The American approach

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

Equal justice under law?

On Monday 15 June, 2020, the US Supreme Court issued a very important ruling (Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia (Case 17-1618)) that there can be no discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation or that they have (or are undergoing) gender reassignment. An attempt by an employer to dismiss a gay person or a transgender person will be an example of unlawful discrimination.

Surprise, surprise you might say: what took the Supreme Court so long?

Such discriminatory behaviour, the US Supreme Court has now declared, is a breach of Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act 1964 (which was enacted by Congress as part of President Lyndon B Johnson’s Great Society programme).

And this is where the American approach to the issue of discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation differs quite markedly from the UK.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 states that it is:

unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

From a British legal perspective, the word “sex” in Title VII of the American legislation is problematic when applied to discrimination involving a person’s sexual orientation.

Why?

Quite simply, in the UK, we would understand the word “sex” in discrimination law as applying to an individual’s gender whether they are male or female; or identify as being male or female.

A link to the US Supreme Court’s judgement can be found below:

https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf

A link to an article on the BBC website about the judgement can be found below:

US Supreme Court backs protection for LGBT workers

Readers of this blog might not regard the US Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia as in any way unusual. After all, in the United Kingdom and across the EU 27 member states, laws have been in place for a considerable period prohibiting unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Although the UK has now left the EU, the legislation protecting the LGBTI communities remains very much in place – by way of the Equality Act 2010 and other legislative instruments such as Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (primary legislation) and numerous Regulations and Directives (secondary legislation). The provisions in the Equality Act are, of course, an example of Westminster legislation and will remain hardwired into our legal system – for the time being at least.

The continuing status of European Treaty Articles, Regulations and Directives (in relation to the laws of the UK) will, of course, be up for debate when the Brexit transition period ends, as expected, on 31 December 20020.

The Equality Act 2010

Section 12 of the Equality Act 2010 addresses the issue of a person’s sexual orientation. This is a protected characteristic under the Act and means a person’s sexual orientation towards:

  • persons of the same sex
  • persons of the opposite sex
  • persons of either sex.

Sexual orientation discrimination: the historical perspective

Before 1 December 2003, in the United Kingdom, it was not unlawful to discriminate against an employee or potential employee by reason of that person’s sexual orientation. The situation changed dramatically with the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. The relevant law now being contained in the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits less favourable treatment on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation generally and such protection is no longer confined to the field of employment.

It should be noted, of course, that the Employment Equality Regulations were primarily brought into force to introduce protection for gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people. If, on the other hand, you were heterosexual, you were very unlikely to face discrimination in the work place due to your sexual orientation. 

The primer for this change to the law in 2003 was the European Union’s Employment Equality Directive (as a result of the Treaty of Amsterdam 1999) which meant that the UK, as a member state, had to introduce legislation in order to guarantee that people who had suffered less favourable treatment in relation to employment had a form of legal redress. The Employment Equality Regulations 2003 (and now the Equality Act) implemented this duty on the part of the UK.

Employment Equality Directive was limited in its scope because it applied (unlike the more expansive Racial Equality Directive) to just two sectors: employment and vocational training.

Sexual orientation not sex

It is perhaps now instructive to examine the failure of UK laws to provide protection to individuals who suffered sexual orientation discrimination prior to the Employment Equality Regulations coming into force.

In Macdonald v Advocate General for Scotland and Pearce v Governing Body of Mayfield School [2003] UKHL 34, the House of Lords held that discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation was not covered by existing UK equality laws (specifically the area of sex or gender discrimination then contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975).

Macdonald was dismissed from the Royal Air Force because he was homosexual or gay. Pearce, a teacher, had suffered an ongoing campaign of harassment while working at Mayfield School because she was a lesbian. Both Macdonald and Pearce claimed that the treatment that they had suffered was an example of direct sex discrimination. 

Both claims failed because the treatment suffered by both individuals was an example of direct discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation – not because of their sex or gender. At the time of this appeal to the House of Lords, discrimination in employment on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation was not prohibited by UK equality laws.

In its judgement, the House of Lords drew attention to the ironic fact that a new equality law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination would soon be introduced, but this admittedly would be too late for Macdonald and Pearce! Small comfort indeed!

Had the cases occurred today, the employers would be liable for direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in terms of Section 12 of the Equality Act 2010.

The perspective of the Court of Justice

Before the European Union’s Employment Equality Directive, the Court of Justice had been reluctant to lay the basis for greater legal protection in relation to a person’s sexual orientation.

In Case C-249/96 Grant v South West Trains Limited [1998] ECR I-621, Lisa Grant had argued that the failure by her employer to extend a concessionary ttavel scheme (worth £1,000 per year) to Gillian Percey, her same sex partner, with whom she had been in a stable relationship for more than 2 years, was an example of unlawful, less favourable treatment. The employer permitted heterosexual spouses (including common law spouses of more than 2 years standing) to enjoy the benefit of the travel scheme. Grant’s predecessor in the post had been male and his female partner had benefited from the travel scheme.

Grant chose her male predecessor as her comparator as part of an equal pay claim. It is important to appreciate that Grant was bringing her claim as a sex or gender discrimination legal action. Although Advocate General Elmer was broadly supportive of the couple’s claim that they had suffered discrimination under what is now Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the Equal Treatment Directive, the Court of Justice decided not to follow this Opinion.

The Court stated that two men in a same sex relationship would have been treated in exactly the same way as Grant and Percey by the employer. South West Trains did not wish to extend concessionary travel to same sex partners of employees and, currently, there was nothing unlawful about this policy as neither UK or EU equality laws prevented discrimination by reason of a person’s sexual orientation. At the time that this case was decided, it should be appreciated that same sex relationships in the UK were not legally recognised in terms of civil partnership or marriage – such legal recognition was still some way away.

