A few weeks ago CLR introduced our readers to Phil Monk and the UK advocacy group, We The Undersigned, who have decided to engage with the UK legal system as their avenue to legalising the use of the cannabis plant by individuals in the country rather than trying to appeal to the better natures of politicians and getting cannabis re-scheduled and permitted for medical and recreational use under new legislation. A process that many are understanding could take a generation or longer to happen unless there is a major sea change in thinking.
We recently spoke with Phil Monk and his UK lawyer Robert Jappie of Ince & Co who is representing the organisation on a pro Bono basis about their strategy of appealing the current status of cannabis under UK law using the Human Rights Act as the latch with which to open the door onto cannabis use as a right in the United Kingdom.
Let’s start with a quick Human Rights Act 101.
Inherited from the EU the act is enshrined into UK law and although already under attack from the current government who are looking to start chipping away at it as soon as they can post Brexit, it currently remains unencumbered by slash and burn amendments.
Learn more about Tory plans for the Human Rights Act at
- Human Rights Act is not safe after Brexit
- Human Rights Act review: Fair or farce?
- There’s no public appetite for a Human Rights Act review
WHAT IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT?
The Human Rights Act is a UK law passed in 1998.
It lets you defend your rights in UK courts and compels public organisations – including the Government, police and local councils – to treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect.
WHO CAN USE THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT?
The Human Rights Act may be used by every person resident in the United Kingdom regardless of whether or not they are a British citizen or a foreign national, a child or an adult, a prisoner or a member of the public.
It can even be used by companies or organisations (like Liberty).
WHAT DOES THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT ACTUALLY DO?
The human rights contained within this law are based on the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Act ‘gives further effect’ to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention. It means:
- Judges must read and give effect to other laws in a way which is compatible with Convention rights
- It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.
Read more about how the HRA works.
WHAT RIGHTS DOES THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT PROTECT?
- The right to life: protects your life, by law. The State is required to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody.
- The prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment: you should never be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way, no matter what the situation.
- Protection against slavery and forced labour: you should not be treated like a slave or subjected to forced labour.
- The right to liberty and freedom: you have the right to be free and the State can only imprison you with very good reason – for example, if you are convicted of a crime.
- The right to a fair trial and no punishment without law: you are innocent until proven guilty. If accused of a crime, you have the right to hear the evidence against you in a court of law.
- Respect for privacy and family life and the right to marry: protects against unnecessary surveillance or intrusion into your life. You have the right to marry and enjoy family relationships.
- Freedom of thought, religion and belief: you can believe what you like and practise your religion or beliefs.
- Free speech and peaceful protest: you have a right to speak freely and join with others peacefully, to express your views.
- No discrimination: everyone’s rights are equal. You should not be treated unfairly – because, for example, of your gender, race, disability, sexuality, religion or age.
- Protection of property: protects against state interference with your possessions.
- The right to an education: means that no child can be denied an education.
- The right to free elections: elections must be free and fair.
Monk indicates that he believes that under the provisions of the act the British government denies him and all UK citizens the right to use the cannabis plant for all and any non commercial purpose within the confines of his own home and stresses that no distinction need be made between either medical or recreational use of the cannabis plant and that it is Article 8 of the Human Rights act where these rights are enshrined and clearly defined in law.
Right to respect for private and family life
1Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Equality Human Rights.com explains these rights.. thus
Article 8 protects your right to respect for your private life, your family life, your home and your correspondence (letters, telephone calls and emails, for example).
You have the right to live your life privately without government interference.
The courts have interpreted the concept of ‘private life’ very broadly. It covers things like your right to determine your sexual orientation, your lifestyle, and the way you look and dress. It also includes your right to control who sees and touches your body. For example, this means that public authorities cannot do things like leave you undressed in a busy ward, or take a blood sample without your permission.
The concept of private life also covers your right to develop your personal identity and to forge friendships and other relationships. This includes a right to participate in essential economic, social, cultural and leisure activities. In some circumstances, public authorities may need to help you enjoy your right to a private life, including your ability to participate in society.
This right means that the media and others can be prevented from interfering in your life. It also means that personal information about you (including official records, photographs, letters, diaries and medical records) should be kept securely and not shared without your permission, except in certain circumstances.
You have the right to enjoy family relationships without interference from government. This includes the right to live with your family and, where this is not possible, the right to regular contact.
‘Family life’ can include the relationship between an unmarried couple, an adopted child and the adoptive parent, and a foster parent and fostered child.
