Media By: Adam Wagner


NHS Nurse banned from wearing crucifix at work loses discrimination claim

7 April 2010 by

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 [2009] 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.

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Outcome of Carson v The UK is £60m pensions bill for Australians

6 April 2010 by

We posted last week on Carson and Others v The United Kingdom (read judgment), in which the European Court of Human Rights rejected a claim that UK pensioners living abroad should have their pensions index-linked (i.e., that they be raised in line with inflation).

It turns out that it is not just the UK, or indeed Europe, being affected by the long reach of the ECtHR. Alison Steed in The Daily Telegraph reports that the Australian Government are footing the bill for 170,000 ex-pat British pensioners living there. They have said in response to the judgment:

“The Australian government believes this policy is discriminatory. We have been actively lobbying the UK government on this issue… This policy continues to place an increasing burden on all Australian taxpayers, as the Australian government picks up the tab for around 170,000 UK pensioners who also receive means-tested Australian pensions – estimated at about A$100 million (£60 million) per year in additional social security payments.”

Australia ended its social security agreement with the UK in 2001 in light of this issue, which affects around 500,000 ex-pat UK pensioners living worldwide.

Read more:

  • 28 March 2010 post
  • The ECtHR judgment
  • Our case summary of Carson; Reynolds v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (May 2005 – House of Lords, 2003 – Court of Appeal)
  • Media coverage of the Carson judgment in The Guardian and on the BBC website

Scottish and Northern Irish Human Rights Commissions express joint concerns on Bill of Rights

5 April 2010 by

The Scottish and Northern Irish Human Rights Commissions have issued a joint statement responding to the Conservative Party’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights.

Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC), is quoted on their website. Interestingly, he makes the link between the HRA and devolution for Scotland: “The Human Rights Act in combination with the Scotland Act is an important pillar of devolution for Scotland. Rather than needing to be repealed it needs to be progressively built upon in Scotland.” Justice, a Human Rights organisation, made the same point on devolution in a recent report.

Professor Monica McWilliams, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said: “Nowhere in the world has the repeal of existing human rights protections been a starting point for discussing a proposed Bill of Rights.”

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Lord Chief Justice says European Court has too much influence over British Legal System

2 April 2010 by

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, has used the annual Judicial Studies Board (JSB) lecture to complain that the English courts were being influenced too heavily by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

This is becoming something of a tradition at the annual JSB lecture. Lord Hoffman used the same platform last year (read lecture here) to criticise the ECtHR, saying it had been “unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and to impose uniform rules on Member States.”

In this year’s lecture, Lord Judge suggested that “statute ensures that the final word does not rest with Strasbourg, but with our Supreme Court” and that the Luxembourg-based ECtHR was encroaching on the legal territory of its Strasbourg cousin, the European Court of Justice.

The full lecture can be found here, or you can read more of the address after the page break below:

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Commentary on the Court of Appeal’s Dr Singh libel Ruling

2 April 2010 by

We posted yesterday on Dr Simon Singh’s victory in the Court of Appeal. Unsurprisingly a number of interesting press comments have been published this morning:

  • Dr Simon Singh writes in The Guardian that “the battle for libel reform has only just begun.” He warns that “yesterday’s decision was only a ruling on potential defences and the meaning of my article, so I have not won yet. Indeed, the case could continue for another two years and run for four years in total.”
  • Francis Gibb writing in The Times says that “The ruling by Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice; Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Sedley may put an end to the idea that the courts are the first, rather than the last, resort.”
  • Ian Burrell, writing in the Guardian says that Dr Singh has “won a victory for freedom of speech in his cause célèbre libel battle with the body that represents Britain’s chiropractors.”
  • John Kampfner, the chief executive of Index on Censorshipwrites in the Independent that “Once in a while, in these days of antagonism towards the political-legal establishment, something happens that gladdens the heart.”

Court of Appeal mounts robust defence of intellectual freedom of expression

1 April 2010 by

British Chiropractic Association v Dr Singh [2010] EWCA Civ 350

(Read judgment)

Dr Simon Singh has won the first battle in the libel action, brought by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), in the Court of Appeal. Dr Singh was sued by the BCA in respect of an article he wrote in The Guardian in April 2008, in which he said there was not enough evidence to prove that chiropractic treatment is effective against certain childhood conditions including colic and asthma.

