No religion in court please

No religion in court please

Shergill v Purewal & Anor [2010] EWHC 3610 (QB) (15 December 2010) - Read judgment

In the commotion surrounding the Christian hotel gay discrimination case, it is easy to forget that there is a long-standing principle that English courts will not decide matters of religious doctrine. This principle has been in play in a run of recent cases involving an Indian holy man and libel claims against journalists.
The most recent case was brought by Dajid Singh Shergill, a UK-based Sikh activist suing the Panjab Times in relation to 3 articles published in the summer 2008, relating to His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj (Jeet Singh), an Indian based preacher. The articles claimed, amongst other things, that Jeet Singh had “abandoned Sikh Principles“, that he and his supporters were a “sham“, that Shergill had “sought to instigate serious riots and create an atmosphere of terror” by proclaiming that Baba Jeet Singh had won a court case in India and was seeking to misappropriate local Sikh temples.

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Daily Mail on the naughty step over domestic violence case

In an entertaining post which also raises the serious issue of journalistic responsibility, the Nearly Legal blog has put a Daily Mail “family law expert” on the naughty step in relation an article on a recent Supreme Court decision on the meaning of domestic violence in housing cases.

According to the respected housing law blog, the Mail article, entitled Shout at your spouse and risk losing your home: It’s just the same as domestic violence, warns woman judge, demonstrates“why the Mail is not a paper of record for case reports”. And

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Disabled volunteers can be discriminated against

X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau [2011] EWCA Civ 28 – Read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ruled that disabled people are not protected by domestic or European legislation against discrimination when they undertake voluntary work.

In this decision the specific question was whether volunteers at Citizens Advice Bureaus are protected from disability discrimination. X, the anonymised claimant, argued that CAB had terminated her role as a volunteer adviser because she had a disability. She claimed that:

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Counter-terrorism review published

The Home Office has published its long-awaited review of counter-terrorism and security powers. The review findings and recommendations are here.

Other key documents can be found via the following links:

The Home Office’s summary of the key recommendations is reproduced below:

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Supreme Court extends meaning of domestic violence

Yemshaw (Appellant) v London Borough of Hounslow (Respondent) [2011] UKSC 3 – Read judgment / press summary

The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that “domestic violence” in section 177(1) of the Housing Act 1996 includes physical violence, threatening or intimidating behaviour and any other form of abuse which, directly or indirectly, may give rise to the risk of harm.

The effect of the decision is that anyone threatened with domestic violence, within the Supreme Court’s wider meaning, will not be expected to remain in local authority housing with their abuser. Although the judgement, given by Baroness Hale, did not mention human rights, it clearly impacts on article 8 rights to family life, and alongside the recent decision in Pinnock, could greatly increase the number of people to which local authorities are obliged to provide housing.

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Supreme confusion

As the UK Supreme Court Blog points out, our highest court of appeal has updated the “frequently asked questions” section of its website.

Of particular interest are the answers to two questions. The first is probably the most important question the public ever asks about the court, namely whether, once a case has wound its way through the expensive and long-winded English court system, the final decision of the court can overrule the UK Parliament. Appropriately, the question is the first on the list. The answer is no:

 

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Expenses peer Taylor convicted, but will he be jailed?

Ex-Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick has become the first parliamentarian to be found guilty by a jury of making false parliamentary expenses claims. He now faces sentencing. Given the recent case of former MP David Chaytor, it seems unlikely that he will escape jail.

A jury at Southwark Crown Court found Taylor guilty of six counts of false accounting under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968, by a majority of 11 to 1. The expense at issue totalled £11,277. Mr Justice Saunders, who also sentenced Chaytor, presided over the trial.

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Libel threatens to stifle debate about factory farming

Libel threatens to stifle debate about factory farming

Food production is becoming a chosen territory for some of the fiercest current battles about freedom of information in this country.  In 2009 the Channel 4 broadcast of a film about the  pork factory business was effectively shut down by the threat of libel action; in the last week the Guardian reported that libel lawyers Carter and Ruck have written to the Soil Association threatening legal action if they failed to withdraw allegations underlying their objection to a planning application for one of the country’s largest pig units.

Update (15 January 2011): Nocton Dairies Ltd has withdrawn its planning application for a 3,700-cow mega-dairy in Lincolnshire.

Pig production company Midland Pig Producers (MPP) is seeking planning approval for 30 acres of land in Foston, Derbyshire, to develop a pig unit containing 2,500 sows and up to 25,000 pigs. The Soil Association formally objected to the plans because of the ‘increased disease risk and poor welfare conditions” of intensive units.

The application to South Derbyshire district council was in fact withdrawn after it was ruled that it needed to go to the county council instead. This is because the proposed inclusion of an anaerobic digestion unit on the site brings in waste matters which concerns the jurisdiction of the county council rather than the district planners. MPP expects to reapply in the next few weeks. Continue reading

A Cornish hotel and the conflict between discrimination law and religious freedom

Hall & Anor v Bull & Anor [2011] EW Misc 2 (CC) (04 January 2011) – Read judgment

Judge Andrew Rutherford in the Bristol County Court has held that the devout Christian couple who ran their Cornish hotel according to their Christian principles directly discriminate against a homosexual couple in a civil partnership, when they refused accommodation to them on the basis that they only let double rooms to married couples.

