In rulings that have the potential to influence the jurisprudence of courts around the world, the Supreme Court of the United States has handed down two landmark decisions pertaining to the issue of same-sex marriage.
The right of gay and lesbian couples to wed remains one of the most controversial and debated civil rights issues of our time. However, the ground has been shifting with increasing rapidity in recent years and months. The direction of change is clear. There are now fifteen countries which permit or will permit same-sex marriages, including most recently Uruguay, New Zealand and France. With bills steadily progressing through the Parliamentary process, there is a strong possibility that England, Wales and Scotland may soon be added to the list.
Lord Saville has already come under significant criticism for the time and money which has been swallowed up by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. Future public inquiries could now be under threat as new Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has accused the Lord Saville of allowing the process to get “ludicrously out of hand“.
The Saville Inquiry Report was published yesterday and can be downloaded here, a summary here and a good analysis here. Lord Saville’s long-awaited inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings of 30 January 1972 was set up to investigate the events surrounding a march in Derry when 29 protesters were shot by British soldiers, leading to 13 deaths. The Inquiry has been widely criticised prior to its findings.
Chester v Secretary of State for Justice & Anor  EWCA Civ 1439 (17 December 2010) – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has rejected a claim by a man convicted of raping and murdering a seven-year-old girl that the court should grant him the right to vote. Meanwhile, following the judgment the government has announced that it plans to allow all prisoners less than four years to vote.
Mr Chester’s case is interesting from a constitutional perspective, although the decision is not too surprising, as I will explain. But it does highlight the complex and sometimes unsatisfactory manner in which human rights are protected in the UK.
Monsters are born, not made: the latest round in the debate about criminal responsibility questions the very existence of intuitive morality.
US neuroscientist Sam Harris claims in a new book that free will is such a misleading illusion that we need to rethink our criminal justice system on the basis of discoveries coming from the neurological wards and MRI scans of the human brain in action.
The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously demonstrated in the 1980s that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. Subjects were hooked up to an EEG machine and were asked to move their left or right hand at a time of their choosing. They watched a specially designed clock to notice what time it was when they were finally committed to moving left or right hand. Libet measured the electrical potentials of their brains and discovered that nearly half a second before they were aware of what they were going to do, he was aware of their intentions. Libet’s findings have been borne out more recently in direct recordings of the cortex from neurological patients. With contemporary brain scanning technology, other scientists in 2008 were able to predict with 60% accuracy whether subjects would press a button with their left or right hand up to 10 seconds before the subject became aware of having made that choice (long before the preparatory motor activity detected by Libet). Continue reading →
Medical Justice, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1925 (Admin) (26 July 2010) – Read judgment
The High Court has ruled that a fast-track scheme for the removal of failed asylum seekers with little or no notice is unlawful as it does not provide sufficient access to justice.
Permission to appeal has been granted but the decision could put a stop to the policy being implemented for the time being.
The challenge was brought by Medical Justice, a charity which advises asylum seekers, represented by the Public Law Project, a legal charity which aims to improve access to public law remedies (see their press release here). The policy being challenged came into effect in January 2010, and gives individuals who fall into certain specified categories and who have made unsuccessful claims to enter or to remain in the United Kingdom, little or sometimes no notice of their removal directions.
The Court of Justice of the European Union has issued its first major ruling on the reconciliation of the autonomy rights of religious organisations with the right of employees (or potential employees) of such organisations to be free of discrimination.
In 2012 Vera Egenberger applied for a fixed term post advertised by the Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung, which is a body associated with the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (a German Protestant church). The post advertised sought a person who could prepare a report on Germany’s compliance with the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Ms. Egenberger had significant experience in this area and applied for the post. However, there was a problem. Ms. Egenberger is a person who does not have a religious faith and the relevant advert included the following statement:
‘We require membership of a Protestant church, or of a church which is a member of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Deutschland (Cooperative of Christian Churches in Germany), and identification with the welfare mission. Please state your membership in your curriculum vitae.’
Ms. Egenberger was not called for interview. She took a case in the German courts alleging discrimination on grounds of religion.
Welcome back to the human rights roundup, a regular bulletin of all the law we haven’t quite managed to feature in full blog posts. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
by Melinda Padron
In the news
An eventful week in Europe
Advocate-General Trstenjak has issued her opinion in NS v SSHD, a case currently pending before the Court of Justice of the EU. As reported by Cian Murphy for the Guardian, the case involves an Afghan asylum seeker who arrived in the EU via Greece before making his way to the UK to seek refuge.
Under the Dublin regulation it is for the EU country of first entry to consider the asylum claim, so the UK sought to return the claimant to Greece. The claimant then challenged his transfer by claiming that Greece was unable to process his case and that return would violate his fundamental rights. If he is successful, no asylum seeker could be returned to Greece under current conditions. In her opinion, AG Trstenjak made recommendations on a number of points, including the following:
It is just over five years since the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the case of Obergefell v Hodges (26 June 2015), and just over fifty-one years since the Stonewall riots (28 June 1969). To the many important dates in Pride Month must now be added 15 June 2020, the date of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v Clayton County, which confirmed that is, in fact, illegal to fire an employee because they are homosexual or transgender.
It might seem surprising to many readers of this blog that there was a question about this. In the United States. In 2020. Yet even here in the UK it can hardly be said that employment protections for gay and transgender people have existed since time immemorial. It was only in December 2003, for example, that the UK Government enacted the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, which prohibited employers from committing direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment “on grounds of sexual orientation” (for which thanks is owed to the European Union, which mandated such legislation pursuant to the Equal Treatment Framework Directive of November 2000).