To come back full circle, the European Union would, of course, later redress the situation with the Employment Equality Directive which led to the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 into UK law. Had these Regulations been in force when Lisa Grant commenced her legal action against South West Trains, these would have given her and Gillian Percey significant legal protection from the discriminatory action of her employer. Admittedly, this was scant consolation for them and thousands of other same sex couples who experienced less favourable treatment in employment.

The European Convention on Human Rights

The provisions of the Convention have been implemented into Scots law via the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 1998 which means that an individual will enjoy substantial legal protection in relation to his or her sexual orientation. Article 8 of the Convention places a duty on a public authority to have respect for a person’s private life. Fuirthermore, Article 14 of the Convention confers a general right on individuals not to be subjected to discrimionation. Employers who are defined as a public authority will have to ensure that they comply with these provisions. Private employers will also have to be aware of these provisions because there is nothing to stop an employee bringing a discrimination claim against the UK Government if some loophole exists which permits the employer to behave less favourably towards them on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

Interestingly, in Macdonald v Advocate General [2003] (discussed above), the employee did attempt to argue that his dismissal by the Royal Air Force, by reason of his sexual orientation, was a breach of the European Convention, but this argument failed because the Convention had not yet been implemented by the Westminster Parliament.

Today, of course, Macdonald would have a very strong claim against his employer for the treatment that he had suffered. Although the war may ultimately have been won, this was a battle that the unfortunate Macdonald would lose.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/05/25/the-love-that-dared-not-speak-its-name/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/02/the-only-gay-in-the-village/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/04/pansexual/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/31/civil-partner-i-do/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/08/different-standards/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/06/biased-blood/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/a-very-civil-partnership/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/20/love-and-marriage/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/08/the-gay-cake-row/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 16 June 2020

The love that dared not speak its name

Thanks to @ChouetteLaura for making this photo available freely on @unsplash 🎁

Every day is supposedly a school day and I have just learned that, 125 years ago today, Oscar Wilde, Victorian poet and novelist, began a sentence for 2 years’ imprisonment for the crime of gross indecency in terms of Section 11 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1885.

This was the culmination of several legal actions in which Wilde had become embroiled in order to end speculation about his sexual orientation. Although married and being the father of two children, Wilde had a secret: he was a gay man living in a very hostile environment.

It was such a hostile environment that Professor Dominic Janes of Keele University (and author of Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning and British Caricature, 1750-1900) (University of Chicago Press, 2016) states that:

“Britain had some of the strongest anti-homosexuality laws in Europe … The death penalty was in place until 1861 [the last execution took place in 1835]. In general, one of the main images of what we’d call a gay or queer man was a sexual predator of younger men. Many people would have also been informed by religious arguments from the Old Testament.”

When Wilde’s ‘sexual transgressions’ with a number of younger men were finally exposed in court due, in a large part, to the work of a private detective, he didn’t really stand a chance against the ensuing moral outrage of Victorian society.

The trials and eventual prison sentence would ruin Wilde financially and reputationally – for good (or so it seemed at the time).

More information about the trials of Oscar Wilde can be found in an article which appeared in The Independent to mark the 125th anniversary of his downfall.

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.250520/data/9525296/index.html

The long and winding road

If Victorian society was uniformly unforgiving and scornful of Wilde in 1895, contemporary British society has certainly rehabilitated his reputation. There is now almost universal agreement that Wilde was the victim of oppressive laws and social attitudes.

Wilde himself would probably be astounded at the amount of progress that members of the LBGTQI community have made in the intervening 125 years.

I’m also sure that he would be delighted to know that he is still the focus of discussion in 2020 (“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”).

It has been a a long and winding road for members of the LBGTI community to achieve legal recognition and protection.

Before the introduction of the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, society (and particularly the work-place) could be very hostile for LGBTI people (see Macdonald v Lord Advocate; Pearce v Governing Body of Mayfield School [2003] UKHL 34).

Admittedly, the UK was (and still is in spite of Brexit) a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In particular, Article 8 of the Convention recognises the right to family and private life. It was this Article which was used to overturn extremely restrictive laws on same sex relationships which existed in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Reinforcing Article 8 is Article 14 of the Convention is Article 14 which contains a general prohibition on discrimination.

The late 1960s are often referred to as the key period of the start of gay liberation in the UK with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised homosexual relationships between consenting adults (aged 21 or over) and as long as such conduct was in private. What is often overlooked is that the 1967 Act applied to England and Wales only. The picture was very different (and would remain so for over a decade – sometimes longer) in various parts of the British Isles.

Homosexual relationships were decriminalised in Scotland in 1980; in Northern Ireland in 1982; the UK Crown Dependency of Guernsey in 1983; the UK Crown Dependency of Jersey in 1990; and the UK Crown Dependency of the Isle of Man in 1994. The age of consent was set at 21 for all these parts of the British Isles; then reduced to 18; and then finally 16 years of age. Societal attitudes had moved on and the law had to follow.

In the last 20 years, the influence of the European Union has also been particularly profound regarding measures to combat sexual orientation discrimination. In spite of Brexit, there is a large body of anti-discrimination law which has been bequeathed to us as a result of our membership of the European Union.

In 1999, as a result of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the EU adopted two Directives which considerably expanded the scope of its anti-discrimination laws (the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) and the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC). Of particular interest to this discussion is the Employment Equality Directive which made it unlawful to discriminate against a person on grounds of sexual orientation. Admittedly, this Directive was limited because it covered the areas of employment and vocational training only.

This body of law is not just going to disappear overnight when the transitional period for Brexit ends (as currently anticipated by the UK Government) on 31 December 2020. As I often remark, European Union has become hardwired into the various legal systems of this disunited Kingdom.

Indeed, a person’s sexual orientation is, of course, a protected characteristic in terms of Section 12 of the Equality Act 2010. Such individuals should not be subjected to direct discrimination (Section 13); indirect discrimination (Section 19); harassment (Section 26); and victimisation (Section 27).

