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.
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:
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  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  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  (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.
When Black lives didn’t matter … that much – except perhaps merely as a commodity – is something that British society is having to confront in June 2020. Humans could be property to be bought and sold – quite legally.
Statutes of historical personages have been torn down or defaced in this country because of the death of George Floyd, an African American, in Minneapolis, USA. Unless you have been living in a vacuum, Mr Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer on 25 May 2020.
Black Lives Matter
The protests that have kicked off around the world in the wake of the death of Mr Floyd have stirred memories of Britain’s murky past in the matter of race relations. It is not something at which this country can take pride.
Some readers may recognise the picture by JMW Turner at the top of this Blog, but if you don’t it relates to a particularly egregious and shocking incident in British legal history – but more about that later.
I’m thinking, in particular, about Britain’s role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It may come as a surprise to many Britons that this country was an active participant in the mass enslavement and trafficking of our fellow human beings to the plantations, factories, mills and mines of the New World or the Americas.
It seems almost unthinkable today that such practices were allowed to flourish when we have strong laws in place prohibiting slavery (e.g. Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights as implemented by the Scotland and Human Rights Acts 1998).
Sir John Hawkins, Elizabethan Merchant Adventurer (1532-96)
As far back as 1562, Sir John Hawkins, cousin of the more famous Sir Francis Drake, had sailed to West Africa on trading voyage when he captured a Portuguese slave ship. After securing his human cargo, Hawkins then set sail for the Caribbean – then part of the Spanish Empire – to find buyers for his merchandise. Although England and Spain were in an effective state of war, the Spanish colonists were more than happy to do business with Hawkins.
And so began, the lucrative trade in human beings from the British perspective: Hawkins would carry out another two trading voyages to the Spanish Empire. On his third voyage (1567-69), he nearly came to grief when he tangled with a Spanish naval squadron at the Mexican harbour of San Juan de Ulúa (near Vera Cruz), narrowly escaping death. Many of his men were not so lucky, but that’s another story.
Although Hawkins was responsible for the enslavement and trafficking of hundreds of Africans – and by the way, the English Crown also got its cut from these enterprises – his activities were really minuscule when compared to what would come later.
An image of John Hawkins’ coat of arms (complete with the image of an enslaved African or a Moor- the name generally given to inhabitants of North Africa) can be seen below:
British participation in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade would really hit its stride as a result of the Treaty of Utrecht 1713-1715 which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. Under the terms of the Treaty (Part X), the British gained possession of the naval fortress of Gibraltar and the Island of Menorca. More significantly and, from a purely profitable point of view, the British also took control of the Asiento for an initial period of 30 years.
The Asiento was the hugely lucrative contract or monopoly to supply Spain’s American Empire with African Slaves. Queen Anne (1702-14), the last Stewart monarch of the British and Irish Isles would hold a 22.5% stake in the company which administered the Asiento according to Hugh Thomas in his magisterial The Slave Trade: History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (Simon Schuster: 1997; First edition).
For nearly the next century, British vessels would carry millions of enslaved African (men, women and children) via the horrific Middle Passage to destinations in the Americas to be brutalised and exploited by their White masters.
By this time, of course, Scotland and England had entered into political Union in 1707 and this meant that Scottish merchants and financiers could take full advantage of what became known as the Triangular Trade. Ships would sail from British ports, laden with trade goods, heading for the coast of West Africa; they would pick up their human cargoes and take the Middle Passage to the Americas where the slaves were sold; then the return voyage could begin with the ships laden with tobacco, rum, cotton etc for sale in Britain.
Altogether it was a very profitable enterprise and vast wealth flowed into Britain.
Needless to say, the conditions which the slaves endured was horrific, with them being crammed into the holds of the ships for up to six weeks. Many slaves would not survive the passage, succumbing to disease and infection.
A depiction of conditions on a slave ship can be seen below:
The Zong Massacre
This is where JMW Turner’s picture (The Slave Ship) heaves into view. It is the depiction of a shocking event which involved the crew of a British ship called the Zong. In 1781, the Zong, which belonged to a Liverpool merchant syndicate, was carrying slaves from West Africa to the Americas. The lives of the slaves were insured, but not in the way that we think of modern life insurance: they were cargo or excess baggage; pure and simple. Slaves were goods or beasts of burden.
The Captain, Luke Collingwood, or another crew member had made what would turn out to be a fatal error (for some) in their navigational calculations and the Zong was way off course from Jamaica. With supplies of drinking water becoming evermore scarce, a fateful decision was made: a large number of slaves (over 130) would be thrown overboard in order to conserve supplies. Murder? Not quite … jettisoning excess baggage/livestock? This was an acceptable practice on slave ships and insurance had been developed to cover such eventualities.
The owners of the Zong would later attempt to recoup their losses by claiming under their policy of insurance. In the infamous case of Gregson v Gilbert  English Reports 83, the syndicate would be forced to take legal action against the insurers who were refusing to pay compensation. Before anyone misunderstands matters here, this was purely a commercial question of liability for lost cargo, not human lives, certainly not a question of human rights.
At first instance, the court found for the syndicate owners and the insurers were ordered to pay compensation to cover the losses. On appeal, however, the syndicate would ultimately lose the case as Lord Justice Mansfield and his fellow judges would rule that the Captain and the crew had been negligent.
Lord Mansfield had been the judge in an earlier case – Somerset v Stewart (1772) 98 ER 499 – in which the issue of the freedom of an enslaved African, James Somerset was at stake. For abolitionists, this case represented a victory because Somerset was allowed to go free, but whether it represented a general proposition that English common law did not permit slavery within the territory of England has always been the subject of some debate.
Hardly a resounding victory for human rights, but this case would serve as a rallying call to arms for British anti-slavery activists, like the ex-slave, Olaudah Equiano (born in modern day Nigeria) and Granville Sharp.
Sharp later attempted to have crew members of the Zong charged with murder, but the Solicitor General for England, John Lee made a very telling statement:
“What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder… The case is the same as if wood had been thrown overboard.”
Insurers also covered losses (within limits) incurred by slavers who had to kill rebellious slaves while in transit. I well remember the late Professor Robert Burgess regaling the class with the tale of a failed rebellion where the owners of the ‘cargo’ successfully claimed from the insurers the value of the slaves who had been killed by their captors. The sting in the tale was that compensation was not payable for the slaves who had committed suicide following the failure of the rebellion. The policy did not cover such eventualities (see Jones v Schmoll (1785) 1 Term Rep 130n). A human tragedy reduced to an interpretation of the wording in an insurance document.
You can read more about insurance and slavery by accessing the link below:
From 1788 until 1833, the Westminster Parliament would pass legislation chipping away at the edifice of slavery in the British Empire. The practice of enslaving one’s fellow human beings would not be achieved overnight, but the road to eventual abolition would be under construction via the following statutes:
Regulated Slave Trade Act 1788 (or Dolben’s Act)
Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807
Slavery Abolition Act 1833
The Act of 1788 did not abolish the practice of slavery, but it laid down limits on the numbers of slaves that could be carried in accordance with the vessel’s tonnage. It was the first British Act of Parliament which attempted to curtail some of the worst practices of the Slave Trade.
More significantly, in 1807, the trade in slaves in the British Empire was abolished. Britain was not the first European country to do this – the Kingdom of Denmark had done so in 1792, although this law did not come into force until 1803. It is important to note that neither the Danes nor the British prohibited the ownership of slaves – this was still a perfectly legal practice.
Eventually, in 1833, the Westminster Parliament passed the law which would abolish slavery – eventually – as a legal practice in the territories of the British Empire. I say eventually because the institution of slavery would not be abolished at the stroke of the Royal Assent. Compensation for loss of property rights would have to be paid to slave owners (great and small) and there would be a transitional period (from 1838 until 1840) in which the slaves would migrate to their new legal status of freed men and women.
In total, it is estimated that the British Government established a fund of some £20 million (£16/17 billion in today’s values) which would be used to compensate soon to be former slave owners.
Ironically, the British would become ardent opponents of slavery throughout the world and they would use their considerable global influence to eradicate the trade and the institution whenever they could.
That is perhaps the problem which has contributed to a sense of collective amnesia amongst the British. Yes, considerable pride is taken when it comes to the abolition of slavery, but memories are extremely hazy when it comes to activities of British mercantile interests which made fortunes from the opportunities afforded by TheAsiento.
For more information about the background to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, please find a link below to an article in The Guardian:
As the events of the last week have shown, reminders of Britain’s links to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade are everywhere: Edward Colston’s statute in Bristol; Henry Dundas’ statute in Edinburgh (who delayed the abolition of slavery by some 15 years); and Robert Milligan’s statute in East India Docks, London. Furthermore, British Street names reflect connections with prominent slave traders and their interests in the West Indies: Cochrane Street and Jamaica Street in Glasgow. The legacy of slavery is all around us, but for so long we have been wilfully blind or forgetful about this.
In 2020, it is difficult for us to appreciate how pervasive the institution of slavery was. It had been around since the earliest human communities and it still exists. Great scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) invested heavily (and ultimately unwisely) in the infamous South Sea Company which traded in slaves (amongst other goods). From the British Royal family all the way down to ordinary individuals, investing in slavery could be a profitable financial activity.
Anti-Slavery International estimates that, today, there are more people (some 40 million individuals) living in conditions of modern slavery or unfree labour than there were when the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was passed by Parliament.
If anything positive comes from the death of George Floyd, hopefully it will make us more aware of the fact that there was a time when Britain was not a beacon of civilised values and although Britannia undoubtedly ruled the waves, but many people could be slaves.
By Louise Aitken, Siobhan Donaghy, Kieran Flynn and Elisha Masini (Editor: SJ Crossan)
Privacy is a human right and both the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, implemented provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 8) directly into national. The employment contract, consequently, is not in any way exempt from human rights issues (see the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in Bărbulescu v Romania 5 September 2017 (Application no. 61496/08). The European Union (EU) has also had a major influence on the development of privacy laws e.g. General Data Protection Regulations.
Privacy has become a major issue in recent years, particularly due to the rise of social media use. The increasing use of IT systems and the internet by organisations and their employees are key factors in the expansion of laws regarding privacy.In Bărbulescu, the employer had violated the employee’s rights to privacy in terms of Article 8 of the European Convention in the way that it had monitored the company’s email system. Privacy in the work-place is a major issue for both employers and employees. Some of the most important areas of law that govern privacy are to be found in the areas of human rights, data protection, and freedom of information.
