Employment


Whistleblowing judges: protected by human rights?

18 October 2019 by

Gilham (Appellant) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent) [2019] 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).


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Human rights job alert

20 July 2017 by

RightsInfo is one of one of the UK’s newest and most exciting charities, building knowledge and support for human rights with engaging, accessible and beautifully presented online content.

We’re looking for an enthusiastic, talented Project Coordinator to join our multi-award winning team.

All details here

What can reasonably be expected of junior doctors

22 May 2017 by

FB v. Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust [2017] EWCA Civ 334, 12 May 2017, Court of Appeal – read judgment

All the advocates in this case were from 1 Crown Office Row, Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC for the claimant/appellant FB, and John Whitting QC and Alasdair Henderson for the hospital. None of them were involved in the writing of this post.

FB fell ill with meningitis when she was just one. The illness was diagnosed too late, and she suffered brain damage. This appeal was against the judge’s dismissal of the claim against the hospital, where she was seen, some time before she was admitted and the infection treated. All agreed that avoiding the time between being seen and being admitted would have led to the brain damage being avoided. 

But should the junior doctor have picked up enough about her condition to admit her?

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The right to put your past behind you: Court of Appeal Art.8 ruling

4 May 2017 by

R (o.t.a P & others) v. Secretary of State for Home Department & others [2017] EWCA Civ 321, Court of Appeal, 3 May 2017 – read judgment 

The Court of Appeal has upheld challenges to the system of the police retaining information about past misconduct. It held that the system, even after a re-boot in 2013 in response to an earlier successful challenge, remains non-compliant with Article 8

The  problem is well summarised by Leveson P in the first paragraph of the judgment, namely the interface between a system of rehabilitation of offenders and the minimisation of risk to the public caused by the employment of those with misconduct in their pasts.

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Equality claims and health regulators – Availability of JR does not oust jurisdiction of ET

11 April 2016 by

Photo credit: Guardian

Jeremy Hyam QC

Michalak v The General Medical Council & Ors [2016] 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.
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Surveillance of Internet usage in the workplace

14 January 2016 by

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Social Media button on a keyboard with speech bubbles.

Barbulescu v Romania, 12 January 2016 – read judgment

In December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, by 6 votes to 1, dismissed a Romanian national’s appeal against his employer’s decision to terminate his contract for using a professional Yahoo Messenger account to send personal messages to his fiancé and brother.

Mr Barbulescu contended that his employer had breached his Article 8 right to respect for his private life and correspondence, and that the domestic courts had failed to protect his right. The Court found that there had been no such violation because the monitoring of the account by his employer had been limited and proportionate.

Background facts

Mr Barbulescu’s employers asked him to create a Yahoo Messenger account for responding to client enquiries and informed him that these communications had been monitored. The records showed that he had used the Internet for personal purposes, contrary to internal regulations. The employer’s regulations explicitly prohibited all personal use of company facilities, including computers and Internet access. The employer had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it had contained professional messages.
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When the Sh*t hits the Ban

30 June 2015 by

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination ActJack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds, Plaintiffs v Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services

The first prosecution under the 2008 US Genetic  Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) has won $2.25 million jury damages for the individuals involved .

I have posted about genetic discrimination here and here. In the US some of these problems have been foreseen and legislated against: GINA prohibits discrimination against healthy individuals for employment decisions or health insurance purposes on the basis of genetic information alone; it also prevents employers and insurance providers from demanding or using information from genetic tests.

The law does include limited exemptions, however. Forensic laboratories can ask workers for their DNA to check that employees’ genetic material does not contaminate the genetic samples that they analyse.
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Victim of trafficking can claim compensation despite illegal entry to UK

27 August 2014 by

human_traffickingHounga v Allen [2014] UKSC 47 – read judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled that victims may in some circumstance recover damages from their traffickers. Overturning the judgment of the Court of Appeal that the illegality of the underlying contract ruled out the claim for compensation, the majority held that to permit the trafficker to escape liability would be “an affront” to public policy. The judgment has far reaching implications in this area because, by its very nature, human trafficking often involves illegality.  Both the majority and the dissenters provide an interesting analysis and refinement of the law on illegality; as Lord Hughes observes:

It is in the nature of illegality that, when it succeeds as a bar to a claim, the defendant is the unworthy beneficiary of an undeserved windfall. But this is not because the defendant has the merits on his side; it is because the law cannot support the claimant’s claim to relief.

