Updated: The Supreme Court has now ruled on this case, rejecting Bowman’s appeal: see judgment. On Tuesday 19 February, the US Supreme Court heard opening arguments in the latest stage of the battle between a 75 year old farmer and the agri-giant Monsanto, over whether patents on seeds — or other things that can self-replicate — extend beyond the first generation of the products. The dispute in Bowman v Monsanto goes to the heart of the debate over the patenting of living organisms. This of course is also at the centre of the Myriad breast cancer gene litigation which I covered here.
The case is fascinating not just because it exposes the limits of patent law in an era of fast-growing biotechnology, but because it seems to speak to the concerns of the anti-GM lobby – the stranglehold of big corporations over farmers, the fear of transgenic organisms themselves and their consequences for agriculture. But Green woo about the dangers of genetically engineered crops will not find judicial endorsement in this litigation, despite the multiple briefs filed in support of Bowman, attacking GM technology. This is an inquiry into the reality or otherwise of patenting nature, not the morality thereof. As The Atlantic summarises it:
It’s a story about technology and innovation and investment, about legal standards and appellate precedent and statutory intent, about the nature of nature and how the law ought to answer the basic question of who owns the rights to the seeds of planted seeds. Continue reading
Baroness Helena Kennedy has argued that judges have a tendency to clone themselves when choosing successors. It is hard to avoid that impression in the Supreme Court, which kept its white male first eleven in place yesterday by appointing three new justices: Lord Justice Hughes, Lord Justice Toulson and Lord Hodge. The sole woman amongst 12 justices of our highest appeal court remains Lady Hale. There are no black or Asian judges, not have there ever been.
How did this happen? The answer is we don’t know and won’t ever find out. Around two thirds of the Supreme Court’s case load are public law and human rights, decisions which affect millions of people. Yet appointments are made by an opaque commission consisting of senior judges.
X AND OTHERS v. AUSTRIA – 19010/07 – HEJUD  ECHR 148 (19 February 2013) – Read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (by 10 votes to 7) has found that Austrian law discriminated against a same sex couple as it prevented them from adopting jointly the biological child of one of them (what we would call a second-parent adoption). The Court found a violation of Article 14 (anti-discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (respect for private and family life) protection because this was less favourable treatment than if they were an unmarried different sex couple who would have been permitted to adopt together.
The narrowness of the majority might have had something to do with the fact that the father of the Child had been a party to the case in the domestic courts and opposed the adoption (although the fact that the child of the lesbian couple in Gas and Dubois v France had been conceived through anonymous donor insemination had not helped that case). In the event, the Grand Chamber decision was based on the fact that the Austrian Supreme Court had referred to the “legal impossibility” of the proposed same sex adoption in this case.
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular booster shot of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
Unsurprisingly, Theresa May’s views on the role of immigration judges sparked much debate this week – yet haven’t stopped the judges making findings that Immigration Rules are unlawful. The consequences of the dismissal of the Pryce jury are still playing out, while the Strasbourg Court has made an important ruling on discrimination based on sexual orientation. Keep an eye out on some new events advertised this week, and various updates in the legal blogging world.
Good Friday Agreement
Advice on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, submitted to the Secretary of State by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in 2008, was roundly rejected by the UK government in 2009 and there seems to be little appetite within the Northern Ireland Office for revisiting the issue in the foreseeable future.
In London, the coalition government’s Commission on a UK Bill of Rights, set up in 2011, reported in 2012 but could not suggest an agreed way forward on a UK basis. In Scotland, on the other hand, bearing in mind the forthcoming referendum on independence in 2014, there is renewed interest in whether legislation should be passed by the Scottish Parliament to guarantee a range of social and economic rights. The Republic of Ireland, for its part, is currently re-examining its Constitution and has recently voted in a referendum to enhance the protection of children’s rights.
Heafield v Times Newspaper Ltd (Religion or Belief Discrimination)  UKEAT 1305_12_1701 (17 January 2013) – read judgment
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has found that the use of bad language was evidently merely an expression of bad temper and not intended to express hostility to the Pope or Catholicism and that it did not constitute harassment within the meaning of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.
The Appellant, a casual sub-editor on the Times Newspaper, was a Roman Catholic. He was working at the Times during the visit to the United Kingdom of the Pope in 2010. During March the Times was preparing a story about the Pope relating to allegations that he had protected a paedophile priest. There was some delay in producing the story, and one of the editors in the newsroom, a Mr Wilson, shouted across to the senior production executives “can anyone tell what’s happening to the fucking Pope?”. When there was no response he repeated the question more loudly. The Appellant was upset and offended what he heard. He raised a complaint, which in his view was not properly progressed, and he then brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for harassment and victimisation on the grounds of his religious belief. Continue reading
Sir John Donaldson (National Portrait Gallery)
Another title for this post might have been “they did not want to understand the judgment.”
In light of recent shenanigans, it seems apt to reproduce the first five paragraphs of the 25-year-old Court of Appeal judgment in (1) Nadarajah Vilvarajah, (2) Vaithialingham Skandarajah v Secretary of State For the Home Department 1990 WL 754859 (Update – download from BAILII here), which I was alerted to by a colleague. Sir John Donaldson, then Master of the Rolls, complains in withering style about media coverage of a recent judgment. The last line is the best, although a little depressing.
Lessons learned? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Political posturing over immigration and asylum law long predated the Human Rights Act. And Law in Action was as good then as it is now.
Here is a taster: