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.
The title of this Blog refers to the not so distant past when discrimination was an accepted feature of life in the United Kingdom. In the 1950s and 1960s, these types of signs were routinely displayed in the windows of hotels, boarding houses and guest houses in the United Kingdom. They were blatantly racist, but completely legal.
It wasn’t just an unwillingness by White British landlords to rent rooms or properties to Afro-Caribbean and Asian families especially, ethnic minorities were often actively discouraged from purchasing properties in White neighbourhoods.
In 1968, Mahesh Upadhyaya, a young Asian immigrant to the UK, mounted legal challenge in respect of a refusal by a white British builder to sell him a house. It was the first time that anyone could do this. Mr Upadhyaya was able to do this because the Race Relations Act 1968 had just come into force. Although Mr Upadhyaya’s claim was ultimately dismissed on a technicality, the action generated a lot of publicity and greater awareness of the existence of anti-discrimination legislation amongst the British public.
A link can be found below which provides more information about Mr Upadhyaya’s story:
Even in the 1970s, you could still have a popular television sitcom called Love Thy Neighbour which dealt with the trials and tribulations of an Afro-Caribbean family moving into a white neighbourhood. If you watch it today, you can only cringe at the racist attitudes and name calling on display (see below) – you have been warned!:
This was the post-War period when Britain was suffering from acute shortages of labour and the solution adopted by successive Governments was to encourage immigration from former colonies such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the British Caribbean islands.
Today, with the Equality Act 2010 firmly in place, it’s unthinkable that this type of blatant discrimination in housing could or would still take place. From time to time, however, stories are reported in the British media which highlight blatant racial discrimination in housing, but most people would now recognise that this type of behaviour is completely unlawful (see link below):
With this historical background, it was with some interest that I read recently about a number of legal actions (which had resulted in out of court settlements) where landlords had refused to let properties to certain individuals. These refusals had nothing to do with the racial backgrounds of prospective tenants, but the cases usefully demonstrate that letting properties can still be something of a legal minefield for landlords.
If the prohibition regarding Asian, Black and Irish people was an example of direct race discrimination (now in terms of Sections 9 and 13 of the Equality Act 2010), what about a prohibition which states ‘No DSS’ tenants? This term refers to individuals who are in receipt of State benefits such as Universal Credit whereby their rent is effectively paid by the Government.
At first you might be forgiven for thinking how such a prohibition could infringe equality laws, but dig a little deeper and think things over. The prohibition is a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) imposed by the landlord. Admittedly, people receiving State benefits are a hugely varied group: they will encompass men and women; White and Black and Minority Ethnic individuals; disabled and non-disabled people; heterosexual and LGBTI individuals; and people with religious/ philosophical beliefs and those with none.
This is to miss the point: could such a PCP be an example of indirect discrimination by reason of a protected characteristic in terms of Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010?
The answer seems to be yes: it would seem that more women than men are adversely affected by the prohibition ‘No DSS’ tenants. In other words, the prohibition is an example of indirect sex discrimination. Indirect discrimination can be understood in basic terms as hidden barriers which lead to unlawful, less favourable treatment.
Landlords may argue that they are not intentionally discriminating against women, but this is precisely the effect of their unwillingness to let properties to people receiving State benefits.
In 2017, the UK Supreme Court clarified the meaning of indirect discrimination in Essop v Home Office; Naeem v Secretary of State for Justice  UKSC 27:
There is no obligation for a complainant with the protected characteristic to explain why the PCP puts her at a disadvantage when compared to other groups;
Indirect discrimination does not (unlike direct discrimination) have to demonstrate necessarily a causal link between the less favourable treatment and the protected characteristic. All that is required is a causal link between the PCP and the disadvantage suffered by the complainant and her group.
Statistical evidence can be used to demonstrate a disadvantage suffered by a group, but a statistical correlation is not of itself enough to establish a causal link between the PCP and the disadvantage suffered;
The PCP may not necessarily be unlawful of itself, but it and the disadvantage suffered must be ‘but for’ causes of the disadvantage. Put simply, if the PCP was not there, the complainant and her group would not suffer the detriment.
