Sex Work, Labour Unfreedom, and the Law

By Dr Katie Cruz, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

On 2nd June, sex workers and activists gathered globally to mark the struggle for sex workers’ rights. International Sex Workers Day is just one day of the year dedicated to the struggle for sex workers. Activists gather on March 3rd to mark International Sex Worker Rights Day and on December 17th to mark International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. These dates occur because of the historical and ongoing violence against, and exclusion of, sex workers. Sex workers are subject to interpersonal forms of violence, from police officers and clients, and the structural violence of criminal justice and immigration institutions. They are criminalized and affected by often-punitive anti-trafficking laws and policies, and they are subject to heightened immigration controls, including the criminalization of movement and working. The Tory government’s hostile environment has created additional layers of institutionalised insecurity for many migrant sex workers, including restrictions on access to housing, healthcare, education, and banking services.

In a recent article I wrote for Feminist Legal Studies, I argue for a Marxist feminist methodology capable or describing and opposing these intersecting exclusions and oppressions as they apply to migrant sex workers in the UK. However, this method can be used to understand the precarious living and working conditions of all (sex) workers. In this post, I make some remarks in relation to citizen sex workers in the UK and Jamaica, where I am currently conducting fieldwork with Prof Julia O’Connell Davidson and Dr Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor. (more…)

Standing of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in the UK Supreme Court Abortion Decision

By Dr Jane Rooney, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

In its much-awaited decision on Northern Irish abortion laws, a majority in the UK Supreme Court dismissed the appeal brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (the Commission) on the basis that it lacked standing to bring legal proceedings [In the matter of an application by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission for Judicial Review [2018] UKSC 27]. Kathryn McNeilly, Fiona Bloomer, and Claire Pierson explain the context and implications of the ruling here. Despite agreement ‘that the current law in Northern Ireland on abortion is disproportionate and incompatible with Article 8 of the [European] Convention’ on Human Rights (see UK Supreme Court press release), the Commission had no standing and therefore the Supreme Court could not make a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act and their statements on rights violations were obiter dicta.

This blog considers the Supreme Court’s adjudication on standing. It argues for a literal interpretation of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) to argue that, contrary to the UK Supreme Court’s majority judgment, the Commission is empowered under the Northern Ireland Act to bring proceedings in cases of an unlawful act of a public authority and for review of the compatibility of Northern Irish primary legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). (more…)

Withdrawal of same-sex marriage in Bermuda: low hanging fruit in the constitutional living tree?

By Mr Marc Johnson, Teaching Associate in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© Procsilas Moscas

On 7 February 2018, Bermuda’s Governor approved the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 (DPA) which withdraws the right for same-sex couples to marry in Bermuda. The ‘Domestic Partnership’ purports to offer the same legal standing as marriage though there is a degree of scepticism around whether this will be the case. There is a substantial body of writing in the UK on whether the civil partnerships established under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 were in fact equal to marriage, or whether creating a second form of legal partnership also created a subordinate form of legal partnership.

This may not however, be the end of the story. According to Reuters News Agency, on 20 February 2018, a Bermudian Lawyer has filed a motion asking for the Supreme Court of Bermuda (a court of first instance unlike the Supreme Court of the UK which is the UK’s final appellate court), to consider whether the DPA is inconsistent with the Bermudian Human Rights Act 1981 (HRA). This blog piece will briefly consider whether the Bermudian constitution has been altered by the HRA to include protections for same-sex marriage, to what extent is the HRA constitutional, and can rights given under the HRA be removed. (more…)

Sex and the City Culture

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…)

Transgender Rights in the United Kingdom and Ireland: Reviewing Gender Recognition Rules

By Mr Peter Dunne, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

In the coming months, the United Kingdom (UK) and Irish governments will (separately) review the legal processes by which transgender (trans) persons can have their preferred gender (currently referred to as the ‘acquired gender’ in UK law) formally recognised. Drawing upon my scholarship from recent years, in this post, I consider current movements for reform in the UK and Ireland, with a particular focus on trans minors (who are largely excluded from the UK and Irish frameworks) and non-binary individuals. I conclude this discussion, in the last section, by reviewing the question of ‘self-determination’, and asking if/how the UK can move beyond its current diagnosis-orientated recognition model. (more…)

On Harvey Weinstein the Sexual Predator, or Business as Usual

By Dr Yvette Russell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

By David Shankbone – CC BY 3.0

The last few weeks have seen the revelation that Harvey Weinstein, renowned Hollywood producer of such award-winning films as Gangs of New York, Pulp Fiction, and Shakespeare in Love, moonlighted as a prolific sexual predator. A significant number of women have now made public complaints of sexual harassment and assault against Weinstein, including well-known Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, and Angelina Jolie. Weinstein is also reportedly facing allegations of rape. His wife, Georgina Chapman, announced she was leaving him, the company he co-founded fired him, and police on both sides of the Atlantic have opened investigations into him.

