Category Archives: Human rights

Jacob Rowbottom: McCutcheon and the US campaign finance laws: Responsiveness to money or people?

jacob-rowbottom-photoThe decision of the US Supreme Court in McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission represents another judicial gutting of American campaign finance laws. Following Citizens Unitedv Federal Election Commission (2010), the ruling makes another inroad into the law, with a 5-4 majority by finding a cap on the aggregate level of political donations to violate the First Amendment. The decision is of interest to those of us outside the US in highlighting different views about the role of free speech in the political system and the threats that money can pose to the integrity of that system.

Under American law, the amount that any person can donate to a candidate is capped at $2,600 per election (which means a maximum of $5,200 per candidate that is standing in a primary and general election). That limit remains in place. The decision concerned a law that capped the aggregate amount a person can contribute to multiple federal candidates at $48,000 and to other campaigning organisations (such as political action committees and party committees) at $74,600. This meant that individuals could donate a maximum of $123,200 to candidates and other campaign groups.

In the plurality opinion given by Chief Justice Roberts, the aggregate limits were found to violate the First Amendment. Part of his reasoning turned on the definition of corruption. In the case of Buckley v Valeo (1976), the Supreme Court had famously ruled that campaign finance laws cannot restrict speech rights in order to promote equal opportunities to influence elections. The definition of corruption in the US therefore became a high stakes question – if a broad definition is taken, then a wider range of campaign regulations can be justified.

The different views of corruption can be seen in the plurality and dissenting opinions. Justice Roberts followed a narrow view, which had been mentioned in Citizens United, which viewed corruption primarily as about quid pro quos and the appearance of such deals. By contrast, he thought corruption does not extend to ‘mere influence or access’ secured by large donations. Taking this position, Roberts argued that donating money is an important form of political participation, which ensures politicians remain responsive to the public. At the end of the opinion, he stressed this point after quoting Edmund Burke:

 

‘Constituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and responsive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.’

On this view, representatives should listen to those that have expressed their support through a donation, just as he or she would listen to and meet volunteers on a campaign. Roberts reasoning seems to compare donations to other forms of participation that the First Amendment protects – though he does not challenge the distinction between contributions and expenditures drawn in Buckley v Valeo, and does not require a strict scrutiny standard for contributions controls (on which see the opinion of Justice Thomas). Roberts did not have to determine the standard of review for his conclusion, but the logic of the reasoning and emphasis on donations as participation suggests the issue may be revisited in the future. While the government has an interest in preventing corruption, Roberts argued that this should not be defined so broadly as to compromise this type of responsiveness.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer also stressed the role of political communications to make elected representatives responsive to the people. This, he argued, is the central reason why the First Amendment protects expression:

‘the First Amendment advances not only the individual’s right to engage in political speech, but also the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.’

Corruption, he argued, breaks this ‘chain of communication’ as elected representatives are diverted from considering the views of the people. The prevention of corruption is, therefore, not simply another countervailing factor to be weighed up against speech rights, but is ‘rooted in the First Amendment’. Unlike Roberts, Breyer thought the concern with responsiveness requires a view of corruption beyond quid pro quos. Even if no backroom deals are made, large donations can undermine this responsiveness if they ‘drown out the voices of the many’. In taking this view, Breyer treats donations as distinct from other types of participation. A representative should be responsive to the views of the people, and not direct their attention to those with the most economic resources.

Both Breyer and Roberts used the language of responsiveness, but they hold very different views about the role of political donations in the system. For Roberts, the election finance laws are the threat to responsiveness, while for Breyer it is the presence of big political spenders. Of the two, I find Breyer most convincing. Giving access and influence to donors is not simply a matter of showing gratitude to supporters – it allows the well resourced to buy themselves a seat at the table and secure a politician’s ear. The potential for corruption can occur in more subtle ways than direct deals. There is no reason to risk these more subtle types of threat to protect a form of participation that is available only to the very wealthy. Ultimately, what should politicians be responsive to: people or dollars?

Aside from this issue, the other major area of disagreement was whether the aggregate limits were necessary to prevent corruption even in the narrow sense – for example, can large donations to party committees generate a danger of a quid pro quo, and can large aggregate donations provide a loophole to circumvent the low contribution limits to individual candidates. In defending their positions, both the plurality and dissenters considered a number of complex arrangements that could be used to channel donations to an individual candidate in a system without aggregate limits. Roberts found the aggregate limit was not necessary and that other rules are effective in preventing circumvention. The dissenters took a more skeptical view of such controls. Again, I found Breyer to be more persuasive. The experience of campaign finance laws shows that loopholes are fully exploited, and there is no reason to expect any exception here.