The PCP itself does not have to disadvantage every member of the complainant’s group e.g. some women may be able to comply with it, but , critically, more women than men cannot.
The pool of individuals to be scrutinised to assess the impact of the disadvantage should include everyone to which the PCP applies e.g. all those receiving State benefits whether they are negatively affected or not.
A link to the Supreme Court’s judgement can be found below:
It looks as if the phrase ‘No DSS’ may be consigned to the history books along with the more notorious example of ‘No Blacks, No dogs, No Irish’. Speaking of dogs: a general ban on these animals might constitute another example of indirect discrimination as individuals who are visually impaired (a disability) may be less likely to be able to comply as they rely on their guide dogs.
Links to stories about the legal challenges to the PCP of ‘No DSS’ tenants can be found below on the BBC News App:
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:
Another day in the toxic debate over proposals to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Yesterday’s blog entry (Hate crime?) addressed the issue of limits on freedom of speech and expression in relation to extending transgender rights.
Today, the UK media is focusing on remarks made by Labour leadership contender, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Ms Long-Bailey expressed her support for changes to the current Gender Recognition Act which would permit transgender women to gain access to institutions such as refuges for women who have experienced domestic violence at the hands of men.
As Mr Justice Knowles acknowledged in Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) Chief Constable of Humberside  EWHC 225 (Admin), the debate over transgender rights can be summarised as follows:
“On one side of the debate there are those who are concerned that such an approach will carry risks for women because, for instance, it might make it easier for trans women (ie, those born biologically male but who identify as female) to use single-sex spaces such as women’s prisons, women’s changing rooms and women’s refuges. On the other side, there are those who consider it of paramount importance for trans individuals to be able more easily to obtain formal legal recognition of the gender with which they identify.”
Knowles J went on to remark:
“Ishould make two things clear at the outset. Firstly, I am not concerned with the merits of the transgender debate. The issues are obviously complex. As I observed during the hearing, the legal status and rights of transgender people are a matter for Parliament and not the courts. Second, the nature of the debate is such that even the use of words such as ‘men’ and ‘women’ is difficult. Where those words, or related words, are used in this judgment, I am referring to individuals whose biological sex is as determined by their chromosomes, irrespective of the gender with which they identify. This use of language is not intended in any way to diminish the views and experience of those who identify as female notwithstanding that their biological sex is male (and vice versa), or to call their rights into question.”
A group within the British Labour Party, Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, has published a 12 point charter to push through changes to UK equality laws. Other women’s groups, such Women’s Place UK and the LGB Alliance, are bitterly opposed to this campaign.
Long-Bailey admitted that her position could set her at odds with many female members of the Labour Party who are deeply resistant to such developments. Many feminist opponents of reform to the current gender recognition rules have been given the acronym, TERF, or Trans- exclusionary radical feminists.
Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act 2010, but the legislation exempts women only refuges which currently exclude transgender women (i.e. those who were born male, but have undergone gender reassignment to become female). Although excluding transgender women would normally be regarded as an example of direct discrimination in terms of Section 13 of the Act, Parliament has provided the defence of objective justification. This means that permitting women only spaces in this instance – caring for the female victims of male domestic violence – is an example of a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Much of the opposition to reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 appears to centre around proposals, in both England and Scotland, to permit individuals to self-identify in terms of their chosen gender without the need to go through physical changes. At the moment, anyone wishing to change gender must obtain a gender recognition certificate which will only be granted after the conclusion of the appropriate medical procedures.
It will, therefore, be for legislators in the UK and Scottish Parliaments to determine how far reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and, by extension the Equality Act 2010, will go. In the months to come, expect plenty of passionate arguments on both sides of the debate to be aired publicly.
A link to an article in The Independent discussing Ms Long-Bailey’s interview with Andrew Marr can be found below:
A famous saying about freedom of speech is often (rightly or wrongly) attributed to the eighteenth century French philosopher, Voltaire (François-Marie Aroue):
‘I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.’
