In Northern Ireland, the Troubles are not the only part of its troubled past and present. In March this year, the Stormont administration found itself mired in controversy over women’s reproductive rights and access to abortion services. In April, a fresh controversy arose: a legislative ban on so-called “gay conversion therapy”. On 18 March 2021, Ulster Unionist Party MLAs Doug Beattie and John Stewart tabled a private member’s motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly calling for a legislative ban on the practice. The motion was debated on 20 April, with one amendment ringfencing religious activities from the proposed ban, taking centre-stage.
To characterise the debate which followed as polarising would be to put it mildly. The Assembly Hansard for 20 April records angry, frustrated exchanges between MLAs who called for safeguarding the LGBTQ community from harmful practices (condemned by the UN Human Rights Council as creating “a significant risk of torture”) and MLAs who called for safeguarding the free exercise of religion.
In the event, the DUP amendment failed and the UUP motion was passed unamended by 59 votes to 24, providing Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA with a strong mandate to bring legislation to ban conversion therapy in Northern Ireland. However, that was not the end of the matter. In the immediate aftermath of the Assembly vote, the DUP signalled its intent to block legislation unless “robust protections for churches” were included. Eight days after the vote, the Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA faced significant rebellion in the party against her leadership and announced her intention to resign both the leadership of the DUP and the First Ministership. The extent to which the motion to ban conversion therapy played a part in the rebellion against Foster remains a matter for debate, especially given concerns about the impact of the DUP’s political stance on the very recently enacted access to abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
As many around the world celebrated the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia on 17 May, the events of the past month were a reminder of how different the story of LGBT equality was in Northern Ireland, compared to Great Britain.
On 12 October 2020, the Prime Minister made a statement in Parliament and addressed the nation to announce a new three tier lockdown system would be introduced across the country. The Secretary of State for Health introduced three statutory instruments before Parliament which came into force two days later.
In oversimplified terms, the restrictions in place in each tier are as follows:
In a recent report entitled “It Still Happens Here”, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and the anti-slavery charity Justice and Care have found a rise in incidents of domestic slavery, and warned that the problem is likely to intensify in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
In the News:
Court of Appeal judges overturned the convictions of the ‘Oval Four’ after it was found that their sentences were based on evidence given by a corrupt police officer.
The ‘Oval Four’ refers to a group of black men who were arrested by officers claiming to have seen the men stealing Tube passengers’ handbags. The men were subsequently convicted in 1972 based solely on the basis of evidence given by those officers. None of the ‘victims’ appeared at the trial.
The case became a focus point for black rights and the treatment of BME people by the police. It was referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which ultimately led to the successful appeal.
Whilst the convictions of three of the men were overturned, the fourth member of the ‘Oval Four’ unfortunately cannot be found.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, expressed “regret is that it has taken so long for this injustice to be remedied”. Lord Burnett also stated that there was “an accumulating body of evidence that points to the fundamental unreliability of evidence given by DS Ridgewell [the lead officer] … and others of this specialist group”.
J.D. and A v the United Kingdom (nos. 32949/17 and 34614/17) – read judgment
Much may have changed in the political world since the Coalition Government introduced its controversial ‘bedroom tax’, but the legal fall-out from the policy continues. The European Court of Human Rights has delivered its verdict on the compatibility of the scheme with the prohibition on discrimination set out in Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Strasbourg Court has found that the policy discriminated unlawfully against women at risk of domestic violence.
As is well known, in 2012 the United Kingdom government introduced new regulations with the effect that those in social housing with an ‘extra’ bedroom had their housing benefit reduced: the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. The purported aim of the policy was to save money and to incentivise those with an ‘extra’ bedroom to either move property or take in a lodger thereby resulting in a saving of public funds.
It is not difficult to imagine why someone might have an extra bedroom but have strong reasons (related to disability or gender) for not moving house. The Government sought to make provision for such cases through a discretionary scheme operated by local authorities but funded by central government.
