UK Human Rights law
English Criminal Law
The right to choose to engage in sexual intercourse, or even a sexual act, relies upon the powers contained under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as well as art.8 of the ECHR (Right to respect for private and family life). However, when disability fetters that discretion, the court is required to exercise greater consideration of exactly how such a vulnerability intervenes.
In summer of 2006, a 28 year-old woman suffering with schizo-affective disorder and an IQ of 75, found herself confronted by an aggressive man known to be suffering from metal health issues, and coerced into a situation whereby the defendant forced the victim to perform oral sex against her will.
Upon indictment, the defendant argued that while her illness caused fluctuating symptoms, she was at the time of the alleged offence, able to choose whether or not to engage in the act. When directing the jury, the judge remarked that in order to secure a conviction they must agree that the victim:
“[W]ould be unable to refuse if she lacked the capacity to choose whether to agree to the touching…for example, an irrational fear arising from her mental disorder or such confusion of mind arising from her mental disorder, that she felt that she was unable to refuse any request the defendants made for sex.
Alternatively, [she] would be unable to refuse if through her mental disorder she was unable to communicate such a choice to the defendants even though she was physically able to communicate with them.”
With the defendant duly convicted, he immediately appealed, during which the Court of Appeal both acknowledged and supported his original defence through Re MM, in which the court held that:
“Irrational fear that prevents the exercise of choice cannot be equated with lack of capacity to choose.”
However, when presented to the House of Lords under challenge by the Crown, close examination of s.2(1) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 revealed that:
“[A] person lacks capacity in relation to a matter if at the material time he is unable to make a decision for himself in relation to the matter because of an impairment of, or disturbance in the functioning of, the mind or brain.”
While s.30(1)(c)(d) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states how a person is guilty of an offence if the victim is unable to refuse:
“(c)…because of or for a reason related to a mental disorder, and
(d) A knows or could reasonably be expected to know that B has a mental disorder and that because of it or for a reason related to it B is likely to be unable to refuse.”
This is further supported by s.30(2) which states that a sexual offence is recognised when:
“(2) B is unable to refuse if –
(a) he lacks the capacity to choose whether to agree to the touching (whether because he lacks sufficient understanding of the nature or reasonably foreseeable consequences of what is being done, or for any other reason), or
(b) he is unable to communicate such a choice to A.”
On this occasion, the House held that when placed into such a traumatic and hopeless situation, the victim had been unable to neither decide nor refuse the advances of the defendant, therefore there could be no doubt as to the soundness of the original conviction. It was for these reasons that the appeal was upheld, while the House reminded that had the victim been held to have capacity but been unable to communicate her refusal, the defendant would have been otherwise liable for statutory rape under ss.1 and 75(2)(e) of the 2003 Act.
English Tort Law
Damages for libel and the freedom of expression, rely upon distinct terms of meaning for their preservation or application. And so on this occasion, the subjective opinion of an industry insider becomes the target of a writ that while not uncommon, does little to protect the reputation of those evaluated.
Whilst writing a tabloid article, the appellant doctor wrote of the respondents:
“The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence.”
In retaliation, the respondents issued a writ for defamation on grounds that when publishing the article, the appellant had implied on the basis of fact, that the respondents lacked any credible evidence with which to support its claims. During the trial, the judge elected to apply a ‘fact’ based test, as opposed to one of subjective opinion, whereupon the jury found against the appellant and damages were set, along with injunctive remedy.
During the appeal, the Court reexamined the actions of the judge when choosing to adopt a factual premise upon which to rest the defence, while exploring the meaning of art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of expression), with particular reference to De Haes and Gijsels v Belgium, in which the Court found that a journalist accused of libellous commentary was ultimately found to have merely expressed a ‘value judgment’ based upon collective facts relating to the field under discussion.
Here, the appellant had recently co-authored a book with an established authority on the history of chiropractic medicine, who had found through direct application of the methods common to chiropractic, that despite seventy experimental trials, there was no evidence to support the claims forwarded by the respondents, hence the commentary made within the article.
With these ‘facts’ in hand, the Court held that while honest in his intentions, the trial judge had erred in treating subjective opinion and reasoned commentary as statements of fact, and that by doing so had in essence contravened the rights contained under art.10, and reinforced the notion that challenges of those in authority were subject to punishment or forfeiture.
It was for this reason that the Court reversed the previous decision, while citing the words of Judge Easterbrook in Underwager v Salter, who had clarified how:
“[Plaintiffs] cannot, by simply filing suit and crying ‘character assassination!’, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation . . . more papers, more discussion, better data, and more satisfactory models – not larger awards of images – mark the path towards superior understanding of the world around us.”
While reminding the Court that language should not be used to distort, dilute or obscure the purpose of clarity when establishing liability for defamation or libel.
English Constitutional Law
Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs lock horns in a case built around progressive lifestyles and the security of dogma.
Having established herself as the owner operator of a bed and breakfast, the appellant consciously took bookings on principles espoused through Christian teachings, one of which precluded the use of double rooms by those outside wedlock. While considered a practical and measured restriction, the appellant was often found letting out such rooms to unmarried couples, largely due to the difficulty in establishing their marital status at the time of agreement.
However, the footing of this matter rested upon a homosexual couple, who having secured the room via email, and duly paying the required deposit, arrived at the property, before finding themselves denied use of the double room on grounds of their sexual relationship and unmarried status (an impossible task at the time of this hearing).