What should we make of this decision in the UK? It underlines the radical difference in the free speech jurisprudence over the Atlantic. As I have shown earlier on this blog, the Article 10 ECHR jurisprudence accepts that expression can be restricted to promote equality of opportunity in political communication and prevent distortion, as well as to deal with corruption. The fierce debate about the rationale and the definition of corruption is therefore sidestepped under the ECHR, which is more permissive in relation to campaign finance. The case also underlines the different system of election regulation in the two countries. In the UK, there is not even a base limit on donations to candidates or parties, so the question of aggregate limits does not arise. While the US judges discussed the fear of very large donations going to candidates, that is has always been permissible in the UK.

Will this decision unleash even more money into future US elections? As many commentators have noted, there has been no shortage of funds in recent campaigns. Instead, some have wondered whether this decision means that more of the money will now flow to parties, rather than unregulated independent organisations. It is hard to know whether it will have such an effect. One certain effect of the decision is that it makes regulating money in American politics harder than ever. The question is which remaining parts of the system will be next to come under the Court’s scrutiny? One leading scholar believes that McCutcheon paves the way for a challenge to the controls on soft money contributions. Unless there is a fairly dramatic change to the composition of the court, more inroads into the law seem likely.

 

Jacob Rowbottom is a Fellow of University College and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford.  He is the author of Democracy Distorted (CUP 2010).

Suggested citation: J. Rowbottom, ‘McCutcheon  and the US Campaign Finance Laws: Responsiveness to Money or People?’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (9th April 2014) (available at  http://ukconstitutionallaw.org/).

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Judicial review

Alan Bogg and Virginia Mantouvalou: Illegality, Human Rights and Employment: A Watershed Moment for the United Kingdom Supreme Court?

boggav_mantouvalouUnder what circumstances can the illegal work status of a migrant worker bar a statutory tort claim for race discrimination through the common law doctrine of illegality? Such a question is due to be considered later this month by the United Kingdom Supreme Court in an appeal from the Court of Appeal decision in Allen v Hounga. Ms Hounga arrived in the UK from Nigeria in 2007 to work as a domestic worker for Mr and Mrs Allen. Her age was indeterminate but she may have been as young as fourteen when she entered the arrangement. Despite the promise of schooling, Ms Hounga never had an opportunity to get an education, and it was alleged that she suffered serious physical abuse at the hands of Mrs Allen. Eventually, she was ejected from the house and, having slept rough, Ms Hounga was found wandering in a distressed state in a supermarket car park. According to the Court of Appeal, Ms Hounga’s race discrimination claim was ‘inextricably bound up’ with the illegality in question and so to permit her compensation would be to appear to condone her unlawful conduct. In the eyes of many commentators, Hounga marked a new low for common law reasoning in the sphere of statutory employment rights. This was compounded by the context of legally sanctioned exploitation of a particularly vulnerable migrant worker, whose vulnerability had been constructed by the legal order in the first place, a situation that can also be described as ‘legislative precariousness’.

The narrowest approach to the legal issue would be to consider the Court of Appeal’s holding in Hounga with respect to legal authority. Rimer LJ in the Court of Appeal purported to follow the approach to illegality set out in the earlier case of Hall v Woolston Leisure. In Hall the Court of Appeal had insisted on a strict causation test. In Hounga this had been loosened to encompass situations where the illegality was merely ‘linked’ to the discrimination claim. Perhaps a better approach to formulate the question in the way that Lord Hoffmann did in the House of Lords decision in Gray v Thames Trains: ‘Can one say that, although the damage would not have happened but for the tortious conduct of the defendant, it was caused by the criminal act of the claimant? …or is the position that although the damage would not have happened without the criminal act of the claimant, it was caused by the tortious act of the defendant?’ If we pose the question in this way on the facts in Hounga, then the gist of the tort – the violation of Ms Hounga’s right not to be discriminated against because of her race – was caused by the tortious act of the defendant. That should be the end of the causation enquiry. And perhaps the Supreme Court might be content to dispose of the case on that narrow basis, ensuring the internal coherence of the common law doctrine of illegality in accordance with the precedents in Hall and Gray. Certainly, there are recent examples of the Employment Appeal Tribunal dealing with the illegality doctrine in a manner that is more sensitive to the various legitimate interests at stake, while reasoning within the four corners of the illegality doctrine.