It is very important to establish from the outset that employees do not have an absolute right to privacy and there may be situations within and outwith the work-place where the employer has a legitimate interest in the activities of their employees – especially if such behaviour could amount to gross misconduct.
Gross misconduct relates to serious behaviour on the part of the employee that is deemed so bad that it destroys any relationship or trust between the employer and the employee. Gross misconduct warrants instant dismissal without any notice or pay.
Section 94 of the Employments Rights Act 1996 states that an employee has the right not to be unfairly dismissed.
Section 95 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 states that an employment contract can be terminated by means of the company through purpose of the employee’s conduct. Such a dismissal or termination of contract should be viewed as a fair dismissal (Section 98: ERA 1996).
Acts or omissions by the employee which would be classified as misconduct, such as theft, alcohol or drug use, poor discipline, continually missing work without justification or poor performance are all potential exceptions to this right.
Matt Simpson former officer in the Cumbria police force is one of many who have been caught out due to things such as inappropriate text messages. In 2020, PC Simpson was dismissed from the force after he was found to be having a secret, sexual relationship while on duty. It first came to light after the new partner of the female, with whom Simpson was involved, found text messages that had been sent to her. The new partner of Simpson’s lover then went to the police authorities with this information to make a formal complaint.
A hearing was held to establish if PC Simpson was guilty of any wrongdoing. The panel found that this was a dereliction of Simpson’s duties and he was guilty of gross misconduct – not only due to having this relationship during the time when he was meant to be working but also due to him using confidential police system to uncover information about the women purely because he was “curious”. As well as this Mr Simpson also visited the female around 20 times when on shift and had vital police equipment with him while visiting such as a body camera and a taser device. The fact that this whole affair had come to light via Simpson’s private text messages was neither here nor there: this was an aspect of Simpson’s private life in which his employers had a legitimate interest and he had been carrying out his romantic activities during his employment.
A link to the story on the BBC website can be found below:
In PC Simpson’s case, he clearly performed his duties inadequately and was guilty of very poor discipline. He was aware of the consequences of his actions. By involving himself with the female, he was making himself unavailable at times such as an emergency. Dereliction of duty is defined as the failure to fulfil one’s obligations. Here, PC Simpson clearly failed to do his job in a proper and professional manner and he could have been potentially negligent should an emergency have risen.
A further example of an employee committing acts of misconduct occurred in Adesokan v Sainsburys Supermarket Ltd  EWCA Civ 22. Mr Adesokan was hired by Sainsbury’s as a Regional Operation Manager when he was in charge of ‘Talkback Procedure’, a key company policy which involved all members of staff giving information in confidence about their working environment and relationships with other colleagues. Mr Adesokan discovered that his HR manager had tried to manipulate the Talkback scores within his region by sending an email to five store managers telling them to seek feedback only from their most enthusiastic colleagues. Mr Adesokan asked the HR manager to “clarify what he meant with the store managers”, but the HR manager never responded. Mr Adesokan failed to follow this matter up and he was later dismissed by his employer for not taking action to confront the HR manager’s deliberate “manipulation” of the survey data.
A subsequent investigation into the matter led to Mr Adesokan’s eventual summary dismissal for “gross negligence on his part which is equivalent to gross misconduct”. Mr Adesokan brought a claim for breach of contract with regard to his notice period. The English High Court found that although he was not dishonest, his failure to take active steps to remedy the situation had damaged Sainsbury’s trust and confidence in him, which was sufficient to warrant the sanction imposed. The English Court of Appeal subsequently affirmed the decision of the High Court.
The Adekosan case was remarkably similar to that of PC Simpson where no other option was available to the employer as there was a complete loss of trust.
Activities outwith working hours
What individuals do with their own time is largely their choice (as long as they stay on the right side of the law). It is exceedingly difficult, however, for many people to do much these days without using social media or a mobile phone. Activities which used to be very much private are, consequently, at a much greater risk of public exposure in the virtual world in which we find ourselves living in 2020.
Employees can carry out many activities in private that may get them in trouble with their employers and have serious consequences for them. This might include, for instance, acts of gross misconduct committed in private which result in reputational damage to the employer. Consequently, the employer may have no alternative but to contemplate dismissal of the employee.
There is a lot of case law with regard to employees being dismissed from situations that have happened outside the workplace, an example would be the well-known case of X v Y  EWCA Civ 662.
The facts of the case are as follows:
A charity employee who worked with young offenders committed an indecent act with another male in a public toilet at a motorway service station. He was put on the Sex Offenders’ Register as a result of receiving a police caution. The worker had not been straightforward with the Police when they asked questions about his job and, compounding this, he failed to inform his employer about the situation. Later, his employer decided to terminate his contract and the dismissal was once deemed to be fair. The reputational harm which the employer suffered due to the fact of the employee’s failure to be completely honest about what had happened was an enormous element of the decision to dismiss.
The English Court of Appeal was firmly of the view that the employee’S argument that he had a right to privacy (on grounds of his sexual orientation) in terms of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights was not applicable here as the indecent act was not of a personal nature due to the fact it had been carried out in a public toilet.
In some cases, however, it may be problematic to dismiss the ‘offending’ employee who may be involved in activities which come under the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010 e.g. philosophical beliefs or freedom of speech laws in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.
