Say what you want?

Photo by Denin Lawley on Unsplash

There is no such thing as the absolute right to free speech or free expression – not even in the United States of America. The US Supreme Court formulated the Miller Test as far back as 1973 which defined boundaries as to what forms of expression may constitute obscenity (see Miller v California 413 US 15 (1973)).

This country is (certainly) not America when it comes to the issue of freedom of speech. Although Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (as implemented by the Scotland and Human Rights Acts 1998) do protect the individual’s right to freedom of conscience, thought etc and expression, there is recognition that the State may have good reason to restrict these rights (known as the margin of appreciation).

In an earlier Blog, I discussed the fact that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that denial of the Holocaust is not a belief which should be protected by law.

See:

Holocaust denial

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/08/holocaust-denial/

A famous example of the margin of appreciation being utilised (and approved by the European Court of Human Rights) in this country was the decision of Wingrove v UK [1996]. Here the film, Visions of Ecstasy, used highly sexualised imagery in its depiction of religious themes. Such a presentation would have been highly offensive to devout Roman Catholics (and a breach of the then, very strict blasphemy laws). Consequently, the British Board of Film Classification (the UK censor) refused to allow the film to be released. In this case, it was felt that someone’s artistic freedom of expression would cause grave offence to another group of people.

Wingrove is a really a moot point these days given that, in 2008, the UK reformed its blasphemy laws and the uncut version of Visions of Ecstasy was given a theatrical release (with an 18 certificate) in 2012. Yet it remains an interesting example of the tension between diametrically opposed viewpoints and how the State can be forced to mediate between these.

https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{“itemid”:[“001-58080”]}

I was reminded about freedom of speech only this week when an Employment Tribunal put clear limits on an individual’s right to say certain things. The individual lost the case, but its aftermath has stirred up a hornet’s nest of recriminations, with even JK Rowling weighing in to criticise the Employment Tribunal.

The case in question was Forstater v 1) CGD Europe 2) Centre for Global Development 3) Masood Ahmed Case No 2200909/2019 18 December 2019. It involved Maya Forstater who was engaged by the Centre for Global Development (a Think Tank) as a Visiting Fellow from January 2015 to 31 December 2018. Ms Forstater is a professional researcher and writer on public policy, tax and business. She provided services in this respect to the Think Tank. She is also had an active social media presence on Twitter.

Ms Forstater had issued a number of tweets about UK Government policy in which she questioned the right of trans females to call themselves women. Several of her colleagues complained about these and stated that they were ‘transphobic’ in nature. When her contract with the Think Tank was not renewed, she took the view that this decision had been motivated by her statements on Twitter. She, therefore, took the view that she was being subjected to direct discrimination by reason of her beliefs in terms of Sections 4, 10 and 13 of the Equality Act 2010. Furthermore, Forstater argued that her rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and expression (Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention) had been breached.

As Employment Judge Tayler noted:

When questioned during live evidence the Claimant [Ms Forstater] stated that biological males cannot be women. She considers that if a trans woman says she is a woman that is untrue, even if she has a Gender Recognition Certificate. On the totality of the Claimant’s evidence it was clear that she considers there are two sexes, male and female, there is no spectrum in sex and there are no circumstances whatsoever in which a person can change from one sex to another, or to being of neither sex. She would generally seek to be polite to trans persons and would usually seek to respect their choice of pronoun but would not feel bound to; mainly if a trans person who was not assigned female at birth was in a “woman’s space”, but also more generally. If a person has a Gender Recognition Certificate this would not alter the Claimant’s position. The Claimant made it clear that her view is that the words man and woman describe a person’s sex and are immutable. A person is either one or the other, there is nothing in between and it is impossible to change form one sex to the other.”

In dismissing Ms Forstater’s claim, Employment Judge Tayler stated:

However, I consider that the Claimant’s view, in its absolutist nature, is incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others. She goes so far as to deny the right of a person with a Gender Recognition Certificate to be the sex to which they have transitioned. I do not accept the Claimant’s contention that the Gender Recognition Act produces a mere legal fiction. It provides a right, based on the assessment of the various interrelated convention rights, for a person to transition, in certain circumstances, and thereafter to be treated for all purposes as the being of the sex to which they have transitioned.”

A link to the Forstater judgement can be found below:

https://doc-08-3g-docs.googleusercontent.com/docs/securesc/ha0ro937gcuc7l7deffksulhg5h7mbp1/ro6ahkv1c745m9ad7rvct412fk1uvhmp/1576958400000/06325118964551598628/*/12P9zf82TicPs2cCxlTnm0TrNFDD8Gaz5?e=download

In arriving at his judgement, Employment Judge Tayler was influenced by an earlier decision which defined the scope of a person’s beliefs and whether they ought to be protected.

Mr Justice Burton sitting alone in the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Grainger v Nicolson Appeal No. UKEAT/0219/09 [2009] formulated some pretty clear guidelines about what constitutes a belief capable of protection under the UK equality laws. His Honour stated that for a belief to be capable of protection, it must satisfy the following requirements:

  • It must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief and not … an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

We may not have heard the last of Ms Forstater who may well be given to leave to appeal against Employment Judge Tayler’s judgement.

A link to the decision in Grainger v Nicolson can be found below:

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2009/0219_09_0311.html

A link to a report about the Forstater decision can be found below on the BBC News website:

Maya Forstater: Woman sacked over trans tweets loses tribunal

Maya Forstater lost her job after she questioned government plans to let people declare their own gender.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 21 December 2019

I’m not your daddy!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotland

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

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

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

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

See the link to details about this consultation exercise:

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

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 September 2019