There is a larger set of perspectives, however, given that Hounga sits at the intersection between labour law, human rights and migration law. Rather than refine the common law doctrine of illegality and ensure its internal coherence, it may be appropriate to consider whether illegality should have any role at all in this regulatory sphere. It might be helpful to consider this from two different vantage points, one that characterizes Hounga as a ‘labour law’ case; the other of which characterizes Hounga as a ‘migration’ case. It might be useful to regard both kinds of approach as based upon an anti-exploitation principle, which would set itself against unfair-advantage taking in the employment context. From a labour law perspective, the unfairness consists in the violation of legal rights that exist for the protection of those engaged in personal work. From a migration law perspective, the unfairness consists in the targeting of an especially vulnerable group within the wider category of personal work relations, viz migrants working illegally. Human rights issues arise in both of these perspectives.

If we take first the ‘labour law’ perspective, there is a respectable argument to be made that there is something special about labour rights, or a subset of labour rights that can be classified as human rights, that means that illegality should be excluded entirely from this regulatory context. At its broadest, it is possible to argue that all labour rights should be insulated from the illegality doctrine. Labour rights, such as the right not to be unfairly dismissed or working time protections, are not simply rights that benefit the individual worker implicated in illegality. These rights are also justified in their contribution to a wider public good, ensuring a culture of respect for workers’ rights in a well-functioning labour market that promotes decent work. Illegality should not be permitted to impede this public good by inculcating an ethic of disregard for employment rights amongst unscrupulous employers. Illegality also adds an extra incentive to employ undocumented migrant workers by ensuring a supply of labour that is cheaper still through the denial of basic employment rights. An intermediate labour law approach might be to focus on those employment rights that are reciprocally bound up with the provision of work, so that denial of the right corresponds to an unjust enrichment for the employer who has already had the benefit of the work. The obvious example here is the provision of back pay or the right to paid annual leave.

The narrowest labour law perspective would focus on a tighter category of fundamental human rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against because of race or sex, the prohibition of forced labour or freedom of association. The fundamentality of these human rights means that any illegality of the claimant should be disregarded. There would be something unconscionable for a legal system to permit the violation of fundamental human rights in circumstances of illegality; it would undermine the “integrity of the legal system” which, after all, is one of the functional concerns of the illegality doctrine itself. In Hall both Peter Gibson L.J. and Mance L.J. identified the sex discrimination claim as vindicating the claimant’s fundamental human right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sex. This fundamental rights dimension was a vital factor in insulating the statutory tort claim from the doctrine of illegality. This labour law perspective, focused on the nature of the legal right, would treat the migration dimension to Hounga as part of the background context, but not especially salient. It might be regarded as an extra attraction of this approach that in avoiding a focus on whether labour was forced or a person was trafficked, it avoids the implicit legitimization of other situations where an employer violates the fundamental human rights of workers (whether or not migrants) behind the protective cloak of illegality.

By contrast, the ‘migration law’ perspective would focus on the distinctive nature of the claimant in Hounga as a member of an especially vulnerable group within the labour market. In respect of their labour rights, undocumented migrant workers are effectively ‘outlaws’. The doctrine of illegality exacerbates their existing vulnerability through the law, and makes them even more prone to exploitation than other migrant workers. This seems difficult to defend even from the perspective of migration policy itself. For just as migration policy is concerned to regulate and restrict migration, it is equally concerned to ameliorate the circumstances of extreme exploitation that can be classified as ‘modern slavery’, which might be thought to characterize the situation of claimants such as Ms Hounga.

In terms of European human rights law, this situation can raise issues under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which may provide the tools to address workers’ exploitation in certain circumstances. The Convention protects the rights of everyone within the Contracting States’ jurisdiction (article 1 ECHR), without drawing any distinction on the basis of nationality. Article 4 of the ECHR, which is an absolute provision, prohibits slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has previously examined the exploitation of a migrant domestic worker in the case of Siliadin v France, which had similarities with Hounga (but without the element of physical abuse). The ECtHR recognized the applicant’s vulnerability, whose passport had been confiscated, and ruled that she was held in servitude, forced and compulsory labour, which should be criminalized. Even though the focus was on criminalization, the Court did not rule out that other labour protective legislation may be required. In terms of the legal regime that the doctrine of illegality sets up for the undocumented, the case Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia is also important to highlight. In that case, which involved a victim of sex trafficking, the ECtHR held that an immigration regime (that of the ‘artiste visa’ in that case) limited the freedom of Rantseva to such a degree that it violated article 4. The doctrine of illegality may raise similar issues, as it limits the undocumented workers’ freedom to an extreme, leaving them in a legal black hole.

