Gay discrimination and Christian belief: Analysis of Bull v. Hall in the Supreme Court

Peter-and-Hazel-Bull-007Bull v. Hall and Preddy [2013] UKSC 73 – read judgment here.

The recent confirmation by the Supreme Court that it was unlawful discrimination for Christian hotel owners to refuse a double-bedded room to a same-sex couple was of considerable interest as the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving religious belief and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (and the first such judgment involving the highest court in the land). We have already provided a summary of the facts and judgment here, and our post on the Court of Appeal ruling can be found here.

The case has been  portrayed in some media as a clash between gay rights and religious freedom, with gay rights winning – see e.g. the Daily Mail’s headline: B&B owners’ right to bar gay couple crushed by ‘need to fight discrimination’. This is despite the best efforts of Lady Hale, who gave the main speech, to emphasise at paragraph 34 that this decision did not amount to replacing legal oppression of one community (homosexual couples) with legal oppression of another (Christians and others who shared the appellants’ beliefs about marriage), because the law equally prohibits a hotel keeper from refusing a particular room to a couple because they are heterosexual or because they have certain religious beliefs. However, moving beyond this simplistic portrayal of the issue at stake, there are several interesting legal points in the decision, which may raise more questions than it answered.

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Christian care worker loses Sunday working discrimination appeal – Richard Wayman

300px-Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_014Mba v London Borough Of Merton [2013] EWCA Civ 1562 – Read judgment

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that a requirement that she work on Sundays indirectly discriminated against her on the grounds of religion or belief.

The Court unanimously found that although both the EAT and the Employment Tribunal (ET) had erred in law, the ET’s decision was ‘plainly and unarguably right’ [24], and applying the principle in Dobie v Burns International Security (UK) Limited [1984] ICR 812, the errors did not make any difference to the outcome.

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You can’t be disabled when you’re dead – a footnote to R (Antoniou)


A somewhat curious additional point arises out of the case of R (Antoniou) – see my earlier post for the main issue – in which the court decided that Article 2 ECHR does not require an independent investigation into deaths in state detention prior to a coroner’s inquest. There was therefore no obligation to ensure that there was an independent investigation into the suicide, or death resulting from self-harm, of a mentally ill person detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983. There is such an investigation when a prisoner commits suicide. The Claimant thought this smacked of discrimination against the mentally disabled. The Court disagreed – on the somewhat surprising ground that you can’t be disabled once you’re dead.

Where a prisoner commits suicide, or dies as a result of self-harm, there will be an independent investigation from the outset. Any death in prison or in probation custody is automatically referred immediately to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for independent investigation. The Independent Police Complaints Commission performs a similar role for deaths in police, immigration or Customs & Excise detention. There is no equivalent independent investigator of deaths in mental health detention, which are investigated by the hospital where they occurred. The Claimant said this distinction discriminates between people who are mentally disabled and those of sound mind.

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High level Parliamentary committee asks whether mental capacity laws are working

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Updated | The House of Lords ad hoc Select Committee on the Mental Capacity Act 2005 has now heard three sessions of evidence, and is currently calling for written evidence (deadline 3 September – details here).

The Committee, chaired by Lord Hardie (former Lord Advocate) and including such heavy-hitters as Lord Faulks (Ed Faulks QC as was) and Baroness Hollins (former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and current President of the BMA), aims to “scrutinise the legislation to see if it is working as Parliament intended” and to examined “whether the Government’s implementation programme was effective in embedding the guiding principles of the Act in every day practice, and whether there has been a noticeable change in the culture of care.”

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Pride in London, Fierté in Paris & joy in San Francisco: taking stock of law for LGBT

gaykemptownPride is celebrated this weekend in London, New York and – most especially – San Francisco where, even as I write, same sex couples are being married after the ruling of the US Supreme Court on Proposition 8. Appropriately, Kris Perry, one of the litigants before the Court was the first to be wed. Matthew Flinn has already posted on this and the Court decision on the Defence of Marriage Act.

It is irresistible to take stock at moments such as these.

France is celebrating its first same sex marriages, Uruguay and New Zealand are close on its tail and the Bill to effect the same in England and Wales should confront its final hurdle on 15 July.

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Strasbourg rules that excessive tax rates offend A1P1

income taxN.K.M v. Hungary, ECtHR, 14 May 2013, read judgment

Those of a certain age will remember when top tax rates in the UK were 98%. This was the marginal rate of tax in this successful claim that such taxation offended Article 1 of the 1st Protocol (A1P1) – the peaceful enjoyment of possessions. But the very wealthy seeking to safeguard their bankers bonuses may not obtain too much comfort from the Strasbourg ruling, as the facts were fairly extraordinary.

The applicant had been a Hungarian civil servant for 30 years until her dismissal (with many others) in July 2011. Long-standing rules gave her 8 months severance pay. The 98% tax rate was introduced in 2010; it was then successfully challenged in the Hungarian Constitutional Court. On the day of the Court’s adverse judgment, the tax was re-enacted, but this time the 98% rate was applied to pay exceeding 3.5m forints – c. £10,000 – and, further, only where the earnings came out of specified categories of public sector employees.

A fresh challenge in the Constitutional Court annulled the retrospective effect of this law, but could not as a matter of jurisdiction review the substantive aspects of the tax. So the applicant went to Strasbourg to challenge the tax when deducted from her pay.

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Supreme Court find A1P1 breach in retrospective legislation

19053359-2Salvesen v. Riddell [2013] UKSC 22, 24 April 2013, read judgment 

When can an agricultural landlord turf out his tenant farmer? The answer to this question has ebbed and flowed since the Second World War, but one element of the latest attempt by the Scottish Parliament to redress the balance in favour of tenants has just been declared incompatible with Article 1 of the 1st Protocol (A1P1) as offending landlords’ rights to property. The Supreme Court has so ruled, upholding the Second Division of the Court of Session’s ruling in March 2012

The reasoning is not just of interest to agricultural lawyers either side of the border. But a brief  summary of the laws is necessary in order to identify the invidiousness of the new law as identified by the Court – and hence its applicability to other circumstances.

As will be seen from my postscript, the decision of the court below to the same effect appears to have had tragic consequences.

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