The right to respect for your home does not give you a right to housing. It is a right to enjoy your existing home peacefully. This means that public authorities should not stop you entering or living in your home without very good reason, and they should not enter without your permission. This applies whether or not you own your home.
See also the right to peaceful enjoyment of property.
There are situations when public authorities can interfere with your right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence. This is only allowed where the authority can show that its action is lawful, necessary and proportionate in order to:
- protect national security
- protect public safety
- protect the economy
- protect health or morals
- prevent disorder or crime, or
- protect the rights and freedoms of other people.
Action is ‘proportionate’ when it is appropriate and no more than necessary to address the problem concerned.
Precedent with regard to cannabis and the act is, both Monk & Jappie agree, somewhat thin on the ground but they do reference the following case which received national press attention in the UK when it came to court.
MEDICINAL CANNABIS USE AND THE CRIMINAL DEFENCE OF NECESSITY: R V QUAYLE AND ATTORNEY-GENERAL’S REFERENCE (NO 2 OF 2004)  1 All ER 988
See the following case notes published by Southern Cross University Law Review & authored by Graham Irivine Sessional Lecturer in Law and Justice at Southern Cross University, Lismore, having practised as a solicitor in NSW and Queensland.
The BBC reported the case here http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4269997.stm
The Guardian reported the case here https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/oct/21/medical-marijuana-defence
Saying… So as the law currently stands there is no defence on medical grounds available to someone charged with cultivating cannabis. That is not to say that there may not be scope for a further human rights challenge to the law relying on the sort of extensive medical and scientific evidence that the court of appeal said it did not have before it in the Quayle case. But anyone contemplating such a challenge will need to bear in mind that this is the type of policy area where the courts will be extremely reluctant to interfere with decisions made by parliament, as the cases of Quayle and Altham themselves indicate.
Where Are We Now
Monk and WTU have briefed counsel a respected human rights barrister and the next step is to raise the legal funds to take the case to court.
WTU estimate between £50,000 and £150,000 is the figure that needs to be raised .
The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP Secretary of State Home Office 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
We The Undersigned Update Their Progress April 2021
“We The Undersigned Have a Human Sovereign Right to Cannabis” grassroots community campaign group has been growing in strength and number since 6th March 2018.
Now just over 6100 strong, united in a bid to raise a human rights legal challenge against cannabis prohibition laws in the UK.
Having raised almost £9000 for the initial legal advice, WTU have begun fundraising for the anticipated legal costs of around £50,000-£150,000.
They have raised almost £3,000 in the WTU campaign fund, through individual donations and the distribution of WTU merchandise. More details of their organisation structure, function and purpose can be found at: https://www.wtuhq.org/wtu-mechandise/
Whilst some may say £3,000 is a paltry amount, for WTU it is a monumental achievement as these funds were raised by a community group of predominantly sick and poor people seeking to change the law for the rights of all people, both healthy and poorly.
WTU have been waiting for our representing solicitor Robert Jappie to receive word from the barrister after WTU asked for a quote for the planned WTU Declaration of Incompatibility and subsequent legal fees in the anticipated event the government refuse to accept the planned Declaration of Incompatibility.
It seems to have caused quite a stir as the barrister is now expressing serious concerns regarding the potential financial liability for legal costs in the event of an unsuccessful outcome for the WTU challenge.
The barrister, who has expressed how difficult the case could be to succeed, felt WTU needed to have another discussion about the route and potential implications, so has quoted £1,200 for another conference to discuss these potential implications and route to challenge the Home Office in the Supreme Court.
We The Undersigned have always been told that this case was highly political, very expensive and would take a long time, so they all knew this case wasn’t going to be cheap, quick or easy! WTU anticipated a ball park figure of £150,000 may be required to cover their legal fees to challenge the Home Office in the Supreme Court
However, an unanticipated point has been highlighted by the barrister, that being in that in the event of an unsuccessful outcome, We The Undersigned, or Phil Monk personally as founder, would likely become liable for the government’s legal fees!
Robert emphasised that without a wealthy benefactor to shoulder the costs, it was going to be financially prohibitive for WTU to raise the challenge in the Supreme Court, as the court may request a security of fees to reassure that the unsuccessful claimant could afford the successful claimant’s fees, in the event of a loss.
WTU have always known they are trying to take on the full weight of the State and that their costs could be quite substantial given the Government can call upon their army of Lawyers, Barristers, QCs and experts to rack up the cost. Counsel highlighted to the WTU that the Government’s potential fees could run into the hundreds of thousands, with QCs commanding £650 per hour for their services, not to mention all the other professionals that would be involved in such litigation.
