NHS Nurse banned from wearing crucifix at work loses discrimination claim

7 April 2010 by

Shirley Chaplin, an NHS nurse who was moved to a desk job for wearing a crucifix at work, has lost her employment discrimination claim against the NHS.

The Employment Tribunal judgment is not available at present, but The Times reports:

John Hollow, the tribunal chairman, ruled that the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital had acted reasonably in trying to reach a compromise. It had argued that the objection to the crucifix, which Mrs Chaplin, from Kenn, near Exeter, had worn for 30 years, was based on health and safety concerns about patients grabbing the necklace, not religion.

According to the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which strongly supports Ms. Chaplin’s case, the Tribunal held that Mrs Chaplin had not been indirectly discriminated against by the application of the uniform policy because she could not prove she was part of a group affected by the policy.

The Tribunal applied the reasoning in the previous case of Nadia Eweida v British Airways [2009] EWCA Civ 1025. Ms Ewieda’s claim also involved her being banned from wearing a Christian cross at work, in that case at British Airways. The Court of Appeal made clear that in an indirect discrimination cases brought under Reg. 3(1) of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, it was necessary to show that there had to be evidence of a “group disadvantage”, i.e. that more than one person had been affected by the policy. Ms Eweida could not establish a ‘group’ and as such her case failed.

The CLC claim that “the Tribunal has now decided that a group must be more than two people as well—leaving the law in a ludicrous level of uncertainty”. Ms Chaplin has already said she plans to appeal the decision.

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Chairman of Baha Mousa Public Inquiry will not force the MoD to disclose Attorney General human rights advice

6 April 2010 by

Lord Goldsmith

Sir William Gage, the Chairman of the Baha Mousa Public Inquiry, has refused an application by participants in the Inquiry to compel the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to disclose advice produced by the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.

The MoD claimed legal professional privilege in respect of the Attorney-General’s Advice of 2003 on the application of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to the British Army’s operations in Iraq during the Iraq war.

The Inquiry, which has been ongoing since July 2009, aims to investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa by the British Army and the treatment of those detained with him, in particular where responsibility lay for approving the practice of conditioning detainees by any members of the 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment in Iraq in 2003.

Read more:

  • You can read the Chairman’s full Ruling here.
  • Read coverage in The Times

Outcome of Carson v The UK is £60m pensions bill for Australians

6 April 2010 by

We posted last week on Carson and Others v The United Kingdom (read judgment), in which the European Court of Human Rights rejected a claim that UK pensioners living abroad should have their pensions index-linked (i.e., that they be raised in line with inflation).

It turns out that it is not just the UK, or indeed Europe, being affected by the long reach of the ECtHR. Alison Steed in The Daily Telegraph reports that the Australian Government are footing the bill for 170,000 ex-pat British pensioners living there. They have said in response to the judgment:

“The Australian government believes this policy is discriminatory. We have been actively lobbying the UK government on this issue… This policy continues to place an increasing burden on all Australian taxpayers, as the Australian government picks up the tab for around 170,000 UK pensioners who also receive means-tested Australian pensions – estimated at about A$100 million (£60 million) per year in additional social security payments.”

Australia ended its social security agreement with the UK in 2001 in light of this issue, which affects around 500,000 ex-pat UK pensioners living worldwide.

Read more:

  • 28 March 2010 post
  • The ECtHR judgment
  • Our case summary of Carson; Reynolds v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (May 2005 – House of Lords, 2003 – Court of Appeal)
  • Media coverage of the Carson judgment in The Guardian and on the BBC website

Scottish and Northern Irish Human Rights Commissions express joint concerns on Bill of Rights

5 April 2010 by

The Scottish and Northern Irish Human Rights Commissions have issued a joint statement responding to the Conservative Party’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights.

Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC), is quoted on their website. Interestingly, he makes the link between the HRA and devolution for Scotland: “The Human Rights Act in combination with the Scotland Act is an important pillar of devolution for Scotland. Rather than needing to be repealed it needs to be progressively built upon in Scotland.” Justice, a Human Rights organisation, made the same point on devolution in a recent report.

Professor Monica McWilliams, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said: “Nowhere in the world has the repeal of existing human rights protections been a starting point for discussing a proposed Bill of Rights.”

