Volunteers not entitled to protection of disability discrimination laws

Citizens-Advice-Bureau-007X(Appellant) v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau and another (Respondent) [2012] UKSC 59 – read judgment

The Supreme Court has confirmed the Court of Appeal’s view that voluntary occupation does not attract the protections of the Equality Act or the Framework Directive.

Background

The appellant had worked as a volunteer adviser for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau since 2006. In 2007 she claimed that she was asked to cease work in circumstances amounting to discrimination on grounds of disability. She sought to bring proceedings against the respondent but the Court of Appeal held that the Employment Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the case as she was a volunteer rather than an employee, and therefore fell outside the scope of protections against discrimination under the  Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now covered by the Equality Act 2010) and Directive 2000/78/EEC  (“the Framework Directive”). See Isabel McArdle’s post on that decision here. Continue reading

US Supreme Court to rule on affirmative action

The US Supreme Court’s term begins today, and race relations is at the top of the court’s agenda. The US press hails Fisher v University of Texas as the most important case the Court has agreed to hear thus far. Word is out that it could sound the death knell for affirmative action in the United States.

The justices are being asked to decide whether race-based affirmative action in college admissions is still constitutional.  The petitioner is a white student who was turned down by the University of Texas in 2008. She claims she was a victim of illegal race discrimination under their policy of affirmative action.

In 1997 the Texas legislature enacted a law requiring the University of Texas to admit all Texas high school seniors ranking in the top ten percent of their classes.   Whilst this measure improved access to tertiary education for many, the colleges protested at having their hands tied with regard to highly talented students who showed promise in certain subjects but did not come in to the top ten percent (including minority students in highly integrated high schools).  To redress this balance the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that universities could consider a minority student’s race as a “plus factor” in admissions. The Court based its ruling on the need for colleges to ensure a diverse student body. Following this judgment, the University of Texas added a new affirmative action policy to go along with the automatic admission rule  with race being a “plus factor” in admission. Continue reading

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

Yes, come to the library! Browse and borrow, and help make sure it’ll still be here tomorrow…

“Yes, come to the library! Browse and borrow, and help make sure it’ll still be here tomorrow…” Thus concludes “Library poem”, penned by Children’s Laureate and Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson, the latest high profile recruit to the campaign against planned library closures.

There have been a number of developments since we last blogged on this issue:

First, in R(Bailey And Others) V Brent London Borough Council & All Souls College (Interested Party)  & Ehrc (Intervener) [2011] Ewca Civ 1586, The appellants failed to overturn the dismissal of their application for judicial review of a local authority’s decision to close half its public libraries.  See previous post here. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on every ground, noting that the local authority’s decision to reduce its expenditure on public services was primarily one for it to make as a democratically elected body.  Given the scale of the spending reductions required the decision was not unlawful.

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Poor not singled out by rise in university fees, rules court

Hurley and Moore v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills [2012] EWHC 201- read judgment

This judgment, the latest in an expanding list of decisions on challenges to the Coalition government’s spending cuts, is an interesting example of judicial restraint and deference to the government on issues of macro-policy, at a time when the extent of judicial intervention into political decision-making is the subject of much debate in the legal profession and academia, thanks to Lord Sumption’s  FA Mann Lecture  on the subject late last year (see our post) and its recent rebuttal by Sir Stephen Sedley (discussed here).

The High Court (Elias LJ and King J) dismissed an application by two sixth form students for a quashing order against the regulations implementing the Government’s decision to raise the statutory cap on University tuition fees to £6,000 per year generally and £9,000 per year for qualifying courses. It did, however, grant a declaration that in reaching that decision, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills had failed fully to comply with his public sector equality duties. Continue reading

Is it legal to teach gay hate in schools?

Updated, 20 Feb 2012 | Following the news recently it would seem that the UK is convulsed by a raging battle between religious observers and, in the words of Baroness Warsi, militant secularists. On the same day, the High Court ruled that Christian prayers held before a council meeting were unlawful, and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court that two Christian hotel owners had discriminated against gay clients by not offering them a double room.

Today’s spat, according to The Guardian, involves a letter sent to the Education Secretary Michael Gove by the Trade Union Congress leader “expressing alarm that a booklet containing “homophobic material” had been distributed by a US preacher after talks to pupils at Roman Catholic schools across the Lancashire region in 2010.” From the quotes provided in The Observer, the book sounds pretty offensive:

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More cuts: Library closure challenge fails

Updated | Bailey & Others v London Borough of Brent Council [2011] EWHC 2572 (Admin) – Read judgment

Every Wednesday my daughter looks forward to the arrival of the mobile library at her nursery.  Two by two the children go into the little world of books and emerge holding a new story they have chosen for themselves. 

Not for long.  Despite the well-documented advantages of exposing children to the joys of reading at an early age – before the attractions of TV, video games and looting shops take hold – library services across the land are being targeted for cuts.

The duty to provide library services for children was one of the key arguments advanced by campaigners in Brent challenging the council’s decision to close 6 of its 12 libraries.  Reliance was placed upon section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.  This requires local authorities to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.