Even greater strides towards equality were ushered in as a result of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 which would give legal recognition (and protection) to gay and lesbian people who chose to enter such relationships. These rights would be further underpinned by permitting same sex couples to marry (in England and Wales in 2013 and in Scotland in 2014). Northern Ireland finally legalised same sex marriage in 2020.

When Oscar Wilde was serving part of his sentence in Reading Gaol (which inspired his Ballad of the same name) he could hardly have contemplated life as we know it in 2020.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/02/the-only-gay-in-the-village/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/04/pansexual/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/31/civil-partner-i-do/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/08/different-standards/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/06/biased-blood/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/a-very-civil-partnership/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/20/love-and-marriage/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/08/the-gay-cake-row/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 May 2020

Muslim, male, and single: don’t fly with us!

Photo by Kevin Hackert on Unsplash

Michael O’Leary, the motor mouth CEO of Ryanair, could never be accused of being a shrinking violet or one to shy away from a fight. As they say in Ireland: that one would cause trouble in an empty house.

The latest controversy to engulf Mr O’Leary concerns accusations of racism, religious discrimination and, indeed, sexism. Quite a charge sheet. He has suggested that single, males of the “Muslim persuasion” should be turned away from plane flights because “this is where the threat is.”

Ryanair is an Irish airline, but it services a large number of European destinations and many of its customer base will be single Muslim males who have quite lawful travelling plans.

Ryanair is a popular (I probably meant busy) airline that flies to and from destinations in the UK and many of British citizens are, of course, Muslim.

Mr O’Leary’s comments could potentially fall foul of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to direct discrimination (Section 13) on the grounds of the following protected characteristics:

  • Religion (Section 10)
  • Sex (Section 11)

Now the Muslim faith is not a racial characteristic, so where could the accusations of race possibly arise? Well, if you are applying a criterion to your customer base, it could have a disproportionately adverse effect on certain groups within the population. Muslims are much more likely to be found amongst non-White British and Irish UK citizens. Indirect discrimination any one? (see Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010)

There’s also the small matter of European Union law (yes, in the UK we continue to follow these rules throughout the Brexit transition period) and Mr O’Leary’s comments could represent a breach of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (primary legislation) and Equal Treatment Directives (secondary legislation).

There may be one get out for Mr O’Leary: if he can show that his comments were an objective (don’t laugh) and proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end. National security and health and safety concerns do, potentially, fall into this category, but Mr O’Leary’s approach to dealing with terrorism might be regarded as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut i.e. totally over the top and disproportionate. Section 192 of the Equality Act states:

A person does not contravene this Act only by doing, for the purpose of safeguarding national security, anything it is proportionate to do for that purpose.

Mr O’Leary may not be too concerned about the latest furore surrounding his comments – after all, as a fellow Irishman (Oscar Wilde) once remarked: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

In fairness to Mr O’Leary he has since apologised for his remarks, but the Muslim Council of Britain has condemned his comments (made in an interview with The Times).

Many Muslims have logged on Twitter their negative experiences of flying (see below):

#flyingwhilstMuslim

A link to an article on the BBC News App about Mr O’Leary’s comments can be found below:

Michael O’Leary: Ryanair boss criticised for Muslim profiling comments

The Ryanair boss says Muslim men should be profiled at airports because “that is where the threat is”.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 22 February 2020

The only gay in the village?

The colours of Pride

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

The only gay in the village became a household phrase in the UK thanks to the long running Little Britain sitcom TV and radio series (which has been broadcast by the BBC since 2000).

Daffyd Thomas claimed to be the only gay person in a small, Welsh village (actually he wasn’t), but in some respects his catchphrase reflected the isolation that many people in the LGBTI communities experience – either in their personal or professional lives.

The reason that I mention this topic is because, last week, the LGBTI campaigning organisation, Stonewall, published research about the most inclusive LGBTI friendly employers in the UK (Newcastle City Council topped the list). That said, for many LGBTI employees, an inclusive work place is still a far off dream.

Please find a link to a story on the Sky News website about one employee’s decision to hide his LGBTI identity from his colleagues:

https://news.sky.com/story/i-felt-i-had-to-hide-my-lgbt-identity-at-work-so-i-decided-to-do-something-about-it-11920174

Links to Stonewall’s findings (and a Sky News article) can be found below:

https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/2020_top_100_report.pdf

https://news.sky.com/story/stonewall-reveals-its-most-lgbt-inclusive-employers-11919950

A person’s sexual orientation is, of course, a protected characteristic in terms of Section 12 of the Equality Act 2010. Such individuals should not be subjected to direct discrimination (Section 13); indirect discrimination (Section 19); harassment (Section 26); and victimisation (Section 27).

Many years ago, I remember teaching a group of students who were studying for a professional qualification. Many of them were employed by recruitment agencies and it was my task to highlight the relevant provisions of discrimination law at that time. One evening, we had a discussion about discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation – particularly in the context of the ban on gay and lesbian people serving in the UK Armed Forces. This ban would eventually be lifted in 2000 – following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Smith and Grady v UK (1999) 29 EHRR 493.

One of the students asked me what protection existed for gay and lesbian people in employment law generally. Very little was my response. Before the introduction of the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, the work place could be very hostile for LGBTI people (see Macdonald v Lord Advocate; Pearce v Governing Body of Mayfield School [2003] UKHL 34).

Yes, admittedly, the UK was (and still is in spite of Brexit) a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, Article 8 of the Convention recognises the right to family and private life. It was this Article which was used to overturn extremely restrictive laws on same sex relationships which existed in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Reinforcing Article 8 is Article 14 of the Convention is Article 14 which contains a general prohibition on discrimination.