One example of this was reported by The Independent regarding Dr Gunnar Beck, a German national and a candidate for the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far right political party.
Dr Beck was employed at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), (part of the University of London) as a law lecturer. A number of his students and colleagues were enraged after discovering that he was an AfD candidate for a German seat in the European Parliamentary Elections in 2019.
Students and fellow lecturers organised protests arguing that Dr Beck should be fired from his position and for his employer to justify its part “in facilitating his far-right politics”. His colleagues from the School of Law stated that they vehemently oppose the AfD and its policies and wished to dissociate themselves completely from the people who support and advocate the Party.
The members of AfD are well-known for making provocative remarks concerning the actions taken by the Nazis. They targeted climate change activist, Greta Thunberg as part of their attempts to deny climate change.
Employees at the University of London went on to say that they were making their views public since they “recognise the importance of not being complicit in the normalisation of reactionary, right-wing populism.” A declaration by the students’ union at the university asked why Beck chose to work at a university “who hold and support so many of the identities he wants to see diminished”.
The Acting General Secretary of the University and College Union, Paul Cottrell stated that:
“The AfD is an extreme right-wing, racist, anti-immigration party that has no place on UK campuses. We are shocked that a member of academic staff from SOAS could be involved with a party like this which stands for policies utterly incompatible with the values of diversity, tolerance and internationalism at the very heart of SOAS as an institution.”
Dr Beck informed The Independent that his reason for supporting the AfD was because “there is no other Eurosceptic conservative party in Germany”.
He also went on to say that the AfD are “not a Nazi nor a fascist party.” Dr Beck stated that he was an advocate for freedom of speech and would defend anyone’s rights to it and any claims of him being a white supremacist, Islamophobe or fascist were outrageous.
Subsequently, Dr Beck was elected as 1 of 10 German MEPs from the AfD Party, but he was not dismissed from his position at the university.
A representative of SOAS stated:
“We find the policies of the AfD on a range of matters to be abhorrent. They conflict with the fundamental values we hold as an institution. We recognise the anxiety caused to staff and students as a result of this situation.”
However, they added that:
“As an academic institution, we are committed to the rights of academic freedom of speech within the law, despite the painful choices to which it gives rise. We encourage members of our community to tackle these issues through robust debate.”
This story regarding Dr Beck’s private affairs is an excellent illustration of employers not being able to fire an employee for acts committed in private due to protected characteristics (i.e. political beliefs) of the Equality Act 2010.
Both Dr Beck and the University of London have undoubtedly suffered reputational damage. Beck has suffered reputational damage in the eyes of his fellow lecturers and students because he is a member of AfD; and the university has suffered reputational damage for employing him in the first instance and subsequently for not dismissing him after the revelation about his political activities came to light.
That said, the University of London was in something of a difficult position because Dr Beck would probably have launched a legal challenge in terms of the Equality Act 2010. He would doubtless have protested that his political activities were a protected characteristic (philosophical beliefs). It would then have been up to an Employment Tribunal and, potentially, the higher courts to determine this issue. There was also the possibility that the university would have been accused of suppressing the right to freedom of speech.
A link to the story in The Independent can be found below:
As previously discussed, reputational damage is a big concern for organisations. Employers have also had valid fears about risks to their’ reputation as a result of work place misconduct that becomes widely publicised in e.g. the media. These fears have been increased with the surge in social media use today.
Employees are now far more likely to be found behaving in questionable ways or making offensive remarks online, which can attract a large audience or readership very quickly. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp (where responses can be instant) can represent something of a nightmare for an employer. It is important to remember that social media, if abused, can have a significant impact on relationships within the work place and could result in serious legal consequences.
Social media misuse by employees has become a frequent and complicated issue for employers to address. Although social media can be an extremely valuable resource for organisations, it can also pose a serious challenge to both employees and employers. Inappropriate social media misuse e.g. racial or sexual harassment could lead to employers being held vicariously liable for their workers’ misbehaviour.
When an employee misuses social media, firms need to know how to respond and handle it. Therefore, it is vital for companies to devise a clearly defined social media policy by which employees abide. It is important that employers notify workers about the nature of these policies and the potential ramifications of any violations.
So, when employers want to act against employees who make offensive remarks, such disciplinary action should come as no surprise. Such remarks can cause embarrassment, at best. At worst can hurt a firm’s reputation and lose them customers. Even if the remarks were posted years ago, they can still come back to haunt the employer and the employee.
The difficulty of dealing with social media use by employees for organisations can be seen in the case below.
Creighton v Together Housing Association Ltd ET/2400978/2016 Mr Creighton was dismissed for tweets which were made three years earlier. He had made negative remarks about colleagues and his boss on Twitter. The claim that Mr Creighton posted offensive remarks on Twitter resulted in his dismissal for gross misconduct even though he had worked with the organisation for 30 years.
Held: The Tribunal further clarified that the disciplinary policy of THA included “defaming the company or undermining its image by the use of social media” as an example of gross misconduct. The appeal panel rejected Mr Creighton’s appeal to the decision, arguing that he was aware or should have been fairly aware of the implications of his conduct as the disciplinary policy of the company.
There are more and more cases of social media defamation – which emphasises a need for extremely specific social media rules and regulations in the terms and conditions of an employer.
