11 November 2009

Is Recycling Domestic Waste By The Individual A Normal Civic Obligation?

I ask this question because the Lords have amended the Justice and Coroners Bill where, "Measures to tackle the scourge of "modern-day slavery" have been added to the Coroners and Justice Bill by the government."

"The law would target those who hold another person "in slavery or servitude" or require them to "perform forced or compulsory labour" and is based on article four of the European Convention on Human Rights."

Looking at the House of Lords debate, we have Amendment 15,

"(1) A person (D) commits an offence if—

....

(b) D requires another person to perform forced or compulsory labour and the circumstances are such that D knows or ought to know that the person is being required to perform such labour.
"

This is all very well but is this compatible with how local councils have interpreted the Household Waste Recycling Act 2003 (c 29)?

I know this sounds odd but ... bear with me. Councils in England and Wales are liable under section 45 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for the collection of household waste. Whilst the Household Waste Recycling Act 2003 provides that,

"... the authority shall ensure that the arrangements it makes in relation to those premises include the arrangements mentioned in subsection (3) below,

....
(3) The arrangements are arrangements for the collection of at least two types of recyclable waste together or individually separated from the rest of the household waste.
"

Although this does not have to be done until 31st December 2010 (see s(4) of the Act) almost every council is implementing this method of collection.

The problem is that some of the councils are implementing the measure in such a manner that the householder has to sort out the waste. They pick up the waste every fortnight rather than every week and refuse to take waste that hasn't been separated.

Is this "forced labour"?

The law Lords tells us that we should interpret Amendment 15 (above) according to Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This can be found in Schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c 42)

Article 4
Prohibition of slavery and forced labour


1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

3. For the purpose of this Article the term “forced or compulsory labour” shall not include:

....

(d) any work or service which forms part of normal civic obligations.


Arguably, sorting out waste into recyclable and non-recyclable parts is forced labour. Would it be acceptable to kidnap third world children and issue them to every household for the sole purpose of sorting waste? Of course not, but the issue is one of proportionality. Although the previous suggestion was outrageous; if you could arrange a situation without kidnapping, without child labour but ensure that the labour is forced then it breaches the Article. The householder does not have any choice under the current system as to whether or not he can sort his waste. If he doesn't, it will not be picked up and he will most probably be fined.

But Article 4 gives a derogation, "if the work is part of normal civic obligations" it doesn't breach Article 4.

This brings us back to the title of this post and is as far as I'm prepared to go: to get an idea of the answer to this question requires analysis of ECHR case law.

One further point: it isn't necessary to wait until Amendment 15 becomes law before waste collection practices can be challenged through this analysis. The Human Rights Act 1998 ensures that all government agencies have to comply with the listed articles of the ECHR.

Update Article 2 of The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (Commencement No. 4, Transitional and Saving Provisions) Order 2010 provides,
"2. The provisions of the 2009 Act specified in the Schedule shall come into force on 6th April 2010."
where article 4 of the Schedule provides,
"4 Section 71 (slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour)."

Lastly, we have Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides,
71Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour

(1)A person (D) commits an offence if—

(a)D holds another person in slavery or servitude and the circumstances are such that D knows or ought to know that the person is so held, or

(b)D requires another person to perform forced or compulsory labour and the circumstances are such that D knows or ought to know that the person is being required to perform such labour.

(2)In subsection (1) the references to holding a person in slavery or servitude or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour are to be construed in accordance with Article 4 of the Human Rights Convention (which prohibits a person from being held in slavery or servitude or being required to perform forced or compulsory labour).

(3)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the relevant period or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both;

(b)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years or a fine, or both.

(4)In this section—

“Human Rights Convention” means the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms agreed by the Council of Europe at Rome on 4 November 1950;

“the relevant period” means—
(a) in relation to England and Wales, 12 months;
(b) in relation to Northern Ireland, 6 months.

Update 23rd February 2011, Britain's system of rubbish collection is a marvel of waste and mess, is an article that, in part, says
"We once had a refuse disposal system admired across the world, which made landfilling a public benefit, not something to be looked on as almost as evil as smoking. So why do our bureaucrats appear to misuse an EU directive, to create an unholy shambles which so signally fails to realise the benefits claimed for it?"
If waste recycling is pointless, not achieving its stated aim, then this lends support to the argument that recycling is forced labour since, an exercise in deceipt and futility is not part of a normal civic obligation.

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