Conversely, when the illegality is not sufficiently closely connected to the claim, and can properly be regarded as collateral, or as doing no more than providing the context for the relationship which gives rise to the claim, the bar of illegality will not fall, as was decided in this case.
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The Tory human rights “car crash”

17 July 2014 by

Car crash human rights

Imagine you are on the board of large corporation. You attend the Annual General Meeting and asked the chief executive about that controversial tax avoidance scheme the company had been considering, but which the in-house legal team had advised against. The Chief Exec smiles and says that has been dealt with: “we just sacked the lawyers”. 

The BBC is reporting what many suspected. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC was sacked in order to clear the path for major reform of the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. This is bad news, for the UK and potentially for the European Court of Human Rights too.

The Attorney General’s advice, which has been leaked to the BBC, was that plan to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights were “incoherent” and a “legal car crash… with a built-in time delay“. Intriguingly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson also reports that William Hague, the now-former Foreign Secretary, also raised doubts over the plans.

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Retrospective legislation that interfered with judicial ruling violated the Convention and the rule of law

8 July 2014 by

PoundlandR(on the application of Reilly (No. 2) and another) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, [2014EWHC 2182 (Admin) – read judgment

The High Court has issued a declaration of incompatibility following a successful challenge to the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013. The regulations under the Act that sanctioned those who did not participate in unpaid “work for your benefit” schemes by depriving them of an allowance violated the rule of law protected by the Convention and this country’s unwritten constitution. However, the dispute did not engage Article 1 of the First Protocol to the ECHR.

Factual background

The claimants, Caitlin Reilly and Jonathan Hewstone (CR and JH)  had been unemployed and claimed jobseeker’s allowance. They objected to participation in schemes devised under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, in which they were required to work for no pay. As a sanction, the allowance could be withheld from those who refused to participate. CR complied with the requirement under the regulations to take unpaid work at Poundland so did not suffer any sanction. However, attendance on the scheme meant she was unable to continue her voluntary work in a museum, which she hoped would lead to a career in museums (see my previous post on her successful challenge to the scheme).  After that ruling, the regulations were amended to overcome the defects identified by the court. But the 2013 regulations, which applied prospectively, had the effect of retrospectively validating the 2011 Regulations, which the Court of Appeal had held to be unlawful. Then the Supreme Court allowed the secretary of state’s appeal against the Court of Appeal decision on the basis that the Act was in force. But the declaration in favour of CR remained valid, following the 2013 Act and that Supreme Court judgment; indeed counsel for the Secretary of State acknowledged the fact that Ms Reilly’s position was “not affected by the 2013 Act.”

JH had not been a party to Reilly No. 1. but his position was  clearly affected by that ruling. After initial attendance on a scheme for some months, he refused to participate further, and so his JSA payments were stopped for four specified periods by way of sanction. He in turn had successfully appealed against sanctions imposed by the 2013 scheme. The secretary of state’s appeal against those decisions had been stayed pending the outcome of Reilly.

The claimants submitted that the 2013 Act was incompatible with their rights under Article 6. It was an intervention in the ongoing proceedings in Reilly No. 1 which had the effect of determining the litigation in the government’s favour by retrospectively validating its unlawful acts. It thereby deprived both claimants of a fair determination of their civil rights and obligations, contrary to to the first paragraph of Article 6.  JH also relied upon Article 1 Protocol 1, claiming that by withholding his JSA, the defendant deprived him of a “possession” to which he was entitled. He submitted that the deprivation could not be justified as being in the public interest.

The court allowed the applications in respect of Article 6 but not A1P1.

Reasoning behind the judgment

Article 6 and the rule of law

CR and JH had brought proceedings against the state. The 2013 Act was directly targeted at resolving the Reilly litigation. As such, this legislative act by the government had amounted to an interference in ongoing legal proceedings: it had influenced the judicial determination in the secretary of state’s favour in Reilly and was likely to do so in JH’s appeals. Although Parliament was not precluded in civil matters from adopting retrospective provisions,  it cannot legislate so as to interfere with the courts’ handling of disputes before them:

 the principle of the rule of law and the notion of a fair trial contained in Article 6 preclude any interference by the legislature–other on compelling grounds of the general interest –with the administration of justice designed to influence the judicial determination of a dispute. (Zielinski v France (2001) 31 EHRR 19)

Nor did the ruling in National & Provincial Building Society v United Kingdom (1998) 25 EHRR 127 avail the defendant, even though the Strasbourg Court ruled there that legislation to close an unforeseen tax loophole was compatible with Article 6. The government in that case, the Court concluded, had “compelling public interest motives” to make the applicant societies’ judicial review proceedings and the contingent restitution proceedings unwinnable.  By contrast, in the instant case the claimants could not have foreseen Parliament’s retrospective validation of its own unlawful act.

Although these principles emanate from decisions of the Strasbourg Court, in Lang J’s view, they also accurately reflected fundamental principles of the UK’s unwritten constitution, which enshrines the fundamental principle of the rule of law:

It requires, inter alia, that Parliament and the Executive recognise and respect the separation of powers and abide by the principle of legality. Although the Crown in Parliament is the sovereign legislative power, the Courts have the constitutional role of determining and enforcing legality. Thus, Parliament’s undoubted power to legislate to overrule the effect of court judgments generally ought not to take the form of retrospective legislation designed to favour the Executive in ongoing litigation in the courts brought against it by one of its citizens, unless there are compelling reasons to do so. Otherwise it is likely to offend a citizen’s sense of fair play.

The secretary of state submitted that there had been compelling public interest grounds for the retrospective legislation. Lang J acknowledged that it was understandable that a government faced with the prospect of substantial repayments would consider it in the public interest not to pay them. But it was apparent from Strasbourg’s judgments, such as Scordino and Zielinkski, that financial loss alone was not a sufficiently “compelling reason in the public interest”. If it were, then retrospective legislation of this kind would be commonplace.” (para 107).

Not only was there insufficient public interest to justify the retrospective legislation but the government had been aware of the concerns about the legality of the statute because it had been brought to the attention of its proposer by the report of the Constitution Committee. One of its members, Lord Pannick, told the House:

this Bill contravenes two fundamental constitutional principles. First, it is being fast-tracked through Parliament when there is no justification whatever for doing so. Secondly, the Bill breaches the fundamental constitutional principle that penalties should not be imposed on persons by reason of conduct that was lawful at the time of their action. Of course, Parliament may do whatever it likes – Parliament is sovereign – but the Bill is, I regret to say, an abuse of power that brings no credit whatever on this Government.

Whilst judicial review is more properly concerned with the substance of the legislation, not the reasons for it, Lang J wryly observes that the absence of any consultation with representative organisations, and the lack of scrutiny by the relevant parliamentary committees, “may have contributed to some misconceptions about the legal justification for the retrospective legislation.” (para 96). The government’s statement to Parliament explaining why the 2013 Act would be Convention compatible had not explained that Parliament was being asked to justify a departure from the legal norm, which would only be lawful if made for compelling public interest reasons. Further, the statement had erred in concluding that the case was comparable to National & Provincial as the legislation would be closing a loophole. It was not accurate to characterise the flaws in the 2011 Regulations as a loophole. The 2013 Regulations had remedied the technical defect identified by the court in the original Reilly litigation, but that did not mean there were compelling grounds to justify the interference with CR and JH’s rights under Article 6 to a judicial determination of their claims. The 2013 Act therefore violated Article 6(1) in relation to those who had pursued claims in the courts or tribunals.

Article 1 Protocol 1: had the Second Claimant been “deprived” of his “possessions”?

JH failed in his claim that he had suffered a violation of the right to respect for peaceful enjoyment of possessions. This was not because he had succeeded under Article 6 –  the rights protected by the respective provisions were different (AXA General Insurance Ltd, Petitioners [2011] UKSC 46).  Lang J accepted the claimants’ argument that a wholly state-funded non-contributory benefit could constitute a possession under A1P1, but JH’s right to the allowance depended on whether he met the conditions for receipt of the benefit. He had not met the conditions for future payment. He had not been deprived of an existing possession because there was no revocation of benefits previously received. This was made clear in Moskal v Poland, where the Strasbourg Court observed that

Art. 1 of Protocol No. 1 does not create a right to acquire property. This provision places no restriction on the contracting state’s freedom to decide whether or not to have in place any form of social security scheme, or to choose the type or amount of benefits to provide under any such scheme. ((2010) 50 EHRR 22)

It was clear from this statement of principle that, in order to establish a property right, the applicant must fulfill the requirements for receipt of the benefit at the relevant time.  Nor did he have a reasonable expectation that the allowance would be paid if his legal claim was successful. His claim was not an “asset” within A1P1.  His only reasonable expectation had been that his appeal would be determined in accordance with the law as it stood from time to time.

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Old and minor convictions and cautions need not be disclosed – Supreme Court

18 June 2014 by

criminal-background-checkR (On the application of T and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and another (Appellants) – read judgment

The Supreme Court has unanimously declared that government rules regarding the disclosure of spent convictions are unlawful and incompatible with Article 8 of the Convention.