The prohibition of discrimination (article 14 ECHR) taken together with the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions (article 1 of Protocol 1 ECHR) may also be at stake in cases of an illegal contract of employment. Should a worker not be awarded her salaries, the Court may view this as discrimination in the enjoyment of her possessions, as salaries have been classified as possessions in the case law. The ECtHR has explored the social rights of a documented migrant in Gaygusuz v Austria, and ruled that for a difference of treatment on the basis of immigration status to be justified, ‘very weighty reasons would have to be put forward before the Court’. The control of immigration may be a legitimate aim, but the means employed to meet the aim may violate the Convention.

The ECtHR has not examined the rights of undocumented workers under the prohibition of discrimination in conjunction with other Convention rights. However, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights addressed the issue in its advisory opinion ‘Juridical Condition and Rights of the Undocumented Migrants’. In this context, the Court referred to the vulnerable status of migrants and emphasised that their human tights should be protected regardless of their legal status. It stated that workers’ rights can only be dependent on the status of someone as a worker, and not on the status of someone as a lawful migrant:

‘Labor rights necessarily arise from the circumstance of being a worker, understood in the broadest sense. A person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity, immediately becomes a worker and, consequently, acquires the rights inherent in that condition […] [T]he migratory status of a person can never be a justification for depriving him of the enjoyment and exercise of his human rights, including those related to employment.’

This opinion suggests that fundamental labour rights found in legislation cannot be made conditional upon immigration status because this violates the prohibition of discrimination. The Inter-American Court accepted that states have a sovereign power to deny employment to undocumented migrants. However, once they are employed, they should be protected equally to other workers. The list of rights that undocumented workers must enjoy, on this analysis, does not only include the ILO’s fundamental rights at work. It also encompasses fair pay, reasonable working hours, health and safety rules and other fundamental labour rights.

Hounga is possibly the most important employment case yet to be considered by the United Kingdom Supreme Court. We hope that it takes the opportunity to step beyond the formalism of a narrow approach to the illegality point, sensitive to the wider human rights issues. Nothing less than the integrity of the English legal system is at stake.

Alan Bogg is Professor of Labour Law; Fellow and Tutor in Law, Hertford College, University of Oxford.

Virginia Mantouvalou is Reader in Human Rights and Labour Law and Co-Director of the Institute of Human Rights, University College London (UCL).

This piece has also been endorsed by Professor Hugh Collins (Oxford), Dr Nicola Countouris (UCL), Dr Cathryn Costello (Oxford), Professor Mark Freedland (Oxford), John Hendy QC (UCL) and Professor Tonia Novitz (Bristol).

Suggested citation: A. Bogg and V. Mantouvalou,’Illegality, Human Rights and Employment: A Watershed Moment for the United Kingdom Supreme Court?’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (13th March 2014) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org/)

1 Comment

Filed under Human rights, Judiciary

Jacob Rowbottom: Laws, Miranda and the Democratic Justification for Expression

jacob-rowbottom-photoThe Divisional Court’s decision in the David Miranda case has provoked much controversy and debate about freedom of the press and national security issues. About halfway through his judgment, Laws LJ makes a number of comments about the justifications for freedom of expression and media freedom. While these may not be the most pressing or immediately important issues raised by this particular case, it is worth noting what Laws LJ says at paras [41-46] as he seems to move away from what has been something of an orthodoxy in the British and European jurisprudence – the importance placed on the democratic justification for expression.

Laws LJ takes this step away from the democratic justification only in relation to individual freedom of expression, and not media freedom. On his view, media freedom is justified ‘to serve the public at large’ – in other words to scrutinize government and provide useful information to the public. These are classic features of the democratic justification. In this, Laws (correctly in my opinion) takes an instrumental account of media freedom, an approach that is reflected in many of the cases and in the Leveson Report. By contrast, he states that freedom of expression ‘belongs to every individual for his own sake’. Here Laws LJ states that ‘the promotion or betterment of democratic government’ is not the ‘essential justification of free expression’. Instead, individual freedom of expression ‘is a condition of every man’s flourishing’.