Voltaire’s remark is, however, not without its problems. Freedom of speech is a contested concept. There’s no such thing as the right (in law) to say anything you like. The European Convention on Human Rights does, of course, recognise the right to freedom of expression in terms of Article 10, but European countries that are signatories to the Convention can restrict this right – quite legitimately.
Recently, in 2019, the European Court of Human Rights made it very clear that Holocaust denial is not a legitimate expression of free speech (see Pastörs v Germany ECHR 331 (2019)).
That said, the ability by signatory countries to restrict Article 10 rights are subject to very rigorous safeguards:
it must be prescribed by or in accordance with the law;
it must be necessary in a democratic society;
it is in pursuit of one or more legitimate aims specified in the relevant Article [of the Convention];
it must be proportionate.
Even in the United States of America, where lots of unpalatable things are tolerated under the free speech provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution, there are limits (see the Miller Test formulated by the US Supreme Court in Miller v California 413 US 15 (1973)).
Our very own Miller case
In the various legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom, there is also such a thing as hate speech (a criminal offence). No one is pretending that freedom of speech is an area of the law which is clear cut and unambiguous. It can be minefield and deciding what is legitimate (but perhaps disagreeable or offensive) expressions of free speech from hate speech can be extremely problematic.
We have just been reminded of this fact by a case which has just been decided by the English High Court.
Harry Miller, who is a former Police officer himself, was subject to Police scrutiny because he had posted a number of Tweets about proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Let us just say that Mr Miller is clearly not in favour of changes to the legislation which would liberalise this area of the law e.g. by permitting individuals to decide their chosen gender by way of self-identification.
Someone complained about Mr Miller’s Tweets and the Police visited him at his work-place to discuss the matter. He was issued with a warning that his remarks could constitute a hate speech incident, but significantly the officers stated that no crime had been committed. This warning was issued to Miller in terms of the Hate Crime Operational Guidance 2014 (HCOG) issued by the College of Policing.
Mr Miller was not prepared to let this matter rest as he was strongly of the opinion that his right to freedom of expression had been violated by the actions of the Police.
He appealed to Humberside Police’s Appeals Body, but the appeal was rejected in June 2019. Mr Miller then commenced an action for judicial review of the actions of the Police.
Mr Justice Knowles sitting in the English High Court agreed with Mr Miller (see Harry Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) The Chief Constable of Humberside  EWHC 225 (Admin)). It is perhaps highly significant that Knowles J prefaced his ruling with a reference to the unpublished introduction to George Orwell’s celebrated novel, Animal Farm:
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
His Honour went on to highlight the remarks of Lord Justice Sedley in Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions (1999) 7 BHRC 375:
“Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative … Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having …”
It was also noted that Lord Bingham in Rv Shayler  1 AC 247 had stated:
“The reasons why the right to free expression is regarded as fundamental are familiar, but merit brief restatement in the present context. Modern democratic government means government of the people by the people for the people. But there can be no government by the people if they are ignorant of the issues to be resolved, the arguments for and against different solutions and the facts underlying those arguments. The business of government is not an activity about which only those professionally engaged are entitled to receive information and express opinions. It is, or should be, a participatory process. But there can be no assurance that government is carried out for the people unless the facts are made known, the issues publicly ventilated …”.
A subtle judgement?
It is important to understand that the judgement issued by Knowles J is one of considerable subtlety and it is not giving the green light to people to say what they want – even if this would cause offence.
There are still limits to freedom of speech and expression. Critically, Knowles J rejected Mr Miller’s very broad challenge that his human rights in terms of Article 10 of the European Convention had been violated merely because the Police had recorded and classified the matter as a non hate crime incident.
Such measures are necessary in a democratic society (and supported by a wealth of evidence) because, amongst other things, they can:
provide evidence of a person’s motivation for subsequent hate crimes;
provide context to what divides the cohesion of communities when hate incidents take place and how the Police can deal with these matters more effectively; and
prevent escalation of crime particularly with school children who might be aware of the seriousness and consequences of committing hate incidents, recording of such behaviour can be a very effective educational tool.
