Employment


Religious freedom in UK to be considered by Strasbourg Court

3 September 2012 by

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.

NHS Trust rapped on knuckles for refusing to reinstate union activist

30 May 2012 by

R(on the application of Yunus Bakhsh) v Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust [2012] EWHC 1445 (Admin) read judgment

This fascinating short judgment explores the extent to which a judicial review claim, or a free-standing claim under the Human Rights Act, may be precluded by a statute covering the same issue.

If Parliament has decided on a particular avenue of appeal in a certain context, and settled upon a sum in compensation, do the courts have any room for manoeuvre outside those statutory limits?  There is very strong authority to the effect that the courts have no discretion to grant any relief going beyond the remedy which Parliament has seen fit to provide (see Johnson v Unisys Ltd [2003] 1 AC 518). But on arguability grounds at least, this short permission decision by Foskett J suggests that public law must attend to the policy behind the statute. If the redress provided by the legislation does not fully serve the aims of that policy, it may be that public law has to come to the rescue.

Background

In essence the claimant, a former mental nurse who had been sacked because of his trade union activities and not granted reinstatement, was seeking to challenge the decision by his employer, a public NHS trust, not re-engage him after it had been ordered to do so by an Employment Tribunal in 2010. The reason they failed to do so was not put forward but was probably because of his anticipated continued trade union militancy.
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Courts still slow to interfere in spending cuts decisions

15 September 2011 by

R (JG and MB ) v. Lancashire County Council [2011] EWHC 2295 (Admin) – read judgment here.

Public sector cuts are back in the news, with the trade unions warning of their plans to stage the biggest series of strikes in a generation.  However, attempts to take the fight against the cuts into the courts as well as onto the streets were dealt a serious blow recently, as the Administrative dismissed an application by two disabled women for judicial review of Lancashire County Council’s decision to significantly reduce their budget for adult social care services. 

This case provides a very helpful summary of the courts’ approach to public bodies’ equality duties (now the new general Public Sector Equality Duty in s.149 of the Equality Act 2010). It is also a reminder that the courts are reluctant to interfere with difficult social or economic decisions made by elected officials, as long as there has been proper consideration of the relevant factors, despite other recent cases where such decisions have been struck down.

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Dismissal of hospital consultant did not breach fair trial rights

3 August 2011 by

Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust [2011] EWHC 2068 (QB)- Read judgment

The High Court has dismissed Dr Raj Mattu’s claim that his dismissal by an NHS Trust was in breach of contract and in breach of his Article 6 right to a hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal. This is one of the first judgments on the applicability of Article 6 to disciplinary and dismissal proceedings since the decision of the Supreme Court in R (G) v X School Governors [2011] UKSC 30 (read our post).

Dr Mattu was employed by the Trust as a consultant in non-invasive cardiology and general medicine in 1998. In 2002 he was suspended on disciplinary grounds; however, the relevant disciplinary hearing did not occur until 2007 and the suspension was in place until July 2007. Further, Dr Mattu was on sick leave for at least a year from September 2006.

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Still almost impossible to sue the police in negligence

13 January 2011 by

Desmond v The Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police 2011] EWCA Civ 3 (12 January 2011)- Read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ruled that it is not possible to sue the police in negligence for not filling in an Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate (ECRC). The ruling shows that the courts are still reluctant to allow negligence claims against the police, and provides useful guidance as to the duty of care of public authorities towards the general public.

Vincent Desmond was arrested in 2001 for a late-night sexual assault in Nottingham. He denied the crime, and a week later the police decided to take no action against him. When closing the file, a detective constable wrote in his notebook “It is apparent Desmond is not responsible for the crime. The complainant visited and cannot state for certain if Desmond is responsible.”

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Supreme Court status “still to be decided” in bonfire of quangos

24 September 2010 by

Updated x 3 | The UK Supreme Court Blog has pointed out that the UK Supreme Court is listed as “still to be decided – options being considered” in the quango reform document which was leaked this morning.

But what does this mean? Surely not that the new UK Supreme Court, after £56m of investment and a successful first year in operation, is for the chop?

