MA and others (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors  EWHC 2213 (QB) (30 July 2013) – read judgment
The High Court has unanimously dismissed an application for a declaration that the so-called “bedroom tax” discriminates unlawfully against disabled claimants.
This was a challenge by way of judicial review to regulations that came into force last year, reducing the amount of housing benefits by reference to the number of bedrooms permitted by the relevant statute (the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 ). These new rules, which have applied to claimants of housing benefit since April 2013, restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. Discretionary housing payments are available for certain qualifying individuals to mitigate the effect of the new rules, in particular the effects on disabled people and those with foster caring responsibilities. Continue reading
X(Appellant) v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau and another (Respondent)  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.
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
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  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
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.
R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice  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.
Lee Carter, Hollis Johnson, Dr. William Shoichet, The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and Gloria Taylor v Attorney General of Canada (2012 BCSC 886) 15 June 2012 – read judgment
Interest in the “locked-in syndrome” cases currently before the High Court runs high. We posted here on the permission granted to locked-in sufferer Tony Nicklinson to seek an advance order from the court that would allow doctors to assist him to die under the common law defence of necessity.
He is also arguing that the current law criminalising assisted suicide is incompatible with his Article 8 rights of autonomy and dignity. The other case before the three judge court involves another stroke victim who is unable to move, is able to communicate only by moving his eyes, requires constant care and is entirely dependent on others for every aspect of his life. (Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office Row is acting for him)
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
A fascinating perspective on how a city’s architecture may be altered and shaped by aggressive rights litigation has been provided by today’s New York Times, which leads with a story entitled “Lawyers find obstacles to the disabled, then find plaintiffs“.
We are familiar in this country with the decades-old complaint that various unfortunate trends such as ambulance chasing and the litigation culture have filtered over the Atlantic, infecting English public life with defensive practices and an obsession with health and safety. Whether the blame can be laid solely at the door US culture is moot, but certainly lessons can be drawn from the unintended consequences of high-minded rights legislation as they play out across the pond, particularly where similar laws in this country – largely consolidated in the Equality Act 2010 - have yet to make their impact. Continue reading
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.
X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau  EWCA Civ 28 – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that disabled people are not protected by domestic or European legislation against discrimination when they undertake voluntary work.
In this decision the specific question was whether volunteers at Citizens Advice Bureaus are protected from disability discrimination. X, the anonymised claimant, argued that CAB had terminated her role as a volunteer adviser because she had a disability. She claimed that:
R (on the application of Dennis Gill) v Secretary of State for Justice – Read judgment
The Secretary of State for Justice should have done more to enable a prisoner with learning difficulties to participate in programmes which could have helped him gain an earlier release. In finding that the prisoner was discriminated against, the High Court has set down a precedent which will affect many other learning disabled prisoners.
Mr Justice Cranston held that participation in offender behaviour programmes would have made it easier for Mr Gill to persuade a Parole Board that he was suitable for release. His participation in them had been recommended but his learning difficulties had prevented him from taking part, and as such the Secretary of State for Justice had discriminated against him contrary to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
A (BY HIS LITIGATION FRIEND THE OFFICIAL SOLICITOR) v INDEPENDENT NEWS & MEDIA LTD & ORS  EWCA Civ 343 – Read judgment
This appeal was bought on behalf of a severely disabled adult (known as “A”), against the order of Hedley J of 19 November 2009 that the media should be granted access to a hearing in the Court of Protection. The Lord Chief Justice has refused the appeal.
The case was unconventional, largely because of A’s own situation. A had been totally blind from birth and suffered from acute learning difficulties associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which meant that he was not able to lead an independent life and was dependent on others for his care. Despite this, however, A had taught himself the piano and had gone on to become an extraordinary gifted musician, and was described by the judge as ‘a man of remarkable accomplishment’. Continue reading
Shirley Chaplin, an NHS nurse who was moved to a desk job for wearing a crucifix at work, has lost her employment discrimination claim against the NHS.
The Employment Tribunal judgment is not available at present, but The Times reports:
John Hollow, the tribunal chairman, ruled that the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital had acted reasonably in trying to reach a compromise. It had argued that the objection to the crucifix, which Mrs Chaplin, from Kenn, near Exeter, had worn for 30 years, was based on health and safety concerns about patients grabbing the necklace, not religion.
According to the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which strongly supports Ms. Chaplin’s case, the Tribunal held that Mrs Chaplin had not been indirectly discriminated against by the application of the uniform policy because she could not prove she was part of a group affected by the policy.
The Tribunal applied the reasoning in the previous case of Nadia Eweida v British Airways  EWCA Civ 1025. Ms Ewieda’s claim also involved her being banned from wearing a Christian cross at work, in that case at British Airways. The Court of Appeal made clear that in an indirect discrimination cases brought under Reg. 3(1) of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, it was necessary to show that there had to be evidence of a “group disadvantage”, i.e. that more than one person had been affected by the policy. Ms Eweida could not establish a ‘group’ and as such her case failed.
The CLC claim that “the Tribunal has now decided that a group must be more than two people as well—leaving the law in a ludicrous level of uncertainty”. Ms Chaplin has already said she plans to appeal the decision.