No Extra Help From Human Rights Law For Eccentrically Named Armed Bank Robber

Every year, on the 10th of December, we observe Human Rights Day. Aidan Flynn, Senior Lecturer in Law, reflects on a 2019 Court of Appeal judgment in relation to the significance of the day. 

On the 11th of September, the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal gave its judgment in Lord Shane Romell v The Secretary of State for Justice [2019] EWCA Civ 1629. Romell’s effort to deploy provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 in his application was always doomed to fail. It demonstrated, at best, a considerable degree of undue optimism.

Lord Shane Romell was previously Mr Shane Perry. He now chooses to be known as Lord Shane Romell and has a “long history of offending” with the offences including several robberies at banks and post offices. In 2015 he was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment. This followed convictions after trial, at the Central Criminal Court, of an indictment charging robbery, possession of a firearm when committing an offence, and possession of ammunition.

Romell’s initial application for a writ of habeas corpus was heard in the High Court. He was represented in court by a McKenzie friend. The High Court judge refused Romell’s application as “totally without merit.” In an interesting aside, Mr Justice Supperstone observed that “the McKenzie friend did not appear to have any knowledge of matters relating to the present application.” Lord Romell needs to be more careful in his choice of “friends”. There has been a growth in the use of McKenzie friends in recent years. Their use is becoming a somewhat controversial issue and there have been calls this month for them to be banned.

Romell subsequently brought his renewed application for a writ of habeas corpus to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) and the matter was dealt with there by Lord Justice Green and Lord Justice Floyd. Romell served a document entitled “Skeleton Argument.” Lord Justice Green surmised that it appeared to allege that “the judgment of Mr Justice Supperstone reflects breaches of Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998.” This Act, which came into force in 2000, incorporates most of the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. Section 6 of the Act is the best known of the sections to which Romell referred. Section 6(1) expressly provides that it is unlawful for a ‘public authority’ to act incompatibly with a Convention Right.

The “Skeleton Argument” document also referred to Magna Carta 1215 and the Fraud Act 2006. Romell appeared in the Court of Appeal in person (via videolink) and he “argued that the Central Criminal Court was not a proper court. It is a private corporation governed by contract and he, the applicant, is not a party to the contract.” As he continued, he scraped the bottom of the barrel (pardon the pun) by arguing that he was “sovereign flesh and blood” and as such he “could not be subject to the arbitrary power of a commercial body … no agent of the State or other person can deprive any person of liberty.”

Lord Justice Green had little difficulty in concluding that “this application lacks any semblance of merit” and noted that “the judges who sit at the Central Criminal Court are Crown Court and High Court judges who are authorised and empowered in law to conduct trials, such as that of the applicant.” Lord Justice Floyd agreed.

Romell has had his day in court but can hardly be surprised that his application here was unsuccessful. The case may have been moderately amusing for one Mr Nathan Roberts who acted for the Secretary of State for Justice. Mr Roberts will seldom have such an easily earned day’s pay as he had on Wednesday the 11th of September.

The judgment of the Court of Appeal is here.

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