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