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…)
On 20 June 2018 the US announced that it was leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) because it was ‘a cesspool of political bias’ particularly against Israel. Although this decision has been condemned by human rights activists and NGOs around the world, and/or ‘regretted’ by other western states, sadly, the claims upon which it is ostensibly based are not without foundation.
The protection of human rights is one of the UN’s key objectives and a formal element in all its activities. But, since 2006, the UNHRC has been particularly entrusted with this task. The final nail in the coffin of its discredited predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, was the election of Libya as chair in 2003. Composed of officials from 47 UN member states, the UNHRC is elected on a secret ballot by simple majority of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Thirteen seats are set aside for African states, thirteen for Asian, eight for Latin American and Caribbean countries, six for Eastern Europe, and seven for Western Europe and the rest. Any member state of the UN, irrespective of its own human rights record, is eligible to stand. The UN requires states, when casting their votes, to take the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights into account, and the vast majority of those seeking election make written pledges and commitments to this effect. But it is widely believed that diplomats horse trade with each other about who to vote for, with the usual back room deals and political partisanship this entails. (more…)
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…)
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…)
A cardinal axiom of international human rights law is that the prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is absolute in the sense that no exception can be accepted, defended, justified, or tolerated in any circumstance whatever. Yet, for several reasons this is deeply problematic. For a start, since absoluteness is not an express, inherent, self-evident, or necessary feature of the provisions in question, this status is a matter of attribution rather than, as the orthodoxy holds, inherent legal necessity. Other non-absolute interpretations are not only possible, but expressly underpin similar prohibitions in some celebrated national human rights instruments. It does not follow either, because the term ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ is typically included in the same clauses which prohibit torture, that each of these very different types of harmful conduct must necessarily share the same status. The much-repeated claim that the prohibition is absolute in principle but relative in application is also unconvincing. Finally, it is not merely morally or legally, but also logically impossible for each of two competing instances of any ‘absolute’ right to be equally ‘absolute’ in any meaningful sense. The prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in international human rights law can, at best therefore, only be ‘virtually’, rather than strictly, absolute. It applies, in other words, in all but the rarest circumstances but not, as the received wisdom maintains, to the exclusion of every possible justification, exoneration, excuse, or mitigation.
After nearly two decades, the case overload afflicting the European Court of Human Rights has finally been reduced to more manageable proportions. However, it is too early to tell if this welcome trend will be sustained. But, if it is, the authors of this article argue it will have been achieved at considerable cost because, in the attempt to defend it, the cherished right of individual petition has, paradoxically, been undermined.They also claim that the Court has been confirmed as a“human rights small claims tribunal”, that structural violations are now more likely to be institutionalised than resolved, and that a golden opportunity to improve the protection of human rights across the continent has been missed.
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  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…)
The case of Phil Shiner, struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary panel for the attempted procurement by financial inducements of spurious abuse claims against the British army in Iraq, sadly illustrates that the ‘post-truth’ era has penetrated even the noble cause of human rights (‘Review of Iraq war cases after lawyer struck off’, Guardian, 3 February 2017).
While this episode is, of course, a grotesque aberration, myth, misinformation, misrepresentation, and intellectual tunnel vision, coupled with excessive and unsustainable demands, are, nevertheless, increasingly prevalent in the contemporary movement, and not confined to its opponents as many might suppose. This not only devalues the currency, it also stokes the scepticism towards human rights currently sweeping western states and societies. (more…)
At this stage, the only firm conclusion which can be drawn about the human rights implications of Brexit is that they are likely to be uncertain for many years to come – for the UK, for the soon-to-be 27-member European Union, and for the 47-member Council of Europe, the parent body of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, the so-called ‘Strasbourg institutions’. Taking each of these in turn, let us consider the UK first. (more…)
How – consistent with democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the preservation of cosmopolitan community cohesion and public confidence in law and its enforcement – should the UK respond to the threat posed by terrorism and, in particular, how should it seek to prevent people, especially vulnerable young people, from being enticed into it? These questions have arisen in a particularly acute form as a result of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 which, amongst other things, imposes a legal duty upon schools, universities, charities, the NHS etc – but not directly upon their staff individually – to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’ This may include banning some activities, regulating others, and/or taking appropriate steps to identify those who may be at risk and to refer them to appropriate welfare agencies.
The policy of the University and College Union (UCU) – which represents over 110,000 academic and other staff in higher and further education in the UK – is to boycott the requirements of the Act and the wider ‘Prevent strategy’ of which it is a part, on the grounds that they seriously threaten academic freedom, stifle campus activism, require staff to engage in racial profiling, legitimize Islamophobia, and jeopardize safe and supportive learning environments. Hence the slogans ‘Educators Not Informants!’, ‘Boycott Prevent!’, ‘Prevent Prevent!’ and ‘I Dissent from Prevent!’ which circulate in and around the campaign. This blog summarises work in progress – part of a much larger project concerning terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights in the post-9/11 UK – which argues that the UCU boycott is not only illegal, illegitimate and deeply flawed, but also potentially dangerous and irresponsible.