It can be said, however, that the legislation in the UK is sufficiently clear to put the question beyond doubt. Since 2010, sexual orientation and gender reassignment have been “protected characteristics” for the purposes of general discrimination law, pursuant to sections 4, 7 and 12 of the Equality Act 2010.
The law in the United States is not so explicit. Rather, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 makes it “unlawful…for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual…because of such individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin.” The question for the Supreme Court in Bostock was whether the prohibition of discrimination because of an individual’s sex also entailed a prohibition of discrimination on the basis that an employee was gay or transgender.
Three cases were being appealed together, and the facts in each of them were simple, and stark:
Mr Gerald Bostock worked for his local authority (Clayton County) in Georgia as a child welfare advocate. After a decade of employment, during which time the County won national awards for its work, Mr Bostock made the fateful decision to start participation in a recreational gay softball league. He was promptly fired.
Mr Donald Zarda was a sky-diving instructor in New York. He tried to reassure a female customer who had concerns about a tandem skydive with a male instructor by confirming that he was “100% gay”. She complained, and he was dismissed days later.
Ms Aimee Stephens worked in a funeral home in Michigan. At the start of her employment she presented as male. Two years into her employment she underwent psychiatric treatment for “despair and loneliness” and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Her clinicians recommended that she start to live as a woman. Several years later, when she informed her employer that she would be returning to work as a woman after her vacation, she was fired because it was “not going to work out”.
In all three cases the employers openly acknowledged that their motive for dismissing their employees was that they were gay/transgender; but they said that was a wholly lawful thing to do. The plaintiffs argued that it was not, pursuant to a proper reading of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964.
The decision was hotly anticipated. In the United States, the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court is lamentably politicised, and after President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland had been blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate in 2016, and the current occupant of the White House had apparently assured a 5-4 conservative majority by appointing two justices (most recently, following a harrowing confirmation process, Kavanaugh J), socially progressive groups could be forgiven for awaiting the judgment with some trepidation.These background issues are discussed further on the blog here.
On this occasion, they need not have worried. The split of votes was a refreshingly decisive and bipartisan 6-3, including Chief Justice Roberts. What’s more, the majority opinion was written by Gorsuch J, a “conservative justice” appointed in 2017.
The opinions make for a thoroughly enjoyable read (don’t be put off by the 172 pages — it is mostly appendices to Alito J’s dissenting opinion). As a student of English law, I am used to reading judgments which are characterised by temperate language, caveats, a degree of circumspection, or even consternation. In contrast, at least in this case, the opinions of the justices (particularly Gorsuch and Alito JJ) read like the most passionate of essays or written arguments — almost as if they were advocates rather than judges.
Quila & Ors v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors  EWCA Civ 1482 – Read judgment
A key part of the government’s strategy to combat forced marriages, preventing people under the age of 21 from entering the country to marry, has been heavily criticised by the Court of Appeal.
The decision shows that even policies which pursue a legitimate and laudable aim must still be a proportionate to the problem they seek to address, or risk breaching the human rights of those affected. But it also highlights how difficult it is to set effective policies to combat hazardous arrangements which can involve rape, child abuse and domestic violence, and affect thousands of UK residents annually.
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your regular chocolate selection gift box of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
This week, the Government announced plans to curb Article 8 of the ECHR, Grayling continues to cause controversy with his reforms of both the Criminal Justice System and of judicial review, and Qatada may soon be leaving us for pastures new.
Associated Newspapers Ltd, R (on the application of) v Rt Hon Lord Justice Leveson  EWHC 57 – Read judgment
On Friday 20 January 2012 the Administrative Court dismissed the second application for judicial review of the Leveson Inquiry. The Court dismissed an application by Associated Newspapers (supported by the Daily Telegraph) to quash the decision of the Chairman, Lord Justice Leveson. decision to admit evidence from journalists who wish to remain anonymous on the ground that they fear career blight if they identify themselves.
Lord Justice Toulson commented “that the issues being investigated by the Inquiry affect the population as a whole. I would be very reluctant to place any fetter on the Chairman pursuing his terms of reference as widely and deeply as he considers necessary”.
Disgraced surgeon Ian Paterson’s sentence has been referred to the Court of Appeal under the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme. Paterson was jailed for 15 years in May, having been found guilty of 17 counts of wounding with intent and three of unlawful wounding. The breast surgeon was accused of negligence in performing so-called ‘cleavage-sparing mastectomies’, an unapproved procedure leaving tissue behind for cosmetic reasons and for some women leading to the return of their cancer, and furthermore, of carrying out unnecessary operations where a simple biopsy would have sufficed.
The Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme was also in the news this week when the Ministry of Justice announced that 19 terror offences would be incorporated, including encouraging terrorism and sharing terrorist propaganda. The Scheme allows anyone to refer a sentence that they feel was lenient to the Attorney-General, who has the power to refer it to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration. Continue reading →
Updated | For your weekend reading pleasure, some of this week’s human rights news, in bite-size form. The full list of our external links can be found on the right sidebar or here.
Abu Hamza wins passport appeal – BBC: Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza has won his appeal in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against government attempts to strip him of his British passport. Apparently he won as taking his passport away would have rendered him “stateless”. We will comment on the case once the judgment is released (update – judgment is here and our post is here). In the meantime, you can read the background to his extradition appeal here.
In R(on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor UKSC 51, the Supreme Court gave an important judgment regarding the importance of access of justice. The Supreme Court held that the fees imposed by the Lord Chancellor in employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal cases were unlawful.
What is a “tort”? No, not a rich multilayered cake, but rather an “actionable wrong”. Tort law is also the means through which five Kenyans alleging they were mistreated in British detention camps in the 1950s may get damages. How do I know this? Because Mr Justice McCombe told me in a helpful summary of his judgment which was released on Thursday.
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