Of course, in the event of a successful outcome for WTU, then there would be no legal fees to pay and all donations could be returned their original donor. Monk somewhat despondently said ,“it feels, just like health and knowledge, justice is only available to the wealthy in the UK!”.
Unfortunately, despite 3 years of dedicated campaigning and evidence gathering, without a wealthy benefactor to support the WTU challenge, it may wither and die, due to the mostly poor health and financially challenged nature of WTU community members.
“Despite the hundreds of thousands of pounds clearly floating around the so called ‘cannabis industry’ that used to be a ‘war’ and with the various card protection schemes, there is no doubt that collectively, such funds exist within the CannaCommunity. The potential exists to raise and fund a genuine grassroots legal challenge of the very fabric of the laws, which have destroyed so many lives, but only if people believe in, support and contribute to the WTU campaign.”
But unfortunately, it seems at least £300,000 would be needed as security of costs.
Sadly it appears there is no profit in freedom or human rights!
There seems a much higher appetite for maintaining the harmful yet profitable prohibitionist paradigm, seemingly to protect the pharmaceutical monopolisation of the very therapeutic benefits that have been dogmatically denied for decades, wanting more controls and legislation, which ultimately causes financial and medical discrimination with unjustified and disproportionate prosecutions. Often this results in social prejudice and stigmatisation of our most vulnerable in society.
Unfortunately, it seems WTU are too sick and poor to be able to go forward in this legal fight for truth, justice and freedom for all, as there doesn’t seem much ability for fundraising from the WTU community. No surprise as most are simply struggling to survive chronic illness or financial difficulties. Should a small community of mostly poor and poorly people shoulder the costs alone?
Can the costs of asserting fundamental human rights ever be too high?
For Phil Monk, it is all about evidence, facts and figures and it occurred to him the cost aren’t too high if enough people believe in it to support it.
WTU has 6105, some of whom are experiencing severe financial hardship and should not suffer further, but IF 5000 people pledge £25 every 3-months for 1 year, that would raise £125,000 per quarter, with a potential £500,000 raised for legal fees in 12-months.
That’s the equivalent of £1.92 per week, per person, for one year!
Perhaps the time has come for campaigner, consumer and company to unite in a challenge against the laws, which threaten our preferred way of life and very existence?
During the weekly update, Robert discussed another route and raised the merits of commencing a test case with a criminal law trial to minimise the prohibitive cost implications such litigation against the weight of the State in the Supreme Court could involve, by putting Monk’s neck directly onto the chopping block.
As a home grower for medical purposes, Monk’s personal circumstances could be ideal as a test case at the individual level for the WTU aim to decriminalise adult, private, non-commercial cannabis activities. Should the founder of WTU be come the tip of the spearhead against the armour of prohibition?
Jappie emphasised that he could not advise Monk to get himself arrested, but that if he were arrested, he may be better as litigant in person, as LIP can say things officers of the court may not.
Monk explained, “for example, whereas an officer of the court couldn’t submit a defence as “the law is unfounded, unevidenced and unjustified with no foundation evidence, which is based on racism, ideology and political conflicting interests and I can prove it your Honour! Have you read these?”, a LIP could.”
Usually a judge will say this is a political issue and direct the jury to a guilty verdict and the defendant to their MP, as well as declare sentence.
However, Monk has thoroughly exhausted all avenues of correspondence with the Home Office and elected representatives, even presenting the WTU preliminary evidence bundle and evidence compiled with Guy Coxall of Seed our Future of the lack of justification for cannabis prohibition laws.
Consequently, even in the event of a test case seeking jury nullification of an unjustified law, they would still anticipate a guilty ruling, as a judge occasionally interferes with justice and may instruct the jury that there is no defence in law as he would intend to present. Similar occurred in Swansea recently in 2020.
In the event of a guilty ruling, their plan would be to then move to the Appeals Court to seek a review, similar to the Quayle case, with Robert’s full support.
Of course even that appeal could rule against Monk and he could lose his home, children and liberty to find himself on holiday at her Royal Majesty’s pleasure.
Will enough of WTU sacrifice a cuppa per week for a year?
Will any British companies pledge support to the WTU campaign?
Will any legal professionals pledge pro bono support to end the unnecessary suffering and criminalisation of millions of peaceful people who choose cannabis for its nutritional, therapeutic, relaxation, spiritual or creative purposes?
Click on the image to contact WTU