The late 1960s are often referred to as the key period of the start of gay liberation in the UK with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised homosexual relationships between consenting adults (aged 21 or over) and as long as such conduct was in private. What is often overlooked is that the 1967 Act applied to England and Wales only. The picture was very different (and would remain so for over a decade – sometimes longer) in various parts of the British Isles.

Homosexual relationships were decriminalised in Scotland in 1980; in Northern Ireland in 1982; the UK Crown Dependency of Guernsey in 1983; the UK Crown Dependency of Jersey in 1990; and the UK Crown Dependency of the Isle of Man in 1994. The age of consent was set at 21 for all these parts of the British Isles. Things have since moved on and the age of consent was firstly reduced to 18 and then eventually to 16.

In the last 20 years, the influence of the European Union has been particularly profound regarding measures to combat sexual orientation discrimination.

In 1999, as a result of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the EU adopted two Directives which considerably expanded the scope of its anti-discrimination laws (the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) and the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC). Of particular interest to this discussion is the Employment Equality Directive which made it unlawful to discriminate against a person on grounds of sexual orientation. Admittedly, this Directive was limited because it covered the areas of employment and vocational training only.

On 1 December 2003, the Employment Equality Directive would eventually become part of UK law in the form of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. The Regulations were repealed and replaced by the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010 (which came into force on 1 October 2010).

It did not extend to the provision of goods and services, so had the case of Bull and Another v Hall and Another [2013] UKSC 73 occurred when the Directive was first transposed into UK domestic law, the same sex couple who were refused a double room at the guest house in Cornwall would not have been successful in their claim for sexual orientation discrimination. Luckily for them, the Equality Act had since come into force and covered unlawful less favourable treatment on grounds of a person’s sexual orientation with regard to the provision of goods and services.

The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) is also worthy of comment. Article 19 prohibits discrimination by reason of a person’s sexual orientation and, notably, this provision is hardwired into UK law by way of the Equality Act 2010. Article 19 extended legal protection to gay and lesbian people more generally – over and above the limited areas of employment and vocational training which the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Employment Equality Directive had originally addressed.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (although Poland and the UK had negotiated some opt-outs) contained significant provisions on equality and non-discrimination, namely, Article 20 (equality before the law) and Article 21 (the principle of non-discrimination).

Another massive step forward for the equality of the LGBTI community was the introduction of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 which would give legal recognition (and protection) to gay and lesbian people who chose to enter such relationships. These rights would be further underpinned by permitting same sex couples to marry (in England and Wales in 2013 and in Scotland in 2014). Currently, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to permit same sex marriage – although this will change from next week onwards (see link below):

Same-sex marriage: Couple ‘excited but nervous’ to become first in NI

Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards will celebrate their wedding on Tuesday in Carrickfergus.

This change to the law has come about as a result of the introduction of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 passed by the UK Parliament (in the absence of of a functioning devolved government for nearly the last 3 years).

Finally, if employers want to do more to create an inclusive work place, they could start by using Stonewall’s inclusive toolkits (see link below):

https://www.stonewall.org.uk/best-practice-toolkits-and-resources

Conclusion

As a society, the UK has certainly moved on from the overtly hostile attitudes towards members of the LGBTI communities over the last 50 years or so. The legal rights and protections which LGBTI people now enjoy would have seemed unthinkable in 1967 when a limited form of tolerance was ushered in as a result of the Sexual Offences Act (in England and Wales). More recently, the UK and Scottish Governments have issued pardons to those individuals who were convicted of criminal offences under the previous laws (in 2017: the Policing and Crime Act 2017 in England and Wales (known as Turing’s Law after Alan Turing, the Enigma Code Breaker) and, in 2018, the Scottish Parliament followed suit by passing the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018).

Postscript

On Friday 7 February 2020, Phillip Schofield, the British TV celebrity announced that he was gay at the age of 57. Mr Schofield is married with 2 children and had lived a heterosexual life – until now. He likened hiding his sexual orientation to being in prison and being consumed by it.

A link to the story on the Sky News website can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/phillip-schofield-comes-out-as-gay-11928156

If anyone doubts that homophobia still exists in the UK, please see the story below:

Homophobic graffiti daubed on Polo Lounge entrance in Glasgow

Police have launched an investigation after they were alerted to the vandalism at the Polo Lounge.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/04/pansexual/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/31/civil-partner-i-do/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/08/different-standards/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/06/biased-blood/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/a-very-civil-partnership/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/20/love-and-marriage/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/08/the-gay-cake-row/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 15 February 2020

EU Law? There’s still life in the old dog yet …

Photo by Brunel Johnson on Unsplash

At 2300 hours GMT today (or 0000 hours CET if you prefer), the United Kingdom will set a precedent and become an ex-member state of the European Union.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 was given Royal Assent on 23 January 2020 and, earlier this week, the European Parliament overwhelmingly ratified the Withdrawal Agreement of November 2019 between the UK and the EU.

Click on the link below for the text of the Agreement:

https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.CI.2019.384.01.0001.01.ENG&toc=OJ:C:2019:384I:FULL

Job done; back to normal then (whatever that is); the British have taken back control? Well not quite. The Withdrawal Agreement was always going to be the first part of the equation that needed resolving i.e. setting the terms on which the UK would leave the organisation. This has been popularly referred to as the divorce agreement e.g. dealing with the UK’s agreed financial contribution to projects and initiatives to which it had agreed when it was a member state.

The more difficult task will be to figure out what kind of future relationship the EU and the UK will have e.g. about future trading arrangements. UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson wants such an agreement to be finalised by 31 December 2020; leading figures on the EU side (e.g. Ursula Von der Leyen, the Commission President) have been more cautious.

The fact that Brexit Day has finally arrived does not, however, mean that EU Law will cease to have effect in the UK.