Employees are going to be very foolish if they assume it’s a credible argument to claim that social media comments happened outside working hours, were believed to be posted on an account that is supposed to be “secret” or posted years earlier, which Mr Creighton found out.
The importance of having a social media policy
As previously mentioned, establishing a solid social media policy is vital for an organisation. From the workers’ viewpoint, it is important that they are aware of the existence of such a policy, understand its substance and also recognise any potential consequences for failing to follow its rules.
Employers are also urged to review and update social media policies on a routine basis. New platforms and technology continue to be developed at a quick pace today and to maintain the knowledge of social media is simply made part of induction and training methods.
It is extremely necessary for an employer to make clear to its employees the kind of conduct which may justify dismissal. Usually, this may be done via a section in the employee handbook which addresses the consequences of misconduct in the workplace.
Additionally, an acceptable induction technique for new personnel may centre on the kinds of behaviour which the corporation would not condone. Regular refresher training for current and long-term personnel may be beneficial and, in large organisations, this would be a necessary function of the Human Resources Department.
There was a huge news outbreak when a Panera Bread employee leaked a video of a man laughing hysterically that’s racked up almost 1 million likes (now that’s a lot), as a plastic packet of frozen macaroni and cheese is dropped into a boiler, burst open and then poured into a bowl geared up to serve to customers. The lady who posted the clip offers a thumbs-up in the hat that marks her as a worker of Panera Bread.
The clip introduced a wave of complaints in October 2019 from dissatisfied clients of a chain recognized for “fast casual” eating commonly perceived as a step in quality above other quickly made or fast food meals. Commenters stated they expected more than warmed-from-frozen dishes, or — as one critic put it — “glorified hospital food.”
Unfortunately for the employee she later posted on Twitter stating, ‘lol I lost my job for this’. The employer was clearly very unhappy at the negative media attention and being ‘outed’ for lying to its customers and providing them with low quality food.
In conclusion, employees should be incredibly careful of what they are doing or how they areusing social media during or outwith their working hours as their employers will have the right to investigate any implications arising from employees’ misconduct.
One of most likely repercussions arising from employees’ misconduct in privacy cases, is that the business and those involved will experience reputational damage. Whether this reputational damage is a result of offensive language in a tweet, forms of bullying in a Whatsapp groupchat or even now a TikTok exposing behind the scene practices of a company – there can be significant consequences. The preponderance of evidence shows that how employees conduct themselves in what they may consider private, has a major effect on workplace relations.
Adesokan v Sainsburys Supermarket Ltd  EWCA Civ 22
Bărbulescu v Romania 5 September 2017 (Application no. 61496/08)
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.
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  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.
Balaclavas can be very useful things to have to hand – when the weather is very cold or you’re discussing the Crimean War (1853-1856) from where the term for the garment originates in the United Kingdom (circa 1881, according to the historian and cleric, Richard Rutt). During the Crimean War, British soldiers wore the garment to cope with the sub-zero temperatures that they experienced during the winter months of the Campaign.
Today, the garments are still incredibly popular with cyclists and winter sports’ enthusiasts (I confess: I have two for cycling during the winter months and they’re great!).
Despite, the historical associations with the British Army’s involvement in the Crimean War, it’s not always advisable to use the Balaclava as a teaching aid for History classes – especially DIY History classes.
McClean, an Irish footballer playing for the English Championship side, Stoke City FC, has recently found this out to his cost.
In a bizarre social media post (on Instagram), McClean put a picture of himself wearing a Balaclava as he was talking to two children. What was the point of this strange exercise? McClean claims that he was teaching the children about history, but others have seen this as an endorsement of paramilitary groups – particularly the Provisional IRA.
There was a public backlash and McClean was fined by this Club. The player is something of a controversial figure to many as he routinely refuses to have a poppy printed on his football jersey in the run-up to Remembrance Day commemorations each November in the United Kingdom.
McClean hails from the City of Derry in the North of Ireland which will be forever associated with the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ on 30 January 1972. On that day, 13 innocent Civil Rights marchers were shot and killed without justification by members of the Parachute Regiment – as per the conclusions of Lord Saville’s Report (2010) which contradicted Lord Widgery’s findings published in April 1972. The Saville Inquiry took 12.5 years and cost the British taxpayer £191.5 million – the longest and most expensive inquiry ever in the United Kingdom (figures obtained from The Spectator).
The previous Widgery Report was seen by many in the Republican and Nationalist community as a cover-up and a whitewash in that it absolved the Parachute Regiment of any wrong-doing for the deaths. Inevitably, the Report fuelled a long lasting sense of grievance within this community. McClean grew up on Derry’s Creggan Estate – not far from St Mary’s Church where many of the funerals of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ victims took place.
We often forget that footballers can be employees i.e. have a contract of service with their Clubs as per Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. McClean is fortunate that he has retained his post; other, less famous employees might not have been so lucky.
Section 98(4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 permits an employer to dismiss an employee (potentially) fairly by reason of his/her conduct (with the proviso, of course, that the employer follows proper procedures in line with current ACAS standards).
McClean might initially have protested that the social media post was done while he was outside working hours. Regular readers of this Blog will be well aware that this type of excuse is extremely naive at best. Yes, employees do have a right to privacy, in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights, but this is never absolute – especially if an employer can argue that the behaviour of an individual employed by him or her has caused reputational damage to the organisation.
