Not just a piece of cake

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 Guardian to the Telegraph (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.

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War remains inside the court room – Part 2: the Torture Convention

iraqAl-Saadoon & Ors v. Secretary of State for Defence [2016] 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.

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An open or shut case?

Lady Hale, who delivered the court’s judgment (Photo: Guardian)

R(C) v. Secretary of State for Justice [2016] 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?

The Facts

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.

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Conscience and cake

4495195_origGareth Lee v. Ashers Baking Co Ltd, Colin McArthur and Karen McArthur [2015] 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.

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Conscientious objection to abortion: Catholic midwives lose in Supreme Court

pic_giant_051713_Therapeutic-Cloning-of-Human-EmbryosGreater Glasgow Health Board v. Doogan and Wood [2014] 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.

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Family comes first (even if they’re in Poland)

Adoption blueP (A Child) [2014] 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.

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Gay discrimination and Christian belief: Analysis of Bull v. Hall in the Supreme Court

Peter-and-Hazel-Bull-007Bull v. Hall and Preddy [2013] 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.

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