Ratzenböck and Seydl v Austria (ECtHR) 26 October 2017 – read judgment
Equal civil partnerships divide opinions. For their proponents, access to such a status, and the legal benefits that follow, allows couples critical of marriage – whether same or different-sex – the ability to express their relationship through (in their view) a more appropriate, modern and egalitarian legal institution. Opponents question such a need in light of the availability of civil marriage, which has over centuries evolved and may not now necessarily be perceived as embodying the patriarchal or heteronormative values that its critics challenge. Calls for allowing different-sex as well as same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships in England and Wales have grown louder recently following the failed Equal Love case (Ferguson v UK), the production of several Private Members Bills and the on-going litigation in Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education, due to be heard by the Supreme Court in Spring 2018. The desire, however, for different-sex civil partnerships is not limited to this jurisdiction, and was recently explored for the first time by the Strasbourg court in Ratzenböck and Seydl v Austria. After exploring the background to this legal challenge, this post will critically analyse the reasoning of the Strasbourg Court and assess its implications for the challenge in Steinfeld.
The key argument this piece puts forward is that states should not maintain asymmetry of access to formal relationship statuses based on sexual orientation: if a state has introduced registered (civil) partnerships it should open them to both different and same-sex couples, an argument that also applies to marriage. The term ‘asymmetry of access’ will be used to cover: offering access to marriage for different-sex couples and no such access to same-sex ones who also cannot access any registered partnership scheme; offering access to marriage to different-sex couples and access to such a scheme to same-sex ones; offering access to either of two formalised relationship statuses to one group of couples, based on gender and sexual orientation, and access to only one such form to the other group. Continue reading
Scotch Whisky Association v Lord Advocate and Another (Scotland)  UKSC 76 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has ruled that the introduction of minimum pricing into the sales of alcohol in Scotland will not constitute a disproportionate measure interfering with the free movement of goods and competition in the EU. The initial legislation that paved the way for minimum pricing was approved by the Scottish parliament five years ago but has been under legal challenge since. The Scottish Parliament had decided to address the health and social consequences arising from the consumption of cheap alcohol by a minimum pricing regime. They did this by inserting in the Scottish licensing legislation an additional condition that an alcohol product must not be sold at a price below a statutorily determined minimum price per unit of alcohol. The minimum price is to be set by secondary legislation. The current proposal is 50 pence per unit of alcohol. Continue reading
B (Applicant, acting as litigation in person) – and – D (by his litigation friend, the Official Solicitor) (1) The Ministry of Defence (2)  EWCOP 15 Respondents – read judgement
Stem cell therapy has been very much in the news recently, as doctors have saved the life of a seven year old boy with a genetic disorder that caused the top layer of his skin to blister and flake away. After years of struggling with this painful and dangerous disease – antibiotics, bandages and even skin transplants were to no avail – the boy was on the point of death from bacterial infection. The skin contains its own supply of specialised stem cells, which allows the epidermis to be constantly renewed throughout our lives, with cells turning over roughly every month. This also allows scientists to grow grafts in culture, simply by taking a small sample. Specialists in Germany cultured centimetre wide pieces of his skin and engineered this tissue to accept the correct gene through viral transfer. The healthy patch of skin was then grown in the laboratory until enough of it was ready to be grafted back on to the boy’s body. Ultimately the team was able to replace 80% of the child’s skin. He is now understood to be leading a normal life at school, playing soccer and generally not displaying any of the dangerous side effects of gene therapy.
The relevance of this success story to this Court of Protection case will soon become obvious. In this hearing Baker J, deciding the best interests of D, a young man severely brain damaged after being assaulted by another soldier, had to determine whether his strongly held desire to travel to Serbia for stem cell treatment should prevail over the medical opposition to such a step. This was not a case of scarce allocation of public resources as D had the money from his compensation award to spend on this treatment. Continue reading
The announcement of a statutory inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal may be a major step towards uncovering the truth for those affected. But an inquiry into historical events has its own unique challenges and potential pitfalls. Before it even commences, can the Government ensure the inquiry retains the confidence of victims, families and the public?
As Jim Duffy explains here, the scandal goes back to events of the 1970s and 80s. Around 7,500 patients suffering with haemophilia were treated within the NHS with contaminated blood products from the United States and elsewhere. Many died and many remain terminally ill. Since then, many of the victims and families have been left dissatisfied by the government’s response. Can the inquiry resolve their concerns?
Given the length of time since the events in question, it is no longer enough to narrowly examine the facts of what happened to individual victims. Time is no healer when spent in the dark. Rather, more questions require answers, emotions become fraught, and distrust is entrenched. Wider issues have come to the fore. In particular, as former-MP Andy Burnham stated in Parliament, there is a belief that there has been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale”. Earlier inquiries suggest there is a delicate path to tread.
Another £192 million? Continue reading
Independence and public inquiries – why you need it and how you can lose it
There is a scene in “Yes Minister” in which the beleaguered Jim Hacker is contemplating a public inquiry into the latest failing of his department. He warily suggests to his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, that perhaps the judge chairing the inquiry could be leant on to come up with a favourable outcome. Sir Humphrey is outraged at this violation of the separation of powers. Surely the Minister wasn’t serious? After all, wouldn’t it be better to appoint a judge who didn’t need to be leant on in the first place?
Jim Duffy’s recent post on the Contaminated Blood Inquiry – and the importance of an inquiry being independent and being seen to be independent – brought this encounter to mind. The ever more frequent calls for a ‘judge-led inquiry’ must be a source of both pride and concern to the judiciary. Pride as ‘judge-led’ is a synonym for a forensic, thorough and above all independent tribunal to assess the matter in question. We will come to the concern later.
Times have changed since the careers of Hacker and Sir Humphrey. The Inquiries Act 2005 contains provisions intended to secure and display the suitability and impartiality of those charged with conducting a statutory inquiry (see in particular s.8 and 9). When it comes to appointing a judge, the Act provides that the minister must consult with the Lord Chief Justice or another relevant senior member of the judiciary (s.10). Sir Humphrey would be disappointed. Continue reading
Adam Wagner acted for victims of the Blood Contamination scandal in a proposed Judicial Review of the refusal to hold an inquiry. He is not the author of this post
Amid the blizzard of news stories circling Westminster on Friday, it would have been easy to miss an announcement of considerable significance to victims of the contaminated blood scandal and their families.
In a written statement to Parliament, Damian Green confirmed that the inquiry into the scandal – announced by the Prime Minister in July – will take the form of a UK-wide, statutory inquiry.
Not only that, it will no longer be set up by the Department of Health (DoH), but by the Cabinet Office. Campaigners for the victims and their families had boycotted talks with Downing Street, arguing that the DoH would have a conflict of interest, due to the need for the inquiry to investigate the actions of health officials.
However, there was yet more disappointment and frustration over the continued failure to appoint an inquiry chair or to announce terms of reference. Continue reading