Law creates artificial relationships between non-related people and entities. It even gives person-hood to non-biological beings such as companies and partnerships (although not yet to non-human species). Genetics describe the underlying relationship of all biological beings. For centuries, law and genetic science developed in parallel with very little overlap. But as genetic discoveries ride the crest of the technological revolution, law finds itself on the back foot. Legal instruments, such as property law and the law of obligations between non-related individuals were crafted in feudal times with the aim of protecting property beyond the death of the owner. With genetic discoveries, we face a myriad of questions, from ownership of gene editing techniques to the dangers of discrimination based on genetic predisposition for disease.
Gilham (Appellant) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent)  UKSC 44 – read judgment
The UK Supreme Court has unanimously granted an appeal by a district judge against the Court of Appeal’s decision that she did not qualify as a “worker” under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the “1996 Act”), and therefore could not benefit from the whistleblowing protections it conferred.
In reaching its judgment, the Court held that the failure to extend those whistleblowing protections to judges amounted to a violation of the appellant’s right under Article 14 ECHR not to be discriminated against in her enjoyment of the Convention rights (in this case, her right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR).
Both were decisions of the Supreme Court concerning the benefit cap. This provides that a household’s total entitlement to welfare benefits cannot exceed an annual limit. The cap is disapplied if a certain amount of relevant work is completed.
In common with many Article 14 ECHR claims, both cases raise complex issues about the proper constitutional role of the courts. SG (the first benefit cap case)
Delve & Anor, R (On the Application of) v The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 2552 (Admin) – read judgment
a judgment handed down on 3rd October, the High Court has ruled that
successive statutes between 1995 and 2014, which legislated to equalise the
state pension age between men and women were not discriminatory. The High Court
also determined that it was not a matter for the courts to conclude whether the
steps taken to inform those affected by the changes in the state pension age
for women were inadequate or unreasonable.
origins of this claim rest in the Old Age and Widows’ Pension Act 1940, where
the state pension age for women was lowered from 65 to 60 in response to a
campaign by unmarried women in the 1930s. The policy created a relative
disadvantage to men, justified by the social conditions at the time.
Pensions Act 1995 was enacted to equalise the age discrepancy and the
methodology followed in subsequent legislation was to stagger the advancement
of the pension age by reference to age cohorts. The first change to women’s
state pension age contained in the 1995 Act would take effect in 2010, 15 years
The Agudas Israel Housing Association (“AIHA”) owns and allocates social housing exclusively to members of the Orthodox Jewish community. In these proceedings it was argued that Z, a single mother with four children, had suffered unlawful discrimination when Hackney council had failed to put her name forward for suitable housing. This was because of AIHA’s practice of only letting its properties to members of the Orthodox Jewish community. Although the nominal respondent in these proceedings was Hackney LBC this was only because in practice Hackney nominates properties owned by the AIHA. Primarily the challenge was to AIHA’s allocation policy.
It was common ground that AIHA’s arrangements constituted direct discrimination on grounds of religion. The question was whether this discrimination was lawful. The Divisional court held that it was, being a proportionate means of compensating a disadvantaged community (at  EWHC 139 (Admin)).
Hand and Anor v George  EWHC 533 (Ch) (Rose J, 17 March 2017) – read judgment
The Adoption of Children Act 1926 s.5(2) had the effect that adopted children were not treated as “children” for the purposes of testamentary dispositions of property. The continuing application of this provision was a breach of the rights guaranteed by Article 14 in combination with Article 8 of the Convention. Therefore, the contemporary version of that provision, Adoption Act 1976 Sch.2 para.6, had to be read down so as to uphold the right not to be discriminated against.
Background Facts and Law
Henry Hand died in 1947. He was survived by his three children, Gordon Hand, Kenneth Hand and Joan George. In his will dated 6 May 1946, Henry Hand left the residue of his estate to his three children in equal shares for life with the remainder in each case to their children in equal shares. The question at the centre of this claim was whether adopted children count as “children” for the purposes of this will. Under Section 5(2) of the Adoption of Children Act 1926, which was in force at the relevant time, adopted children were not included as “children” for the purposes of a testamentary disposition of property.
