Ex-judge Sir Peter Gross to head human rights law review

Former Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross has been appointed to lead an independent review of the Human Rights Act, the BBC understands.

The government wants to examine whether the 1998 act – which allows UK nationals to rely on the European Convention of Human Rights in domestic courts – is working effectively.

A panel of eight is expected to report its findings by next summer.

It is understood to be made up of senior lawyers and academics.

While previous Conservative governments had promised to replace the Human Rights Act entirely with a new Bill of Rights, the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto said it would only be “updated”.

The ECHR predates the European Union and is separate to it.

The government insists it remains committed to the European Convention – which includes articles on fair trials, freedom of expression, free elections and privacy – but wants to look at its application in the UK.

It says the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has evolved over time and it’s right to look at how British courts respond.

The panel, led by Sir Peter, is expected to evaluate whether UK judges are being drawn into policy matters, traditionally decided by politicians.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland recently described prisoner votes – mandated by the court in Strasbourg but opposed by the government – as one “difficult case” relating to the Human Rights Act.

Ministers see the review as part of a wider constitutional reappraisal, examining the relationship between the judiciary, the executive and Parliament.

A separate panel is already looking at whether there is a need to reform the process of judicial review – where a judge decides the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.

Campaigners say the government is already trying to place limitations on the Human Rights Act through other proposed legislation.

And Labour accused ministers of launching an attack on human rights, saying the review was not required.

Nottinghams Christmas market closes for the rest of the year

A Christmas market which sparked concerns over the spread of coronavirus has closed – one day after it opened.

Nottingham’s Winter Wonderland opened on Saturday despite objections from residents in the city, which is under tier three restrictions.

Organiser Mellors Group initially announced a temporary closure due to “unprecedented high footfall”.

On Sunday, the city council said it had made a joint decision with the organisers not to reopen this year.

The market was set to run from 10:00 to 21:00 GMT every day until Christmas Eve.

Crowds forced it to close at 18:00 on Saturday.

Similar annual events in cities including Birmingham and Manchester were cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

Jo Cox-Brown, from Night Time Economy Solutions, said she had been in the city centre to support Small Business Saturday and witnessed crowds where people were close together and not wearing masks.

She said she worried the market could cause a spike in local coronavirus cases.

“It wasn’t being well-managed it wasn’t being very well-controlled,” she said.

“People were defecating in doorways because there’s no toilets open.”

Ms Cox-Brown said many people who had been in touch were “really angry” the event went ahead and felt organisers were “putting their Christmas at risk”.

Trader Simon Bonsai said he was “hugely disappointed” by the closure after a brisk day of trading on Saturday, but said the decision was “obvious”.

“It was so busy last night, there were too many people about,” he said.

In a joint statement, Mellors Group and the city council said it implemented a “wide range of measures” to ensure compliance with tier three restrictions.

“However, numbers were too large to implement these effectively,” they said.

“We’re sorry it has not worked out.”

Mellors previously said there had been “pent-up demand” for city-centre shopping after the second nationwide lockdown, which ended on Wednesday.

Lancashire FA defends grassroots football suspension

The Lancashire FA has defended the short-notice announcement of its decision to suspend grassroots football.

It provoked an outcry on Friday night – hours before some weekend fixtures – that matches in eight parts of the county were on hold until January.

Responding to the backlash, it said the decision “was communicated as soon as it possibly could have been”.

It said its priority was “to protect the community” over Christmas.

In an open letter sent on Friday, chief executive Simon Gerrard said the decision, affecting 900 teams and about 27,000 players, followed talks with local authorities and health officials.

The Lancashire FA posted a further response on its website after a backlash and criticism from footballing figures including Robbie Savage.

The association said the “frustrating and untimely measures” were deemed necessary after football was identified as a high-risk activity for spreading coronavirus.

As many as one in 33 East Lancashire residents could be infected without displaying symptoms, it said.