Knowles J found in favour of Mr Miller on the basis of his narrower challenge to the Police actions. This part of Miller’s legal action could be summed up in the following terms:
“He [Miller] contends that the combination of the recording of his tweets as a non-crime hate incident under HCOG; PC Gul going to his workplace to speak to him about them; their subsequent conversation in which, at a minimum, PC Gul warned him of the risk of a criminal prosecution if he continued to tweet; and the Claimant’s subsequent dealings with the police in which he was again warned about criminal prosecution, interfered with his rights under Article 10(1) in a manner which was unlawful.”
In upholding part of Miller’s challenge on the narrower grounds, Knowles J explained his reasoning:
“There was not a shred of evidence that the Claimant was at risk of committing a criminal offence. The effect of the police turning up at his place of work because of his political opinions must not be underestimated. To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.“
His Honour concluded by stating that:
“… the police’s treatment of the Claimant thereafter disproportionately interfered with his right of freedom of expression, which is an essential component of democracy for all of the reasons I explained at the beginning of this judgment.”
A link to the judgement in Harry Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) The Chief Constable of Humberside  EWHC 225 (Admin) can be found below:
Proposals to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act 2004 are, undoubtedly, causing heated debate and much controversy across the United Kingdom. There are strong opinions on both sides of this debate and Knowles J acknowledged as much in the Miller case:
“The Claimant’s Tweets were, for the most part, either opaque, profane, or unsophisticated. That does not rob them of the protection of Article 10(1). I am quite clear that they were expressions of opinion on a topic of current controversy, namely gender recognition. Unsubtle though they were, the Claimant expressed views which are congruent with the views of a number of respected academics who hold gender-critical views and do so for profound socio-philosophical reasons. This conclusion is reinforced by Ms Ginsberg’s evidence [CEO of Index on Censorship] which shows that many other people hold concerns similar to those held by the Claimant.”
This case is, however, not a green light for people to say what they like – no matter how offensive their remarks may be. Freedom of speech and expression carry responsibilities and people should be mindful of this. That said, cases which have at their centre arguments over freedom of expression will turn on their facts. It is useful to realise that legitimate expressions of free speech will be protected and upheld. It’s a question of balance, but this is easier said than done – much more difficult to achieve in practice.
Email can be a wonderful form of communication. It can also be, quite frankly, something of a curse for many employees and workers. Essentially, you’re never too far away from the work-place and bosses/clients/service users expect to receive an instant reply.
The expectation by bosses and managers that employees and workers should be monitoring their emails (constantly) does tend to be a contributory factor in the rising number of cases of work-related stress. Employers: please note that you have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment and part of this obligation includes monitoring unacceptably high levels of stress in the work-place.
There is a perception (rightly or wrongly) that UK employees suffer from some of the longest working hours in Europe. In 2019, data from the EU’s Eurostat Agency seemed to support this contention but, interestingly, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) took a more sceptical approach by questioning the method of data collection (the old adage about lies, damned lies and statistics springs to mind here).
Links to a BBC article about this issue and the Eurostat figures (and OECD response) can be found below:
UK employees are, of course, entitled to receive a written statement of the main terms and particulars of their employment as per Section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This statement must contain a provision which addresses the employee’s normal weekly working hours.
Despite Brexit (which did occur on 31 January 2020 – in case you missed it), the UK is still following EU rules until the end of this year … One EU Law with particular relevance to this debate is the Working Time Directive ((2003/88/EC) which was transposed into UK employment law by way of the Working Time Regulations 1998.
In theory, the Directive and the Regulations cap the number of hours that employees (and workers) can work at 48 hours per week (technical point: this figure can be averaged out over a reference period – 17 weeks normally). Crucially, however, UK employees and workers can opt out of the 48 hour maximum by signing a declaration (opt-out) that they wish to do so. If they change their minds, they are entitled to do so by giving the employer a minimum seven days’ notice (or in certain cases – 3 months) of this intention.
The legal rules on working hours are all very well in theory, but what about the culture of organisations which may (at an informal level) promote the idea that long hours spent at work (or just working) are a sure fire way to get ahead in your career?
