The cake at the centre of the controversy — Image: The Guardian
Lee v. Ashers Baking Company Ltd – read judgment here.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court handed down its much-anticipated judgment in the ‘gay cake’ case. The Court unanimously held that it was not direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or political opinion for the owners of a Northern Irish bakery to refuse to bake a cake with the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’ on it, when to do so would have been contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The judgment is a significant and welcome affirmation of the fundamental importance of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. The Court emphasised that refusing to provide a good or service to someone because they are gay (or because of any other protected characteristic) is unlawful discrimination — this judgment should not give anyone the idea that discrimination is now acceptable. However, the Court made clear that the purpose of equality law is to protect people, not ideas, and that no-one should ever be compelled by law to make a statement or express a message with which they do not agree.
Human trafficking or modern slavery is one of the most appalling forms of criminal activity today. It’s also one of the most widespread and fastest-growing.
The International Labour Organisation believes that at any one time at least 40.3 million people around the world are being coerced into a situation of exploitation or made to work against their will, often having been transported across borders. Such exploitation can take many different forms, but the most common include forced prostitution, forced labour or forced marriage.
Estimates vary hugely as to how many victims of trafficking or modern slavery there are in the UK, from 13,000 up to 136,000. What is clear is that it is a significant and constantly evolving problem, and one of the major drivers of organised crime. The UK has taken some very good steps to address the issue. However, two judgments earlier this year, and a news story this month, have drawn attention to the fact that the system put in place to combat human trafficking and modern slavery has some serious flaws in how it works in practice.
Belhaj and Boudchar v. Director of Public Prosecutions (Foreign Secretary intervening)  EWHC 3056 (Admin) – read judgment here.
The Justice and Security Act 2013 introduced the idea of Closed Material Proceedings (CMP) to civil litigation in a significant way for the first time. This is a procedure (which had previously only used in a small number of specialist tribunals) whereby all or part of a claim can be heard in closed proceedings in order for the court to consider material which, if disclosed publicly, would risk harming national security. These hearings exclude even the claimant, who is represented instead by a Special Advocate who takes instructions and then is unable to speak to his or her client again once they have seen the sensitive material.
This system is obviously far from ideal. Indeed it is a major deviation from the usual (and very important) principle that justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done. It was introduced because the alternative in some cases involving national security matters was no justice at all. But it must be used sparingly. In particular, the 2013 Act allows its use only in civil litigation and not in “proceedings in a criminal cause or matter” (section 6(11)). The question that the Divisional Court had to consider in this case is how wide that exception for criminal matters should be.
Lee v. Ashers Baking Company Ltd– read judgment here. It is rare indeed for a court judgment to unite newspapers across the political spectrum in criticism, from the Guardianto theTelegraph (taking in veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell on the way), but the so-called ‘gay cake’ case has achieved just that.
The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal upheld the decision of District Judge Brownlie that it was direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation for the owners of Ashers Bakery to refuse to bake a cake saying ‘Support Gay Marriage’ on the basis that such a message conflicted with their deeply-held Christian beliefs about the nature of marriage.
As the Court of Appeal acknowledged, the basic facts of the case “might not suggest that it is a matter of any great moment“. The owners of the bakery, Mr and Mrs McArthur, cancelled the order quickly and politely, providing an immediate refund. The customer, Mr Lee, was able to obtain a suitable replacement cake very easily from another supplier. So why all the fuss? Well, as the Court explained, “those bare facts engage the crucial issue of the manner in which any conflicts between the LGBT community and the faith community in the commercial space should be resolved“. The case is therefore of much greater significance than a single order for cake, raising key questions about the scope of discrimination law and the appropriate level of protection for freedom of conscience in a plural society.
Al-Saadoon & Ors v. Secretary of State for Defence  EWCA Civ 811, 9 September 2016 – read judgment.
This is the second in a series of posts on a very important judgment on the human rights obligations imposed on the British Armed Forces when operating abroad. The background to the case can be found in Dominic Ruck Keene’s post here, with David Hart QC’s analysis of the ECHR jurisdiction aspect here.
This short post looks at the third question raised in this judgment, namely whether or not the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) could be relied upon in domestic law proceedings.
As well as being a fascinating question itself, this is part of a wider issue about the use of international law in the domestic courts. Countries are usually divided into ‘monist’ and ‘dualist’ legal systems. In a monist system international law is automatically included into domestic law. However, in a dualist system like the UK the general principle has always been that international treaties must be explicitly incorporated into UK domestic law by Parliament before they can be applied to an individual case.
Lady Hale, who delivered the court’s judgment (Photo: Guardian)
R(C) v. Secretary of State for Justice  UKSC 2 – read judgment.
