Conscience and cake

4495195_origGareth Lee v. Ashers Baking Co Ltd, Colin McArthur and Karen McArthur [2015] NICty 2 – read judgment here.

In a claim popularly dubbed the ‘gay cake’ case, which has attracted international attention, District Judge Brownlie of the Northern Ireland County Court held yesterday that it was unlawful direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation for a bakery owned by two Christians to refuse to bake a cake which had printed on it a picture of ‘Bert and Ernie’ and the caption ‘Support Gay Marriage’ .

The parties approached the claim from very different standpoints. The Plaintiff, Mr Lee, argued that Mr and Mrs McArthur refused to bake the cake because he was gay. The Defendants argued that they did not know what Mr Lee’s sexual orientation was and it would have made no difference if they had. They would have happily served him a cake of any kind. Rather, they objected to the message on the cake because they felt they would be promoting or supporting a cause which they disagreed with, going against their consciences. They would have refused to bake the same cake for a customer of any sexual orientation.

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The round-up: more righteous indignation about the Human Rights Act – in both camps.

hot_airIn the news

We can be sure of one thing. A battle is coming.” The future of the Human Rights Act still dominates the news, and this quote comes from UKHRB’s Adam Wagner, who suggests five tactics to ensure that human rights are not eroded. Perhaps the most in-depth analysis to date comes from Jack of Kent, who isolates the “seven hurdles” facing the government, including  Scotland, Tory backbench rebels, the House of Lords and the wording of the “British Bill of Rights” itself. He summarises:

So the current situation is: if the UK government can address the immense problems presented by Scottish devolution and the Good Friday Agreement, win-over or defeat Conservative supporters of the Act, shove the legislation through the house of lords, work out which rights are to be protected, somehow come up with a draft Bill of British Rights, and also explain why any of this is really necessary, and can do all this (or to do something dramatic) in “one hundred days” then…the Conservatives can meet their manifesto commitment in accordance with their ambitious timetable. But it seems unlikely.

Jack of Kent´s conclusion is echoed by Matthew Scott in the Telegraph (“Gove…faces almost insurmountable odds”), Mark Elliott in Public Law for Everyone (“the HRA…is far more deeply politically entrenched that the UK Government has so far appreciated”) and the Economist (“getting rid of the HRA will be tough – and almost pointless”). Continue reading

Everybody is talking about human rights

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 09.52.52As I am sure will not have escaped you, these are interesting times for human rights. We still await the detailed Conservative proposals for replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, so it is difficult with any certainty what will happen.

I wanted to gather together a few pieces of commentary and media appearances I have done in the past week, so here they are. We will, of course, be following closely what comes next.

There has been a huge amount more already. Some illuminating pieces (certainly not comprehensive):

Bank Mellat’s $4bn A1P1 claim gathers pace

bank_MellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2015] EWHC 1258 (Comm), Flaux J, 6 May 2015, read judgment

Two recent judgments underscoring the potential high cost of the UK getting it wrong in its dealing with businesses and hence being liable to pay damages under the Human Rights Act for breach of its A1P1 obligations. Regular readers will know that A1P1 is the ECHR right to peaceful enjoyment of property.

The first case was the photovoltaics case of Breyer, all about reducing renewables subsidies unfairly: see my post of last week here. The second, this case, involves a much more direct form of impact, namely the Treasury’s direction under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 that no-one else should have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat, because, the Treasury said, the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. 

Bank Mellat’s challenge got to the Supreme Court: see judgment and my post. The Court (a damn’d close run thing – 5:4) concluded that the direction was arbitrary and irrational and procedurally unfair. The nub of the complaint is that there were other Iranian banks against whom this very draconian measure was not taken, and that there was nothing specific about the Bank which made it more implicated than the rest of the banking system.

The Supreme Court remitted the case for trial as to HRA damages.

The current judgment of Flaux J is the first stage in that trial process. As we will see, Bank Mellat are distinct winners at this stage.

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Local authorities and judicial review: they should not put their heads completely in the sands

728631_de6cf1deMidcounties Co-Operative Ltd v. Forest of Dean [2015] EWHC 1251 (Admin) 6 May 2015, Singh J, read judgment here

Out of what some may think to be an everyday spat between the Co-Op (existing  supermarket) and an out-of-town supermarket proposer, comes a salutary reminder from Singh J that local authorities cannot behave like private litigants when they are judicially reviewed. Different rules apply.

A little bit of context. Cinderford, like many small towns, has been subject to supermarket wars for some years. Unfortunately, the local planning authority got its reasons for supporting an out-of-town project wrong. And they were successfully challenged on judicial review – once, and then twice, and then, as we shall see, for a third time. And the response on this last occasion to the challenge – we disagree with the challenge, but we won’t appear to dispute it, and will leave it all to the supermarket to whom we gave planning permission to say why we were not unlawful in granting them permission.

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A1P1 claims by photovoltaics get to the Court of Appeal

Department of Energy and Climate Change v. Breyer Group plc and others  [2015] EWCA Civ 408, 28 April 2015 read judgment

In 2011, DECC decided to change the rules about subsidies for photovoltaic schemes, and caused substantial losses to those who had contracted or were about to contract on the basis of the more generous old subsidies. 

This is prime territory for a damages claim under A1P1 ECHR. The Court of Appeal has recently dismissed an appeal by DECC against a decision of Coulson J (see my post here) supportive of such claims.  The decision was on preliminary issues involving assumed facts, but important legal arguments advanced by DECC were rejected by the CA. 

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Supreme Court: no excuses, UK must comply with EU air pollution law


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Supreme Court, 29 April 2015, judgment here

Bit of a history to this one, with 5 hearings so far. The short version is that in May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here), faced with the UK’s non-compliance with EU Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air), decide  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.  In 2014, the CJEU said its piece, (C404-13 and my post here), and its views are now considered by the Supreme Court, hence this second SC judgment.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 of the Air Quality Directive since 1 January 2010, by not complying with pollution limits in specified areas. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and the lower courts said that, given that admission, it was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings.  The Supreme Court’s 2013 judgement disagreed; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning and enforcement of the Directive to the CJEU.

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