The implication of this distinction is that when applying the proportionality test in the case of media freedom, the courts are balancing ‘two aspects of the public interest’. By contrast, freedom of speech is about balancing the rights of the individual with the interests of the community. This should not, however, be taken to mean that media freedom rights are more easily outweighed. There may be instances where the public interest in expression serving the needs of the audience is stronger than the interest held by the individual. There will be cases where the audience-focused public interest justification makes a very strong case for heightened protection.

In his discussion of the democratic justification, Laws LJ describes Alexander Meiklejohn’s view that free speech is ‘a collective, not an individual, interest’ and a ‘servant of democracy’. We can see the collective approach to free speech reflected in Meiklejohn’s famous comment that ‘What is essential is not that everyone shall speak, but that everything worth saying shall be said’. According to this approach, the key is that all the relevant viewpoints get a hearing and are considered. The goal is to ensure that the audience is well informed. This thinking suggests that if every person were to speak in a debate, then similar views would be likely to be repeated – while this might make speakers feel better about themselves, it does not give the audience new information (except indicating strength of feeling). Laws LJ argues that this justification, while relevant to the media, does not provide a foundation for individual freedom of expression.  In short Laws LJ seems to take the following approach: the collective Meiklejohnian justification for the media, and a liberty theory for individual speakers.

One of the main criticisms of the democratic justification/collective interest advanced by Laws is that it tends ‘to devalue non-political speech and justify the prohibition or abridgement of speech advocating undemocratic government’. It is certainly true that the democratic justification, as advanced under Article 10, has led to a hierarchy in which political speech is given strongest protection. If what Laws LJ means is that the democratic justification is not the sole justification and needs supplementing in some instances to give broader protection, then this is a valid point. I have argued elsewhere that in some cases more protection is needed for the non-political speech of individuals. But the democratic justification still plays an important role in relation to individual expression and there are strong arguments to support the robust protection of political speech. Furthermore, some hierarchy among categories of speech may be practically necessary – not every utterance can be given exactly the same intensity of protection. If all types of expression were treated as a single category then it might weaken the protection of expression overall (ie treating all speech types equally might lead to a leveling down of protection rather than a leveling up).

Laws LJ’s concern that the democracy argument justifies ‘the prohibition or abridgement of speech advocating undemocratic government ‘ is less persuasive. An account of speech that focuses on the collective democratic interest does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that prohibitions on undemocratic speech are to be permitted. The audience interest in hearing diverse views can extend to those that challenge democratic values. One can still oppose restrictions on ‘extreme speech’ while staying within the framework of the classic democratic justification for expression rights. Furthermore, if Laws LJ’s maintains the collective/democratic justification in the case of media freedom, then why doesn’t his objection to the justification apply in this context as well as to individual speakers?

None of this is dismiss the important distinction drawn between individual speech rights and media freedom (with which I strongly agree). However, we can support that distinction for reasons that still connect free speech with democracy. Meiklejohn provides a powerful argument that captures one very important role for free speech in a democracy. But there are other additional reasons why free speech is necessary in a democracy. When thinking about the free speech rights of individuals, we also need to consider the perspective of the speaker.  While this seems to be what Laws LJ is getting at, the speaker-based perspective can fit within a democratic justification. Expression can be a form of participation in the political process. To speak out in a democracy is valuable not solely as a means of informing the public, but also as a way of having your say and engaging with collective decision-making. For example, protests are important not just to publicize a cause, but in allowing people to publicly register their thoughts.

My point is that we need not marginalize the democratic justification for expression to go beyond an audience-focused approach. Instead, some of the classic theory’s shortcomings can be addressed by developing the understanding of democracy that underpins the justification for free speech rights.

Jacob Rowbottom is a Fellow of University College, Oxford.