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Recent case comments

5 April 2010 by

Our most recent in-depth human rights case comments:

Removal of child following faulty diagnosis of injury breached Article 8

2 April 2010 by

AD and OD v United Kingdom (Application No 28680/06), 2 April 2010

Read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled unanimously that a local authority’s failure to conduct a risk assessment, which resulted in a child being placed with foster parents, breached the right to respect for family life under Article 8 of the Convention.  It also concluded that the mother should have had available to her a means of claiming that the local authority’s handling of the procedures was responsible for any damage which she suffered and obtaining compensation for that damage. As such redress was not available to her, the Court held that she had suffered a violation of Article 13.

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Lord Chief Justice says European Court has too much influence over British Legal System

2 April 2010 by

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, has used the annual Judicial Studies Board (JSB) lecture to complain that the English courts were being influenced too heavily by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

This is becoming something of a tradition at the annual JSB lecture. Lord Hoffman used the same platform last year (read lecture here) to criticise the ECtHR, saying it had been “unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and to impose uniform rules on Member States.”

In this year’s lecture, Lord Judge suggested that “statute ensures that the final word does not rest with Strasbourg, but with our Supreme Court” and that the Luxembourg-based ECtHR was encroaching on the legal territory of its Strasbourg cousin, the European Court of Justice.

The full lecture can be found here, or you can read more of the address after the page break below:

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Commentary on the Court of Appeal’s Dr Singh libel Ruling

2 April 2010 by

We posted yesterday on Dr Simon Singh’s victory in the Court of Appeal. Unsurprisingly a number of interesting press comments have been published this morning:

  • Dr Simon Singh writes in The Guardian that “the battle for libel reform has only just begun.” He warns that “yesterday’s decision was only a ruling on potential defences and the meaning of my article, so I have not won yet. Indeed, the case could continue for another two years and run for four years in total.”
  • Francis Gibb writing in The Times says that “The ruling by Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice; Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Sedley may put an end to the idea that the courts are the first, rather than the last, resort.”
  • Ian Burrell, writing in the Guardian says that Dr Singh has “won a victory for freedom of speech in his cause célèbre libel battle with the body that represents Britain’s chiropractors.”
  • John Kampfner, the chief executive of Index on Censorshipwrites in the Independent that “Once in a while, in these days of antagonism towards the political-legal establishment, something happens that gladdens the heart.”

Court of Appeal mounts robust defence of intellectual freedom of expression

1 April 2010 by

British Chiropractic Association v Dr Singh [2010] EWCA Civ 350

(Read judgment)

Dr Simon Singh has won the first battle in the libel action, brought by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), in the Court of Appeal. Dr Singh was sued by the BCA in respect of an article he wrote in The Guardian in April 2008, in which he said there was not enough evidence to prove that chiropractic treatment is effective against certain childhood conditions including colic and asthma.

Mr Justice Eady ruled against Dr Singh in May 2009 in relation to two important preliminary issues. Dr Singh appealed to the Court of Appeal, and Lord Judge, Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley were asked to rule on the preliminary points relating to possible defences.

The Court has used the opportunity to mount a robust and somewhat lyrical defence of the right to freedom of expression.

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Accused should have been allowed to attend appeal against the grant of her bail

1 April 2010 by

Allen v. The United Kingdom (Application no. 18837/06), Date of judgment: 30 March 2010

(Read judgment)

    The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that, in the circumstances, it was a breach of the applicant Susan Allen’s rights under article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for a Deputy District Judge to refuse her permission to attend an appeal against the grant of her bail.

    In October 2005 Ms Allen was charged with two offences of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. She was produced at Liverpool City Magistrates’ Court. Following a contested bail application she was granted bail by the Deputy District Judge, and the prosecution subsequently appealed. Her counsel requested that the judge allow her to be present at the appeal. The judge declined the request, reasoning that the applicant could be given a full report of what had happened from her counsel. Moreover, her attendance would be undesirable as one of the applicant’s co-accused had not been present at the hearing of the appeal against the grant of bail to him, and it would therefore be unfair to treat the applicant more favourably.


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    Joint Committee on Human Rights calls for control order scheme to be discontinued

    31 March 2010 by

    The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (‘the Joint Committee’) has released its report on the Annual Renewal of Control Order Legislation 2010, in which it heavily criticised the control order scheme. The scheme, introduced in 2005, allows courts to put terror suspects under restrictions resembling house arrest by placing them under curfews of up to 16 hours a day and, typically, constraints on their movements and communications. There were 12 suspects subject to control orders in December 2009.

