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 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.
The Queen (on the Application of James Dowsett) v Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 687 (Admin) – read judgment
The secretary of state’s policy in respect of rub-down searches of prisoners, which allows cross-gender searches in the case of male prisoners but not for female prisoners, does not discriminate against male prisoners on grounds of sex.
The claimant, who has been a serving prisoner since 1989, challenged Secretary of State’s policy made under section 47(1) of the Prison Act 1952. This is the policy on so-called “rub-down” searches and, in particular, the policy that a male prisoner cannot normally object to such searches conducted by a female prison officer other than when his case falls within the exceptions based on “religious” or “cultural” grounds (a cultural ground means an objection that arises from a sincerely and deeply held belief, so it is not clear how this ground differs from religion). In consequence, the claimant had been searched by female officers on many occasions. Current policy with regard to female prisoners was that they could only be searched by female staff. Continue reading →
X AND OTHERS v. AUSTRIA – 19010/07 – HEJUD  ECHR 148 (19 February 2013) – Read judgment
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (by 10 votes to 7) has found that Austrian law discriminated against a same sex couple as it prevented them from adopting jointly the biological child of one of them (what we would call a second-parent adoption). The Court found a violation of Article 14 (anti-discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (respect for private and family life) protection because this was less favourable treatment than if they were an unmarried different sex couple who would have been permitted to adopt together.
The narrowness of the majority might have had something to do with the fact that the father of the Child had been a party to the case in the domestic courts and opposed the adoption (although the fact that the child of the lesbian couple in Gas and Dubois v France had been conceived through anonymous donor insemination had not helped that case). In the event, the Grand Chamber decision was based on the fact that the Austrian Supreme Court had referred to the “legal impossibility” of the proposed same sex adoption in this case.
The Strasbourg Court has today come up with something of a mixed message in relation to religion at work. They have voted that there is a right to manifest individual faith by wearing religious adornments but not by objecting to practices that are protected by anti-discrimination legislation.
All four applicants are practising Christians. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complained 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 complained about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Further details of all these cases can be found in our posts here, here, and here (as well as in the “related posts” section below).
Verlagsruppe News Gmbh and Bobi v Austria (Application no. 59631/09) HEJUD  ECHR 2012 (04 December 2012)
Hard on the heels of the Facebook case, here is another legal dust up over the media’s sharp interest in any story involving allegations of inappropriate sexual relations, particularly in the Catholic church.
Following a police investigation into internet downloads, the principal of a Roman Catholic seminary in Austria became the target of unwelcome interest from the tabloid press, including the second applicant, who published a series of articles and photographs alleging that Mr Küchl was engaging in homosexual relations with the seminarians. One article identified the seminarian principal, whose face was clearly identifiable from the accompanying photograph. The article was entitled “Go on!” (Trau dich doch). The sub-heading read “Porn scandal. Photographic evidence of sexual antics between priests and their students has thrown the diocese of St Pölten into disarray. First the principal and now the deputy principal have resigned. High-ranking dignitaries expect Kurt Krenn [the bishop of the diocese] to be removed from office.” Continue reading →
Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission (on appeal to the Upper Tribunal) CA/2010/0007 – read judgment
A private adoption agency could not justify its exclusion of same-sex prospective parents by arguing that this policy would keep open a source of funding that would otherwise dry up and reduce the number of adoption placements.
This was an appeal by the Catholic adoption services agency against the First Tribunal’s confirmation of the decision by the Charity Commission that it was not permitted to amend its constitution so as to permit it to continue its previous practice to refuse to offer its adoption services to same sex couples. Here is our post on the FTT’s ruling, which sets out the facts and arguments in the case. To recap briefly, the charity argued that the adoption of its proposed objects was justified under the general prohibition on discrimination under Article 14 ECHR (and its statutory analogy, Section 193 of the Equality Act). The legitimate aim it pursued was that of providing suitable adoptive parents for a significant number of children who would otherwise go unprovided for. The Charity maintained that unless it were permitted to discriminate as proposed, it would no longer be able to raise the voluntary income from its supporters on which it relied to run the adoption service, and it would therefore have to close its adoption service permanently on financial grounds. The FTT rejected this submission, holding that though the charity’s aim of increasing adoption placements was a legitimate one, the evidence before it did not show that the increased funding of the agency’s adoption work under the auspices of the Roman Catholic church would “inevitably” lead to the prospect of an increased number of adoptions. 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.