The claimants, the adopted children of Kenneth Hand, accepted that under the domestic law in force, they were not included and their father’s share of the Henry Hand trust would go to the their cousins the defendants. However, the claimants maintained that they can rely on their rights under Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights in conjunction with Article 8 to override the discriminatory effect of that domestic law so that they are treated as equals with the birth grand-children of Henry Hand. The defendants argued that the ECHR could not be applied to interpret an instrument that was drawn up at a time before it existed. Continue reading →
Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and another  EWHC 2208 (QB) – read judgment
Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 those who live together but are not married are not entitled to damages for bereavement. The High Court has found that though this did not directly engage the right to family life and privacy under Article 8, the difference in treatment between cohabitees and those who were married or in a civil partnership could not be justified and consideration should be given to reforming the law.
The issues before the Court
The claimant had cohabited with a man for over two years before he had died as a result of the first and second defendants’ negligence. She had made a dependency claim under s.1 of the 1976 Act, which by a 1982 amendment had been extended to people who had been cohabiting for more than two years, but the bereavement damages provisions in s.1A(2)(a) still applies only to spouses and civil partners. Continue reading →
Z (A Child) (No 2)  EWHC 1191 (Fam) 20 May 2016 – read judgment.
The Court of Protection has granted an order for a declaration of incompatibility with Convention rights of a section in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act on grounds of discrimination.
This case concerned a child, Z, who was born in August 2014 in the State of Minnesota in the United States of America. Z was conceived with the applicant father’s sperm and a third party donor’s egg implanted in an experienced unmarried American surrogate mother. The surrogacy arrangements were made through the agency of an Illinois company and in accordance with Illinois law.
Following Z’s birth, the father obtained a declaratory judgment from the appropriate court in Minnesota, relieving the surrogate mother of any legal rights or responsibilities for Z and establishing the father’s sole parentage of Z. Following that court order he was registered as Z’s father in Minnesota. The father has since returned to this country, bringing Z with him.
The legal effect of this is that the surrogate mother, although she no longer has any legal rights in relation to Z under Minnesota law, is treated in the UK as being his mother. By the same token, whatever his legal rights in Minnesota, the father has no parental responsibility for Z in this country. The only two ways in which the court could secure the permanent transfer of parental responsibility from the surrogate mother to the father is by way of a parental order or an adoption order. The father would obviously far prefer a parental order. Continue reading →
Michalak v The General Medical Council & Ors  EWCA Civ 172: This important case deals with the remedies available to individuals who claim to have suffered from discrimination, victimization, harassment or detriment in the treatment they have received from a “qualifications body” under s.53 of the Equality Act 2010 viz. any authority or body which can confer a relevant qualification (e.g. the GMC, ACCA etc.). It also clarifies the understanding of the place of judicial review in the context of internal and statutory appeals in cases of alleged discrimination contrary to the Equality Act 2010.
Dr Eva Michalak’s name may sound familiar. She formerly worked as a consultant physician with an interest in kidney diseases at Pontefract General Infirmary. In 2011, in a widely publicised judgment she recovered record damages in respect of claims for sex and race discrimination and unfair dismissal against the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS trust and three senior staff members. The tribunal panel said that they were “positively outraged at the way this employer has behaved” and concluded the Polish-born doctor would never be able to carry out her work again. Continue reading →
O’Neill and Lauchlan v Scottish Ministers  CSOH 93, 28th October 2015 – read judgment
The Outer House of the Court of Session has dismissed challenges brought by two convicted paedophiles to the Scottish Prison Service’s refusal to allow them to visit each other in prison. The decisions were challenged under articles 8 and 14 ECHR, as it was claimed that the prisoners were in a homosexual relationship. Continue reading →
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.