One of these conjoined appeals involved T,  who was prevented from employment involving contact with children when  a police caution was disclose in respect of the theft of two bicycles when the respondent was eleven years old (see my previous post on the Court of Appeal judgment in T). In JB, the police issued a caution to a 41 year-old woman in 2001 when she was caught shoplifting (a packet of false fingernails).  In 2009 she completed a training course for employment in the care sector. She was required to obtain an “enhanced criminal record certificate” or ECRC, which disclosed the caution. The training organisation told JB that it felt unable to put her forward for employment in the care sector.
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Seizure of worker’s wages breached Convention right – Strasbourg

20 May 2014 by

proceeds-of-crimePaulet v United Kingdom Paulet (application no. 6219/08) – read judgment

The Strasbourg Court has declared, by five votes to one, that the UK authorities had acted unlawfully by seizing the wages of an Ivorian worker who used a false passport to gain employment. The majority ruled that the UK courts should have balanced individual property rights against interests of the general public.

This case on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime raises many difficult legal questions such as the nature of the link between the crime and the proceeds and the distribution of the burden of proof in establishing this link. Mr Paulet complained that the confiscation order against him had been disproportionate as it amounted to the confiscation of his entire savings over nearly four years of genuine work, without any distinction being made between his case and those involving more serious criminal offences such as drug trafficking or organised crime. The Court found that the UK courts’ scope of review of Mr Paulet’s case had been too narrow. The majority objected to the fact that the domestic courts had simply found that the confiscation order against Mr Paulet had been in the public interest, without balancing that conclusion against his right to peaceful enjoyment of his possessions as required under the European Convention.
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Article 11: Right to strike and insecure workers

22 April 2014 by

By Lauren Godfrey 1COR

 

Two different bodies in the last week have reflected on issues concerning the fundamental imbalance in the employment relationship. This provides an opportunity to consider what, if any, role human rights principles have in redressing that imbalance:

 

(1)    The Article 11 Case of RMT -v- UK (Application No 31045/10): The European Court Human Rights (Fourth Section sitting as a Chamber) found that Article 11 (the right to freedom of association) was not infringed by the restrictions imposed on trade unions calling on their members to take strike action by the UK Government as part of the statutory scheme which provides for lawful strikes; that is strikes that attract statutory immunity from common law liability. According to the ECtHR, these restrictions on lawful striking were within the wide margin of appreciation enjoyed by the UK Government. The RMT’s case was that the restrictions impermissibly restricted their ability to protect and promote the interests of their members working in industries and for employers with complex corporate structures.

 

(2)    Zero Hour Contracts Consultation: The Government’s consultation on zero hours contract which appears to have been somewhat upstaged by the Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee publishing an interim report on zero-hours contracts which while recommending some changes, ultimately concludes that ‘in the majority of cases’ zero-hours contracts should not be used at all. The interim report contends that the lack of job security for workers engaged on zero hours contracts places a practical impediment to the majority of the workers surveyed from enforcing other basic rights including the minimum wage, part-time worker protections, and protection for those with caring responsibilities: see summary here.  
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Article 11: Right to strike and insecure workers – Lauren Godfrey

17 April 2014 by

strike2_5Two different bodies in the last week have reflected on issues concerning the fundamental imbalance in the employment relationship. This provides an opportunity to reflect on what, if any, role human rights principles have in redressing that imbalance:

(1)    The Article 11 Case of RMT -v- UK (Application No 31045/10): The European Court Human Rights (Fourth Section sitting as a Chamber) found that Article 11 (the right to freedom of association) was not infringed by the restrictions imposed on trade unions calling on their members to take strike action by the UK Government as part of the statutory scheme which provides for lawful strikes; that is strikes that attract statutory immunity from common law liability. According to the ECHR, these restrictions on lawful striking were within the wide margin of appreciation enjoyed by the UK Government. The RMT’s case was that the restrictions impermissibly restricted their ability to protect and promote the interests of their members working in industries and for employers with complex corporate structures.

(2)    Zero Hour Contracts Consultation: The Government’s consultation on zero hours contract which appears to have been somewhat upstaged by the Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee publishing an interim report on zero-hours contracts which while recommending some changes, ultimately concludes that ‘in the majority of cases’ zero-hours contracts should not be used at all. The interim report contends that the lack of job security for workers engaged on zero hours contracts places a practical impediment to the majority of the workers surveyed from enforcing other basic rights including the minimum wage, part-time worker protections, and protection for those with caring responsibilities: see summary here.
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Does the EU Rights Charter apply to private disputes? Sometimes, sometimes not…

22 January 2014 by

European-Union-Flag_1Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT, Hichem Laboubi, Union départementale CGT des Bouches-du-Rhône, Confédération générale du travail (CGT), Case C‑176/12 – read judgement

The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled on whether the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union can apply in a dispute between private parties, although it is not quite clear what its conclusion implies.

This was a request for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU from the Cour de cassation (France), received by the CJEU in April last year.
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