As a former clerk of the House of Commons, the recent Newsnight coverage(i) depicting a culture of unchecked bullying and sexual harassment by some MPs took me by surprise. Not because of the allegations: the stories reported, and many more, have long been open secrets in Westminster. But because, for the first time, the corrosive culture of normalising this behaviour was revealed. What is new is that the careful investigation of reporters Chris Cook and Lucinda Day has exposed a pattern of abusive Members not being held to account, and a historic management culture of quietly moving victims who speak out. This is a culture which has normalised the acceptance of bullying behaviour, refused to shine a light on the bullies, and thus tacitly condoned it. This is the same cultural quicksand which led us to Weinstein, Bennell and Saville: a wilful collective blindness. Continue reading
Unfairly dismissed from your job? Seeking unpaid wages? For the last few years, if you wanted your case heard at an employment tribunal in the UK, you had to pay up front. For unfair dismissal, the fees amounted to £1,200, and for unpaid wages £390.
Introduced in 2013, the fees were designed to ensure that “users” of the system were the ones who funded it. The other justifications were to incentivise early settlements, and to deter weak or vexatious claims.
Underlying all these motivations was a concern that too many cases were being brought. And in that sense, the fees sort of worked.
That was mainly because the high level of fees (for workers who hadn’t been paid or had lost their job) compared unfavourably with the low level of sums awarded. A survey in 2013 found the median award for claims for unpaid wages was only £900. Put simply, it just wasn’t worth it. Continue reading
Social media has once again been a-twitter with discussion about The Archers.
I wrote back in April about the domestic violence and coercive control storyline and how the producers had managed to shine a light on the often hidden aspects of abuse. As the story moves this week into the Courts, the media is once again gripped by the drama, with people posting their pictures of solidari-tea with the central character, Helen. The Mail Online even ran a story with Barristers discussing the fictional case .
European non-discrimination law is a great example of how legal ideas travel around the globe and are modified and improved in the process.
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.
Recently the public and media became aware, through one image across Europe (and the world) of the plight of people fleeing for their lives. Within the UK this image produced an awakening after months and years of warnings about the consequences of policy failures, wars and discrimination against migrants. Evidence of the catastrophic failures of UK and EU migration policies, which are based solely on immigration control, borders and ‘security’, have been disbelieved or treated with scepticism by policy makers, officials and many academics.
Repeated reports of deaths in the Mediterranean were ignored or seen as someone else’s problem, the public having been fed a relentless ‘diet’ of poisonous ‘news‘ and rhetoric about migration in general. Institutional racism and discrimination was further embedded as asylum seekers (including children) in the UK were detained, portrayed as troublesome, instead of being welcomed and offered protection. Furthermore, the consequences of austerity are continuously blamed on migrants.
There is a crisis of democracy, as well as policy and a humanitarian crisis, which has been fuelled by the action and inaction of our government.
Last week the UK’s Supreme Court held that the police owed no duty of care to a victim of domestic violence whose murder could have arguably been prevented had the police not acted negligently in handling and responding to her 999 emergency call. Michael v CC of South Wales is just the latest of a growing line of cases in which the UK courts have denied such claims.
By contrast, a number of other countries whose legal systems are significantly based upon English common law principles have recognised the possibility of law suits against the police in similar circumstances. For example, in 1998, a Canadian court held the police liable in negligence for failings in relation to the investigation of a serial rapist. The claimant, Jane Doe (Doe v Metropolitan Toronto (Municipality) Commissioners of Police) successfully argued that had the police not been negligent in investigating similar earlier allegations, she might not have been raped. In South Africa in 2001, the victim of a brutal attack by a man on bail for attempted rape and with a known history of serious sexual violence successfully sued the police and the prosecution service (Carmichele v Minister of Safety and Security).
This blog was originally posted on The Conversation on 23rd June.
Gerry Conlon, wrongly jailed for a 1975 IRA bombing in which he had no part, died on June 21 at the age of 60. The case of the Guildford Four remains one the most famous miscarriages of justice in Britain – but more and more cases of wrongful imprisonment are coming to light around the world.
On June 18, it was widely reported that Jonathan Fleming, who in April 2014 successfully overturned his conviction for the murder of Darryl Alston in 1989, had begun a lawsuit against the City of New York for the 25 years he spent wrongly incarcerated.
It is alleged that prosecutors knowingly manufactured a case against Fleming, even dropping criminal charges against a key prosecution witness in return for false identification evidence. Fleming was on a family holiday in Disneyland at the time of the murder. He is now suing the city of New York for $162m.
An incredible story, we might think, but one that is becoming increasingly commonplace. And the growing awareness of cases like this is now fostering a global social movement to help innocent victims of wrongful convictions.
Les Misérables, the world’s longest-running musical, is set 200 years ago, in 1815. The story follows the life of a convict / ex-convict, Jean Valjean, who is beleaguered by guilt related to past mistakes made at the time out of desperation, unknowingly, or with good intention. His initial sentence of five years of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, extended by 14 years when he tries to escape, affects his life irreversibly.
While Les Mis is a work of fiction set in 19th century France, it is based on the real-life experiences and readings of its author, Victor Hugo, who lived through the time in which the story took place. Watching the musical, or the recent film adaptation, one is compelled to feel relieved and thankful that the world is no longer so unforgiving. Unfortunately, however, one is incorrect to do so. The excesses of criminal (in)justice in 19th-century France continue today in the Western world.
In 2014 the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) will be thirty years old. The UNCAT is the primary international treaty which sets out a range of measures which countries should take to prohibit and prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment. While much has been achieved since the UNCAT was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1984, torture and other forms of ill-treatment continue to occur throughout the world.
The majority of African countries have ratified the UNCAT, however unfortunately little has been achieved to actually implement the objectives of the Convention on the ground. For example, few have made torture a specific criminal offence under their national laws as required by the UNCAT or respect safeguards to ensure that persons detained by the police, or other officials, are treated humanely and not subjected to torture. While a lack of political will, training and resources may be to blame for this limited compliance, in many regards, some of the provisions of the UNCAT are too abstract and it can be difficult for government officials and others to know exactly what must be done to translate the provisions of the UNCAT into effective action on the ground.
The security of someone’s status as a British citizen would not generally be expected to depend upon the operation of foreign nationality laws. It seems logical that there should be something fundamentally British about British citizenship. However, it is often the case that when decisions are made by the special court – the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) – the vagaries of foreign laws play a part in determining who gets to continue as a British citizen and who does not. One such case was decided this month by the UK Supreme Court after having been heard by the SIAC in 2008 on appeal from an order made by the Secretary of State in 2007. This is the case of Mr Al Jedda. ( UKSC 62; judgement delivered on 9th October 2013).