Mr Justice Eady ruled against Dr Singh in May 2009 in relation to two important preliminary issues. Dr Singh appealed to the Court of Appeal, and Lord Judge, Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley were asked to rule on the preliminary points relating to possible defences.

The Court has used the opportunity to mount a robust and somewhat lyrical defence of the right to freedom of expression.

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Accused should have been allowed to attend appeal against the grant of her bail

1 April 2010 by

Allen v. The United Kingdom (Application no. 18837/06), Date of judgment: 30 March 2010

(Read judgment)

    The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that, in the circumstances, it was a breach of the applicant Susan Allen’s rights under article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for a Deputy District Judge to refuse her permission to attend an appeal against the grant of her bail.

    In October 2005 Ms Allen was charged with two offences of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. She was produced at Liverpool City Magistrates’ Court. Following a contested bail application she was granted bail by the Deputy District Judge, and the prosecution subsequently appealed. Her counsel requested that the judge allow her to be present at the appeal. The judge declined the request, reasoning that the applicant could be given a full report of what had happened from her counsel. Moreover, her attendance would be undesirable as one of the applicant’s co-accused had not been present at the hearing of the appeal against the grant of bail to him, and it would therefore be unfair to treat the applicant more favourably.


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    Shadow Justice Secretary speaks to lawyers on “The State of Human Rights”

    30 March 2010 by

    We have been following with interest the debate over the proposed “Bill of Rights” which all of the major parties are considering in some form. Dominic Grieve QC, the Shadow Justice Secretary, gave a speech last week to the Human Rights Lawyers Association which touched upon the Conservative Party’s proposals. Francis Klug wrote in The Guardian that:

    Some of us asked Grieve to clarify the effects of these proposed interpretation clauses at yesterday’s meeting. I am not sure we were any the wiser. The purpose appears to be to free our judges from the approach of the Strasbourg court (they are already free from slavishly following the case law) where rights are not absolute. The text of the ECHR could still be used, Grieve says (although he suggests this is only his personal preference, not necessarily his party’s). But it is not at all clear that the human rights framework for balancing or limiting rights – based on preventing harm rather than creating eligibility criteria – will survive these suggested “interpretation clauses”.

    The text of the speech has not been published, but Mr Grieve has published a speech on the same topic on his website, given in November 2009. In that speech he made clear that the Human Rights Act would not be replaced without a wide public consultation. However, he did provide some clues as to the nature of the “interpretation clauses”, saying:

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    European Court rejects UK pensioners’ top-up claim

    28 March 2010 by

    Carson and Others v The United Kingdom (Application no. 42184/05)

    The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a claim by British pensioners living abroad that their pension payments should be uplifted to take into account inflation. The case was supported by Pension Parity UK, a pressure group. The majority in the Court held that the pensions system was not a breach of ECHR Article 14 (non discrimination), saying at [86]:

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    Sharper teeth for the European Court of Human Rights?

    24 March 2010 by

    According to Alex Bailin QC and Alison Macdonald writing in The Guardian, the European Court of Human Rights will soon have much needed power to filter cases at an early stage, and therefore begin to clear its huge backlog of cases:

    Fortunately, in January a significant stalemate was broken when Russia finally ratified a six-year-old provision which will speed up the court’s processing of cases. Protocol 14 provides for a more robust and rapid filter of weak cases, with a single judge having the power to declare wholly unmeritorious cases inadmissible, without any right of appeal. “Repetitive cases” can also be blocked if a relevant ruling on similar issues has already been given. Most controversially, the court can also refuse to hear cases in which the applicant has suffered “no significant disadvantage”, providing the case was properly considered by the domestic courts in the relevant state. Russia had previously blocked the entry into force of Protocol 14 in protest at what it considered were “political rulings” of the Strasbourg court, primarily relating to the conduct of its operations in Chechyna.