Employers do have a part to play here: they have a duty to have clear and consistent guidelines on employee social media use within and outwith the work-place. It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the employer should make sure that employees are aware of the existence of such guidelines and have actually read them.
The misbehaviour or misconduct of employees which takes place outside working hours can have a really serious reputational impact on your employer. Individuals, like McClean, with high profiles in the community should be aware of this. It won’t be the last time that we read about someone who is deemed to be a role model – a teacher or a sporting personality – who misbehaves outside work and pays the price for this type of behaviour.
A link to the story on the Sky News website can be found below:
It never ceases to amaze me that employers and service providers fall foul of arbitrary codes or policies which they impose on employees and service users. Regular readers of this Blog will be aware of previous articles covering discrimination or less favourable treatment which arises because employers or service providers issue generalised guidelines which discriminate against individuals because they happen to have certain hairstyles or wear beards or jewellery.
It is this lack of awareness that often leads to legal action in terms of the Equality Act 2010. By imposing a policy, criterion or practice (PCP) across the board, employers and other organisations could be setting themselves up for a fall specifically in relation to Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010. This part of the Act makes indirect discrimination unlawful i.e. it is an example of prohibited conduct by reason of a person or a group possessing a protected characteristic such as race or religion (Sections 9 and 10 respectively)
Since the introduction of the Race Relations Act 1976 (now repealed by the Equality Act 2010), we have seen a number of well known cases involving indirect discrimination being determined by Courts and Tribunals. So, you would think by now that employers and other organisations would have learned the lesson by now – apparently not as we shall see shortly.
In short order, such bans or generalised restrictions may infringe religious and cultural expression and may not only be a breach of the Equality Act, but could also represent a breach of human rights laws under the Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Over the years, groups such as Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Sikhs and Rastafarians have brought successful legal actions for indirect discrimination on grounds of race and/or religion (see MandlavDowell–Lee  UKHL 7). Being Jewish or Sikh can be both a religious and a racial identity.
Taking all of the above on board, I was really interested to read a story in The Independent this weekend which highlighted the problems of schools imposing dress codes on pupils. I thought: haven’t we been here before and why does no one seem to learn?
The story in question involves Ruby Williams who was “repeatedly sent home from Urswick School in Hackney, East London because she had Afro hair”. The school seems to have reacted with gross insensitivity to the youngster by informing her that her hairstyle was a breach of school uniform policy and that it could “block other pupils from seeing the whiteboard”.
Ruby and her family took legal action against the school (with the support of the Equality and Human Rights Commission) and she has since been awarded an out of court settlement of £8,500. The settlement figure clearly reflects the distress which she has suffered and the fact that all this trouble took place when she was studying for her GCSE exams (remember the Vento Guidelines anyone?). Ruby’s father is a Rastafarian and he has often stressed to his daughter the cultural, racial and religious significance of Afro hairstyles.
Apart from indirect discrimination which the school’s policy has caused to Ruby Williams, she may well also have had a claim in terms of Section 13 (direct discrimination) and Section 26 (harassment) of the Equality Act 2010 for being singled out in this way by the school authorities.
Perhaps the staff and Governors of the school might find it appropriate to undertake an equality awareness course at the next in-service day?
It is always open to an employer or service provider to show that although indirect discrimination has taken place, it can be objectively justified e.g. on national security grounds or health and safety reasons (e.g. Singh v Rowntree MacKintosh  ICR 554 and Panesar v Nestle Co Ltd IRLR 64 CA).
Each attempt to justify a provision, criterion or policy (PCP) will, of course, turn on its facts and it would be very foolish for organisations to think that there is some sort of magic bullet or get out of jail card which can be used in every situation to justify or excuse conduct which would otherwise amount to unlawful discrimination. Organisations should review policies on a regular basis and, if need be, this may necessitate the carrying out of an equality impact assessment.
A link to the story on The Independent’s website can be found below:
Unlike the fantastic Amy Winehouse track, in the case that I’ll discuss shortly, it was the prisoner who wanted to go to rehab. His perception that the Prison Service had said “no” was the basis of a petition for judicial review.
Yes, we’re barely into 2020 and the human rights’ bandwagon for prisoners rolls on yet again.
Last month, I wrote two Blogs about petitions for judicial review submitted by prisoners to the Court of Session in respect of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (i.e. the right to family and private life). Both applications were unsuccessful (see William Frederick Ian Beggsv The Scottish Ministers  CSOH 95; and Petition of David Gilday for Judicial Review of the actions of the Scottish Ministers  CSOH 103).
The Scottish Government (or Ministers) are legally obligated in terms of both the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that public bodies and agencies comply with the State’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Regular readers of this Blog site will be very familiar with this state of affairs.
In a recent case before the Lord Ericht in the Court of Session, a third inmate of one of Her Majesty’s penal institutions fared no better than his fellow hoodlums when he raised a claim for damages of £10,000.
In the Petition: Michael Glancy for Judicial Review of the actions of Scottish Ministers , Michael Glancy [the prisoner] claimed that the alleged failure by the Scottish Prison Service to provide him with proper rehabilitation opportunities represented a breach of his right to liberty in terms of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In essence, Glancy was arguing that the lack of such opportunities was in effect turning his imprisonment into an ongoing period of arbitrary detention with very little prospect of him meeting Parole Board criteria for his release on licence.
