The paradox beneath Strasbourg’s French veil ban decision

french-veil-ban-001S.A.S v France (Application no. 43835/11) - read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected a challenge to a French law which prohibits the wearing of veils in public. The ruling is, of course, of great political and media interest, but it is also significant from a legal perspective. In a lengthy and detailed judgment, the Court ultimately accepts that, as a matter of principle, a government can legitimately interfere with the rights of individuals in pursuit of social and cultural cohesion.

On 11th April 2011, Law no. 2010-1192 came into force in the French Republic. Subject to certain limited exceptions, the law prohibits anyone from wearing any clothing which conceals their face when in public places, on pain of a 150 euro fine, and/or compulsory citizenship classes. Whilst phrased in general terms, the most obvious effect of the law, and its clear intention, is to ban the niqab (a veil that leaves only the eyes visible) and the burka (a loose garment covering the entire body with a mesh screen over the face).

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Supreme Court reduces religious no-go area for courts

400px-uk_supreme_court_badgeKhaira v. Shergill [2014] UKSC 33, 11 June 2014   read judgment

Adam Wagner assisted two of the respondents in this case on behalf of Bindmans, solicitors, but was not involved in the writing of this post.

 

The Supreme Court has just reversed a decision of the Court of Appeal (see my previous post here) that a dispute about the trust deeds of two Sikh religious charities was non-justiciable and so could not and should not be decided by the Courts. By contrast, the SC said that two initial issues concerning the meaning of trust deeds were justiciable, and, because of this, further issues which did raise religious issues had to be determined by the courts.

The wider interest of the case is its tackling of this tricky concept of non-justiciability.

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M&S, Muslim employees and the tricky issue of reasonable accommodation

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.26.46Retailer Marks & Spencer is in the news again, and not this time for its Christmas advert. The ad was, incidentally, filmed in Temple – perhaps M&S bigwigs were on their way to getting some advice on how to deal with Muslim employees who didn’t want to serve pork and alcohol?

Anyway, the retailer has allowed Muslim employees to opt out of the requirement to serve pork and alcohol, both of which their religion prohibits – although it is not clear whether they are also prohibited from serving the products to other Muslims/non-Muslims. If Islam is anything like Judaism, which I am more familiar with, I imagine the practice may vary according to communities.

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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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Supreme Court upholds gay discrimination ruling in hotel case

Peter-and-Hazel-Bull-007Bull and another (Appellants) v Hall and another (Respondents) [2013] UKSC 73 (27 November 2013) - read judgment

This appeal concerned the law on discrimination. Mr and Mrs Bull, the appellants, own a private hotel in Cornwall. They are committed Christians, who sincerely believe that sexual intercourse outside traditional marriage is sinful. They operate a policy at their hotel, stated on their on-line booking form, that double bedrooms are available only to “heterosexual married couples”.

The following summary is taken from the Supreme Court’s press report. See Marina Wheeler’s post on the ruling by the Court of Appeal in this case. A full analysis of the case will follow shortly.

References in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment.

The respondents, Mr Hall and Mr Preddy, are a homosexual couple in a civil partnership. On 4 September 2008 Mr Preddy booked, by telephone, a double room at the appellants’ hotel for the nights of 5 and 6 September. By an oversight, Mrs Bull did not inform him of the appellants’ policy. On arrival at the hotel, Mr Hall and Mr Preddy were informed that they could not stay in a double bedroom. They found this “very hurtful”, protested, and left to find alternative accommodation. Continue reading

When is an advert “political” for the purposes of a ban under the Communications Act?

20090327_radio_microphone_18R (on the application of London Christian Radio Ltd & Christian Communications Partnerships) v Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (Respondent) & Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Interested Party) [2013] EWCA Civ 1495 – read judgment

The ban on Christian Radio’s proposed advert seeking data on the “marginalisation of Christians” in the workplace was lawful and did not constitute an interference with free speech, the Court of Appeal has ruled. When determining whether a radio or television advertisement was “political” fur the purposes of Section 321(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003 the court should consider the text objectively; the motives of the advertiser were irrelevant.

This was an appeal against a ruling by Silber J ([2013] EWHC 1043 (Admin)) that a proposed radio advertisement was directed towards a political end, and therefore fell foul of the prohibition on political advertising which meant that it could not be given clearance for broadcast (see my previous post on this decision). Continue reading

Veils and ignorance: defendant not allowed to wear niqaab when giving evidence

Woman wearing hijabThe Queen v. D (R) – Ruling available here.

The ruling by HHJ Murphy in Blackfriars Crown Court this Monday that a defendant in a criminal trial should not be allowed to wear a niqaab (face veil) whilst giving her evidence has prompted calls for a public debate about the wearing of face veils in public more generally. Adam Wagner has already commented on the case hereA summary and analysis of the decision follows below.

The defendant in this case, D, is a woman who is charged with a single count of witness intimidation. When the judge asked D to remove her veil in order to be formally identified for the court’s purposes at a plea and case management hearing, D refused because she believes she should not reveal her face in the presence of men who are not members of her immediate family. As a result, HHJ Murphy listed a special hearing to consider what orders should be made about the wearing of a niqaab during the rest of the proceedings, describing the issue as ‘the elephant in the court room’ which needed to be dealt with early on.

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The Niqaab issue is too important to be left to liberal instinct

A-Muslim-woman-in-a-niqab-007Yesterday, before His Honour Judge Peter Murphy ruled that a female Muslim defendant in a criminal trial must remove her face-covering veil (niqaab) whilst giving evidence, Home Office Minister Jeremy Brown said  he wasinstinctively uneasy” about restricting religious freedoms, but that there should be a national debate over banning the burka.

Many of us have a gut reaction to the niqaab, which poses particular problems for our mostly liberal, secular society. Arguably, it also prompts less laudable instincts originating in fear of the ‘other’. But trusting in our instincts is never a good way of solving complex problems. As I have suggested before, when politicians appeal to their gut they are often just avoiding making an intellectually sound case for their position.

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Second Christian B&B case headed for the Supreme Court

black and morganBlack and Morgan v. Wilkinson [2013] EWCA Civ 820 – read judgment here.

The Court of Appeal recently dismissed an appeal by a Christian bed and breakfast owner, upholding the decision that she unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to provide them with a double bedroom. However, the Master of the Rolls (head of the civil justice system) Lord Dyson expressed doubt about whether the previous binding decision of the Court of Appeal in the very similar case of Hall and Preddy v. Bull and Bull [2012] EWCA Civ 83, was correct, and the Court granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

This decision is the latest in a line of cases which have grappled with the ‘conflict of equalities’, many of which have concerned the potential clash between religious freedom and the prohibition on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. It raises difficult questions about how to reconcile competing rights or ‘protected characteristics’ under discrimination law, and it will be very interesting to see how the Supreme Court deals with this and the Preddy case when they are heard together in the autumn.

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Sacking GP from government drugs advisor post for ‘anti-gay’ views was lawful

spliffR (Dr Hans-Christian Raabe) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWHC 1736 (Admin)read judgment

Dr Hans-Christian Raabe lost his judicial review challenge to the revocation of his appointment as the GP member of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). His appointment was revoked less than a month after he had accepted an offer to join the ACMD, as a result of certain views about homosexuality expressed in a paper he had co-written in Canada some 6 years earlier.

This case deals with a heady cocktail of controversial issues, ranging from same-sex marriage to the level of crystal meth use in gay clubs, and from paedophilia to the ostracising of Christians because of their religious beliefs. Indeed, it hits so many hot-button issues at once that it is very surprising it has not yet received much media coverage, despite the judgment being handed down on 20 June.

