For your eyes only?

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

Two days running and we seem to be on a bit of a theme in this Blog about a person’s right to privacy and the limits of such a right.

If you picked up on yesterday’s Blog article (The limits of privacy), you’ll be aware that generally speaking the common law of Scotland (and indeed that of England) does recognise a person’s right to a private life. This right is also protected in terms of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (as implemented by the Scotland and Human Rights Acts 1998).

That said, privacy is not an absolute right and there may be all sorts of situations where the State (or your employer for that matter) might legitimately take in interest in your activities (whether these happen on the job or are of an extra-curricular nature).

If you’re William Beggs today, you might be feeling rather upset about this. William Beggs, for those of you who don’t know, is currently serving a life sentence for murder in a Scottish Prison. He earned the rather grim moniker, ‘The Limbs in the Loch’ killer because of he dismembered his victim (Barry Wallace).

Well, Mr Beggs – somewhat ironically many would no doubt be quick to pass comment – wished to pursue a legal action in which he alleged that his human rights had been breached by the prison authorities. Specifically, Beggs objected to the practice of the authorities in opening and reading his private correspondence from his doctors and lawyers. In his opinion, the authorities (the Scottish Prison Service and the were in breach of his right to privacy as guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

There were three incidents between October and November 2018 where Beggs objected to the Scottish Prison Service monitoring his correspondence: two letters with the details of hospital appointments and one letter from his lawyer had been opened. The prison official who opened the letter from Beggs’ lawyer had done so mistakenly and the authorities apologised fully for this action.

Beggs submitted a petition for judicial review of the actions of the Scottish Prison Service (and also that of the Scottish Government as the supervising state authority) to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Beggs also brought a claim for damages of £5,000 that he was a victim in terms of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Section 100(3) of the Scotland Act 1998.

The outcome of Beggs’ petition

Unfortunately, for Beggs the Court of Session (where his application for judicial review was being heard) did not agree.

Yes, there is a general duty in terms of Article 8 for public authorities (the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Government to which it is answerable) to guarantee the right to privacy for serving prisoners, but it is not an absolute right.

As Article 8 makes abundantly clear:

There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Lord Armstrong (in the Outer House of the Court of Session) was very clear, when arriving at his decision to reject Beggs’ petition, that the Scottish Prison Service had very good reasons for monitoring his confidential correspondence. According to rules 55 and 56 of the Prison and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011, such actions could be justified in situations where there was:

“reasonable cause to believe that the contents of the correspondence might endanger the security of the prison, endanger the safety of any person, or relate to criminal activity”.

Although the Prison authorities had erred when they opened Beggs’ legal correspondence, they had recognised this situation and promptly apologised to him.

Consequently, Beggs’ claim for damages was also rejected.

A link to Lord Armstrong’s Opinion can be found below:

William Frederick Ian Beggs v The Scottish Ministers [2019] CSOH 95

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/cos-general-docs/pdf-docs-for-opinions/2019csoh95.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 4 December 2019

The limits of privacy

Photo by Tony Liao on Unsplash

Several of my previous blogs (It happened outside work … (or it’s my private life!) published on 7 February 2019; Social Media Misuse published on 11 April 2019; and Social media and dismissal published on 20 May 2019) have addressed the issue of whether employees have a right to privacy in the work-place.

The short answer is yes and no: privacy is not an absolute right.

Privacy in the work-place is becoming more of an issue thanks to the widespread use of social media by employees outwith working hours (and, of course, during the working day).

If you’re working in the public sector (and this, potentially, covers a large number of employees), Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights i.e. the right to family and private life could be particularly relevant to your situation.

Even if you’re employed by a private sector organisation, Article 8 rights are still relevant because they are ultimately guaranteed by the State (the United Kingdom) as a signatory to the European Convention. Furthermore, there are all sorts of situations where private sector organisations may be regarded as ’emanations/entities of the State’ because they carry out some type of work or provide a service which is beneficial to the wider public (think utilities companies or those organisations which benefit from outsourced contracts from local and central government).

Regular readers of this blog will know, of course, that provisions of the European Convention have been incorporated into Scots Law via the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998.

Employers, quite rightly, may have legitimate concerns about the type of content or statements that their employees post on social media platforms – especially if such material could cause the organisation to suffer some sort of reputational damage.

In such circumstances, it’s simply not a competent defence for employees to argue that disciplinary action (up to and including dismissal) which might be taken by their employers represents unwarranted interference in their private lives.

That said, it is very important for employers to set out clear guidelines and policies covering social media (mis)use by employees during and outwith working hours. There is a balancing exercise to be had here between the legitimate interests of the employer and the employee.

So, it was with some interest that I read about a case before the Outer House of the Court of Session during the summer which dealt with the boundaries of employee privacy (see Petition of B, C and Others v Chief Constable Police Service of Scotland and Others [2019] CSOH 48).

Lord Bannatyne rejected the Petition for judicial review lodged by a number of serving Police Scotland officers who were accused of (non-criminal) misconduct by their employer. These officers had allegedly used the WhatsApp social media platform to exchange a number of messages between them which were deemed to be offensive in nature and not in keeping with their role as serving members of Police Scotland.

Police Scotland wished to access the content of these messages in order to progress the misconduct hearings, but the officers involved in the disciplinary investigation argued that this constituted a breach of their human rights – specifically their rights to privacy Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. More generally, the officers were also arguing that they had the right to privacy at common law.