    One immediate effect which the change will have on the UK, according to the authors, is in relation to prisoners voting rights. Until now, even though the Court has criticised the UK in relation to this issue, the criticisms have not led to an actual change in UK policy. However, as a result of Protocol 14:

    The Committee of Ministers can refer a case back to the European court if it considers that the state has not fully complied with a decision of the court. If the court agrees, the committee can decide to take action against the state for noncompliance – including, in theory, suspension or expulsion from the Council of Europe

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    Not unlawful for a Roman Catholic adoption agency to reject same-sex couples

    19 March 2010 by

    Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission for England and Wales (Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening) [2010] EWHC 520 (Ch)

    The High Court have found that a Roman Catholic adoption agency (Catholic Care) could rely on regulation 18 of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 in refusing same-sex couples adoption services.


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    Are civil partnerships compatible with human rights law?

    17 March 2010 by

    Baroness Deech, the Chair of the Bar Standards Board, has given the second lecture in her series on family law at Gresham College. In this lecture she questions whether the current law of marriage is compatible with human rights law. In particular, homosexual couples cannot legally marry, and hetrosexual couples are disbarred from entering civil partnerships. She said:

    “Since [the] acceptance and recognition [of gay rights] has grown, advanced by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Bill 2010. Gay couples may adopt children (Adoption and Children Act 2002); they have access to fertility services and full parentage of donor conceived children (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008). Same sex childless couples are deemed to be a “family” for the purpose of succeeding a deceased partner to a tenancy (Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association [1998] Ch.304). This trend culminated in the legislative establishment of civil partnerships in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, creating a union almost identical to, but not marriage.”

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    Key armed forces case opens in the Supreme Court

    16 March 2010 by

    Private Jason Smith

    The case of R (on the application of Smith) (FC) (Respondent) v Secretary of State for Defence (Appellant) and another is being heard today in the Supreme Court.

    The Secretary of State is appealing the 2009 decision of the Court of Appeal: See our case comment from the Court of Appeal judgment.

    In short, the respondent’s son Smith was a member of the Territorial Army who had been posted to Iraq in June 2003. He had spent eight days in Kuwait for the purpose of acclimatisation. The room he occupied in Iraq did not have air conditioning. In August 2003 temperatures in the shade reached in excess of 50 degrees C, which was the maximum that available thermometers could measure. He reported sick complaining that he could not stand the heat. Some days later he suffered a cardiac arrest.

    In this appeal the secretary of state appeals against the decision of the Court of Appeal ([2009] EWCA Civ 441) that the deceased had been within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom for the purposes of the Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 and the Human Rights Act 1998 and that, consequently, the inquest into his death had to comply with Article 2.

    The hearing is expected to last for four days. See coverage in The Times and the The Guardian.

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    Have MI5 “inflicted a body blow on their own reputation”?

    12 March 2010 by

    David Pannick QC says in an article in the Times that the controversy surrounding the Binyam Mohammed case has been a disaster for the security services and has highlighted the need for more effective supervision:

    The sorry saga of the Binyam Mohamed litigation has required the judiciary to strip away evasions and half-truths by the Security Services that have inflicted a body blow on their own reputation.

    He concludes:

    The courts, here and in the US, have performed their constitutional role of identifying and publicising unlawful acts of torture. There is now an urgent need for effective supervision and accountability of our intelligence services. Existing methods of parliamentary control have plainly been inadequate. As MI5’s in-house lawyer acknowledges in John le Carré’s novel The Russia House, his “old law tutor would have turned in his grave” at the lack of legal controls.

    The full article is available here. You can read our analysis of the case here.

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    Should children be protected against giving evidence in court?

    5 March 2010 by

    Re W (Children) [2010] UKSC 12 [On appeal from [2010] EWCA Civ 57]

    The Supreme Court has ruled that refusing an application for a child to give evidence in a trial may contravene Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

    At issue in this case is the care of five children. All the children were taken into foster care and the four younger children are having supervised contact with both parents. The father has since been charged with 13 criminal offences and is currently on bail awaiting trial.

    In the family proceedings the parties originally agreed that there would be a fact finding hearing in which the 14 year old girl would give evidence via a video link.  In November 2009 the judge decided to refuse the father’s application for her to be called. Instead, she would rely on the other evidence, including a video-recorded interview with the child.

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