Having your cake and eating it? Reflections on the UK Supreme Court’s decision in the ‘Belfast gay marriage cake’ case

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

Photo: QueerSpace

On 10 October 2018 five judges on a panel of the UK Supreme Court unanimously held that the owners of Ashers bakery in Belfast, Mr and Mrs McArthur, had not violated the rights of LGBT activist, Mr Gareth Lee, by refusing to supply a cake decorated with Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, the logo of the campaign group ‘QueerSpace’, and the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’. The bakery had initially accepted Mr Lee’s order but declined to complete it and returned his money on the grounds that the proposed message conflicted with the deeply held religious convictions of the proprietors, that the only form of marriage consistent with the Bible and acceptable to God is that between a man and a woman. Supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Mr Lee brought a claim against the bakery and the McArthurs (‘the appellants’) for direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and/or on grounds of religious belief and/or political opinion contrary to relevant legislation. In March 2015 a county court judge held that Mr Lee had been the victim of direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religious opinion and political belief. The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal subsequently upheld the sexual orientation complaint and decided there was no need to settle the other issues. Having earlier been joined as party to the appellate proceedings, on 28 October 2016, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland referred the matter to the UK Supreme Court where it was heard together with the appeal by the McArthurs and the bakery (more…)

Why we are teaching Law and Race at the University of Bristol

By Dr Foluke Adebisi, Teaching Fellow (University of Bristol Law School).

‘Education does not change the world. Education changes people. People change the world.’ — Paulo Freire, Brazilian Philosopher and Educator

In the 2018/2019 academic year, Yvette Russell and I will be (for the first time) teaching a unit called Law and Race. It is a very exciting prospect, not least because there are very few law schools in the UK who teach race in any direct or focused way, and much fewer have a unit dedicated to race. This has been an intellectually stimulating enterprise for both of us, and in this article, I would like to explain why we have embarked on it and what we hope to achieve.

The history of the world can be perceived as the history of continuing inequalities. Oftentimes, race functions as the motivation for and justification of oppressive social, cultural, economic and political structures. This is evidenced by colonisation, slavery, and persistent global racial inequalities that cut across gender and class. Law has often been used to create, justify or maintain these demarcations. Notwithstanding this, legal study often ignores the correlation between race and law, as well as the paradox inherent in the use of law to both oppress and liberate. In our unit we aim to examine legal history and the current state of the law in a critical exploration of how legal evolution has impacted upon and caused racial disparities, and how these factors are continuously consciously and unconsciously embedded and reproduced within the operation of law. (more…)

Dignity or Discrimination: What paves the road towards equal recognition of same-sex couples in Europe?

By Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

EU and Rainbow flag

Dr Jule Mulder’s article ‘Dignity or Discrimination: What paves the road towards equal recognition of same-sex couples in Europe?’ has been published in the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law. The article explores whether the principle of dignity can help advance the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) approach towards same-sex couples’ rights within the EU non-discrimination law framework, considering dignity-based arguments in a comparative perspective.

The European courts’ approach, mostly focusing on the concept of direct discrimination, seems insufficient to ensure the equal treatment of same-sex couples. The comparative experience, successfully invoking the dignity-principle to advance same-sex couples’ rights, challenges us to review the EU non-discrimination law and invites us to reconsider the concept of dignity and its value to foster substantive equality and equal treatment within the EU legal framework. Accordingly, recognising the limited reach of the CJEU current approach that focuses on direct sexuality discrimination only and adheres to the comparator paradigm, the article analyses possibilities to challenge de facto discrimination within the EU legal framework going beyond the concept of direct discrimination. In doing so, the article evaluates the potential of the dignity-centred approach within the context of EU equality law. Hence, the article evaluates whether the CJEU case-law’ limited substantive reach could be remedied by a more detailed engagement with the concept of dignity to provide substantive meaning to the analysis. Ultimately rejecting the usefulness of dignity, the article proposes that a more consistent application of the concept of indirect discrimination could push courts towards legal recognition of rights of same-sex couples.  (more…)

Abortion rights in Northern Ireland

A comment on R (on the application of A and B) v Secretary of State for Health [2017] UKSC 41.

By Dr Sheelagh McGuinness, Senior Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Prof Keith Syrett, Professor of Law (University of Cardiff, School of Law and Politics).

The start of June 2017 saw abortion law in Northern Ireland (NI) making the news for several reasons. On June 9th, Theresa May announced that she intended to try and form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Members of this radically conservative party from NI have long been vocal in their opposition to abortion. Some feared that restrictions on abortion legislation might form part of negotiations between the two parties.  On June 13th, the Department of Health published ‘The Report on abortion statistics in England and Wales for 2016’ which contained details on the number of women who travelled from NI to England to access abortion care. Then, on June 14th, the Supreme Court handed down an important decision on NHS funding for women who travel from NI to England to access abortions. These women, save in exceptional cases, must pay for abortion care privately, notwithstanding their status as UK citizens and (in many cases) UK taxpayers. In this blog we examine the Supreme Court decision and the context within which women travel from NI to have abortions in England.

The case

In 2012 A, a 15-year-old girl, became pregnant. She did not want to continue with the pregnancy and with the support of her mother, B, arranged to have a termination in England. A and B were surprised to find out that as A was resident in NI she would have to pay for the termination in England. Believing this to be unfair B, on A’s behalf, started proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of this policy. Their challenge contained two key claims. First, that the Secretary of State for Health was acting unlawfully in refusing to permit women from NI to access NHS funded abortions [the public law claim]. Second, that women in NI were being discriminated against as compared to other women in the UK [the human rights claim].

A and B were unsuccessful in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal. Their appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed by a majority of 3:2. (more…)

When is an applicant an applicant? — About the potential abuse of non-discrimination law, ‘Equality Law-Hoppers’ and the EU equality law directives

By Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

sparbuch-DW-WebWelt-SchwerinIn its Kratzer judgment of 28 of July 2016,[i] the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) responded to the German Federal Labour Court’s preliminary reference concerned with the question what qualities are required to be an applicant who seeks access to employment, to self-employment or to occupation within the meaning of Article 3(1)(a) of the Framework Directive 2000/78/EC and Article 14(1)(a) Recast Directive 2006/54/EC. In it, the CJEU essentially rules that unserious applicants who do not actually seek employment but only apply for the purpose of claiming compensation do not fall under the scope of the directives and their respective articles. The case does not mention Article 3(1)(a) Race Directive 2000/43/EC but there is no reason to believe the conclusion would be any different regarding its application to employment and occupation.

The brief judgment, which was decided without prior opinion of the Advocate General, is unlikely to stir-up the European-wide debate on equality and non-discrimination law and may seem all too obvious to many commentators. However, for the German legal context, the judgment is very significant because it approves the national courts’ case law on the so called Equality Law-Hoppers (AGG-Hoppers) and leaves significant discretion to the national courts to counteract apparent as well as alleged abuses of the General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz, hereafter AGG)[ii] implementing the EU equality directives. (more…)