Knowles and another, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 19 (Admin) - read judgment
The High Court has rejected a claim that Gypsies occupying caravans on private land were discriminated against by legislation which resulted in them not being able to claim full Housing Benefit to cover their rent.
Occupiers of caravans on a site owned by a local housing authority receive a Housing Benefit rent rebate of the whole of the rent charged. But if the caravan is on a private site, then the rent on which HB can be claimed is subject to determination by a rent officer, and that is normally substantially less than the full contractual rent charged. The claimants maintained that this scheme fails to meet the essential housing needs of Gypsies on private sites, who have particular site infrastructure and management needs – which result in additional costs, and hence a legitimately higher rent, not reflected in the HB awarded. They contended that the scheme was therefore discriminatory, and in breach of article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, when read with article 1 of the First Protocol 1 (the right to property) and article 8 of the substantive Convention (the right to respect for family and private life). Continue reading →
The Strasbourg Court has today come up with something of a mixed message in relation to religion at work. They have voted that there is a right to manifest individual faith by wearing religious adornments but not by objecting to practices that are protected by anti-discrimination legislation.
All four applicants are practising Christians. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complained that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor complained about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Further details of all these cases can be found in our posts here, here, and here (as well as in the “related posts” section below).
Mba v London Borough Of Merton (Religion or Belief Discrimination)  UKEAT 0332/12/1312 (13 December 2012) – Read judgment
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of an Employment Tribunal that she was not constructively dismissed as a result of her refusal to work on Sundays.
Mr Justice Langstaff, President of the EAT, made it clear in his judgment however that anyone hoping either for ‘a ringing endorsement of an individual’s right not to be required to work on a Sunday’ or an employer’s right to require it would be disappointed, as ‘no such broad general issue arises’. 
Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission (on appeal to the Upper Tribunal) CA/2010/0007 - read judgment
A private adoption agency could not justify its exclusion of same-sex prospective parents by arguing that this policy would keep open a source of funding that would otherwise dry up and reduce the number of adoption placements.
This was an appeal by the Catholic adoption services agency against the First Tribunal’s confirmation of the decision by the Charity Commission that it was not permitted to amend its constitution so as to permit it to continue its previous practice to refuse to offer its adoption services to same sex couples. Here is our post on the FTT’s ruling, which sets out the facts and arguments in the case. To recap briefly, the charity argued that the adoption of its proposed objects was justified under the general prohibition on discrimination under Article 14 ECHR (and its statutory analogy, Section 193 of the Equality Act). The legitimate aim it pursued was that of providing suitable adoptive parents for a significant number of children who would otherwise go unprovided for. The Charity maintained that unless it were permitted to discriminate as proposed, it would no longer be able to raise the voluntary income from its supporters on which it relied to run the adoption service, and it would therefore have to close its adoption service permanently on financial grounds. The FTT rejected this submission, holding that though the charity’s aim of increasing adoption placements was a legitimate one, the evidence before it did not show that the increased funding of the agency’s adoption work under the auspices of the Roman Catholic church would “inevitably” lead to the prospect of an increased number of adoptions. Continue reading →
Black & Morgan v. Wilkinson (unreported, 18 October 2012, Slough County Court) – Read judgment
The Christian owner of a B&B in Berkshire was found to have discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to allow them stay in a double-bedded room because of her belief that all sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong.
Although a county court judgment, this case has been splashed all over the headlines, partly because of BNP leader Nick Griffin’s comments on Twitter (about which see more below) but also because it is so factually similar to the high-profile case of Bull v. Hall and Preddy which is currently before the Supreme Court (see our analysis of the Court of Appeal judgment here). This judgment has also come along at a time when the European Court of Human Rights’ decision is awaited in the four conjoined cases of Ladele, Eweida, Macfarlane and Chaplin, all of which involve issues of religious freedom and two of which involve the same potential conflict between the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation and the right to religious freedom (see our posts here, here and here). Moreover, Recorder Moulder’s comprehensive and careful judgment has helpfully been made available online (see link above), so it can be considered in detail.
Whatever the outcome – which is perhaps predictable – the Court’s ruling will have a significant influence on the place of religion in public life and on how the relationship between religion and the state should be structured to reflect the aims of fairness and mutual respect envisaged in the Convention.
The Strasbourg institutions have not been at all ready to find an interference with the right to manifest a religious belief in practice or observance where a person has voluntarily accepted an employment or role which does not accommodate that practice or observance and there are other means open to the person to practise or observe his or her religion without undue hardship or inconvenience.[para 23]
(This is a revised intervention after the EHRC responded to widespread criticism of its proposed argument in support of “reasonable accommodation” of employees’ beliefs – see Alasdair Henderson’s post on this dust-up “Leap of Faith” and our following post on the reversal of the EHRC’s position.) Continue reading →
Macfarlane and others v United Kingdom (ECHR 329 (2012) – read press release
Tomorrow the Strasbourg Court will hear complaints in four applications that UK law has failed adequately to protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). See our posts on these cases here and here, and in the related Preddy case here.
All four applicants are practising Christians who complain that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complain that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, complain about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Their challenges to their consequent dismissal were rejected by the UK courts on the basis that their employers were entitled to refuse to accommodate views which contradicted their fundamental declared principles – and, all the more so, where these principles were required by law, notably under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
The judgment is awaited with considerable anticipation: the National Secular Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3 of the Rules of the Court.