The couple had planned for a short break in Cornwall and, after some internet research, chose the Chymorvah Private Hotel. They booked two nights over the telephone and arrived a few days later. They were met by the owner of the hotel and told in the public reception area in front of at least one other guest, the hotels policy with regard to double rooms. The online booking form stated

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States Not Obliged to Assist Persons Wishing to Commit Suicide – Antoine Buyse

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights decided in the case of Haas v. Switzerland (judgment in French only) that the right to private life is not violated when a state refuses to help a person who wishes to commit suicide by enabling that person to obtain a lethal substance.

The applicant in the case, Ernst Haas, had for two decades been suffering from a serious bipolar affective disorder (more commonly known as manic depression). During that time he attempted to commit suicide twice. Later, he tried to obtain a medical prescription for a small amount of sodium pentobarbital, which would have allowed him to end his life without ain or suffering. Not a single psychiatrist, of the around 170 (sic!) he approached, was willing to give him such a prescription. This would have been necessary, under Swiss law, which allowed for assisted suicide if it was not done for selfish motives (in the opposite case, the person assisting could be prosecuted under the criminal code).

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Court of Human Rights: five recent Article 10 cases – Hugh Tomlinson QC

Over the past month, the Court of Human Rights has handed down judgment in six Article 10 cases.  We have already posted about the most recent, MGN v United Kingdom. Of the other five, two involved civil defamation claims in domestic cases.  In both civil defamation cases it was held that the State had infringed the right to freedom of expression but there was no finding of violation in any of the other cases.  The reasoning is not straightforward in any of these cases and there are continuing doubts about the quality of the Court’s Article 10 case law.

The only “media case” amongh the five was Novaya Gazeta V Voronezhe v. Russia([2010] ECHR 2104) in which a unanimous First Section found a violation of Article 10 as a result of a domestic defamation award of RUB 25,000 (£525) and an order for the publication of an apology.  The applicant newspaper had published an article which concerned abuses and irregularities allegedly committed by the mayor of Novovoronezh and other municipal officials. It also made references to services supplied by a local businessman. The article relied on and quoted from a town administration audit report.  The domestic court allowed the plaintiffs’ action, holding in particular that the article implied the embezzlement of funds by the mayor and the businessman, of which the newspaper had failed to adduce any proof.  It pointed out that no criminal proceedings against the plaintiffs in connection with the audit of some of the financial matters in question had been opened and that the article thus lacked a factual basis.

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Information is knowledge, knowledge is power

R (on the application of Guardian News and Media Limited) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court [2010] EWHC 3376 – Read judgment

The Guardian newspaper has failed to convince the High Court that it should be able to see  key documents in the trial of three men threatened with extradition to the United States on charges of corruption and bribery. The case highlights the finely balanced right to freedom of information.

Since the European Convention of Human Rights came into force in 1953, the scope of the rights contained within it has grown along with the jurisprudence it has given rise to. As times have changed, the Article 8 right to respect for private life has, for example, grown to encompass increased rights for both pre- and post-operative transsexuals. More recently, the Article 10 right to freedom of expression has also been said by the European Court of Human Rights to include a right to access certain kinds of information. The scope of human rights, like many legal definitions, appear to have a metastatic tendency. However, in a recent case involving Art 10 the High Court drew a line in the sand, at least as regards the limited sphere of access to court documents in extradition cases.

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Batty behaviour in Hampshire habitat

Morge (FC) (Appellant) v Hampshire County Council (Respondent) on appeal from [2010] EWCA Civ 608- Read judgment

We cannot drive a coach-and-horses through natural habitats without a bit of soul-searching, says the Supreme Court .

The UK has conservation obligations under EU law to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and this goes beyond holding back only those developments that threaten significant disturbance to species. Detailed consideration must be given to the specific risks to the species in question. But this consideration can be left to the quangos; planning committees are not obliged to make their own enquiries.

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Prisoner voting and the £160m question

The government has reportedly revised its plan to allow prisoners serving less than 4 years to vote in elections. Ministers now seek to limit the right to those sentenced to a year or less.

A looming presence in the debate has been the much-touted figure of £160m compensation which the prime minister has warned Parliament that the UK will have to pay if it does not comply with a 6-year-old judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (see my last post on the issue for the full background). But where did this figure arise from? And is it right?

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Pastor Terry Jones ban – what about free speech?

Terry Jones, an American pastor who threatened to burn Korans on the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, has been banned from entering the UK “for the public good”.

He has told BBC Radio 5 live that he would challenge the “unfair” decision as his visit could have been “beneficial”. But, as I posted last month, the recent case of an Indian preacher who challenged his exclusion from the UK suggests that the courts would be unlikely to quash the Home Secretary’s decision. The following is taken from my previous post on the topic.

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