MA and others (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors  EWHC 2213 (QB) (30 July 2013) – read judgment
The High Court has unanimously dismissed an application for a declaration that the so-called “bedroom tax” discriminates unlawfully against disabled claimants.
This was a challenge by way of judicial review to regulations that came into force last year, reducing the amount of housing benefits by reference to the number of bedrooms permitted by the relevant statute (the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 ). These new rules, which have applied to claimants of housing benefit since April 2013, restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. Discretionary housing payments are available for certain qualifying individuals to mitigate the effect of the new rules, in particular the effects on disabled people and those with foster caring responsibilities. Continue reading →
Black and Morgan v. Wilkinson  EWCA Civ 820 – read judgment here.
The Court of Appeal recently dismissed an appeal by a Christian bed and breakfast owner, upholding the decision that she unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to provide them with a double bedroom. However, the Master of the Rolls (head of the civil justice system) Lord Dyson expressed doubt about whether the previous binding decision of the Court of Appeal in the very similar case of Hall and Preddy v. Bull and Bull EWCA Civ 83, was correct, and the Court granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
This decision is the latest in a line of cases which have grappled with the ‘conflict of equalities’, many of which have concerned the potential clash between religious freedom and the prohibition on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. It raises difficult questions about how to reconcile competing rights or ‘protected characteristics’ under discrimination law, and it will be very interesting to see how the Supreme Court deals with this and the Preddy case when they are heard together in the autumn.
In May 2012, the Home Secretary announced a review of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which came into force a year earlier in April 2011, as an outcome of the Red Tape Challenge. The review is focusing in particular on levels of understanding of the PSED and guidance, the costs and benefits of the duty, how organisations are managing legal risk and ensuring compliance with the duty and what changes, if any, would secure better equality outcomes. It is being overseen by a steering group, appointed by Government Ministers, largely drawn from public authorities.
The Review has recently launched a call for evidence, with a closing date of 12th April 2013. The call is particularly interested in ‘equalities paperwork and policies related to PSED (particularly in relation to public sector procurement processes) and the collection, retention and use of diversity data by public bodies, for example, in relation to goods, facilities and services.’
Knowles and another, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  EWHC 19 (Admin) – read judgment
The High Court has rejected a claim that Gypsies occupying caravans on private land were discriminated against by legislation which resulted in them not being able to claim full Housing Benefit to cover their rent.
Occupiers of caravans on a site owned by a local housing authority receive a Housing Benefit rent rebate of the whole of the rent charged. But if the caravan is on a private site, then the rent on which HB can be claimed is subject to determination by a rent officer, and that is normally substantially less than the full contractual rent charged. The claimants maintained that this scheme fails to meet the essential housing needs of Gypsies on private sites, who have particular site infrastructure and management needs – which result in additional costs, and hence a legitimately higher rent, not reflected in the HB awarded. They contended that the scheme was therefore discriminatory, and in breach of article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, when read with article 1 of the First Protocol 1 (the right to property) and article 8 of the substantive Convention (the right to respect for family and private life). Continue reading →
Mba v London Borough Of Merton (Religion or Belief Discrimination)  UKEAT 0332/12/1312 (13 December 2012) – Read judgment
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of an Employment Tribunal that she was not constructively dismissed as a result of her refusal to work on Sundays.
Mr Justice Langstaff, President of the EAT, made it clear in his judgment however that anyone hoping either for ‘a ringing endorsement of an individual’s right not to be required to work on a Sunday’ or an employer’s right to require it would be disappointed, as ‘no such broad general issue arises’. 
X(Appellant) v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau and another (Respondent)  UKSC 59 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has confirmed the Court of Appeal’s view that voluntary occupation does not attract the protections of the Equality Act or the Framework Directive.
The appellant had worked as a volunteer adviser for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau since 2006. In 2007 she claimed that she was asked to cease work in circumstances amounting to discrimination on grounds of disability. She sought to bring proceedings against the respondent but the Court of Appeal held that the Employment Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the case as she was a volunteer rather than an employee, and therefore fell outside the scope of protections against discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now covered by the Equality Act 2010) and Directive 2000/78/EEC (“the Framework Directive”). See Isabel McArdle’s post on that decision here. Continue reading →
The US Supreme Court’s term begins today, and race relations is at the top of the court’s agenda. The US press hails Fisher v University of Texas as the most important case the Court has agreed to hear thus far. Word is out that it could sound the death knell for affirmative action in the United States.
The justices are being asked to decide whether race-based affirmative action in college admissions is still constitutional. The petitioner is a white student who was turned down by the University of Texas in 2008. She claims she was a victim of illegal race discrimination under their policy of affirmative action.
