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…)

How (not) to counter extremism

By Prof Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence (University of Bristol Law School).*

The ‘Peace Window’ memorial to Dag Hammarskjøld, by Marc Chagall

Earlier this year, the Government fulfilled one of its General Election Manifesto commitments by appointing Sara Khan as the first chair of a new Commission for Countering Extremism. The Commission’s task is not an enviable one, since if not exactly an admission of failure, its establishment represents at least a significant pause for thought. Its job will be to support society in countering extremism and to advise the Government on new policies and powers. We have some idea of what it aspires to achieve, and how it will work, but as yet no concrete proposals have emerged.

The creation of the Commission is the latest stage in a fairly rapid process of policy development. In its current guise, the idea of countering extremism first emerged in the 2011 version of Prevent, the counter-terrorism strategy. Extremism was defined there as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. It was identified as a problem because, it was claimed, extremist ideologies can lead to terrorism – the use or threat of serious violence or other damaging attacks on the public to advance a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. However, at that point the only thing the Government suggested should be done about it was ‘challenge’ – in other words the use of informal social and political pressure to reinforce liberal values in the face of illiberal ones.

In October 2015 – after the ending of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition – the Government’s counter-terrorism policy took another turn. A new counter-extremism strategy identified extremism as a harm in its own right, requiring new legal responses and new Government powers. Ever since, the Government has been trying to work out what these should be. (more…)

Human Rights in the Council of Europe and the European Union: Achievements, Trends and Challenges

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School), Prof Janneke Gerards, Chair in Fundamental rights law (Utrecht University), and Miss Rose Slowe, Barrister (Middle Temple) and Honorary Research Fellow (University of Bristol Law School).

In our experience the general public, some of our students, and even some of our colleagues, are confused about the differences between the 47-member Council of Europe, the parent body of the European Court of Human Rights, and the 28 (soon to be 27)-member European Union, in human rights and other fields. Confusion about the differences between the two organizations has also been compounded by increasing interaction between them, particularly over the past decade or so. The human rights-related literature is also dominated by separate studies, largely concerning their respective legal systems. As a result, more integrated accounts are increasingly required. This is the primary objective of our recently-published book – S. Greer, J. Gerards and R. Slowe, Human Rights in the Council of Europe and the European Union: Achievements, Trends and Challenges (Cambridge University Press, 2018). (more…)

Unleashing the Force of Law: The Role of Lawyers in Times of Conflict

By Dr Devyani Prabhat, Senior Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

In this blog post, Dr Devyani Prabhat provides the context for her first book Unleashing the Force of Law: Legal Mobilization, National Security, and Basic Freedoms (Palgrave Publishers, 2016), which won the Peter Birks prize of the Society of Legal Scholars (UK and Ireland) for best book in 2017. It was also shortlisted by the Socio-legal Studies Association (SLSA) in 2016 for the best book prize. Dr Prabhat is on Twitter @DrDPrabhat. (more…)

Six myths about the ‘Prevent duty’ in universities

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…)

Challenge to ‘Prevent duty’ in universities rejected in judicial review proceedings

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

On 3rd August 2017 it was announced that, a week before, the High Court had rejected a claim, brought in judicial review proceedings by Dr Salman Butt, that the inclusion of his name in an official press release about tackling extremism in universities and colleges was unlawful and in breach of his human rights (Salman Butt v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] EWHC 1930 (Admin)). Relying on information provided by the Home Office Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), which had opposed the publication of any names, the press release referred to 70 events on university premises in 2014 featuring ‘hate speakers’. However, as the result of an ‘oversight’, six people including Dr Butt, were also identified as ‘expressing views contrary to British values’ on campus. The judgment in this case is the first significant judicial contribution to the debate about the ‘Prevent duty’ created by s.26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) which requires schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. (more…)

Rape Investigations and police accountability: the case of the Black Cab Rapist

By Prof Joanne Conaghan, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The case of the Black Cab rapist, John Worboys, may well qualify as one of the most egregious failures of modern policing of our times. Alleged to have assaulted over 100 women using his taxi as a lure and a crime site, Worboys terrorised women in the London Metropolitan area for the best part of a decade before eventually being apprehended and imprisoned in 2009 for 19 separate sexual assaults.  This week the Worboys case is once again in the public eye as a claim by two of his victims, DSD and NBV, that the Metropolitan Police violated their human rights by failing adequately to investigate their claims comes before the Supreme Court.

One has to wonder how such serious criminal activity in a public setting could go unchecked for so long. The simple answer is that the Metropolitan Police failed Worboys’ victims utterly and unequivocally, their investigation marred by multiple systemic and operational failings, as elaborated in painstaking detail by Mr Justice Green in a High Court judgment in 2014.  (more…)

The UK’s spousal and family visa regime: some reflections after the Supreme Court judgment in the MM case

By Prof Christopher Bertram, Professor in Social and Political Philosophy (University of Bristol School of Arts) & Co-Director of the Bristol Institute for Migration and Mobility Studies;
Dr Devyani Prabhat, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Dr Helena Wray, Associate Professor (University of Exeter Law School).

For thousands of British citizens and residents separated from loved ones by the onerous financial requirements in the immigration rules, the headlines after the Supreme Court decision on 22nd February 2017 in the case of MM v SSHD were disappointing.[1]

The case concerned the entry criteria for a non-EEA national to join their British citizen (or long term resident) spouse or partner (“the sponsor”) in the United Kingdom. These include a requirement that the sponsor has an income of at least £18,600 per annum or substantial savings, with additional sums needed for dependent non-citizen children (“the minimum income requirement” or MIR).

As the press reported, the Supreme Court did not find the MIR incompatible with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life) and therefore unlawful. However, hidden behind the government’s reported “victory” is a more complex legal and political picture which offers hope to at least some of those affected. (more…)

It’s time for change: World Mental Health Day 2016

By Dr Judy Laing, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

world-mental-health-dayToday is World Mental Health Day and time for us to spare a thought for the millions of people around the world suffering from mental health problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental/neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Approximately 450 million people in the world are suffering from these conditions at any one time. This means that mental disorder is among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The WHO has urged governments to move away from large mental institutions and towards health care in the community. Governments must also ensure that mental health care is well integrated into the general health care system. Whilst many Western governments have adopted this de-institutionalisation approach, treatment facilities and standards in many countries, especially in the developing world, are still woefully inadequate. Indeed, the WHO reports that more than 40% of countries have no mental health policy and a quarter of countries don’t even have any form of mental health legislation or regulation of mental health care. Added to this is the troubling fact that mental health services across the globe are continually under-funded: 33% of countries spend less than 1% of their total health budgets on mental health care/services. (more…)

Exploring legal approaches to climate justice: Reflections from the South Pacific

By Alice Venn, PhD Candidate (University of Bristol Law School).*

south-pacificThe South Pacific is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change impacts. The images conjured up of sinking small islands surrounded by miles of rising oceans however do little justice to the vibrant cultures, diverse landscapes and close-knit communities I recently encountered there. As part of my PhD project exploring the legal protection available to climate vulnerable states and communities I was fortunate enough, with the support of the South West Doctoral Training Centre, to be awarded a three month visiting researcher position at the University of the South Pacific in Port Vila, Vanuatu. I spent my time there gathering data, primarily through a series of interviews with key stakeholders from national government, local law firms and NGOs, as well as with a number of regional organisations during a short trip to Fiji. (more…)