We have now entered what is known as the transition period (31 January 2020 until 31 December 2020) and Article 127 of the Withdrawal Agreement explicitly states:

Unless otherwise provided in this Agreement, Union law shall be applicable to and in the United Kingdom during the transition period.’ [My emphasis]

In any event, as I have previously observed, EU Law is hardwired into the UK legal domestic systems. Areas such as consumer law; employment law; discrimination and equality law; environmental protection law and family law have all been extensively influenced by European legal principles. Any lawyer with some knowledge of EU Law knows this to be a question of fact. After 47 years of involvement with the European Project, this should be blindingly obvious.

Even this last week, documents published by the European Commission demonstrated that there will be import/export checks between the Island of Ireland and the UK. The Court of Justice of the EU will have the final say in relation to any disputes – despite what Prime Minister Johnson believes or says.

As Lord Denning opined many years ago in Bulmer (HP) Ltd v Bollinger SA [1974] 1 Ch 401, [1974] 3 WLR 202, [1974] 2 All ER 1226:

But when we come to matters with a European element, the Treaty [of Rome] is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back. Parliament has decreed that the Treaty is henceforward to be part of our law. It is equal in force to any statute.

Or to use another metaphor: perhaps Brexit is a case of building the legal equivalent of the Thames Barrier after the deluge. Too little, too late. Whether the British Government likes it or not, by dint of Brexit, this country is no longer a rule maker and has assumed the status of rule taker.

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/18/so-long-to-eu/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/12/banning-smoking-in-the-streets-of-paris/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/11/15/club-rules-or-the-hotel-california-syndrome/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/29/happy-brexit-day/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 January 2020

Cash flows?

Photo by Didier Weemaels on Unsplash

Here, in the United Kingdom, the Brexit saga seems to be drawing to the end of stage 1 i.e. ratification of the withdrawal agreement that the EU and British Government of Boris Johnson have negotiated. The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is likely to pass through the House of Lords this week or early next week.

Meanwhile in the rest of the EU, business seems to be going on fairly normally and, it was with some relief this week that I read about a forthcoming decision of the Court of Justice concerning the operation of the Single European Market – and not about Brexit.

The Republic of Hungary, a fellow EU member state – for the present time anyway, may be on course to lose this case which, at its heart, addresses the free movement of capital. Essentially, Hungarian law may well be incompatible with the operation of the Single European Market and, as well we know, EU Law enjoys primacy over domestic law:

  • Case 26/62 Van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie der Belastingen [1963] ECR 1
  • Case 6/64 Costa v ENEL [1964] ECR 585, 593
  • HP Bulmer Ltd & Anor v J. Bollinger SA & Ors [1974] EWCA Civ 14
  • Case 148/78 Pubblico Ministero v Ratti (1979) ECR 1629
  • Defrenne v Sabena [1976] ECR 455, [1976] ICR 547, [1981] 1 All ER 122
  • C-106/77 Simmenthal [1978] ECR 629
  • C-106/89 Marleasing [1991] ECR I-7321

‘Stop Soros’

In 2017, Hungary passed a law which compelled non governmental organisations (NGOs) to declare their sources of funding to the Government (this information would then be available via a publicly accessible website). If a group received funding from a foreign individual or organisation above the value of 500,000 Hungarian Forints (or €1500 euros), this had to be made public. Furthermore, groups finding themselves in receipt of such funding had to declare themselves as ‘organisations in receipt of support from abroad’ on their websites and in their official communications.

The measure became popularly known in Hungary as the ‘Stop Soros’ Law – a reference to the antipathy of the Government of Hungary towards George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire. Soros is an energetic supporter of liberal social values which are often at complete odds with the right wing and ultra conservative views of the Hungarian Government.

A link to a story about the background to the Law can be found on the Reuters’ website below:

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-hungary-orban-ngos/civil-organisations-in-hungary-brace-for-government-crackdown-on-ngos-idUKKBN1HW1ZL

The Advocate General’s Opinion

Advocate General Campos Sánchez-Bordona has just issued an Opinion about the legality of Hungarian law in this respect. The controversial Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has long been hostile to groups in civil society who are opposed to his Government’s aims and objectives and which receive funding from abroad.

According to the Advocate General, Hungarian law potentially breaches the free movement provisions of the Single European Market in relation to capital – as well as data protection, freedom of association and privacy rules contained in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (see Case C-78/18 European Commission v Hungary).

A link to the Advocate General’s Opinion can be found below:

http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=222223&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=15406

This Opinion is not the end of the matter because it is always worth remembering that the Court of Justice may not approve it when it makes its decision on the matter. As the Advocate General currently sees things, Hungarian law disproprotionately discriminates against those individuals and organisations who are not Hungarian. It is a barrier to the legitimate, free flow of capital across the borders of EU member states.

Project 1992

The Single Market (or Project 1992) came into existence on 1 January 1993. The Project saw the 12 member states of what was then the European Communities (the Coal and Steel Community, Euratom and the EEC collectively) implement ambitious plans to ensure frictionless trade. It was said that British businesses would find it as easy to sell goods or to provide services in Madrid as they presently were able to do so in Manchester.

The Single Market was based on 4 fundamental principles:

  • Free movement of persons
  • Free movement of goods
  • Free movement of services
  • Free movement of capital

Over the years, a huge amount of case law has built up around free movement of persons, goods and services, but it is rarer to see a decision of the Court of Justice regarding free movement of capital or money. Yet, free movement of capital is an essential corollary to the smooth operation of the Single Market.

How, for example, would consumers of goods and services in one member state pay for these if legitimate or honest money cannot flow back and forth across borders? Please note that I am not advocating the removal of all barriers to free movement – I am all too aware of the necessity to combat the money laundering activities of organised crime. Anyone who has read Misha Glenny’s excellent and terrifying book, McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime (2017: Vintage), will appreciate the real challenges that free movement of capital represents for law enforcement agencies across the EU.

