By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)
Freedom of expression has long been extolled by those who love freedom generally. For example, attempting to capture Voltaire’s commitment to it, historian Evelyn Beatrice Hall coined the famous phrase, wrongly attributed to the French philosophe himself – ‘I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it’. George Orwell also once memorably quipped: ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people things they don’t want to hear’. And, according to the European Court of Human Rights, this includes offending, shocking and disturbing.
Spats, fall-outs, intellectual and personal feuds, have, of course, been commonplace amongst scholars since antiquity. And before the institutionalisation of the right to free speech in the west, the consequences could be much more serious than ruffled feathers. In the 16th century, for example, questioning the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation – that the wine and wafers used in the Mass miraculously turn into the physical body of Christ upon consumption – could result in being burned at the stake as a heretic. In the centuries since, the west has become accustomed to vigorous, legally-protected, yet not always even-tempered academic debates. For example, arguably making a bid for the most disrespectful scholarly put-down on record, nineteenth century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, denounced his much more famous and influential contemporary, Hegel, as a ‘flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan’. (more…)
By Prof Joanne Conaghan (University of Bristol Law School)
The recent debate on gender recognition reform, as played out in the press and on social media, has been painful to behold. With passions running high, much of the discourse has been marked by a lack of regard for the viewpoints of others, on occasion spiralling into professional and even personal abuse online. That the pursuit of equality should unleash such unkind sensibilities is troubling, particularly in a feminist context in which values such as inclusion, empathy, and respect for different standpoints have generally commanded wide respect.
What lies behind the apparent deadlock in debate between transgender activists and ‘gender critical’ feminists? On the one hand, there is the perfectly proper concern of trans people to have access to a legal process of gender recognition which they do not experience as invasive, cumbersome, and pathologizing. On the other, there are misgivings expressed by some in the feminist community that a legal regime of gender recognition, understood as ‘self-declaration’ and operating in various forms in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Denmark, Ireland, Malta and Norway, will weaken the hard-won gains of decades of feminist activism particularly with regard to securing women’s access to safe sex-segregated spaces such as rape crisis centres and women’s refuges. The fact that existing equality legislation already provides a level of protection allowing same-sex service providers to deny access to transgender individuals where they can show this is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (for example, a counselling service might reasonably be concerned that sexually abused women will be less likely to attend group counselling if ‘male-bodied’ trans women are also in attendance) does not seem to have allayed these concerns, though surely they should, particularly as the Government has made clear that they have no plans to change equality law. (more…)
By Ms Roseanne Russell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).
Last week’s reports of the Presidents Club charity dinner once again revealed the troubling culture of the City: ‘that weird mix of cutting-edge high finance and caveman misogyny’ (Patrick Jenkins, Financial Times, 24 January 2018). Journalist Madison Marriage’s exposé recounted how 130 ‘hostesses’ were recruited for a fundraising dinner to be attended by 360 men from the worlds of politics, business and finance (Financial Times, 23 January 2018). Although it is not clear who attended, press reports have stated that the guest-list included senior executives from well-known corporate groups, bankers and hedge fund managers.
The well-intentioned aim of the evening’s auction was to raise money for charity. According to the Club’s website, ‘over the years, esteemed members of the investment, real estate, sports, entertainment, motor industry and fashion world have come together to support and raise millions of pounds for the trust in its work to help as many worthy children’s causes.’ Marriage’s report, however, painted a picture of the highly sexualised City culture that Linda McDowell so vividly captured in her 1997 book Capital Culture and by the Fawcett Society in its 2009 report on Sexism and the City. While ‘hostesses’ were apparently groped, subjected to lewd comments, and, in one instance, asked to join an attendee in his bedroom, the men attempted to outdo each other’s bids for lots including ‘an exclusive private night’ at a strip club, plastic surgery to ‘take years off your life or add spice to your wife’, and a combined lot of lunch with the Foreign Secretary and tea with the Governor of the Bank of England. The winning bid for this last lot was reportedly £130,000. The hostesses were asked to dress as though attending a ‘smart, sexy place’ and asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”) relating to the evening. (more…)
By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, and Dr Lindsey Bell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) has aroused great controversy by imposing a legal duty upon schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ (the ‘Prevent duty’). However, in an article published in the current issue of the academic journal Public Law, ‘Counter-Terrorist Law in British Universities: A Review of the “Prevent” Debate’, we argue that the campaign against the Act and the duty in higher education rests largely upon myths, six of which are particularly prevalent. In this blog, we provide a summary of those myths (you can also watch a short video outlining the main arguments). (more…)
By Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*
European non-discrimination law is a great example of how legal ideas travel around the globe and are modified and improved in the process. As well demonstrated by Fredman and Schiek, non-discrimination law did not originate in Europe nor can the European influence be negated. For example, the concept of indirect discrimination can be traced back to international law and was also pioneered in the US case of Griggs v Duke Power, which challenged under the Civil Rights Act 1964 employment practices that required High School diplomas in order to access specific jobs. This US legal development then inspired European Common Law jurisdictions—most notably the UK—to incorporate similar concepts in their national law (see e.g. Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Race Relations Act 1976), and the concept of indirect discrimination finally reached the EU in the early 1980s when the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) explicitly referred to the Griggs in its Jenkins Judgment, a case which also originated in the UK.
However, this initial influence from the UK and other common law jurisdictions did not halt in this development. Rather, what started as a relatively insignificant equal pay provision in the Treaty of Rome (Article 119 EEC) and a political compromise between Germany and France, has developed into a large equality framework protecting the characteristics of sex, race and ethnic origin, religion and belief, age, disability, and sexual orientation (e.g. Directives 2000/43, 2000/78 and 2006/64) and goes beyond employment discrimination by also tackling sex and race discrimination within the access to and supply of goods and services (Directives 2000/43 and 2000/113). The 2000 directives expanding the personal scope of EU non-discrimination law were particularly affected by Anglo-Dutch intellectual thought and influence, as jurisdictions that had most significant experience with non-discrimination law covering a wide number of protected characteristics. These new directives, alongside the CJEU interpretation of all the directives and equal pay provision (now Article 157 TFEU), then in turn influenced the law of the Member States including the UK legal framework. (more…)