Transmission among children was a particular concern, it said, and football was seen as an “extra layer of risk” for passing on infections.

The Lancashire FA said it was aware of “frustration, disappointment and anger” at the timing of its announcement.

It said it had just two days to “conduct the lengthy and complex conversations with our partners regarding the eight affected authorities”.

Due to “the pressing nature” of the decision, it was “communicated without the level of detail and supporting facts that it deserved”.

It added that it was saddened by abusive messages sent to Mr Gerrard in response to his open letter.

The suspension affects Pendle, Burnley, Hyndburn, Rossendale, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Preston and South Ribble.

Lancashire has been in tier three since the national lockdown was lifted on Wednesday.

The government has placed the county under the tightest restrictions due to a “very high level” of infections.

Coronavirus: Weekend shopping returns but numbers disappoint

Shoppers flocked to High Streets and shopping malls across England this weekend, but in numbers well below pre-pandemic levels.

It was the first weekend since stores in England reopened on Wednesday.

Many business owners are pinning their hopes on a curtailed pre-Christmas trading period, having endured two national lockdowns already this year.

But on average, shopper numbers were a quarter below 2019 levels, according to the market researcher Springboard.

They say, across the UK as a whole, footfall was down by 30% compared to the same December weekend last year.

It comes on the back of a horror week for the retail industry when Topshop-owner Arcadia went into administration, Debenhams announced the closure of its 124 stores, and Primark reported an estimated £430m loss in sales caused by Autumn lockdowns across Europe and North America.

Central London remains far emptier than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic, despite some crowds flocking to specially pedestrianised shopping areas in Regent Street on Saturday.

On Sunday, shopper numbers in the capital were half what they would normally be weeks out from Christmas, Springboard reported.

Rowena Howie, who runs a womenswear boutique called Revival Retro in central London, said there were far fewer shoppers in her store than she would normally expect in the lead up to Christmas.

“We definitely wouldn’t have been as busy in the shop as we might have been in a normal year, particularly in the first weekend of December,” she said.

Although Ms Howie – who took part in a campaign promoting small businesses on Saturday – said strong online sales meant she was able to record a good day’s trading, the first since before Covid-19.

“We’re in Fitzrovia, having a bricks and mortar store, our takings have been really impacted,” she said.

Shoppers appear more eager to visit retail parks than malls and High Streets. On Saturday, footfall numbers for England’s retail parks were slightly higher than they were this time last year, but on Sunday they fell back and were 10% below last year’s figure.

We are still a nation of shoppers. Overall, retail sales are above pre-pandemic levels, according to the ONS.

But that number masks a mixed picture of what we’re buying and how we are buying it.

Clothing sales for example are down by 25%. And there has been a dramatic shift to online, accelerating a growing trend.

It’s this dramatic change that has been so devastating for the High Street.

Some of the pictures from this weekend might seem to show a bounce back.

But the figures show that the numbers of people out and about are well down on last December. That comes on top of lengthy closures for non-essential shops.

The Centre for Retail Research predicts more than 20,000 shops will close compared to 16,000 last year – and that job losses will rise to 235,000 people compared to 143,000 last year.

The cost of running a shop is just too much for many. One independent retailer in central London told me she couldn’t see herself still in bricks and mortar next year.

Despite a 12-month break from business rates offered by the government, the rent, coupled with falling shopper numbers, is just too much to bear.

In one encouraging sign for retailers and small business owners, shoppers seem far more comfortable returning to public shopping areas after the second national lockdown than they did after the first.

Footfall across England was 60% higher this weekend than on 20-21 June, the first weekend shops were allowed to reopen after the country’s first lockdown, which began in March.

“Part of this is timing – the proximity to Christmas means there is huge pent up demand amongst consumers to shop in store to purchase gifts,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing director.

“However, it is also an indicator of ‘lockdown fatigue’, whereby after many months of being restricted to their homes, consumers are keen to visit retail stores again, particularly to experience the excitement of Christmas.