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.
Vejdeland and Others v Sweden (Application no. 1813/07) – Read judgment
“Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?”, asked Cardinal O’Brien in his controversial Telegraph article on gay-marriage. He was suggesting that changing the law to allow gay marriage would affect education as it would preclude a teacher from telling pupils that marriage can only mean a heterosexual union. He later insinuated that the change might lead to students being given material such as an “explicit manual of homosexual advocacy entitled The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century.”
A few weeks before that article was published, the European Court of Human Rights handed down its first ever ruling on anti-gay speech, in a Swedish case where a group of young men, seemingly motivated by a similar abhorrence to that expressed by Cardinal O’Brien for the “tyranny of tolerance” in education, put a hundred or so leaflets in or on the students’ lockers at a secondary school. The leaflets read:
The Trade Union Congress have sent me the full letter (download here) which Education Secretary Michael Gove sent to its leader Brendan Barber in relation to a complaint about seemingly homophobic booklets distributed to Roman Catholic schools in Lancashire. The letter which Mr Barber sent to Mr Gove is here.
I complained in this post that the excerpt of the response published by The Observer appeared to misunderstand the provisions of the Equality Act which apply to schools. I also said that the quote in the article could have been out of context. In short, it was. Here is the full paragraph, which presents a much fairer representation of the law:
Updated, 20 Feb 2012 | Following the news recently it would seem that the UK is convulsed by a raging battle between religious observers and, in the words of Baroness Warsi, militant secularists. On the same day, the High Court ruled that Christian prayers held before a council meeting were unlawful, and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court that two Christian hotel owners had discriminated against gay clients by not offering them a double room.
Today’s spat, according to The Guardian, involves a letter sent to the Education Secretary Michael Gove by the Trade Union Congress leader “expressing alarm that a booklet containing “homophobic material” had been distributed by a US preacher after talks to pupils at Roman Catholic schools across the Lancashire region in 2010.” From the quotes provided in The Observer, the book sounds pretty offensive:
On 10th February 2012, the Court of Appeal upheld a Judge’s ruling that a Christian couple, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, had discriminated against Martin Hall and Steven Preddy on grounds of sexual orientation when they refused them a double-bedded room at their hotel near Penzance.
For many years, Mr and Mrs Bull had restricted the use of double-bedded rooms at the Chymorvah Private Hotel to married couples. As devout Christians they believed that monogamous heterosexual marriage was the form of partnership “uniquely intended for full sexual relations” and that sex outside of marriage – whether heterosexual or homosexual – was sinful. To permit such couples to share a double-bed would, they believed, be to participate in promoting the sin (single-bedded and twin bedded rooms were available to all).
On 25 January 2012 Justice Edwin Cameron, Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, delivered an emotive and thoughtful talk entitled “What you can do with rights”. The Law Commission’s annual Lord Scarman Lecture covered apartheid, AIDS denialism, LGBT rights and delved into the essence of moral humanity. It was a lecture delivered with skill and fluency, with only the slight dissatisfaction being the vagueness of Justice Cameron’s conclusion: that legal rights allow people to achieve some progress, but they don’t solve every problem.
Justice Cameron has occupied a seat on the highest judicial bench of South Africa for three years. He was made a judge by President Nelson Mandela in 1994, when his country was emerging from the systemic violence that the apartheid system had wrought on human rights. This position gives him authority, but it is his personal experience that lent the lecture gravitas. The Justice was diagnosed as HIV positive at a time when the true scale of the epidemic was being realised, and publicly fought for access to the anti-retroviral drugs that saved his life at a time when the scale of his government’s folly in denying them to millions was becoming equally clear.
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