Currently, non-Scottish students from elsewhere in the UK and Northern Ireland have to pay tuition fees in Scotland, set to rise to up to £9,000 annually next year. However, Scottish students and those from other parts of the EU do not have to pay fees at all. Non-British EU students do not have to pay fees in Scotland due to EU law forbidding them from being treated differently to Scottish students.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has reversed its plans to intervene in two European Court of Human Rights cases about religious discrimination.
Last month the Commission announced that it would intervene in European Court of Human Rights cases on behalf of religious believers who failed to convince the UK courts that they were being discriminated against in the workplace. Two of the proposed interventions – in which the EHRC proposed a “reasonable accommodation” for religion and belief cases (an idea proposed on this blog by Aidan O’Neill QC) – courted controversy, as Alasdair Henderson explained in his post, A leap of faith?
In the midst of all the coverage of the phone hacking scandal and the mounting woes of News Corporation an interesting piece of human rights news from the past week got lost: the announcement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) that it is applying to intervene in four cases before the European Court of Human Rights being brought by Christians who claim their Article 9 rights are not being sufficiently protected in UK law.
The applicants are Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, each of whom has lost claims of workplace discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief in the UK courts over the past couple of years (see our general comment pieces here and here). The EHRC has now said that in its view “Judges have interpreted the law too narrowly in religion or belief discrimination claims” and that “the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.”
Updated | SG v St Gregory’s Catholic Science College  EWHC 1452 (Admin) (17 June 2010) – Read judgment
Most people have their first taste of injustice at school. This is hardly surprising: an institution containing hundreds of teenagers for whom rebellion is a biological imperative is always going to be difficult to control. In trying to do so, teachers sometimes impose petty rules.
Many children fantasize of an external authority intervening to expose the injustice of those rules, particularly in relation to modes of dress. But few take their school to court to challenge a policy on hairstyle. And even fewer win, as a young boy – known in this case as SG – has just done in the High Court. SG took his school, St Gregory’s Catholic Science College of Harrow in Greater London, to court to challenge its ban on boys wearing their hair in “cornrows“, or braids.
Yesterday Neil Howard and Rebecca Steinfeld asked via guardian.co.uk whether it is Time to ban male circumcision? The article was prompted by attempts to ban the practice in San Francisco.
Male circumcision is common amongst Muslims and Jews, but judging from the 286 comments (so far!) to the article, there are a lot of people who feel that the practice is outdated and should be banned. I have responded with my own article, arguing that whilst the debate is by no means settled, a ban at present would amount to a disproportionate interference with freedom of religion rights.
Birmingham City Council v Barker (Equal Pay Act : Other establishments) (Rev 1)  UKEAT 0056_10_0905 (9 May 2011) – Read jugment
One of the allegations made about contingency fees is that they encourage lawyers to cut corners because they are not paid by the hour. It is an allegation which has been specifically made to me in the context of equal pay claims. So I was interested to see this latest Employment Appeal Tribunal decision which deals with a number of mistakes made during high volume equal pay cases.
The first point that is worth making is that it is a reminder of how hard fought these equal pay cases are. A concern about bringing cases under a contingency fee is that opponents can string cases out, or take highly adversarial approaches, to ensure that these cases cost the contingency fee lawyers lots of their time. The longer they take, the harder it is for contingency fee lawyers to make a profit, and the less likely it is to arise in these cases.
In a modern liberal democracy we take for granted the fact that laws apply to all individuals and are enforced by the courts without special consideration of religious beliefs they may happen to have.
But for a while at least there was a very real danger of the dissolution of the divide between private orthodoxy and public principle following the widespread invocation of Article 9 in the courts. This came to a head in the furore over the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s intervention in the MacFarlane v Relate case, provoking some very sharp words from Lord Justice Laws. Although religious groups continue to rattle their sabres, a recent ruling from the Charity Tribunal suggests that the right to religion is losing its edge somewhat on the litigious battlefield. Does this mark a trend away from making concessions to the devout?