“They have become accustomed to the ‘new normal’ that involves wearing face masks in stores and queuing in order to adhere to social distancing rules which we were not all comfortable with in June.”

Illingworth explosion: Man and woman in stable condition

A man and a woman injured in an explosion at a house are in a stable condition, police say.

The man, 63, was seriously hurt while the woman, also, 63, suffered severe burns. A second woman sustained minor injuries.

Onlookers described seeing people jumping from the burning building in Green Lane, Illingworth, near Halifax, on Saturday.

West Yorkshire Police said the cause was being investigated.

A spokesperson for the force said a probe was being carried out alongside West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service, Calderdale Council, the Health and Safety Executive and Northern Gas Networks.

The area around the house, which has been reduced to rubble, has been made safe by the fire service, the force added.

About 20 firefighters were sent to the scene at 07:30 GMT.

Eyewitness Candice Nevison described it as like “something out of a horror story”.

Dozens of people have offered to donate clothes and food to those affected and a GoFundMe campaign has raised more than £450.

Climate change: Snowy UK winters could become thing of the past

Snowy winters could become a thing of the past as climate change affects the UK, Met Office analysis suggests.

It is one of a series of projections about how UK’s climate could change, shared with BBC Panorama.

It suggests by the 2040s most of southern England could no longer see sub-zero days. By the 2060s only high ground and northern Scotland are still likely to experience such cold days.

The projections are based on global emissions accelerating.

It could mean the end of sledging, snowmen and snowball fights, says Dr Lizzie Kendon, a senior Met Office scientist who worked on the climate projections.

“We’re saying by the end of the century much of the lying snow will have disappeared entirely except over the highest ground,” she told Panorama.

If the world reduces emissions significantly the changes will be less dramatic, the Met Office says.

The average coldest day in the UK over the past three decades was -4.3 Celsius.

If emissions continue to accelerate, leading to a global temperature rise of 4C, then the average coldest day in the UK would remain above 0 Celsius across most of the country throughout winter.

Even if global emissions are reduced dramatically and world temperatures rise by 2C, the average coldest day in the UK is likely be 0 Celsius.

The Met Office says these temperatures are subject to variation and some years may see days colder than the average. Its projections explore how the UK’s climate might change.

“The overarching picture is warmer, wetter winters; hotter, drier summers,” Dr Kendon says.

“But within that, we get this shift towards more extreme events, so more frequent and intense extremes, so heavier rainfall when it occurs.”

The Met Office says we are already seeing dramatic changes in the UK climate.

“The rate and nature of the climate change that we’re seeing is unprecedented,” says Dr Mark McCarthy of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre.

Most of the country has already seen average temperatures rise by 1C since the Industrial Revolution and we should expect more of the same, he warns.

That may not sound like much, but even these small changes in our climate can have a huge impact on the weather and on many plants and animals.

The Met Office says there could be significant temperature rises in the decades ahead for both winter and summer.

It says the biggest increases will be in the already warmer southern parts of the UK. At the same time extreme weather is expected to become more frequent and more intense.

Heatwaves are likely to become more common and last longer, with record temperatures being exceeded regularly.

Not every summer will be hotter than the last, the Met Office says, but the long-term trend is steadily upwards, particularly if emissions remain unabated.

That high-emissions scenario shows peak summer temperatures could rise by between 3.7 C and 6.8 C by the 2070s, compared with the period 1981 to 2000.

If the world succeeds in reducing emissions, these temperature rises will be considerably smaller.

The level of detail in the models mean it is possible to see how the climate might change in neighbourhoods across the country.

Hayes in west London, for example, is likely to see some of the most dramatic temperature rises of all, the new data suggests.

The average hottest day in Hayes was 32C around 20 years ago. If emissions continue to accelerate, the new Met Office data suggests the average hottest day could reach a sweltering 40C by around 2070.

If global emissions reduce, this temperature rise will not be so severe.