Suggested citation: J. Rowbottom, ‘Laws, Miranda and the Democratic Justification for Expression’  U.K. Const. L. Blog (22nd February 2014) (available at : http://ukconstitutionallaw.org/)

3 Comments

Filed under Human rights

Richard Ekins: A modest proposal: prudence, proportionality and (forced) prostitution

richardekins2009-200x300Late last year, in Bedford, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a set of legislative provisions prohibiting the running of brothels, living on the proceeds of prostitution, and communicating in public with clients.  The court ruled that while Parliament had authority to regulate nuisances, the legislation in question was grossly disproportionate to this end, arbitrarily undermining the life, liberty and security of prostitutes engaged in their – lawful – trade.  The legislation in question is subject to a suspended declaration of invalidity, such that Parliament has one year within which to enact alternative legislation if it wishes.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the French Parliament has acted to repeal the equivalent provisions, but has at the same time imposed criminal liability on clients, specifically a fine of €1,500, rising to a maximum of €3,750 for repeat offenders.  Thus, France is following Sweden, with other European countries reported to be considering similar change.  In arguing for this change, I understand the French government stressed the high proportion of prostitutes in France who are victims of people trafficking.

The Canadian and French experience confirms the obvious: legislation about prostitution is always controversial.  The controversy, as with so many issues in our public life, plays out in part in constitutional law and practice.  This blog post considers the constitutionality of legislating about prostitution by thinking through the proportionality (and prudence) of a proposal for legislation, outlined below, which addresses the problem of forced prostitution.  The problem is that, while accurate figures are hard to come by, it would seem that a high proportion of trafficked persons are bound for the sex trade, which means that at least some proportion of prostitutes in the Western world have been trafficked and are forced to undertake and to endure sexual acts without consent.  That is, these women (and men, and sometimes children) are the victims of repeated rapes, for which those who profit as well as the rapists themselves should be held criminally liable and severely punished.

But is the client of a forced prostitute a rapist?  Perhaps not, for there is an asymmetry in the law of rape, especially stark in cases where a person is sold into prostitution, is forced into sexual acts – maybe even (often) is forced to seem willing, to act as if consenting.  The asymmetry is this: the woman so forced does not in fact consent and yet the person(s) paying for sex with her may reasonably (or at least arguably, which may be sufficient to avoid conviction and hence even to deter prosecution) believe that she consents.

The possibility that any particular ‘prostitute’, even if British (and hence unlikely to have been trafficked from elsewhere in the world), does not in fact consent is one that should weigh heavily in the judgment of any reasonable person as to whether in fact she consents.  That is, it may very often be unreasonable to believe that a woman with whom a man has paid for sex in fact consents.  But this is a very thin reed on which to secure a rape conviction of a man who pays for sex with a person who, it turns out, is forced to be a prostitute.  And perhaps rightly so, for the man who fails to consider the possibility that the woman in question has been trafficked – who has not thought about the reach of person trafficking – may simply be careless and unthinking, not vicious or reckless, such that it would be wrong to condemn his action as an instance of that most serious sexual crime, rape.

Interestingly, the criminal law does rule out, or at least sharply bears on, certain kinds of argument about whether it was reasonable for the accused to believe that the complainant consents.  Section 75 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides a rebuttable presumption that the complainant did not consent and that the defendant did not reasonably believe she consented if the defendant is aware that at the time of the relevant act, or immediately before, the complainant was in fear of violence (against herself or another), was unlawfully detained, was asleep or otherwise unconscious, was incapable of communicating consent by reason of physical disability, or was subject (without her consent) to a stupefying substance.  Section 76 provides that the accused does not have a reasonable belief in consent if he intentionally deceives the complainant about the nature or purpose of the relevant act or if he intentionally induces the complainant to consent to the relevant act by impersonating a person known personally to the complainant.

The equivalent New Zealand legislation, s 128A of the Crimes Act 1961, is more prescriptive still, specifying various circumstances (including excessive consumption of alcohol or other drugs) in which a person does not consent.  However, while this rules out any argument that the complainant in fact consented, it does not in terms specify that the defendant cannot reasonably believe the complainant consented (if drunk, etc.).  Still, the significance of these provisions is that they limit the scope for argument, avoiding some uncertainty about when and why it is reasonable to believe the complainant consented.

Consider this modest proposal.  Amend s 76 of the Sexual Offences Act to provide a conclusive presumption that no complainant consents, and no defendant reasonably believes she consents, when (the defendant knows that) the payment of money (by the defendant or on his behalf) is a condition of the defendant doing the relevant act.  Would this amendment be reasonable?  Would it be constitutional?