    Whereas the Joint Committee has previously criticised the scheme, this is the first time that it has recommended for it to be discontinued. The committee said:

    We have serious concerns about the control order system. Evidence shows the devastating impact of control orders on the subject of the orders, their families and their communities. In addition detailed information is now available about the cost of control orders which raises questions about whether the cost the system is out of all proportion to the supposed public benefit. We find it hard to believe that the annual cost of surveillance of the small number of individuals subject to control orders would exceed the amount currently being paid to lawyers in the ongoing litigation about control orders. Finally, we believe that because the Government has ignored our previous recommendations for reform, the system gives rise to unnecessary breaches of individuals’ rights to liberty and due process.

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    Shadow Justice Secretary speaks to lawyers on “The State of Human Rights”

    30 March 2010 by

    We have been following with interest the debate over the proposed “Bill of Rights” which all of the major parties are considering in some form. Dominic Grieve QC, the Shadow Justice Secretary, gave a speech last week to the Human Rights Lawyers Association which touched upon the Conservative Party’s proposals. Francis Klug wrote in The Guardian that:

    Some of us asked Grieve to clarify the effects of these proposed interpretation clauses at yesterday’s meeting. I am not sure we were any the wiser. The purpose appears to be to free our judges from the approach of the Strasbourg court (they are already free from slavishly following the case law) where rights are not absolute. The text of the ECHR could still be used, Grieve says (although he suggests this is only his personal preference, not necessarily his party’s). But it is not at all clear that the human rights framework for balancing or limiting rights – based on preventing harm rather than creating eligibility criteria – will survive these suggested “interpretation clauses”.

    The text of the speech has not been published, but Mr Grieve has published a speech on the same topic on his website, given in November 2009. In that speech he made clear that the Human Rights Act would not be replaced without a wide public consultation. However, he did provide some clues as to the nature of the “interpretation clauses”, saying:

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    Education not recognised as a “civil right” under Convention due process rules

    29 March 2010 by

    R (on the application of LG) (Appellant) v Independent Appeal Panel for Tom Hood School (Respondent) & Secretary of State for the Department for Children, Schools and Families (Interested Party) [2010] EWCA Civ 142

    (Read judgment here)

    CA (Civ Div) (Rix LJ, Wilson LJ, Sir Scott Baker) February 26 2010

    An exclusion hearing by a school does not engage the pupil’s Article 6 of the Convention since there is no “civil right” to education recognized as such either by the Convention or by domestic law.

    Summary

    The appellant pupil (VG) had been involved in a fight at the school. He was accused of having a knife, which he denied. The school permanently excluded VG and he appealed. The panel, in accordance with the Education (Pupil Exclusions and Appeals) (Maintained Schools) (England) Regulations 2002 reg.7A, found on the balance of probabilities that he had carried a knife, and upheld his exclusion. VG appealed against a decision ((2009) EWHC 369 (Admin), (2009) BLGR 691) to refuse his application for judicial review of the decision of the respondent panel to uphold a decision to permanently exclude him from a school. He argued that his right to a fair hearing under Article 6 was engaged, either on the basis that the panel had determined his civil right not to be excluded from the school without good reason, or on the basis that the panel had determined a criminal charge against him, and that right had been infringed by the decision to exclude him having been based on allegations established against him on the balance of probabilities rather than on the criminal standard of proof. He also contended that regulation 7A(c), although purportedly made pursuant to the Education Act 2002 s.52, was ultra vires in that a rule about standard of proof was one of evidence and not procedure as permitted by s.52(3)(d).

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    Recent posts roundup

    29 March 2010 by

    European Commission warns the UK about unfair cost of challenging environmental decisions

    28 March 2010 by

    The European Commission has sent an official warning letter to the UK regarding the prohibitive expense of challenging the legality of environmental decisions.

    The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention) was signed by the United Kingdom in 1998, and came into force in October 2001.  It was ratified by the United Kingdom in February 2005, at the same time as its ratification by the European Community.  Article 9(4) of the Convention provides that access to environmental justice must be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive.

    The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not provide for a specific human right to a clean environment, nor a right to environmental justice, although Article 2 (right to life), Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 8 (respect for family and private life) do provide some scope for environmental protection, Conventions such as Aarhus are important in supporting these rights in an environmental context, particularly where the ECHR may provide inadequate protection. This connection is recognised in the preamble to the Aarhus Convention which identifies that, “the adequate protection of the environment is essential for human well-being and the enjoyment of basic human rights, including the right to life itself.”

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