The background to the prisoner’s circumstances were as follows:
“In June 2015, at the High Court in Edinburgh, the petitioner was sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 4 years with an extension period of 2 years. He had been convicted of assault to injury, two charges of assault, a contravention of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, section 52 (vandalism), two charges of assault (domestic) and assault to injury, permanent disfigurement and danger of life. The petitioner had had previous convictions …”
At a Parole Board Hearing in 2016, it was noted that:
“Inlight of the current circumstances, behaviour and attitude of Mr Glancy it is not possible to positively recommend his release on licence. It would appear that he is so engaged in extreme, violent and anti-authority type behaviour there is no possibility of his risk being managed in the community subject to licence conditions. There are significant concerns as to how Mr Glancy will be managed in the community, not least where he will live.”
Glancy’s main bone of contention seems to have centred around his belief that he was denied the opportunity to participate in the Self-Change Programme (“SCP”).
As Lord Ericht noted:
“This [SCP] is a high intensity cognitive-behaviour programme that aims to reduce violence in high risk adult male offenders. It is for prisoners with a persistent and persuasive pattern of violence. It is for violent offenders who present the highest risk and is used for the top 2% to 5% of offenders in terms of risk.”
While serving his sentence, Glancy had refused certain opportunities to address his criminal offending and, furthermore, he had been the subject of 13 misconduct reports (overwhelmingly connected with fighting and assault). As Lord Ericht observed [at paragraph 50] it was the repeated failures of Glancy to engage with meaningful offers of rehabilitation during his periods of incarceration that led to his exclusion from SCP.
In dismissing Glancy’s Petition, Lord Ericht made the following observations:
“Moreover I find that the respondents have not failed to provide information about when rehabilitative work might be offered in terms of article 5, or acted irrationally in failing to provide him with this. The minutes of the various case management meetings show that there was extensive discussion with the petitioner throughout the period of his incarceration about the courses available to him. In response to his complaint, the prisoner was informed that the SCP course for non-protection prisoners was not running at that time but he would be notified of the date of the course applicable for his category of prisoner. No date for such a course has since been fixed.”
A link to Lord Ericht’s Opinion in respect of Glancy’s Petition can be found below:
Should the accused in a criminal trial enjoy the presumption of innocence?
This is a long established principle of criminal law in the Western World that I have taken for granted since my first days at university. I always remember Professor Kenny Miller (of Strathclyde University’s Law School) correcting students who spoke in error about the ‘guilty’ person in a Scottish criminal trial. They were quickly admonished and reminded of the maxim that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
Indeed, Article 11 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights takes the view that the presumption of innocence is a fundamental human right.
Furthermore, Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights establishes the right to a fair trial and this includes the presumption of innocence. In the United Kingdom, this very important right has been incorporated into Scots, English and Northern Irish law via the Human Rights Act 1998. In Scotland, we, of course, have an additional layer of protection with the Scotland Act 1998.
Article 48 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights also echoes Article 6 of the European Convention.
Going back to the historical record, the Byzantine or Roman Emperor Justinian I emphasised the presumption of innocence for the accused as part of codification of Roman Law between 529-534 CE. Admittedly, Justinian was building on previous Roman legal practice as the Emperor Antoninus Pius (he of the less well known Wall for our Scottish readers) had introduced the principle during his reign between 138 and 161 CE.
The Romans would say Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat; translated as Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies.
Jewish and Islamic scholars have, historically, also placed huge importance on the presumption of innocence as a cornerstone of their legal practices. Both the Jewish Talmud and Islamic Hadiths (sayings or practices of the Prophet) testify to this.
The Carlos Ghosn Affair
So, why am I reflecting on this area this dull and rainy second day of the New Year?
The escape from Japan of Carlos Ghosn brought the principle forcibly to mind this New Year. Mr Ghosn is the former Chief Executive of Nissan who has been accused of defrauding his former employer.
Mr Ghosn was under effective house arrest in Japan until a few days ago. Allegedly, with the help of his wife, he escaped from that country to the Republic of Lebanon (of which he is a citizen) The escape reads like something from a Hollywood movie script (the Mission: Impossible series anyone?) with Mr Ghosn hiding in a musical instrument case (presumably not a violin case) in order to make good his unauthorised exit from Japan.
A link to an article about Mr Ghosn’s escape in The Independent can be found below:
What is Mr Ghosn’s motivation for leaving Japan in this dramatic way? He claims to have no faith in Japanese justice in that the legal system of that country presumes his guilt.
The Japanese criminal justice system
Not possessing a great deal of knowledge about Japanese criminal practice, I admit that I was somewhat intrigued by Mr Ghosn’s assertions.
I had also just finished reading Owen Matthew’s excellent biography* of Richard Sorge, probably the most successful spy in modern history (and a possible role model for James Bond). Sorge had been spying for the Soviet Union in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s until he was unmasked and arrested in 1941. The treatment of Sorge at the hands of the Japanese criminal justice authorities forms part of the climax to the book.