One might argue that this proposal, which would make it impossible in law for any person paying to have sex with a ‘prostitute’ to be reasonable in his belief that she consents, interferes with his right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, if respect for one’s private and family life is ‘engaged’ when one makes unlawful paying for sex.  (I set aside an analogous argument that a willing, non-trafficked prostitute might make: by hypothesis, any interference would be with her trade not her private life).  I doubt whether one should think that respect for one’s private life requires respect for one’s desire to pay for sex, but Article 8(1) is understood so capaciously that likely it would be so understood (indeed, perhaps it already has been).  The interference would not, on my argument, be intended for the protection of health or morals but rather for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, viz. the bodily integrity and personal liberty of the trafficked persons whom, absent the proposed amendment, the unsuspecting customer is otherwise free to rape.  Relatedly, the interference would be intended to prevent crime to the extent that it would imperil the market for trafficked persons, deterring (somewhat) the crimes involved in forcing women into prostitution.

The interference would be a rational means to the ends in question, for it would vindicate the rights of the trafficked woman to be free from sexual acts to which she does not consent by bringing closer into line the man’s legal liberty and her actual non-consent: that is it would close the asymmetry in a way consistent with the law’s focus on the reasonableness of the defendant’s belief.  And by exposing every client to liability for rape the interference would very sharply deter at least some (and increasingly more if the regime were applied forcefully) from paying for sex or even from considering paying for sex.  I take it that the question of proportionality stricto sensu is easily answered: securing the rights of all persons to be free from rape is not an end to be set aside because it involves limiting, or expunging, the freedom to pay for sex, which freedom is close to worthless.

The hardest question might be whether the proposed amendment is the least restrictive alternative.  For why amend s 76 when one might just as easily, and perhaps more obviously, amend s 75?  That is, why not introduce a rebuttable presumption that if money is paid (by or on behalf of the defendant) the complainant does not consent and the defendant does not reasonably believe she consents?  This narrower presumption would avoid an obvious implication of the broader proposal, which is that the latter deems some persons (willing, non-trafficked prostitutes) not to have consented when in fact they have consented.  This deeming is an awkward fit with the structure of ss 75-76, which take for granted that the presumptions – conclusive or rebuttable – track the facts.  Hence, avoiding this artificiality might be thought an obvious advantage of the narrower formulation, such that the broader is disproportionate.  However, there is an advantage to the broader, which is that it constitutes a clear rule, which makes unarguable the proposition that it was reasonable to believe the complainant consented because she was a prostitute.

The question of whether to privilege the narrower is a difficult question, not to be answered solely on the grounds of the apparent logic of proportionality.  The artificiality of the broader proposal would be intended precisely to protect the persons who will suffer from a vaguer proposition which aims to discern the actually consenting from the non-consenting.  Further, the proposed amendment may be understood not just, or even mainly, as an evidential rule concerning what is or is not reasonable belief in consent, as s 75 clearly is and s 76 is in part, but rather as a provision that makes it the case that there is no reasonable belief in consent in these circumstances, even if some (even many or most) prostitutes are willing, non-trafficked and in some sense do in fact ‘consent’.  The law in question would, in one way, make the latter persons incapable of consenting to sex in exchange for payment, which incapacity (which would not change their legal position save to the extent of removing a power to make what would otherwise be rape not rape) is imposed for the sake of the (unknown number of) persons who do not consent and are forced into prostitution.

An amendment to s 76 would thus perhaps be proportionate, consistent with Article 8.  In one sense, of course, it would not be at all proportionate, for it has the effect that men who pay for sex are liable for conviction for rape, even when the person with whom they have sex in fact consents, which seems heavy-handed at best.  Doubtless such persons would be sentenced much more leniently than other rapists (rapists properly so-called even), and doubtless the authorities would prosecute only a fraction of those persons.  This gives rise to a general worry, which is that while the proposal may not be obviously illogical, it may be wildly imprudent, for it introduces into law a strained artificiality that sharply extends the scope of the criminal law in a fashion that is unlikely to be publicly supported.  I refer here not to the related worry that no Parliament would ever enact this proposal, but rather to the prospect that the (liability to) conviction for rape of many men who pay for sex would be viewed as absurd, as devaluing the gravity of the charge of rape.

These are, I think, difficult questions.  The merits of the proposal turn in part on one’s sense of the scale of the relevant problem and on one’s speculation about how the introduction of the new rule would change the practice of persons who would otherwise pay for sex, persons who are in the business of preying on the vulnerable to supply the former with objects for their gratification, and of the authorities charged with enforcing the law.