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Comment | Abortion and conscientious objection: what about human rights? – Elizabeth Prochaska

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Doogan and Wood v. NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board [2013] CSIH 36 – read judgment here and Alasdair Henderson’s commentary here

It is easy to become complacent about women’s reproductive rights in mainland Britain. Compared to our Irish neighbours, women here are able to access their chosen contraceptive, abortion and maternity services with relative ease. When Savita Halappanavar died after she was refused an abortion in Galway, commentators lamented a system where a woman could be told by healthcare staff that she couldn’t have an abortion because Ireland is a Catholic country. We imagined that such events could not happen here. A recent judgment of the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Session (the Scottish Court of Appeal) shakes that belief. Of most concern is that the court failed to engage with the human rights implications of its decision.

Our abortion law is found in the Abortion Act 1967. Section 1 makes abortion lawful only when it has been authorised by two doctors who attest that continuing the pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s physical or mental health, or where the child would ‘suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. In effect, all abortions, save those for fetal abnormality, are performed on the basis that there is a threat to the woman’s physical or mental integrity as a result of pregnancy. Section 4 excuses a person from ‘participating in any treatment’ under the Act if they express a conscientious objection to abortion. As the Abortion Rights campaign points out, the law gives doctors control over women’s informed choices about their pregnancy that can lead to damaging delays in accessing abortion services.

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Conscientious objection to abortion: Catholic midwives win appeal

human-foetus_1666004cDoogan and Wood v. NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board [2013] CSIH 36 – read judgment here

The Inner House of the Court of Session (the Scottish civil court of appeal) ruled last week that two midwives from Glasgow could not be required to delegate to, supervise or support staff on their labour ward who were involved in abortions. 

The ruling makes it clear that the conscientious objection provision in s.4 of the Abortion Act 1967 has very broad scope. This probably means that the General Medical Council (GMC), the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will all need to change their guidance on the subject, since the existing versions take a much narrower view. This judgment affects England and Wales as well as Scotland (since the Act covers all three countries), but not Northern Ireland.

The facts of the case, and the original decision of Lady Smith in the Outer House of the Court of Session are covered in our previous blog post here.

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Racial harassment claim by Jewish teacher over union’s Israel-Palestine policies fails – Robert Kellar

121221-university-college-unionMr R Fraser -v- University & College Union – Case Numbers: 2203390/201 – Read judgment

In this case, a member of the Union brought various claims of harassment related to his “race, religion or belief” under section 57 of the Equality Act 2010. The wide ranging allegations made by the Claimant arose, in essence, from the way in which Union had handled the Israel/Palestine debate. For example, claims arose from motions debated at the Union’s congress on proposals for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and related questions. The Claimant alleged that the Union was guilty of “institutional anti-Semitism” which he alleged constituted harassment of him as a Jewish member of the Union.

The Tribunal described the litigation as being “gargantuan” in scale. It heard from 34 witnesses including academics and MPs. The hearing lasted 20 days and required 23 hearing bundles. Ultimately, in an extremely robust decision, the Tribunal rejected the Claimant’s allegations in their entirety. It found them to be “manifestly unmeritorious” and an “impermissible attempt to achieve political end by litigious means”. The Tribunal also expressed themselves as being worried by the implications of the claim. They sensed that underlying the litigation was a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression”. Of particular interest was the way in which the Tribunal dealt with issues of legal principle at heart of the claim.

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Ban on ‘ex-gay, post-gay and proud’ bus advert criticised but lawful

262332-anti-gay-london-bus-adverts-promoting-gay-cure-techniques-bannedCore Issues Trust v. Transport for London 22 March 2013 [2013] EWHC 651 (Admin) – read judgment.

In a judgment which is sure to provoke heated debate, the High Court has today ruled that the banning of an advert which read “NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD. GET OVER IT!” from appearing on London buses was handled very badly by Transport for London (“TfL”) but was not unlawful or in breach of the human rights of the group behind the advert.

The advert was placed in April 2012 by Anglican Mainstream, a Christian charity, on behalf of Core Issues Trust, another Christian charity which describes its aim as “supporting men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression” (see website here). It was intended as a response to another advert placed on London buses earlier in 2012 by Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, which was in support of the proposal to introduce same-sex marriage and read “SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY. GET OVER IT!”

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