This is where the influence of email (and other instant messaging services) can be quite insidious (pernicious even?). Employees feel under pressure to deal with this work load at weekends, during holidays and evenings. Parents of young children and carers of elderly relatives, who may have negotiated flexible working arrangements, may be under acute pressure to deal with emails etc when they are outside the work-place. In this way, the work-place becomes like the Eagles’ song, Hotel California (‘You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!‘).
Interestingly, in some of our ex-EU partner countries, there have been initiatives at both the organisational and legal level to curb the smothering influence of email outside the work-place.
There is a real danger here for employers that, by encouraging employee use of email outside working hours, it may constitute a policy, criterion or practice (PCP) – no matter how informal – which could open themselves up to accusations of indirect discrimination on grounds of sex (women are still the primary carers for children and elderly dependents) and disability (by reason of a person’s association with a disabled person) in terms of Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010.
Furthermore, employees might feel that they are under constant surveillance by the employer because it becomes easier to keep tabs on individuals when they are logging in and out of the company’s IT network. For employers, this could lead to legal challenges from employees who are concerned that the right to privacy and family life as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights has been violated.
Is there a better way of doing things? Yes, is the short answer.
In 2011, the German multinational car manufacturer, Volkswagen (VW) introduced major changes to its working practices by curbing the use of emails when employees were off duty. This agreement was negotiated by the company and trade union/labour organisations.
In France, in August 2016, they went further and passed the El Khomri Law (named after the French Government Minister for Labour who introduced the proposal). This law gave employees a right to disconnect from email. In one particular case which involved the French arm of the British company, Rentokil, an employee was awarded €60,000 because his right to disconnect from email had been breached.
Links to stories about the changes to VW’s working practices and the French El Khomri Law can be found below:
The debate about the right of employees to disconnect from email – whether this is negotiated via some sort of collective agreement or underpinned by law – now seems to have penetrated the British consciousness. Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, one of the leading contenders for leadership of the British Labour Party has thrown her hat into the ring by backing a trade union campaign to introduce a legal right to disconnect in the UK.
One small problem: the Labour Party lost the last British General Election on 12 December 2019 to the Conservatives and is, therefore, in no position to deliver. Over to you Prime Minister Johnson? (a man fond of the populist gesture).
A link to an article in The Independent about Rebecca Long Bailey’s support for the trade union campaign to introduce a law guaranteeing the right to disconnect can be found below:
Last week I wrote a Blog about Stonewall’s list of 100 most inclusive UK employers for LGBTI people. The article summarised the advances in terms of the range of legal protection that the LGBTI communities now enjoy. From protection against discrimination in employment to same sex marriage, the turnaround in fortunes from a persecuted minority to part of the mainstream has been truly remarkable.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of The GreatGatsby once remarked that “Switzerland is a country where very few things begin, but many things end.”
Today, the Swiss voted in a referendum to introduce laws which would extend protection from discrimination to LGBTI people. The proposal attracted support from 63% of Swiss voters and, finally, begins to bring the country into line with many of its neighbours who happen to EU member states. Switzerland is not part of the EU and, therefore, is not under any obligation to implement European laws which combat sexual orientation discrimination.
Critics of the Swiss proposal stated that the proposal was unnecessary because the country’s constitution already protected LGBTI individuals (and the country is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights). There were also concerns about what the proposal might mean for freedom of speech. Clearly, a majority of voters did not share these concerns.
Switzerland has a reputation for being a relatively conservative society (with a small ‘c’). After all, it was only in 1991 that the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden finally permitted women to have the right to vote in cantonal elections. In federal (national) elections, woman had been given the right to vote since 1971.
We often forget this has been an incremental or gradual process in the UK and it did not happen overnight. Therefore, it is not advisable to be for British people to be smug or to have feelings of superiority about this issue. It was, after all, as recently as 2003 that the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 were implemented by the then Labour Government of Tony Blair. For the first time in UK employment law, LGBTI individuals were protected from discrimination in employment and training. This important law, critically, did not cover the provision of services and it was with the passage of the Equality Act 2010 that this area was eventually covered.
A link to an article on the BBC News app about the story can be found below: