Will the Public Sector Equality Duty survive the Red Tape Challenge? – Neil Crowther

cut-red-tape-challengeIn May 2012, the Home Secretary announced a review of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which came into force a year earlier in April 2011, as an outcome of the Red Tape Challenge.  The review is focusing in particular on levels of understanding of the PSED and guidance, the costs and benefits of the duty, how organisations are managing legal risk and ensuring compliance with the duty and what changes, if any, would secure better equality outcomes.  It is being overseen by a steering group, appointed by Government Ministers, largely drawn from public authorities. 

The Review has recently launched a call for evidence, with a closing date of 12th April 2013.  The call is particularly interested in ‘equalities paperwork and policies related to PSED (particularly in relation to public sector procurement processes) and the collection, retention and use of diversity data by public bodies, for example, in relation to goods, facilities and services.’

The Equality and Diversity Forum has produced a helpful briefing on the Review.

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Damages for death and human rights


1362401166_wreathSwift v. Secretary of State for Justice, Court of Appeal, 18 February 2013 – read judgment – on appeal from Eady J, read judgment and my previous post

Ms Swift lost her live-in partner in an accident at work caused by negligence. She was pregnant with her partner’s child, but had only been living with him for 6 months. Had she been with him for 2 years, she could have claimed damages for his death under section 1(3) of the Fatal Accidents Act – set out at [1] of the CA judgment. She would then have been a “dependant” as defined under the FAA. So she argued that her rights under Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR were not properly respected by the law governing damages for the death of a relative – there was no justification for this stark cut-off – 1 year 11 months no claim, 2 years a claim. The judge refused to grant a declaration of incompatibility between the ECHR and the Fatal Accidents Act, and the Court of Appeal has just upheld his decision.

A lot of money turned on the point:  Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.

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Grand Chamber find Austrian same sex adoption discrimination

gay-rights-rally-in-Los-A-001X AND OTHERS v. AUSTRIA – 19010/07 – HEJUD [2013] ECHR 148 (19 February 2013) – Read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (by 10 votes to 7) has found that Austrian law discriminated against a same sex couple as it prevented them from adopting jointly the biological child of one of them (what we would call a second-parent adoption). The Court found a violation of Article 14 (anti-discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (respect for private and family life) protection because this was less favourable treatment than if they were an unmarried different sex couple who would have been permitted to adopt together.

The narrowness of the majority might have had something to do with the fact that the father of the Child had been a party to the case in the domestic courts and opposed the adoption (although the fact that the child of the lesbian couple in Gas and Dubois v France had been conceived through anonymous donor insemination had not helped that case). In the event, the Grand Chamber decision was based on the fact that the Austrian Supreme Court had referred to the “legal impossibility” of the proposed same sex adoption in this case.

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Equal marriage on the way as Bill published

gaycouple“Marriage of same sex couples is lawful”, begins the Government’s new Equal Marriage Bill, which will, amongst other things, make it legal for gay couples to marry in both civil and religious ceremonies.

Religious communities will not be forced to conduct ceremonies, but will be able to ‘opt-in’ to the new system. However, Church of England communities will not be permitted to opt in even if they want to. The progress Bill can be tracked here – the next reading is in the House of Commons on 5 February. The Bill is summarised as follows:

A Bill to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales, about gender change by married persons and civil partners, about consular functions in relation to marriage, for the marriage of armed forces personnel overseas, and for connected purposes.

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Gypsies not entitled to full housing benefit to cover private rent

a-gypsy-caravan-site-in-wales-powys-could-be-set-for-a-major-revamp-$7070874$326Knowles and another, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2013] 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

Strasbourg rules against UK on BA crucifix issue, but rejects three other religious rights challenges

amfhindssilvercrucifixchainb001t9box8Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom – read judgment

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).

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Christian who refused Sunday work was not constructively dismissed – Richard Wayman

300px-Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_014Mba v London Borough Of Merton (Religion or Belief Discrimination) [2012] 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’. [3]

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Upper Tribunal confirms illegality of Catholic Charity’s ban on same-sex couple adoption

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

The thorny issue of religious belief and discrimination law (again)

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.

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Are Christians really marginalised in this country?

We will have to wait some time before Strasbourg hands down its judgment in the religious discrimination cases it heard earlier this week.

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 Equality and Human Rights Commission argues in its intervention submission that Strasbourg – and the UK courts – should move on from their “restrictive” interpretation of Article 9, summed up by Lord Bingham’s oft-cited description of the Court’s position in R (SB) v Governors of Denbigh High School [2006] UKHL 15

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

Religious freedom in UK to be considered by Strasbourg Court

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.

Equality, human rights and religion or belief: time to get out of the courtroom? – Alice Donald

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.

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Outlawing God? The limits of religious freedom

Dinah Rose QC

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.

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When human rights hit the private law of damages for death

Swift v. Secretary of State for Justice [2012] 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 [10] 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.

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Courts should take note of Strasboug’s doctrine of deference

R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice [2012] 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.

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