenda of foreign countries. However, both MEPs have denied any such accusations. It is expected that new names will be revealed, especially after Mr Panzeri agreed on a plea bargain.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.


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