Scientology, University Unrest and Right to Die – the Human Rights Roundup

16 December 2013 by

Scientology HRRWelcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular festive trifle of human rights news and views.  The full list of links can be found here.  You can find previous roundups here.  Links compiled by Adam Wagner, post by Celia Rooney. 

This week, the Church of Scientology registered a win of sorts in the Supreme Court, while London’s biggest university said no to occupational student protests just as others were contemplating the possibility of gender-segregated talks  Meanwhile, the Home Secretary puts forward her answer to modern day slavery, while the Joint Committee on Human Rights puts pressure on Chris Grayling regarding the proposed legal aid reforms.

In the News

Right to die back in the courts

The Supreme Court today (Monday) begins a four-day, 9-justice hearing of a case involving the ever-controversial right to die issue. More details via the BBC and our post on the Court of Appeal judgment. 1 Crown Office Row’s head of chambers Philip Havers QC is acting for “Martin”, whose victory in the Court of Appeal is being appealed by the Director of Public Prosecutions. You can also watch the entire hearing live here.

Human Rights in UK Universities

Human rights issues in the university context have been scattered across the headlines this week.  Of particular note is the court order obtained by the University of London – an organisation which includes School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University College London (UCL) and the London School of Economics (LSE) – which has banned protests on campus for 6 months.  The court order followed a sit-in protest on campus earlier this month which ended in violent clashes between students and the police.

The Prime Minister has also weighed in on the issue of segregated university debates, previously reported on the UK Human Rights Roundup here.  A few weeks ago, UK Universities published a report that suggested that it was acceptable for universities in the UK to segregate audiences according to gender to accommodate the genuinely held religious beliefs of external speakers.  After an intervention from the Prime Minister, however, the body has withdrawn its guidance and has sought guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the issue.  In support of this withdrawal, on the HLE Think Tank blog Declan O’Dempsey considers the legal implications of segregated lectures in universities here, highlighting the distinction between manifesting a religious belief, and forcing others to replicate that belief.  He also warns, however, that there is a danger that this situation will be distorted by those who oppose the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention.


This week, in the case of R (on the application of Hodkin and another) v Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77 the Supreme Court unanimously decided that scientology is a religion for the purposes of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 (see the post on the UK Human Rights Blog by Rosalind English here).

In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court suggested that religion must be interpreted in light of modern understandings, and highlighted the limited role of the court in deciding what beliefs could constitute a religion.  The Justices also offered a definition of religion, saying that it could be defined as ‘a belief system going beyond sensory perception or scientific data, held by a group of adherents, which claims to explain mankind’s place in the universe and relationship with the infinite, and to teach its adherents how they are to live their lives in conformity with the spiritual understanding associated with the belief system’.  Writing for the Law and Religion UK blog, however, Frank Cranmer has said that this finding does not guarantee that Church of Scientology will be awarded the charitable status in the future it has long been seeking. 

In Other News

  • The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a report which considers the implications for access to justice of the proposed legal aid reforms, and has suggested that the cuts may breach human rights.
  • The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has proposed a package of measures to tackle human trafficking, which would include life sentences for slavery offenders.
  • Last week, members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet celebrated International Human Rights Day by reiterating the importance of human rights.  While Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan MP, talked about the transformative role of human rights in the UK here, Emily Thornberry MP, the Shadow Attorney General, reminded us of the protection that the Human Rights Act has afforded the victims of crime here.
  • Equalities Minister Maria Miller has said that he first same-sex marriages will be able to take place in the UK from the 29 March 2014.

Case Comments

In a post on the Free Movement blog, Greg O Ceallaigh has examined the decision of the Court of Appeal in this case, which suggests that detention will be unlawful where the Secretary of State fails to exercise diligence when considering whether or not there is an exception to automatic deportation under section 36 of the UK Borders Act 2007.

Alan Richards suggests that, in recent weeks, some of the senior members of the judiciary have given the European Convention on Human Rights a ‘good kicking’.  In the wake of their comments, he examines the protection of free speech under both domestic law and the Convention, using Chambers v DPP as a case study.

Natasha Nguyen, writing for the Supreme Court blog, has examined this case, which is to be heard by the Supreme Court, and concerns exemptions under section 32(2) the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for information held by public authorities pursuant to a statutory inquiry.  The question is whether this exemption applies for 30 years after the inquiry ends, and if so, whether this is Article 10 compliant.  Nguyen suggests that it presents this Supreme Court with an opportunity to reconsider the boundaries of Article 10 of the European Convention.  The recent Strasbourg decision in Österreichische Vereinigung zur Erhaltung, Stärkung und Schaffung eines wirtschaftlich gesunden land- und forstwirtschaftlichen Grundbesitzes v. Austria (application no. 39534/07) may well play a decisive role in this case.

In the Courts

[2013] EWHC 3946 (QB) (11 December 2013)

High Court: Failure to start mental health monitoring at G4S-run detention centre didn’t cause detainee’s suicide.

The power of a local authority to provide services to a child in need (assessed while he was present within their area) includes a power to provide services when he is actually outside their area.

Continued detention in prison following the expiry of the “minimum terms” or “tariff periods” of their indeterminate terms of imprisonment did not breach ECHR, rules Court of Appeal.

Upcoming Events

To add to this list, email Adam Wagner.  Please only send events which i) have their own webpage which can be linked to, and ii) are relevant to the topics covered by this blog.

  • The UK Constitutional Law Group has a number of upcoming events, the details of which can be found here

UK Human Rights Blog Posts


  1. Scientology’s bona fides have been officially recognized by a number of governmental agencies and public authorities in the United Kingdom. These include:

    The Ministry of Defence, which has officially recognized the Scientology religion in the Royal Navy (1996).

    HM Customs and Excise, which classifies the Church as a religious organization (2001).

    Inland Revenue, which ruled that Church staff serve out of a religious commitment rather than financial award (2001).

    The General Register Office in Scotland has authorized a Scientology minister to solemnize marriages as a minister of religion.

  2. Mark says:

    Re: Lamb – Right to Die :
    Oddly inflated statistics being used by the British Humanist Society in the Telegraph today,claiming that 80% supported the right to assisted suicide in a ‘YouGov’ poll conducted last year. Can anyone clarify?:

    “The actual ‘poll’ was conducted by yougov in 2012 – there isn’t one listed for last year. See:

    Only 1738 adults were randomly polled, and answered ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘don’t know/prefer not to say’ to the following 2 questions – how the sample was selected isn’t disclosed, and the definition of ‘those suffering from a disability’ used for the number of disabled taking part is odd.
    1. If you had a terminal disease for which there is no
    possible cure would you personally consider the
    option of assisted suicide travelling abroad if
    necessary Answers: 43%/27%/30%
    2. Do you think British law should be kept as it is, or
    should it be changed so that people with incurable
    diseases have the right to ask close friends or
    relatives to help them commit suicide, without
    those friends or relatives risking prosecution?
    The law should be kept as it is 17%
    The law should be changed to allow assisted suicide
    in these circumstances 69%
    Don’t know 14%

    How has 69% suddenly been turned into 80% ?
    I don’t really think anyone can extrapolate what 69% of the population support or don’t support from such a minute sample – let alone what those who actually have disabilities support.”

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