Facebook faux pas and disciplinary proceedings – when do human rights come in?

Smith v Trafford Housing Trust [2012] EWHC 3221 (Ch) – read judgment 

Turner v East Midlands Trains [2012] EWCA Civ 1470 – read judgment

Two employment cases, about Facebook and train tickets respectively, indicate the difficulties of deciding where human rights may or may not be raised in disputes between private parties – neither defendant in these cases was a public authority. 

It is perfectly clear that where there is a statutory provision under attack, Section 3 of the Human Rights Act mandates the “reading down” of its wording to conform to Convention rights even though there is no “public authority” amongst the parties to the litigation. The Turner case below illustrates this particular aspect of the “horizontal” effect of the HRA in disputes between private parties.

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Human rights victory for BNP bus driver

REDFEARN v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 47335/06 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1878 – read judgment / press release

The BNP has been a relentless opponent of Human Rights Act and its manifesto for the 2010 General Election made no less than three separate declarations of its intention to scrap the Act and abrogate the European Convention of Human Rights which it described charmingly as being, “exploited to abuse Britain’s hospitality by the world’s scroungers.”

This has not stopped the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) riding to the rescue of one of their erstwhile councilors in Redfearn v United Kingdom

The ECtHR, by a majority of four to three (with British judge Sir Nicolas Bratza being one of the dissenters), decided that, despite the margin of appreciation, the positive obligation placed on the UK by Article 11 (right to free assembly and association) meant that a person dismissed on account of his political beliefs or affiliations should be able to claim unfair dismissal despite not having the qualifying one year’s service then applicable.

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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.

NHS Trust rapped on knuckles for refusing to reinstate union activist

R(on the application of Yunus Bakhsh) v Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust [2012] EWHC 1445 (Admin) - read judgment

This fascinating short judgment explores the extent to which a judicial review claim, or a free-standing claim under the Human Rights Act, may be precluded by a statute covering the same issue.

If Parliament has decided on a particular avenue of appeal in a certain context, and settled upon a sum in compensation, do the courts have any room for manoeuvre outside those statutory limits?  There is very strong authority to the effect that the courts have no discretion to grant any relief going beyond the remedy which Parliament has seen fit to provide (see Johnson v Unisys Ltd [2003] 1 AC 518). But on arguability grounds at least, this short permission decision by Foskett J suggests that public law must attend to the policy behind the statute. If the redress provided by the legislation does not fully serve the aims of that policy, it may be that public law has to come to the rescue.

Background

In essence the claimant, a former mental nurse who had been sacked because of his trade union activities and not granted reinstatement, was seeking to challenge the decision by his employer, a public NHS trust, not re-engage him after it had been ordered to do so by an Employment Tribunal in 2010. The reason they failed to do so was not put forward but was probably because of his anticipated continued trade union militancy. Continue reading

Should we outlaw genetic 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.

According to the Human Genetics Commission (HGC)

The advent of cheap whole-genome sequencing, and greatly reduced costs for genetic tests in general, will provide the platform for genetic testing to be used for novel and unpredicted purposes. (Report on The Concept of Genetic Discrimination, Aril 2011) Continue reading

Suing the corporate soul; parent company down for asbestosis

Chandler v. Cape Plc, Court of Appeal, 25 April 2012, read judgment.

This may sound like a rather dreary topic, but the problem is vitally important for the proper reach of environmental and personal injury law. Some may have seen from my post on the Erika disaster the difficult issues which can arise when a multi–national (in that case, Total) does business through a number of corporate entities, particularly where they are domiciled in different countries. But the present case is a good example where liabilities are not confined to the party directly responsible for the injury or disaster. Good thing, too, for this claimant, who stood to gain nothing from his former employer, a company now dissolved, or indeed its insurers.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Mr Chandler worked for a Cape company, Cape Products, loading bricks. Asbestos was also  produced at his workplace, and dust from that part of the works was allowed to blow around the works. Mr Chandler recently contracted asbestosis, and wanted to claim for the admitted negligence of Cape Products. But Cape Products was no more, and there had been excluded from its employers liability insurance any cover for pneumoconiosis. So that led nowhere. Hence this claim against Cape Plc, its parent company, on the basis that Cape Plc had “assumed” responsibility for the health of its subsidiary’s employees.

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GP’s rights not violated by suspension from performers list

Malik v United Kingdom 23780/08 [2012] ECHR 438 (13 March 2012) – Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights held that the suspension of a GP from the Primary Care Trust (PCT) Performers List did not violate his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions under Article 1 Protocol 1 (A1P1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court declined to decide whether there was a possession that could be interfered with in this case, but held that suspension did not affect Dr Malik.

Dr Malik ran a general practice from premises he owned in London. He was under a general medical services contract with his PCT so that he had to ensure patients on his list were provided with GP services (whether by himself or a salaried doctor); his premises was rented (for a notional amount) so that it could be used for NHS services. Dr Malik was also on the PCT’s performers list so that he personally could provide GP services.

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What price unfair dismissal, in times of austerity?

Edwards v Chesterfield Royal Hospital and Botham (FC) v Ministry of Defence [2011] UKSC 58 – read judgment.

Although not strictly speaking a human rights case, the Supreme Court handed down an important employment law decision this week which has significant impact on employees’ ability to claim damages if they are sacked unfairly or if an internal disciplinary process isn’t properly followed by their employer.

Both cases, which had been conjoined for the purposes of the appeal, dealt with situations where an employee had a contractual right to a particular disciplinary procedure but the procedure was not properly followed. The employees argued that as a result of the flawed disciplinary process, incorrect and highly damaging findings of fact were made against them, which prevented them from finding future employment. In both cases the incorrect findings of fact concerned allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct, in the case of Mr Edwards (a surgeon) with patients and in the case of Mr Botham (a youth worker) with teenage girls in his care, so the employees’ upset is readily understandable.

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Can you choose an arbitrator on the grounds of his religion?

Jivraj v. Hashwani [2011] UKSC 40 Read judgment

We all know that these days you cannot just say you want to employ a Muslim or a Catholic without a good reason. But what about the potentially different question as to whether you can choose your own private judge, namely an arbitrator, by reference to his or her religion?

This problem faced the Supreme Court recently. Its answer involved a detailed analysis of what was involved in the whole process of arbitration, and the similarities and difference between it and a more typical relationship between client and professionals. The Court also touches on the exception to the rule against discrimination, based upon the job having a genuine occupational requirement for a person of a given religion.

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Dismissal of hospital consultant did not breach fair trial rights

Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust [2011] EWHC 2068 (QB)- Read judgment

The High Court has dismissed Dr Raj Mattu’s claim that his dismissal by an NHS Trust was in breach of contract and in breach of his Article 6 right to a hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal. This is one of the first judgments on the applicability of Article 6 to disciplinary and dismissal proceedings since the decision of the Supreme Court in R (G) v X School Governors [2011] UKSC 30 (read our post).

Dr Mattu was employed by the Trust as a consultant in non-invasive cardiology and general medicine in 1998. In 2002 he was suspended on disciplinary grounds; however, the relevant disciplinary hearing did not occur until 2007 and the suspension was in place until July 2007. Further, Dr Mattu was on sick leave for at least a year from September 2006.

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A leap of faith?

In the midst of all the coverage of the phone hacking scandal and the mounting woes of News Corporation an interesting piece of human rights news from the past week got lost: the announcement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) that it is applying to intervene in four cases before the European Court of Human Rights being brought by Christians who claim their Article 9 rights are not being sufficiently protected in UK law.

The applicants are Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, each of whom has lost claims of workplace discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief in the UK courts over the past couple of years (see our general comment pieces here and here). The EHRC has now said that in its view “Judges have interpreted the law too narrowly in religion or belief discrimination claims” and that “the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.”

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Strasbourg Grand Chamber rules on Diplomatic Immunity

Farouk Sabeh el Leil v France (29 June 2011) – read judgment

When a diplomatic employee takes action for compensation for unfair dismissal, the host country’s courts  cannot simply rule out the possibility of a claim on the basis that the employer has state immunity. This would impair the very essence of his right of access to a court under Article 6 of the Convention.

The applicant, a French national, had been employed as an accountant in the Kuwaiti embassy in Paris since August 1980. He was promoted to head accountant in 1985. In March 2000, the Embassy terminated his contract as part of a cost-cutting exercise. His application to the local employment tribunal was initially successful but ultimately failed before the Paris Court of Appeals which found that the State of Kuwait enjoyed jurisdictional immunity on the basis of which it was not subject to court actions against it in France. Continue reading

Courts have no inherent power to order closed procedure – Al Rawi in the Supreme Court

1 Crown Office Row’s Peter Skelton appeared for The Security Services in this case. He is not the author of this post.

Al Rawi and others (Respondents) (Respondents) v The Security Service and others (Appellants) [2011] UKSC 34 – read judgment; read press summary

At the centre of this appeal was the court’s power to order a “closed material procedure” for the whole or part of the trial of a civil claim for damages.  The question arose as a “preliminary issue” – a point to be determined on its own – in the appellants’  compensation claim for their alleged detention, rendition and mistreatment by foreign authorities in various locations, including Guantanamo Bay.

In countering the respondents’ claim for compensation, the appellant security services claimed that they had security sensitive material within their possession which they wished the court to consider in their defence but which could not be disclosed to the respondents. They therefore sought a “closed material procedure” for this part of their defence – a procedure whereby a party can withhold certain material from the other side where its disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Continue reading

Rules allowing closed procedure in employment cases do not breach fair trial

Home Office (Appellant) v Tariq (Respondent); Home Office (Respondent) v Tariq (Appellant) – read judgment; read press release

In these appeals the question was whether a claimant in employment tribunal proceedings may be excluded from certain aspects of those proceedings on grounds of national security, without breaching the right to fair trail under Article 6 of the Convention. Mr Tariq had been suspended from his job as immigration officer following the arrest of his brother and cousin for involvement in the suspected transatlantic airline terrorist plot. There was no suggestion that Mr Tariq himself had been involved. Continue reading