“I mean, I think it’s really frightening. That’s a big change, and we’re talking about in the course of our lifetime. It’s just a wake-up call really as to what we’re talking about here,” says Dr Kendon.

Summers might not just be hotter, they could be drier too, the Met Office predicts. Summer rain could become less frequent, but when it does rain it is likely to be more intense.

The combination of longer dry periods with sudden heavy downpours could increase the risk of flooding because dry ground doesn’t absorb water as well as damp ground.

Rainfall is expected to increase in many parts of the country in winter too, the Met Office says.

The projections suggest western parts of the UK may get even wetter under a high-emissions scenario.

Of course, some years will always buck the trend by being wetter or cooler than others – and there will be significant regional variations.

This pattern of wetter winters and more intense summer downpours across much of the country risks putting infrastructure under greater strain.

Roads, railways, reservoirs, sewers, bridges and other infrastructure is all designed for the sort of rainfall we have had in the past and much of it may need to be upgraded or even rebuilt to cope with the storms and floods to come.

Last week, the UK government announced ambitious new targets for tackling climate change.

The new goal is to cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emission by 68% by the end of the decade, based on 1990 levels.

Boris Johnson hopes the new targets will set an example to other nations, which will join a virtual climate pledges summit on 12 December.

This virtual event will occur in place of annual UN climate talks, which were set to have taken place in Glasgow this year, but were postponed because of Covid-19.

London Gateway: £100m cocaine stash hidden in banana pulp

Cocaine with an estimated value of £100m has been found in a banana pulp shipment, the Home Office has said.

The drugs, which weighed more than a tonne, were discovered during routine inspections at London Gateway, Thurrock in Essex, on 12 November.

They originated in Columbia and were headed for Antwerp in Belgium, according to customs officials.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the find was “a significant hit to the organised crime groups involved”.

It follows the discovery by UK Border Force officers of 1,155kg (2,550lb) of cocaine at the port in September.

NCA branch commander Jacque Beer said: “While the UK wasn’t the end destination for either shipment, it is likely that at least a proportion would have ended up being sold on our streets.

“These were substantial seizures and will represent a significant hit to the organised crime groups involved, meaning less profit for them to reinvest.”

Derby v Millwall: Man arrested over racist Facebook posts

A man has been arrested over “abusive” Facebook posts made during a football match where players were booed for taking the knee.

Police said “a number of comments of an abusive nature” were reported as Derby County faced Milwall on Saturday.

Milwall said it was “dismayed and saddened” after its fans were heard jeering players before kick-off.

Derbyshire Police said a 25-year-old was arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences.

The booing of players before the match – the first time Millwall fans had been allowed at matches since attendance was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic – drew condemnation from figures across the football world.

Derby boss Wayne Rooney said it was “disappointing and upsetting”, while Millwall boss Gary Rowett said the incident overshadowed the long-awaited return of fans to stadiums.

Derby won the match 1-0.

Scotlands positive Covid tests pass 100,000 since start of pandemic

More than 100,000 people in Scotland have now tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Scottish government figures show 1,221,230 people in Scotland have been tested at least once since March.

Of those, 100,106 cases were positive while 1,121,124 were confirmed negative.

It comes as a further five people who tested positive for Covid were recorded to have died in the past 24 hours.

There are currently 951 people in hospital with a positive Covid test and 62 of those are in ICU.

The total number of positive cases in Scotland has risen by 643 since Saturday, which is 5.2% of those tested.

NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde has 190 new cases, while there are 126 in NHS Lanarkshire, 70 in NHS Ayrshire & Arran and 64 in NHS Lothian.

The remainder of the positive cases are split between the other seven mainland health boards.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed on Saturday that the first Covid-19 vaccine had arrived in Scotland.

She said the vaccination programme would begin on Tuesday.

The first vaccinations will be given to priority groups including care home residents and staff, the elderly and frontline health workers.

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