Put simply, the 3 more prominent freedoms of the Single Market would grind to a halt if money was subject to all sorts of unrealistic barriers e.g. member states being able to impose very restrictive limits on the amount of money citizens could move in and out of the country. With the globalisation of financial services, many of us will either have forgotten these types of restrictions – or never experienced them.

When speaking to younger people, it often strikes me that many of them, who do travel regularly to Europe, have any real concept about things like tariff barriers, currency restrictions or passport controls. Brexit (and all its ramifications) may well be something of a wake -up call.

Admittedly, the original founding Treaty of the European Economic Community or the EEC (the Treaty of Rome) did envisage free movement of capital.

One of the first cases that I remember from my studies in EEC Law was Case 286/82 Luisi and Carbone v Ministero del Tesoro [1984] ECR -00377. At that time, Italy operated currency restrictions which meant that its citizens were limited to the amount of money that they could take out of the country. Luisi and Carbone were both fined by the authorities for taking more money out of the country than they were permitted under current domestic law. They argued that Italian law was in breach of the Treaty of Rome because it prevented them from going to another member state in order to receive services (and to pay for these). The Court of Justice was of the view that the restrictions imposed by Italy were unduly excessive.

Conclusion

In the 21st Century, we often forget that restrictions on movements of people, goods, services and capital were very common place. It is the direct influence of the European Single Market that consigned many of these barriers to trade to the status of historical curiosities.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 15 January 2020

Banning smoking in the streets of Paris …

Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash

If anyone or anything wanted to ban smoking in the streets of Paris, you would think that (logically), this would be a matter for the French National Assembly or even Paris City Council (Conseil de Paris).

… And you would be quite correct.

You might be thinking what relevance does this have to Scots or indeed English law?

The supremacy of Parliament (or its limits)

The constitutional lawyers amongst the Blog readership, however, might guess where I’m going with the title. When studying the area of Westminster parliamentary sovereignty many, many years ago, I was struck by the words of Sir Ivor Jennings QC, a very famous British constitutional lawyer.

Jennings was explaining that the Westminster Parliament, as the supreme law making body in the UK, had the power to pass any law – even making it unlawful to smoke cigarettes or cigars in the streets of Paris. Now Jennings fully appreciated that this was a slightly absurdist statement; that wasn’t his point (to which I shall return shortly).

Would our French neighbours obey such an Act of the Westminster Parliament? They would not; quite rightly recognising that such a law lacked any legitimacy in their eyes.

So, what was Jennings driving at when he uttered his remark about the scope of the law making powers of the Westminster Parliament? He was recognising that Parliament could pass any law that it wished irrespective of how absurd it was or how unlikely it was to be obeyed in practice.

The English have placed great emphasis on the notion of parliamentary sovereignty. This principle, of course, can be challenged. The American colonists who participated in the protest popularly known as the Boston Tea Party in 1773 were directly challenging Westminster parliamentary supremacy. Several years later, with the successful conclusion of the American Revolution, it would be the new legal order of the United States of America that would supplant the British parliamentary tradition and thus make it a matter of history.

In 1919, Irish Republicans refused to send Members of Parliament to take their seats at Westminster following the UK General Election of 14 December 1918. Instead 27 Sinn Fein MPs chose to sit in Dáil Éireann (effectively an embryonic Irish National Assembly) in Dublin. Highly unconstitutional in British eyes; yes but it spelled the beginning of the end for Westminster parliamentary sovereignty in 26 of the 32 counties comprising the Island of Ireland.

More recently, in 1965, the White minority Government of the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia (under the leadership of Premier Ian Smith) declared independence unilaterally from the mother country. There was very little that the Westminster Parliament and British Government could do to prevent this situation. The Rhodesian Government would ultimately be brought crashing down to earth because of the armed struggle of the Black majority liberation movement. This would eventually lead to independence and majority rule for the territory (to be known as Zimbabwe).

Brexit

To return to Sir Ivor Jennings, his remarks about smoking in the streets of Paris were brought home to me today when reading about the remarks made by Simon Coveney, the Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister about Brexit.

Mr Coveney was being asked about the implications of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – introduced in the House of Commons by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson shortly after his Conservative Party won the General Election of 12 December 2019.

This Bill will has just passed through the Commons and will now go on to the House of Lords (where it will pass) and receive the Royal Assent in the next week or two. The exit of the UK will happen by 31 January 2020.

Mr Coveney was not taking exception to this development: in fact he was pointing out some hard realities for the British Prime Minister. The easy part of Brexit will have been completed, but the harder part remains: concluding a trade deal between the UK and the EU by the British Government’s self-imposed deadline of December 2020. Needless to say, but this has not been accepted by the remaining 27 EU member states.

Mr Coveney noted that a provision of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (currently Clause 33) prohibits the UK Government from extending negotiations with the EU 27 in order to obtain a trade agreement if one is not concluded before the end of 2020:

“I know that Prime Minister Johnson has set a very ambitious timetable to get this done. He has even put it into British law, but just because a British parliament decides that British laws say something doesn’t mean that that law applies to the other 27 countries of the European Union and so the European Union will approach this on the basis of getting the best deal possible – a fair and balanced deal to ensure the EU and the UK can interact as friends in the future. But the EU will not be rushed on this just because Britain passes law.”

Conclusion

When Sir Ivor Jennings made his oft quoted remark about parliamentary legislative powers, he was acknowledging the theoretical supremacy of Westminster. I also believe that he used the particular example of banning smoking in the streets of Paris to demonstrate the clear limits of Westminster supremacy: practical and political realities will often combine to frustrate the will of Parliament.

In speaking today in the terms that he did, the Irish Deputy Prime Minister clearly recognises this reality.

Does the UK Government?

A link to an article on the Sky News website about Simon Coveney’s remarks can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/eu-will-not-be-rushed-in-post-brexit-talks-irish-deputy-simon-coveney-warns-11907060

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 12 January 2020

Enemies of the people?

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

Have British judges become too politicised?