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Some information on local sex offence teachers must be disclosed, rules tribunal

In Colleen Smith v IC and Devon & Cornwall Constabulary (EA/2011/0006), the requester asked for information on the number of school teachers in specified towns who had been investigated, cautioned and charged under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 between January 2005 and November 2007. The Constabulary eventually relied on the personal data at section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act (‘FOIA’).

The Commissioner found that, where the answer was “zero”, this was not personal data and should be disclosed; otherwise, the information could be withheld under section 40. The Tribunal has upheld this decision, albeit for different reasons.

This decision is worth noting on a number of grounds.

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University funding, Scotland and a question of equality

Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), a solicitors’ firm, is planning to bring judicial review proceedings to challenge the Scottish government’s university funding scheme, which allows Scottish universities to charge students from other parts of the UK fees, while students from other parts of the EU and Scotland are not charged fees. 

Currently, non-Scottish students from elsewhere in the UK and Northern Ireland have to pay tuition fees in Scotland, set to rise to up to £9,000 annually next year. However, Scottish students and those from other parts of the EU do not have to pay fees at all. Non-British EU students do not have to pay fees in Scotland due to EU law forbidding them from being treated differently to Scottish students.

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A very controversial kiss

R (on the application of G) v The Governors of X School [2011] UKSC 30 – Read judgment 

On 4 October 2007 the parents of a 15 year old boy complained that he had been kissed by his 22 year old school sessional music teaching assistant (G).

After an (inconclusive) Police investigation, the school held a disciplinary hearing and dismissed G. They also referred his case to the Secretary of State with a view to him being barred from working with children. The Claimant appealed to the school governors. He also sought to be represented by his solicitor. In this he was successful on judicial review and at the Court of Appeal.

The question for the Supreme Court was, did Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (the right to a fair trial) mean that G was entitled to be legally represented at the hearing before the school governors?

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Human rights in some but not all disciplinary hearings at work, rules Supreme Court

R (on the application of G) (Respondent) v The Governors of X School (Appellant) [2011] UKSC 30 – Read judgment / press summary

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to a fair trial, is engaged in internal disciplinary proceedings if the will have a “substantial influence” on future proceedings which are likely to determine a civil right.

However, in this case of a teaching assistant sacked for sexual misconduct with a child, the court ruled by a majority that article 6 rights were not available at a school’s internal disciplinary hearing and the man was therefore not entitled to legal representation. This was because the result of the hearing would not have a substantial influence on the secretary of state’s decision whether to place the man on the list of people barred from working with children. Simply, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) was obliged to make its own independent judgment.

As Martin Downs posted in April, this decision – which supports the previous decision of the court of appeal – will have an important effect on all internal disciplinary hearings held in the public sector, not just those held at schools. It will now be easier for teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses and others to secure the right to legal representation, alongside other rights such as the right to an impartial panel, at disciplinary hearings which will have a substantial influence on their career.

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Hey, teacher! Leave those cornrows alone

Updated | SG v St Gregory’s Catholic Science College [2011] EWHC 1452 (Admin) (17 June 2010) – Read judgment

Most people have their first taste of injustice at school. This is hardly surprising: an institution containing hundreds of teenagers for whom rebellion is a biological imperative is always going to be difficult to control. In trying to do so, teachers sometimes impose petty rules.

Many children fantasize of an external authority intervening to expose the injustice of those rules, particularly in relation to modes of dress. But few take their school to court to challenge a policy on hairstyle. And even fewer win, as a young boy – known in this case as SG – has just done in the High Court. SG took his school, St Gregory’s Catholic Science College of Harrow in Greater London, to court to challenge its ban on boys wearing their hair in “cornrows“, or braids.

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Students, visas and the points system: difficulties in enforcement

R(New London College) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  [2011] EWHC 856 (Admin) – read judgment

When she introduced the latest changes  to the points-based system for allowing entry into the United Kingdom the Home Secretary Theresa May said that “this package will stop the bogus students, studying meaningless courses at fake colleges…it will restore some sanity to our student visa system” (March 22 2011)
Whether these changes will alleviate any of the difficulties of applying the criteria to institutions that provide study courses for foreign nationals, only time will tell. This case illustrates some of these problems of enforcement.  

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Coalition cancellation of school building program was unlawful

Luton Borough Council & Nottingham City Council & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Education [2011] EWHC 217 (Admin) (11 February 2011) – Read judgment

The high court has ruled that the coalition government’s cancellation of Labour’s school building program in 6 areas was unlawful. The full background to the ruling can be found here.

Michael Gove, the education secretary, announced in July that the £55bn scheme was to be reduced significantly, prompting five councils to challenge the decision by way of judicial review.

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The right to education, human rights and school exclusions

The European Court of Human Rights has handed down judgment in Ali v United Kingdom (Application no. 40385/06, 11 January 2011). The decision is the final instalment of the litigation which culminated at the domestic level in the judgment of the House of Lords in Ali v Lord Grey School [2006] UKHL 14.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ECtHR has upheld the conclusion of the HoL (Baroness Hale dissenting in part) that no violation of the A2P1 right to education occurred.  However, in certain significant respects the reasoning of the ECtHR diverges from that of the HoL. In particular, it provides important guidance on: (i) the circumstances in which school exclusions are compatible with A2P1 rights; and (ii) the content of the right to education.

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