As Owen Matthews notes:
‘Japanese justice, surprisingly, for an authoritarian state, turned out to be both thorough and scrupulous. The three volumes of investigative documents prepared by the Tokko [the Japanese Police] are exhaustive, far more professional than the cursory evidence which the NKVD [the forerunner of the Soviet KGB] assembled to convict hundreds of thousands of suspected spies in the 1930s.’ [p345]
Does the Japanese criminal code presume the guilt of persons on trial, as opposed to their innocence?
I decided to investigate …
… what I discovered was something rather more subtle.
The Japanese legal system does recognise the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise – despite Mr Ghosn’s claims. The burden of proof rests on the prosecution to demonstrate the guilt of the accused (as in Scotland, England, the United States etc).
There are indeed criticisms of the Japanese legal system that could be made (but no legal system is immune from criticism). In particular, the practice of not allowing suspects to have access to a lawyer during Police interrogation has been highlighted as a weakness of the system.
Before Scots lawyers get too smug, we would do well to remember the Peter Cadder case which led to an overhaul of Scottish criminal practice (see Cadder v HMA  UKSC 43).
Another criticism of the Japanese legal system seems to centre around the practice of prosecutors rearresting an accused when s/he has been acquitted by a lower court. The accused is then taken before a superior criminal court for a further trial and, possibly, conviction.
That said, in Scotland (and in England), we have abolished the double jeopardy rule, but this does not mean that prosecutors have free range to do what they like.
Finally, an accused who maintains his/her innocence under the Japanese legal system, is often not granted bail and can therefore be expected to undergo a lengthy period of detention until the case is brought to trial (Mr Ghosn was perhaps luckier than most being under house arrest). Critics of this aspect of the legal system have pointed out that it puts suspects under duress making them more likely to make an admission of guilt. Mr Ghosn had apparently spent 120 days in detention before bail (with very strict conditions) was granted last year.
Links to articles about the Japanese legal system from the local media can be found below:
The principle of presuming the innocence of the accused in a criminal trial until proven otherwise is a deeply rooted one in the Western World. It is a cornerstone of our justice systems. The United Nations regards it as a fundamental human right in terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Yet, to assume that it is a Western concept alone, would be a monstrous conceit. Jewish and Islamic legal scholarship have both emphasised the importance of this principle.
Japan, as a member of the United Nations, also recognises the importance of the principle – which makes some of Mr Ghosn’s claims somewhat misjudged. Yes, the operation of the Japanese criminal justice system can and is the subject of criticism, but this observation also applies to every other legal system in the World.
* “AnImpeccable Spy – Richard Sorge – Stalin’s Master Agent” by Owen Matthews (Bloomsbury Publishing: 2019)
As of today (31 December 2019), heterosexual couples in England and Wales will be able to enter civil partnerships as an alternative to marriage.
This change does not yet extend to Scotland: the Scottish Government has introduced its own Bill to introduce civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.
An info graphic showing the current progress of this Bill in the Scottish Parliament (Stage 1) can be seen below:
When the Labour Government of Prime Minister Tony Blair originally introduced civil partnerships across the UK (as a result of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004) such legal unions were open to gay and lesbian couples only.
It was the first time in the history of Scots and English family law that gay and lesbian couples were entitled to enter a legally recognised relationship.
Fast forward a decade or so and we now have same sex marriage in Scotland, England and Wales – but not yet Northern Ireland (although the clock may be ticking here on this issue). Admittedly, same sex couples can enter civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, but since the Republic of Ireland made same sex marriage legal in 2015, pressure has been mounting for change in the North.
The case which started the ball rolling was Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education EWHC 128 (Admin).
In Steinfeld and Keidan, an unmarried, heterosexual couple brought a claim for unlawful less favourable treatment against the UK Government on the basis that the law (contained in the Civil Partnership Act 2004) discriminated against them by forcing them to enter marriage as opposed to their preferred option of a civil partnership arrangement. The couple had strong “ideological objections” to marriage (irrespective of whether it took a religious or civil form) and argued, amongst other things, that the failure by the United Kingdom to give them the option of entering a civil partnership was a potential breach of their Article 8 rights (the right to privacy and family life) in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban on civil partnerships for heterosexual couples was also a potential breach of the Equality Act 2010 in the sense that it represented direct discrimination on grounds of a person’s sexual orientation.
Initially, the English High Court rejected the challenge brought by Steinfeld and Keidan, whereupon the case was allowed to proceed to the English Court of Appeal. Although expressing sympathy for Steinfeld and Keidan’s predicament, the Lord Justices of Appeal refused to overturn the ban (see Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education  EWCA Civ 81).
The couple were then given leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
On 27 June 2018, the Supreme Court issued its decision: R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary)  UKSC 32.
Lord Kerr gave the leading judgement (with which his fellow Justices concurred) and allowed Steinfeld and Keidan’s appeal:
“I would allow the appeal and make a declaration that sections 1 and 3 of CPA [Civil Partnership Act 2004] (to the extent that they preclude a different sex couple from entering into a civil partnership) are incompatible with article 14 of ECHR taken in conjunction with article 8 of the Convention.”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the UK Government of former Prime Minister Theresa May initiated steps to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in respect of the law for England and Wales.
A link to an article about the change to the law in England and Wales on the Sky News website can be found below:
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:
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”.
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.
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  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)  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)  UKSC 41 (On appeals from:  EWHC 2381 (QB) and  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) v Ministry of Justice (CNK Alliance Ltd intervening) 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.”
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).
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) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 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.