Michael Howard, former UK Conservative Party Leader from 2003 until 2005 (and now, somewhat ironically, an unelected member of the House of Lords) certainly thinks so – and he hasn’t been afraid to make his views known on the subject during the last few days.

A link to an article in The Independent discussing Mr Howard’s remarks can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.291219/data/9262576/index.html

In an interview on the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Howard posited the question as to whether the law should be made by “elected, accountable politicians, answerable to their constituents and vulnerable to summary dismissal at election, or by unaccountable, unelected judges who can’t be removed”.

Sour grapes?

To some extent, we could accuse Mr Howard of sour grapes or dissatisfaction with a number of recent legal judgements which have gone against the express wishes of the previous UK Conservative Government (2017-19) which wished to prioritise the exit of the UK from the European Union (Brexit).

It is also worth remembering that Mr Howard’s tenure as British Home Secretary (the Minister of the Interior) from 1993 until 1997 was characterised by conflicts with judges who often ruled against Government policy when making decisions about applications for judicial review.

Brexit

As a long established Eurosceptic (and as one of the prime suspects for membership of the group of “3 b*stards” in former Prime Minister John Major’s cabinet (1992-97), you would not really have expected Mr Howard to be terribly happy about the lack of progress on Brexit (some three and a half years on from the Referendum of 23 June 2016).

In R (on the application of Miller and another) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC 5, the former Prime Minister, Theresa May was forced to concede that she personally could not trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union in order to begin the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. Brexit wasn’t going to ‘get done’ without first having undergone a series of confirmatory votes in both Houses of the Westminster Parliament. The use of the Royal prerogative (the ancient powers of the Monarch) by the then Prime Minister to ignore Parliament was not an appropriate legal action in a modern democracy.

In Wightman and Others (Notification by a Member State of its intention to withdraw from the European Union – Judgment) [2018] EUECJ C-621/18 (10 December 2018), the Court of Justice of the European Union, in a preliminary ruling, stated that a member state which had initiated Article 50 proceedings to leave the EU could reverse its decision unilaterally without first seeking the consent of all the other member states.

The request for the preliminary ruling (in terms of terms of Article 267: Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) had been submitted by the Inner House of the Court of Session; but critically the action had been initiated by a group of democratically elected politicians (in the main).

In R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland) [2019] UKSC 41 (On appeals from: [2019] EWHC 2381 (QB) and [2019] CSIH 49), the proverbial really hit the fan when the UK Supreme Court ruled (unanimously) that the decision by current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to suspend or prorogue the Westminster Parliament for 5 weeks was nothing less than unlawful.

As Baroness Hale, President of the Supreme Court, stated:

It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, from 9th or 12th September until 14th October. We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.

The Human Rights Act 1998

The mask really slips from Mr Howard’s face (possibly revealing something of the night about him?) when he turns his ire upon the effect of the Human Rights Act 1998. He begins by acknowledging that the UK Parliament conferred powers on senior judges to determine whether UK legislation was human rights compliant and then blames the judges for this situation! As a former barrister, Mr Howard really should know better.

Opponents of human rights legislation have always beaten the drum that the discretion given to (unelected) judges to attack or strike down laws which are deemed not to comply with those parts of the European Convention are a threat to British democracy. In the febrile atmosphere of Brexit, judges are now acutely aware that they can and will be accused of meddling in politics.

As I have previously remarked, statements such as Mr Howard’s recent remarks are factually incorrect when viewed through the prism of Westminster legislation. It soon becomes apparent that his arguments are highly misleading because all that superior court judges can do is to issue a declaration of incompatibility if a particular law or legal provision is found not to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998.

The declaration of incompatibility is like a football referee issuing a yellow card: foul play is being acknowledged, but the player remains on the field … for now. It will then be over to the Westminster Parliament (as the highest legal authority in the land) to bring in corrective measures to ensure that the law is changed, but this is Parliament’s decision alone

The consequences of declaring UK parliamentary legislation incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights can be fully appreciated if we refer to the Supreme Court’s decision in R (Nicklinson) Ministry of Justice (CNK Alliance Ltd intervening) [2014] UKSC 38:

An essential element of the structure of the Human Rights Act 1998 is the call which Parliament has made on the courts to review the legislation which it passes in order to tell it whether the provisions contained in that legislation comply with the Convention. By responding to that call and sending the message to Parliament that a particular provision is incompatible with the Convention, the courts do not usurp the role of Parliament, much less offend the separation of powers. A declaration of incompatibility is merely an expression of the court’s conclusion as to whether, as enacted, a particular item of legislation cannot be considered compatible with a Convention right. In other words, the courts say to Parliament, ‘This particular piece of legislation is incompatible, now it is for you to decide what to do about it.’ And under the scheme of the Human Rights Act 1998 it is open to Parliament to decide to do nothing.”

Judicial Review

It is also apparent that Mr Howard is not a big fan of judicial review: he obviously thinks that this area of the law has expanded. True, it has but this is because the role of Government across the UK has dramatically expanded since the Second World War. This is due to a large part with the expansion of the Welfare State. Government policies which affect education, employment, health, immigration, taxation etc can be challenged by members of the public via an application for judicial review before either the Court of Session (Scotland); the High Court (England and Wales); and the High Court (Northern Ireland).

Conclusion

The UK has an unwritten Constitution – unlike other countries which have written constitutions (France, Germany, Italy and the USA). In political systems with a written constitution, there are often very clear rules governing the conduct of elected politicians.

This does not mean that, in political systems with written constitutions, the courts have no role to play. Of course they do.

It is an accepted part of the political culture of these countries that a Supreme Court or a Constitutional Court will be the final arbiter of very thorny legal and political issues e.g. the role of the US Supreme Court in legalising abortion (Roe v Wade 410 U.S. 113 (1973)) or same sex marriage (Obergefell v Hodges576 U.S. ___ (2015)). They may be controversial in nature and generate heated debate for decades to come, but very few US citizens would contest the right of the Supreme Court to make such judgements.