The interaction between the law and religion or belief is rarely out of the headlines. Debate rages about whether Article 9, the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, receives sufficient – or too much – protection in the courts. There has been a considerable amount of litigation, much of it contentious (see, for example, here, here and here)
A new report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) by researchers at London Metropolitan University, including myself, explores these controversies. It is based largely on interviews and roundtable discussions with around 100 religion or belief groups, human rights and/or equality organisations, employers, public service staff, academics and lawyers. It is concerned as much with differing perceptions and understandings of the law as with the law itself. It also examines the practical application of the law in the workplace and public services.
Monday night’s fascinating seminar on Article 9, “Outlawing God”, saw Dinah Rose QC, John Bowers QC, Dr Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat former MP) and Rabbi Michael Laitner (solicitor and Orthodox rabbi) square off over the relationship of the courts to religious belief and believers, refereed (and sometimes stoked) by Joshua Rozenberg in the chair. The seminar, which raised almost £2,000 for legal advice clinics at the Hebrew University, can be listened to here.
There was a clear division in the room: between the lawyers, who felt that the courts in both the UK and Strasbourg afforded less robust protection to Article 9 rights than to the other rights in the Convention; and Dr Harris, who could not accept that a religious belief was any more worthy of protection than any political belief.
Swift v. Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 2000 (QB) Eady J, read judgment
This decision involves the intersection of Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR with the law governing who can recover damages for the death of a relative. This law is the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (for the text see  of the judgment – embarrassingly, the one freely available on the internet is out of date). One does not to think for very long before realising that the FAA is underpinned by an idea that one ought to respect the rights of the family, and to pay the family when one has negligently caused the death of a family member. But like all such laws, there is the problem of where to stop – where does the family stop for these purposes?
Ms Swift had been living with Mr Winters for 6 months when he was killed at work. She was pregnant with their child. Under FAA rules, her child had a claim for financial dependency against his father’s employer – what he expected to derive from his father had his father lived – even though he was not born at the date of his father’s death. Indeed, her son recovered £105,000. But, says the FAA, Ms Swift does not have a claim. s.1(3) requires an unmarried partner to have been living with the deceased for 2 years before his death before they can become a “dependant”, and no amount of re-writing via s.3 of the Human Rights Act (to make the FAA rights-compliant “so far as possible”) can make “2 years” read as “6 months” . Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.
So Ms Swift’s claim was against the Secretary of State for a declaration that the FAA was incompatible with her Article 8 and 14 rights.
R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 1810 (Admin)- read judgment
This case about prisoner’s pay provides an interesting up to date analysis of the role of the doctrine of “margin of appreciation” and its applicability in domestic courts.
Margin of appreciation is a doctrine of an international court: it recognises a certain distance of judgment between the Strasbourg court’s overall apprehension of the Convention principles and their application in practice by the national authorities. In theory it has no application in domestic disputes but ever since the Human Rights Act introduced Convention rights into domestic law there has been an ongoing debate about its applicability at a local level. This case demonstrates the importance of its role in the assessment, by the courts, of the compatibility of laws and rules with Convention rights.
Herrmann v Germany (Application no. 9300/07) 26 June 2012 – read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation of a landowner to allow hunting on his property violated his Convention rights. Although the majority based their conclusion on his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, the partially concurring and dissenting opinions and the judgment as a whole provide an interesting insight into the way freedom of conscience challenges are to be approached in a secular society where religion holds less sway than individual ethical positions on certain issues.
In 2002 the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany ruled that the granting of exceptional authorisation for the slaughter of animals without previous stunning, on religious grounds, did not breach the German Basic Law Schächt-Entscheidung (BVerfGE 99, 1, 15 January 2002). The social uproar that followed the ruling led to the German constitutional legislature taking a significant step aimed at protecting animal welfare with the 2002 constitutional reform, by including Article 20a in the Basic Law:
“Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the State shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals through legislation…” Continue reading →
The Government’s Consultation on Equal Civil Marriage ends on Thursday 14 June: you can fill in the brief online survey here if you haven’t already. In the meantime, the Church of England is on the front pages this morning with its own response, which amongst other things, warns that “it must be very doubtful whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious forms and ceremonies could withstand a challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights”
The Church’s argument is set out on pages 10 to 13 of its response. It is interesting, and there might be something in it. However, it is clear from the rest of the document that the Church is, in its introduction, inflating the likelihood of a successful court challenge. This has of course made its way into the press coverage, where it is being suggested that a challenge would “probably” succeed. But even the Church’s own response, reading a little further, does not go this far.
Let’s consider the argument. The Church puts a number of propositions. First,
It remains the case that member states of the Council of Europe are not obliged to make legal provision for same-sex marriage.
Mr Duncan-Smith has already faced opposition to his reform proposals but has made it clear that he is willing to tackle this controversial issue. However, this week’s ruling is a timely reminder that social security law is extremely complex and that the Government will have to tread very carefully to avoid unwittingly causing further instances of unlawful discrimination.
The late US law Professor Paul Miller reflected recently that Beethoven, Stephen Hawking and Elton John were examples of individuals whom, if they had been tested for serious genetic conditions at the start of their careers, may have been denied employment in the fields in which they later came to excel.
Earlier this month the Association of British Insurers announced the latest extension on the moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes. But is this “Concordat” sufficient protection? Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly available and profound questions are arising in relation to life and health insurance and employability as genetic screening becomes cheaper and widespread.