Not a chance. The Supreme Court is the highest appeal court in the land and an integral part of the UK justice system. Whilst the name and venue are new, the court itself is almost identical to the House of Lords committee which it replaced, and most (although not all) consider its new independence from Government to be a positive step for the rule of law.

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Why the Sharon Shoesmith decision is good for access to justice (and it has nothing to do with the case)

2 September 2010 by

Yesterday, Sharon Shoesmith was given permission to appeal in the judicial review of her dismissal by Haringey council as a result of the Baby Peter scandal. The case itself is complex and fascinating, but the detail should not overshadow the open and forward-thinking way in which the case has been dealt with.

The case was always likely to be full of controversy, complexity as well as salacious detail. This is not in itself remarkable; public law is often the cutting edge of social and political issues. What is unusual is the manner in which Mr Justice Foskett (full disclosure: he is a former member of my chambers) approached his task by not just in looking inwards to the legal system, but also outwards to the general public.

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British Airways strike and human rights – the union strikes back

21 June 2010 by

British Airways Plc v Unite the Union [2010] EWCA Civ 669 (20 May 2010) Read judgment

Last month Unite won their appeal against an injunction obtained by British Airways in the High Court preventing their members from striking. The judgment has some potentially important implications for human rights, and in particular the right to free assembly.

The strike has already been the most damaging in British Airways’ history and they airline are now preparing for another round of strikes with Unite threatening to ballot its members for a third time.

Today the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for a change in the law to make it harder to bring strikes. Amongst other things, they are lobbying for the number of workers who need to agree to a strike before it can take place to be raised to 40%, which they say would “prevent strikes going ahead based on a relatively small turnout of particularly active members.

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The British Airways strike and the human right to free assembly [updated]

18 May 2010 by

British Airways Plc v Unite the Union Queen’s Bench Division, 17 May 2010 Read judgment

Update (07/06/20) – this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal on 20/05/10. We will comment on the Court of Appeal decision when it is available.

The High Court has granted an injunction for the second time in 6 months against a strike planned by British Airways cabin crew, scheduled to begin today. Those who had trips planned will be delighted, but the Unite trade union who represented the workers have called the decision a “landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action” and are to appeal the judgment.

The union argued that a recent series of similar injunctions against strike action ran foul of the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights grants the right to freedom of assembly. However, the right can be restricted in certain limited circumstances, as it was in this case.

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High Court says Lord Carey “mistaken” on religious discrimination [updated]

29 April 2010 by

McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ B1 (29 April 2010) – Read judgment

Gary McFarlane, a Christian relationship counsellor, has lost his application to appeal his Employment Appeal Tribunal decision in the High Court. Mr McFarlane was sacked by a marriage guidance service after he said he would not promote gay sex. He claimed he had been discriminated against on religious grounds.

The case caused a furore as the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey submitted a witness statement stating that cases such of these should be heard by judges with special religious sensitivity. Lord Justice Laws in the High Court has now rubbished that suggestion. He said:

18. Lord Carey’s observations are misplaced. The judges have never, so far as I know, sought to equate the condemnation by some Christians of homosexuality on religious grounds with homophobia, or to regard that position as “disreputable”. Nor have they likened Christians to bigots. They administer the law in accordance with the judicial oath: without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.

19. It is possible that Lord Carey’s mistaken suggestions arise from a misunderstanding on his part as to the meaning attributed by the law to the idea of discrimination. In cases of indirect discrimination (such as are provided for by paragraph 3(1)(b) of the 2003 Regulations, which is centre stage in the present case) the law forbids discriminatory conduct not by reference to the actor’s motives, but by reference to the outcome of his or her acts or omissions. Acts or omissions may obviously have discriminatory effects – outcomes – as between one group or class of persons and another, whether their motivation is for good or ill; and in various contexts the law allows indirect discrimination where (in a carefully controlled legislative setting) it can be shown to have justifiable effects. Accordingly the proposition that if conduct is accepted as discriminatory it thereby falls to be condemned as disreputable or bigoted is a non sequitur. But it is the premise of Lord Carey’s position.

Read more:

  • More posts on religious discrimination
  • Judgment in Mcfarlane v Relate Avon Ltd.
  • Update 30/4/10 – Lord Carey responds: legal battle against believers is “”a deeply unedifying collision of human rights””

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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