At the point of litigation, the claimants argued that the appellant had unlawfully discriminated against them under the terms of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations Act 2007 (SI 2007/1263), in particular regulations 3 and 4, which read:
“3.(1) For the purposes of these Regulations, a person (“A”) discriminates against another (“B”) if, on grounds of the sexual orientation of B or any other person except A, A treats B less favourably than he treats or would treat others (in cases where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances).
4. (1) It is unlawful for a person (“A”) concerned with the provision to the public or a section of the public of goods, facilities or services to discriminate against a person (“B”) who seeks to obtain or to use those goods, facilities or services”
While the appellant countered that she had refused the claimants use of the room under regulation 6, which reads:
“6.-(1) Regulation 4 does not apply to anything done by a person as a participant in arrangements under which he (for reward or not) takes into his home, and treats as if they were members of his family, children, elderly persons, or persons requiring a special degree of care and attention.”
Further arguing that her business fell outside the scope of a boarding house, as expressed in regulation 4(2)(b) of the same statutory instrument.
During the first hearing, the court refused to uphold her claim and found her liable for sexual discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, whereupon the defendant argued her case in the Court of Appeal.
Here, the facts were given greater consideration, including various articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). With regard to exemption from regulation 4(b), the Court observed that in Otter v Norman the House of Lords had ruled that:
“[T]he provision of breakfast by itself, with the implicit inclusion of the ancillary services involved in preparing it and the provision of crockery and cutlery with which to eat it, amounted to “board” within the meaning of section 7(1) [of the Rent Act 1977].”
However, with careful observation of regulation 6(1), it was noted by the Court that the claimants were anything but members of her family, children, elderly persons of those requiring special degree of care and attention. The appellant also relied upon Preddy v Bull for her contention that her refusal of the respondents occupation was one based upon an objection to sexual behaviour, and not orientation; yet sadly the parties involved were in a civil partnership, which distinguished it from the immediate case.
Turning instead to proportionality for justification, the appellant relied upon arts.8 (Right to respect and private family life) and 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the ECHR for her right to exclusion, while the respondents relied upon arts.8 and 14 (Prohibition of discrimination) to uphold their right to occupation.
It was then noted that while art.9(1) provides for religious manifestation, art.9(2) also provides that restrictions apply when preserving the rights of others, which on this occasion worked against the appellant, as she was by all accounts, running a commercial enterprise, and which under a Government paper titled “Getting Equal: Proposals to outlaw sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of goods and services, Government Response to Consultation” it was outlined on page 13 that:
“The Government contends that where businesses are open to the public on a commercial basis, they have to accept the public as it is constituted.”
While it was also stressed in Eweida and others v United Kingdom that:
“Even where the belief in question attains the required level of cogency and importance, it cannot be said that every act which is in some way inspired, motivated or influenced by it constitutes a ‘manifestation’ of the belief.”
And so despite any freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs when operating a licensed business to paying customers, indirect discrimination through the application of a policy denying equal rights to those in homosexual relationships amounted to a uniform ruling of direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, while the appeal court held that:
“[D]irect discrimination cannot be justified, whereas indirect discrimination can be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”
English Constitutional Law
While paving the way for a number of similar ‘religious obligations’ versus ‘convention rights’ cases, this protracted legal discourse reveals a number of indiscretions, that in many respects, served to influence legislative and educational policy in the United Kingdom, and illustrate how laws evolve through the integration of cultural norms and progressive state cohabitation.
After working as a supply teacher within the mainstream schools arena for a considerable number of years, the Islamic applicant took issue with the government, upon grounds that his need (or at least doctrinal requirement) to attend a mosque on Friday afternoons was being denied by statute; and that subsequent operational policy created the violation of a number of constitutional rights afforded to all citizens of the United Kingdom.
Citing art.9(1) of the ECHR (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and art.14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicant protested that s.30 of the Education Act 1994 stood in immediate conflict with his need to manifest his religious beliefs every Friday between the hours of 1.30pm to 2.15pm. Having been employed by a number of London Borough schools prior to his decision to resign rather than reduce his working hours, the applicant had been given verbal allowances by one school, and shown strict opposition by another, which bore an inconsistent position of unwillingness to accommodate a religious need, which until recently, had never been expressed nor discussed at the time of his original appointment.
When it was submitted that the repeated failure of a Muslim man to attend a mosque (subject to relative distances) would likely result in a beheading in a country such as Saudi Arabia, the applicant expected that the same principles would apply under domestic jurisdiction, and that those grounds, along with previous (albeit unofficial) allowances were sufficient enough to warrant time taken from his contractual duties, despite any inconvenience to teaching staff, pupils or the school as a whole.
After failing to find those arguments upheld in the domestic courts, the matter wound up before the European Commission for Human Rights, where it was unanimously decided that the terms of the Convention were constructed in such as fashion as to allow interpretation and consideration of all religions and beliefs, not just those of the applicant; and yet when willingly accepting a position of employment that brings with it a set of express and implied terms, the accepting individual takes ownership of how that agreement might impinge upon their religious requirements or obligations of faith, and must therefore act accordingly, thus the Commission dismissed the application, while holding that:
“[E]ven a person at liberty may, in the exercise of his freedom to manifest his religion, have to take into account his particular professional or contractual position.”