The media discourse that greeted the revelations has been characterised by astonishment at the scale of the alleged offending, and the failure of those making allegations to have come forward sooner. In fact, there is often evidence of a long line of complaints against men who are finally revealed in mainstream media to be chronic sexual predators. In Weinstein’s case there is evidence of three decades of prior complaints by women, at least two of which were reported to police. The public disclosure of these allegations was repeatedly thwarted by the use of non-disclosure agreements, the alleged ‘killing’ of news stories on the topic, and the habitual capacity of those who knew about it to ignore it. In the case of Jimmy Savile in the UK, believed to have preyed unimpeded for 60 years on around 500 vulnerable victims as young as two years old, a 2013 HMIC report found at least seven complaints against Savile in police records since 1964.  (more…)

Oration for Lady Hale on the occasion of her receipt of an Honorary Fellowship at the University of Bristol in July 2017

Written and orated by Prof Joanne Conaghan, Professor of Law and Head of School (University of Bristol Law School).

In July 2017, the University of Bristol awarded an Honorary Fellowhip to its former Chancellor the Rt. Hon. the Baroness Hale of Richmond, DBE. Professor Joanne Conaghan, Head of the University of Bristol Law School, had the honour of writing the Oration for Lady Hale.

In her Oration, Professor Conaghan stresses the many strengths and achievements of Lady Hale in a career dedicated to the law as it applies to those most vulnerable, such as in the areas of mental health and family law, and to combat inequality, in particular on the basis of gender. Lady Hale’s achievements are indeed particularly remarkable due to the unequal society she lived in through her early years; a society which she is shaping and pushing for transformation, very soon from the seat of the President of the Supreme Court, to which she has been appointed.

The full text of the oration is now reproduced here as a token of the values that the University of Bristol Law School, as a community, strives to foster. (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…)

What Boko Haram Taught Me about the Right to Education

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

© Tony Karumba / AFP

On 14 April 2017, it will be three years since we heard the news that 230 schoolgirls had been kidnapped by Boko Haram, causing global shock and horror. Since then, some have been released, and some escaped. However, focus on the Chibok schoolgirls, often overshadows the greater tragedy.

Amnesty International suggests that over 2,000 girls and women have been abducted by Boko Haram across the North of Nigeria. Though, Borno state, (with a landmass slightly larger than Croatia) and its people have borne the brunt of Boko Haram. Boko Haram is the sobriquet for a group whose activities are predicted on a violent abhorrence for ‘Western’ education. The Arabic names they call themselves translate into ‘Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad’ and ‘Islamic State West Africa Province.’ Their vicious campaigns have kept an estimated 120,000 students from education of any kind. Andrew Walker’s book ‘Eat the Heart of the Infidel examines how Boko Haram trades on the currency of religion and the politicisation of education to sell violence to its adherents.

Obviously, if any case is to be made against them as regards the abductees, a cause of action would properly lie within national criminal laws or for crimes against humanity. However, due to the ESC nature of the right to education, the 120,000 students who have been excluded from school seem to have very little recourse to contest the violation of their right to education. This is because ESC rights are largely seen as non-justiciable. Also, the demarcation of rights into ESC and civil/political rights does not reflect the historicity and needs of the populace. An interesting approach to this incongruous distinction is taken by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACrtHR). What lessons, I ask, can we learn from the court? (more…)

The Rape Trial and the Limits of Liberal Reform. And Why Legal Scholars need to do Theory Better

By Dr Yvette Russell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1922-25) by John Singer Sargent

In recently published work I engage in a philosophical and psychoanalytic excavation of legal discourse on (and in) the rape trial.[1]  In this post I briefly summarise my key claims arguing, while I do, that legal scholars must diversify the theoretical tools they draw on in confronting issues of social justice.

Much feminist scholarship on rape asserts that the law has reached a best practice plateau and justice for victims is now being held back primarily by the aberrant ‘attitudes’ of criminal justice actors charged with implementing the law. Those attitudes, it is argued, militate against the best intentions of law makers charged with stemming burgeoning attrition rates. Attrition refers to the phenomena – not anomalous in the criminal justice system, but particularly marked in cases of sex crime – whereby alleged instances of sexual violence drop out of the criminal justice system.  This occurs at multiple points, the most notable of which is the first point where a victim makes the decision to report to police.  (more…)