When is it right to keep the names of parties to litigation a secret? That was the difficult question the Supreme Court had to grapple with in this judgment, handed down on Wednesday. The decision to allow a double-murderer to remain anonymous led to outraged headlines in the tabloids. Yet the Court reached the unanimous conclusion that this was the right approach. Why?
C, who had a long history of severe mental illness, was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her new partner in 1998 and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 11 years before parole could be considered. The murder was described by Lady Hale as “a particularly savage killing which must have caused untold suffering to the victims and has continued to cause great grief to their families.” During his sentence C was transferred from prison to a high security psychiatric hospital. Whilst there, in 2012, C’s treating doctors applied for permission to allow him unescorted leave in the community in order to assess how well his treatment was progressing and whether he would be suitable for discharge. The Secretary of State refused to allow this.
Gareth Lee v. Ashers Baking Co Ltd, Colin McArthur and Karen McArthur  NICty 2 – read judgment here.
In a claim popularly dubbed the ‘gay cake’ case, which has attracted international attention, District Judge Brownlie of the Northern Ireland County Court held yesterday that it was unlawful direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation for a bakery owned by two Christians to refuse to bake a cake which had printed on it a picture of ‘Bert and Ernie’ and the caption ‘Support Gay Marriage’ .
The parties approached the claim from very different standpoints. The Plaintiff, Mr Lee, argued that Mr and Mrs McArthur refused to bake the cake because he was gay. The Defendants argued that they did not know what Mr Lee’s sexual orientation was and it would have made no difference if they had. They would have happily served him a cake of any kind. Rather, they objected to the message on the cake because they felt they would be promoting or supporting a cause which they disagreed with, going against their consciences. They would have refused to bake the same cake for a customer of any sexual orientation.
Greater Glasgow Health Board v. Doogan and Wood  UKSC 68 – read judgment here.
The Supreme Court recently handed down its judgment in an interesting and potentially controversial case concerning the interpretation of the conscientious objection clause in the Abortion Act 1967. Overturning the Inner House of the Court of Session’s ruling, the Court held that two Catholic midwives could be required by their employer to delegate to, supervise and support other staff who were involved in carrying out abortion procedures, as part of their roles as Labour Ward Co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.
We set out the background to the case and explained the earlier rulings and their ramifications on this blog here and here. The key question the Supreme Court had to grapple with the meaning of the words “to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection” in section 4 of the 1967 Act.
P (A Child)  EWCA Civ 888 – read judgment here.
1 Crown Office Row’s Martin Downs represented the parents in this appeal (not at first instance), but is not the author of this blog post.
In this successful appeal against care and placement orders in respect of a young infant with Polish parents, the Court of Appeal were sharply critical of comments made by the first instance judge which made it clear he had closed his mind at an early stage to the possibility of the baby being looked after by her grandparents in Poland. The Court held that both the judge and the local authority had failed to give sufficient weight to their positive obligation under Article 8 to consider ways of retaining a child within the family.
The parents in this case were Polish nationals who moved to England in 2011. Their daughter was born in September 2012. For the first five-and-a-half months of the little girl’s life, there were no concerns about the care she was receiving from her parents. However, in February 2013 she was taken to her local hospital in Warrington with a head injury which was found to be non-accidental and probably inflicted by the father. On discharge from hospital the baby was taken into foster care. Proceedings were instituted and after several hearings before HHJ Dodds concluded in December 2013 with an adoption placement.
Bull v. Hall and Preddy 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.
Theruling 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 here. A 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.
Sindacutul ‘Pastorul Cel Bun’ v. Romania  ECHR 646 – read judgment here.
The Orthodox Archbishop of Craiova in Romania, that is, not the Archbishop of Canterbury. The European Court of Human Rights recently handed down an interesting ruling on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) that could also have more far-reaching consequences for the application of Article 9 (freedom of religion).
The Grand Chamber, overruling the earlier decision of the Third Section, held by a majority that it was not a breach of the right to freedom of association for the Romanian Government to refuse to register a trade union formed by a group of Orthodox priests, after the Archbishop and Holy Synod (the governing body of the Romanian Orthodox Church) had decided formal trade unions should not be allowed within the church.
Black and Morgan v. Wilkinson  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 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.
R (Dr Hans-Christian Raabe) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department 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.
The campaign group UK Uncut brought a judicial review claim against HMRC. They argued that it was unlawful for HMRC to reach a confidential settlement in 2010 with the investment bank Goldman Sachs over a multi-million pound unpaid tax bill arising out of a failed tax avoidance scheme. Mr Justice Nicol held that HMRC’s decision was not unlawful, but criticised the actions of HMRC officials and HMRC have acknowledged that the manner in which the settlement was agreed involved several mistakes.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.