His Lordship highlighted the significance of the important decision of the European Court of Human Rights: Von Hannover v Germany [2005] 40 EHRR 1 to the case before him.

Von Hannover raises three important considerations:

“… the width of the concept of private life; the purpose of Article 8, i.e. what it seeks to protect; and the need to examine the particular circumstances of the case in order to decide whether, consonant with that purpose, the applicant had a legitimate expectation of protection in relation to the subject matter of his complaint.”

The key issue which Lord Bannatyne identifies from Von Hannover, is whether the Scottish police officers “had a legitimate expectation of protection” in terms of Article 8; or to draw upon a phrase later formulated by UK Supreme Court Justice, Lord Toulson: “a legitimate expectation of privacy” (see In re JR38 2016 AC 1131).

In rejecting the officers’ petition, Lord Bannatyne focused on the existence of the Standards of Professional Behaviour contained in Schedule 1 to the 2014 Regulations to which all serving Police officers must adhere (in particular the officers had sworn an oath to uphold these Standards both while on and off duty).

His Lordship stated:

There is a restriction on police officers’ private life and therefore their expectation of privacy. … It is only in relation to these matters that there is a limitation on the officer’s privacy it is not a whole scale intrusion into his private life. Accordingly to achieve the underlying purpose of the Standards, namely: the maintenance of public confidence in the police, police officers have a limitation on their expectation of privacy as above described.

A link to Lord Banntyne’s judgement can be found below:

A link to how the story was reported by BBC Scotland can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-48799289

As a point of interest, several days after Lord Bannatyne’s judgement was reported, the BBC carried a story about United States Border Patrol officers who were suspended from employment for posting offensive remarks about migrants (and other individuals) on Facebook.

A link to this story can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-48834824

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 3 December 2019

I’m not your daddy!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In a previous blog (Who’s the daddy? published on 17 July 2019), I discussed the case of Freddy McConnell, a transgender man who wished to be named as his child’s father on the birth certificate.

Mr McConnell, it will be recalled, had been born female and decided to undergo gender reassignment. While undertaking this process, Mr McConnell discovered that he was pregnant. He eventually gave birth to the child and wished to be designated as the father or parent on the child’s birth certificate.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the English High Court has now issued a ruling regarding this matter (See R (on the application of TT v The Registrar General for England and Wales and Others [2019] EWHC 2348 (Fam)).

As the summary of the High Court’s judgement states:

The issue at the centre of this case can be simply stated: where a person, who was born female, but who has subsequently undergone gender transition and acquired full legal recognition as male, becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child, is that person to be registered as their child’s ‘mother’ or ‘father’?”

Well, the simple answer is that Mr McConnell will not be permitted to insist that he be designated (or named) as the child’s father on the birth certificate.

As Sir Andrew McFarlane clearly stated in his judgement (at paragraph 279):

“… there is a material difference between a person’s gender and their status as a parent. Being a ‘mother’, whilst hitherto always associated with being female, is the status afforded to a person who undergoes the physical and biological process of carrying a pregnancy and giving birth. It is now medically and legally possible for an individual, whose gender is recognised in law as male, to become pregnant and give birth to their child. Whilst that person’s gender is ‘male’, their parental status, which derives from their biological role in giving birth, is that of ‘mother’.”

Sir Andrew McFarlane also dismissed Mr McConnell’s secondary argument that, if the court decided he could not be designated the child’s mother under English law, then this would represent a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights i.e. the right to private and family life. English law is not incompatible with the European Convention regarding this matter.

Interestingly, however, Sir Andrew did state (at paragraph 125) that this is an area which the UK Government and Parliament may wish to address in the future:

The issue which has most properly and bravely been raised by the Claimant [Mr McConnell] in this Claim is, at its core, a matter of public policy rather than law. It is an important matter of public interest and a proper cause for public debate. Whilst this judgment will seek to determine the issue by reference to the existing legislation and the extant domestic and ECHR caselaw, as these sources do not themselves directly engage with the central question there would seem to be a pressing need for Government and Parliament to address square-on the question of the status of a trans-male who has become pregnant and given birth to a child.”

Links to Sir Andrew McFarlane’s full judgement and the summary of this can be found below:

https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/TT-and-YY-APPROVED-Substantive-Judgment-McF-25.9.19.pdf

https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/TT-and-YY-Summary.pdf

A link to how the judgement was reported on Sky News can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/freddy-mcconnell-transgender-man-who-gave-birth-cannot-be-named-childs-father-11819195

Scotland

As Scotland is a separate legal jurisdiction from England and Wales, the registration of births is primarily governed by the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 (as amended).

In Scotland, transgender people can apply to have their birth certificate issued to reflect the fact that they have undergone a process of gender reassignment (as per the terms of the Gender Recognition Act 2004). There is, as yet, no provision in Scots Law for a transgender person who found themselves in Mr McConnell’s position to be designated as the father of a child to which they have physically given birth.

Although an English decision i.e. a persuasive rather than a binding precedent, R (on the application of TT v The Registrar General for England and Wales and Others [2019] EWHC 2348 (Fam) it could be argued that it is likely to be followed by the Scottish courts.

The Scottish Government is, of course, currently carrying out a consultation exercise on changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

See the link to details about this consultation exercise:

https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Justice/law/17867/gender-recognition-review

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 September 2019