Rahman, R (on the application of Birmingham City Council)  EWHC 944 (Admin) (31st March 2011) – read judgment
The Prime Minister recently called upon immigrant communities to integrate more fully in British Society, criticising in particular those who fail to learn English.
But three longstanding residents of Birmingham who communicate poorly in English and rely upon legal entitlement advice centres to provide services in their mother tongue, have successfully argued that the Defendant Council unlawfully failed to discharge its Public Sector Equality Duty in ceasing to fund the centres. Two further Claimants, with disabilities, also succeeded in their challenge to the Council’s decision to cease funding another centre that was providing free assistance in welfare benefit appeals.
The Commission for Equality & Human Rights has been ordered to pay costs of court proceedings to two members and a former member of the British National Party. Although the decision is a technical one relating only to costs of proceedings, it highlights the financial risks which must be borne by those seeking to police and enforce compliance with the requirements of human rights law. Continue reading →
The relationship between the expression of religious beliefs and practice and equality law is a fraught one, and particular difficulty has been experienced in the matter of the application of the law outlawing discrimination.
Equality law, as currently interpreted, treats the six prohibited grounds of discrimination – age, disability, race, religion, sex (including transgender status) and sexual orientation – as being of equal weight and standing; there is no hierarchy among these grounds.
R (on the Application of AC) v Bershire West Primary Care Trust  EWCA Civ 247 – Read judgment.
The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a male-to-female transsexual who was refused NHS funding for breast augmentation surgery.
The appellant, known as AC, had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) in 1996. As part of its GID treatment program the PCT had been prepared to provide genital reassignment surgery, which AC had not availed herself of.
Patmalniece (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Respondent)  UKSC 11 – Read judgment / press summary
The Supreme Court has ruled that pensioners from other European Union states should not have the right to claim pension credits in the UK. Although the current ban on claiming these benefits is indirectly discriminatory, the discrimination is a justified response to the legitimate aim of protecting the public purse.
The 4-1 majority ruling (Lord Walker dissented) is likely to calm fears of “benefit tourism” and will probably be wrongly reported as a victory of sensible limits on public finances over human rights. For the record, the appeal was based squarely on EU freedom of movement law and had very little, if anything, to do with human rights.
Johns v Derby City Council and Equality and Human Rights Commission (intervening)  EWHC 375 (Admin)- Read judgment
Religious views opposing homosexuality are a legitimate fostering concern and the local authority’s approach to this question did not constitute religious discrimination.
The claimant husband and wife applied to the defendant local authority to be approved as short-term, respite, foster carers. They were members of the Pentecostalist Church and believed that sexual relations other than those within marriage between one man and one woman were morally wrong. The local authority considered that the claimants’ views on same sex relationships did not equate with the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services which required carers to value individuals equally and to promote diversity. The local authority’s Fostering Panel therefore deferred a decision.
Updated | Association belge des Consommateurs Test-Achats ASBL, Yann van Vugt, Charles Basselier v Conseil des ministres, Case C‑236/09 – Read judgment / press release
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that from December 2012, insurers will be prevented from charging different premiums on the basis of an insured person’s gender. A partner at a leading commercial law firm called September’s preemptive preliminary opinion “completely bonkers”. Can the same be said about the latest decision?
Coverage of the decision has already been largely negative. As well as involving Europe’s increasingly unpopular and possibly unelected judges, the ruling affects an interest group – insurance companies – with deep pockets and who are capable of sophisticated lobbying. And nobody wants to see their insurance premiums go up, if that is indeed to be the outcome of this ruling, something which is by no means clear. So expect to see plenty of critical articles. The Telegraph website is already sporting an unchallenged article/press release from Esure, including a video interview which begins with an advert for ESure’s “Sheila’s Wheels”.
On 17 February the Home Secretary announced that the government was moving ahead with changes to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 which would allow the registration of civil partnerships to take place in religious premises.
While welcomed by many, some have voiced concerns that permission will inevitably become coercion. They fear that religious organisations may face legal action if they refuse to facilitate civil partnership ceremonies, a claim the Government denies. But will they?
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.