As a point of contrast, note the hysteria which was generated when judges of the English High Court permitted Gina Miller’s action to succeed in blocking former Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union without, first, securing UK parliamentary approval (see R (Miller) Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC 5). 

The UK tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mail ran an astonishing front page on 4 November 2016 branding the judges “enemies of the people”. More prosaically, the High Court’s judgement (later approved by the UK Supreme Court in early 2017) was merely clarifying the law surrounding the Prime Minister’s use of the Royal prerogative in foreign affairs. You would not have thought this from the media and political reaction in certain quarters.

Governments, just as much as individuals, should think themselves to be above the law. The rule of law in a democratic society is a principle worth hanging on to.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 December 2019

Club rules (or the Hotel California syndrome)

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Just in case you were in any doubt about the status of British membership of the EU, I’ve got a shock announcement to make:

Brexit is still not finished business and this country remains very much a member state with all the legal obligations this status entails.

The UK was supposed to leave the EU by 31 October 2019, but the British Prime Minister was forced by the Westminster Parliament to seek an extension as a result of the EU Withdrawal (No. 2) Act 2019. (aka the Benn Act). Parliament had passed this legislation in order to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU without a proper divorce or withdrawal agreement.

That brings me on to a recent development which highlights this situation perfectly.

Yesterday, Sky News reported that the European Commission is to take infringement proceedings against the UK for breach of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

Every EU member state must nominate an individual to the Commission. The UK has failed to do this and the Commission has deemed this failure as a breach of the TEU.

You can see the press release issued by the Commission concerning infringement proceedings against the UK by clicking on the link below:

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/api/files/document/print/en/ip_19_6286/IP_19_6286_EN.pdf

A link to the Sky News story can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/eu-legal-case-against-uk-over-failure-to-name-commissioner-11861369

When the European Council agreed to extend the period by which the UK would remain a member state, it explicitly stated:

“This further extension cannot be allowed to undermine the regular functioning of the Union and its institutions. Furthermore, it will have the consequence that the United Kingdom will remain a Member State until the new withdrawal date, with full rights and obligations in accordance with Article 50 TEU, including the obligation to suggest a candidate for appointment as a member of the Commission.”

A link to the Decision of the European Council of 28 October 2019 in this regard can be found below:

https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/XT-20024-2019-REV-2/en/pdf

This is like Groundhog Day: the UK thought that Brexit would be concluded before the date of the European Parliament elections on 23 May 2019. The Government of former Prime Minister Theresa May miscalculated and the country had to hold these elections in accordance with our EU membership obligations.

It would seem that there’s still plenty of life in the Greek politician and economist, Yannis Varoufakis’ statement likening the EU to the Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”

The basic line is that, when you’re a member of the club, you obey the rules until you leave; if you can …

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 15 November 2019

A hard day’s night …

Photo by Xi Wang on Unsplash

What has European Union law done for workers in the UK?

This was a question that I found myself asking when reading about very poor working conditions and lengthy hours experienced by many Chinese teenagers working in factories in order to manufacture a product purchased and used by many Western consumers.

The answer to my question is quite a lot actually when you consider the impact of the EU Working Time Directive which was transposed into UK employment law as a result of the Working Time Regulations 1998.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 guarantees most workers (there are exceptions – aren’t there always?) the right not to be forced to work more than 48 hours per week.

It’s important to note that the category of worker has a broader meaning and is not merely confined to those people who are employees (i.e. have a contract of service as per Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996). Many individuals who work under a contract for services will benefit from the protection of the Directive and the Regulations.

The Regulations also compel the employer to give workers regular breaks and they also regulate the amount of hours that the worker can be forced to work in any one day.

There is special protection for younger workers regarding breaks and the maximum daily hours that they are permitted to work.

The basic rights and protections that the Regulations provide are:

  • a limit of an average of 48 hours a week which a worker can be required to work (though workers can choose to work more if they wish by signing an opt-out) (Regulation 4)
  • a limit of an average of 8 hours work in each 24 hour period which night workers can be required to work (Regulation 6)
  • a right for night workers to receive free health assessments (Regulation 7)
  • a right to 11 hours rest a day (Regulation 10)
  • a right to a day off each week (Regulation 11)
  • a right to an in-work rest break if the working day is longer than 6 hours (Regulation 12)
  • a right to 5.6 weeks (or 28 days) paid leave per year

Admittedly, many UK and EU employers will have better working conditions than the list above, but in theory the Working Time Directive provides a basic safety net or floor of rights for workers.

It is normal practice, for many employers to have a collective or work-place agreement which governs the length of in-work rest breaks if the working day is longer than six hours.

If there is no such agreement, adult workers are entitled to a 20 minute uninterrupted break which should be spent away from the work-station and such a break should not be scheduled at the end of a shift.

Younger workers are entitled to a longer, uninterrupted break of 30 minutes if their working day is longer than four and a half hours and, similarly, this break should be spent away from a person’s workstation.

What a contrast then from conditions in Chinese factories. Although China may be on course to become the World’s largest economy, the human cost of achieving this goal is very high.

No one, of course, is saying that the situation in the UK and the EU is approaching utopia for workers. The Regulations (and ultimately the Directive) can and will be ignored by rogue employers. Furthermore, in work-places where trade unions are weak or non-existent, workers may not be aware of their rights or willing to enforce them.

Despite all this, at least UK and EU workers have some sort of legal means for challenging poor working conditions and the culture of lengthy hours.

One of the big fears about the consequences of Brexit has, of course, been the possible erosion of employment protection standards by a future UK Government and Parliament that might be committed to a more free market economic philosophy of labour relations.

A link to the story about working conditions in China can be found below:

Amazon Echo devices made by Chinese teens ‘working through night’ – reports

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 October 2019