UK Human Rights Blog - 1 Crown Office Row
Category: Article 9 | Thought / Conscience / Religion
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
In the News:
Internationally there were a number of developments which have significant consequences for human rights. In Russia a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin has allegedly been poisoned. Alexei Navalny, who is known for exposing corruption within the country, suddenly fell ill last week after drinking tea.
Supporters claim the Russian state has tried to silence Mr Navalny’s criticism of President Putin, and then attempted to cover up its actions by stopping Mr Navalny from being treated abroad. Despite initial resistance from doctors, who said that Mr Navalny was too ill to be moved, the leader has now been flown out of Russia. Critics say the developments are part of a wider crackdown on freedom of speech within the country.
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.
The Prime Minister and Secretary of State are right to give their backing to schools and other institutions which insist on removing face coverings when it makes sense to do so.
I am concerned that some heads and principals who are trying to restrict the wearing of the full veil in certain circumstances are coming under pressure from others to relax their policy. I want to assure these leaders that they can rely on my full backing for the stance they are taking.
I have also made clear to my inspectors that where leaders are condoning the wearing of the face veil by staff members or by pupils when this is clearly hindering communication and effective teaching, they should give consideration to judging the school as inadequate.
I am determined to ensure that discrimination, including on the grounds of gender, has no place in our classrooms. We want our schools, whether faith schools or non-faith schools, to prepare their pupils equally for life in 21st century Britain. We need to be confident our children’s education and future prospects are not being harmed in any way.
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.
The drowning of several hundred migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has dominated headlines in recent weeks, prompting a special meeting of the European Council on 23 April. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for ‘a robust search-and-rescue operation in the Central Mediterranean, not only a border patrol’.
Under the ECHR, migrants rescued at sea cannot be returned if there is a ‘real risk’ of treatment that is incompatible with the absolute provisions of the Convention. Jacques Hartmann and Irini Papanicolopulu consider claims that human rights law therefore creates a perverse incentive for EU Member States not to conduct operations proactively.
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.
Updated | It emerged on Tuesday the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) for the first time in eight years. The theatre told UKJFF that they must reject longstanding funding from the Israeli Embassy if they wanted to use the venue. UKJFF refused and the relationship ended.
There has already been some excellent writing: see Nick Cohen, Archie Bland and Dorian Lynskey. Cohen makes a powerful case for the decision being anti-Semitic. I’m not going to go there, although as I have been saying on Twitter, in my view this is a bad move by the Tricycle. I thought it would be interesting, however, to investigate whether the Tricycle may have broken any laws.
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has rejected a challenge to a French law which prohibits the wearing of veils in public. The ruling is, of course, of great political and media interest, but it is also significant from a legal perspective. In a lengthy and detailed judgment, the Court ultimately accepts that, as a matter of principle, a government can legitimately interfere with the rights of individuals in pursuit of social and cultural cohesion.
On 11th April 2011, Law no. 2010-1192 came into force in the French Republic. Subject to certain limited exceptions, the law prohibits anyone from wearing any clothing which conceals their face when in public places, on pain of a 150 euro fine, and/or compulsory citizenship classes. Whilst phrased in general terms, the most obvious effect of the law, and its clear intention, is to ban the niqab (a veil that leaves only the eyes visible) and the burka (a loose garment covering the entire body with a mesh screen over the face).
Adam Wagner assisted two of the respondents in this case on behalf of Bindmans, solicitors, but was not involved in the writing of this post.
The Supreme Court has just reversed a decision of the Court of Appeal (see my previous post here) that a dispute about the trust deeds of two Sikh religious charities was non-justiciable and so could not and should not be decided by the Courts. By contrast, the SC said that two initial issues concerning the meaning of trust deeds were justiciable, and, because of this, further issues which did raise religious issues had to be determined by the courts.
The wider interest of the case is its tackling of this tricky concept of non-justiciability.
Retailer Marks & Spencer is in the news again, and not this time for its Christmas advert. The ad was, incidentally, filmed in Temple – perhaps M&S bigwigs were on their way to getting some advice on how to deal with Muslim employees who didn’t want to serve pork and alcohol?
Anyway, the retailer has allowed Muslim employees to opt out of the requirement to serve pork and alcohol, both of which their religion prohibits – although it is not clear whether they are also prohibited from serving the products to other Muslims/non-Muslims. If Islam is anything like Judaism, which I am more familiar with, I imagine the practice may vary according to communities.
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.
Mba v London Borough Of Merton  EWCA Civ 1562 – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that a requirement that she work on Sundays indirectly discriminated against her on the grounds of religion or belief.
The Court unanimously found that although both the EAT and the Employment Tribunal (ET) had erred in law, the ET’s decision was ‘plainly and unarguably right’ , and applying the principle in Dobie v Burns International Security (UK) Limited  ICR 812, the errors did not make any difference to the outcome.
Bull and another (Appellants) v Hall and another (Respondents)  UKSC 73 (27 November 2013) – read judgment
This appeal concerned the law on discrimination. Mr and Mrs Bull, the appellants, own a private hotel in Cornwall. They are committed Christians, who sincerely believe that sexual intercourse outside traditional marriage is sinful. They operate a policy at their hotel, stated on their on-line booking form, that double bedrooms are available only to “heterosexual married couples”.
The following summary is taken from the Supreme Court’s press report. See Marina Wheeler’s post on the ruling by the Court of Appeal in this case. A full analysis of the case will follow shortly.
References in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment.
The respondents, Mr Hall and Mr Preddy, are a homosexual couple in a civil partnership. On 4 September 2008 Mr Preddy booked, by telephone, a double room at the appellants’ hotel for the nights of 5 and 6 September. By an oversight, Mrs Bull did not inform him of the appellants’ policy. On arrival at the hotel, Mr Hall and Mr Preddy were informed that they could not stay in a double bedroom. They found this “very hurtful”, protested, and left to find alternative accommodation. Continue reading →
R (on the application of London Christian Radio Ltd & Christian Communications Partnerships) v Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (Respondent) & Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Interested Party)  EWCA Civ 1495 – read judgment
The ban on Christian Radio’s proposed advert seeking data on the “marginalisation of Christians” in the workplace was lawful and did not constitute an interference with free speech, the Court of Appeal has ruled. When determining whether a radio or television advertisement was “political” fur the purposes of Section 321(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003 the court should consider the text objectively; the motives of the advertiser were irrelevant.
This was an appeal against a ruling by Silber J ( EWHC 1043 (Admin)) that a proposed radio advertisement was directed towards a political end, and therefore fell foul of the prohibition on political advertising which meant that it could not be given clearance for broadcast (see my previous post on this decision). Continue reading →
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