In 1997 the Texas legislature enacted a law requiring the University of Texas to admit all Texas high school seniors ranking in the top ten percent of their classes. Whilst this measure improved access to tertiary education for many, the colleges protested at having their hands tied with regard to highly talented students who showed promise in certain subjects but did not come in to the top ten percent (including minority students in highly integrated high schools). To redress this balance the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that universities could consider a minority student’s race as a “plus factor” in admissions. The Court based its ruling on the need for colleges to ensure a diverse student body. Following this judgment, the University of Texas added a new affirmative action policy to go along with the automatic admission rule with race being a “plus factor” in admission. Continue reading →
The European Court of Human Rights has declared in Đorđević v Croatiathat the failure of the Croatian State to prevent the persistent harassment of a severely disabled young man was a breach of his Article 3 ECHR right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It also amounted to a breach of his mother’s Article 8 ECHR right to respect for her family and private life. The applicants had no effective remedy in the domestic courts in breach of Article 13 ECHR.
This is an important judgment on the protection from harassment that the State must ensure for disabled people and their families.
Whatever the outcome – which is perhaps predictable – the Court’s ruling will have a significant influence on the place of religion in public life and on how the relationship between religion and the state should be structured to reflect the aims of fairness and mutual respect envisaged in the Convention.
The Strasbourg institutions have not been at all ready to find an interference with the right to manifest a religious belief in practice or observance where a person has voluntarily accepted an employment or role which does not accommodate that practice or observance and there are other means open to the person to practise or observe his or her religion without undue hardship or inconvenience.[para 23]
(This is a revised intervention after the EHRC responded to widespread criticism of its proposed argument in support of “reasonable accommodation” of employees’ beliefs – see Alasdair Henderson’s post on this dust-up “Leap of Faith” and our following post on the reversal of the EHRC’s position.) Continue reading →
Macfarlane and others v United Kingdom (ECHR 329 (2012) – read press release
Tomorrow the Strasbourg Court will hear complaints in four applications that UK law has failed adequately to protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). See our posts on these cases here and here, and in the related Preddy case here.
All four applicants are practising Christians who complain that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complain that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, complain about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Their challenges to their consequent dismissal were rejected by the UK courts on the basis that their employers were entitled to refuse to accommodate views which contradicted their fundamental declared principles – and, all the more so, where these principles were required by law, notably under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
The judgment is awaited with considerable anticipation: the National Secular Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3 of the Rules of the Court.
R(on the application of S and KF) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 1810 (Admin)- read judgment
This case about prisoner’s pay provides an interesting up to date analysis of the role of the doctrine of “margin of appreciation” and its applicability in domestic courts.
Margin of appreciation is a doctrine of an international court: it recognises a certain distance of judgment between the Strasbourg court’s overall apprehension of the Convention principles and their application in practice by the national authorities. In theory it has no application in domestic disputes but ever since the Human Rights Act introduced Convention rights into domestic law there has been an ongoing debate about its applicability at a local level. This case demonstrates the importance of its role in the assessment, by the courts, of the compatibility of laws and rules with Convention rights.
Lee Carter, Hollis Johnson, Dr. William Shoichet, The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and Gloria Taylor v Attorney General of Canada (2012 BCSC 886) 15 June 2012 – read judgment
Interest in the “locked-in syndrome” cases currently before the High Court runs high. We posted here on the permission granted to locked-in sufferer Tony Nicklinson to seek an advance order from the court that would allow doctors to assist him to die under the common law defence of necessity.
He is also arguing that the current law criminalising assisted suicide is incompatible with his Article 8 rights of autonomy and dignity. The other case before the three judge court involves another stroke victim who is unable to move, is able to communicate only by moving his eyes, requires constant care and is entirely dependent on others for every aspect of his life. (Philip Havers QC of 1 Crown Office Row is acting for him)
Mr Duncan-Smith has already faced opposition to his reform proposals but has made it clear that he is willing to tackle this controversial issue. However, this week’s ruling is a timely reminder that social security law is extremely complex and that the Government will have to tread very carefully to avoid unwittingly causing further instances of unlawful discrimination.
The late US law Professor Paul Miller reflected recently that Beethoven, Stephen Hawking and Elton John were examples of individuals whom, if they had been tested for serious genetic conditions at the start of their careers, may have been denied employment in the fields in which they later came to excel.
Earlier this month the Association of British Insurers announced the latest extension on the moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes. But is this “Concordat” sufficient protection? Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly available and profound questions are arising in relation to life and health insurance and employability as genetic screening becomes cheaper and widespread.
We are familiar in this country with the decades-old complaint that various unfortunate trends such as ambulance chasing and the litigation culture have filtered over the Atlantic, infecting English public life with defensive practices and an obsession with health and safety. Whether the blame can be laid solely at the door US culture is moot, but certainly lessons can be drawn from the unintended consequences of high-minded rights legislation as they play out across the pond, particularly where similar laws in this country – largely consolidated in the Equality Act 2010 – have yet to make their impact. 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.