Proportionality is a virtue, but it does not rule out sweeping rules that sharply change the legal position.  Prudence is another (related) virtue, which may rule out exactly such rules.  It is obviously imprudent (not to mention straightforwardly illogical) to reason that something must be done, that this is something, and hence it must be done.  Still, the desperate plight of the unknown numbers of persons forced into prostitution at least warrants consideration of such changes, however sweeping, as may perhaps prove to be intelligent, if inevitably partial, means better to protect them.  And if nothing else, thinking through the (limited but nonetheless real) appeal of what is clearly a rather extreme proposal has the virtue of putting the Swedish and French laws in perspective, making clear that they are not arbitrary interferences with someone’s lawful trade (as the Canadian courts might say), but are prudent, measured attempts to address very serious injustices.

Richard Ekins is a Fellow and Tutor in law at St. John’s College, Oxford.

Suggested  Citation: R. Ekins, ‘A Modest Proposal:   prudence, proportionality and  (forced) prostitution’  U.K. Const. L. Blog (12th Feb 2014) (available at   http://ukconstitutionallaw.org/).

 

6 Comments

Filed under Human rights

Stuart Lakin: The Sovereignty of Law: Freedom, Constitution and Common Law by Professor Trevor Allan: Some Preliminary Thoughts

stuart1 Most readers of this Blog will undoubtedly be familiar with the work of Professor TRS Allan.   It is difficult to think of anyone who has made a more significant contribution to UK public law scholarship in recent decades.  For the uninitiated, Allan is best known for his radical challenge to constitutional orthodoxy in Britain.    Over the course of several impressive books – with suitably grand titles – he has set about dismantling just about every last (supposedly) well established doctrine, distinction and conceptual dichotomy.   In their place, he advances a fluid vision of the constitution in which the rights, duties and powers of individuals and institutions depend on moral argument about the rule of law, freedom, justice and due process.  Allan is arguably the pioneer of ‘common law constitutionalism’ (not to be confused or conflated with ‘legal’ constitutionalism – more on that below).

In his latest book,The Sovereignty of Law (2013) (hereinafter ‘Sovereignty’) Allan takes both his critique of orthodoxy and his own rule of law thesis to a new level of cogency and philosophical   rigour.  Whether or not one agrees with his arguments, it is a tremendous accomplishment.   The aim of this post is to provide a short, preliminary review.  I shall divide my thoughts into four sections: general observations, methodology, substantive claims, and potential objections.    Where I refer to the book directly, I shall use numbers in brackets.

1.  General observations

 There are eight chapters in total, all around the 30-40 page mark, plus an appendix.   As Allan explains (15-16), the chapters are closely interconnected and can be read in any order.   Broadly speaking, they cover: 1. constitutionalism, 2. constitutional convention, 3. the rule of law, 4. parliamentary sovereignty, 5. legislative supremacy and the rule of law, 6. constitutional foundations of judicial review, 7. judicial restraint, 8. democracy, rights and the common law.   Such is the close link between the themes and arguments within chapters, Allan breaks his discussions up with Roman numerals rather than specific sub-headings.   Each chapter begins with a clear and accessible introduction, aimed especially at students.  The appendix pursues some of Allan’s more abstract methodological arguments in greater detail.

Sovereignty as a whole reads rather like a set of colloquium-style ruminations.   Allan continually refers backwards and forwards to different aspects of his argument, restating, refining and anticipating his central claims.  For every abstract argument, he gives numerous concrete illustrations.  Indeed, the defining strength of Allan’s work, I think, is his ability to weave together complex debates in legal and political theory with detailed doctrinal analyses of cases, statutes and contemporary constitutional developments.   That strategy, we shall see below, is central to his methodological and substantive commitments.    Readers who lack the time or will to read Sovereignty from cover to cover will get a very good sense of Allan’s thought-world just by focusing on some of his excellent case studies.  Here are some particularly good examples: Liversidge v Anderson (21-25), Prolife (25-31), Factortame and Thoburn (146-150), Jackson (150-153), R v A (186-88), Bellinger (319-321), and **Bancoult (ch 8 generally).

Every leading thinker inevitably has their own intellectual heros.  Allan’s are (principally): Kant, Hayek, Fuller and Dworkin. Rather surprisingly, given the progressive nature of Sovereignty, Dicey also features prominently (see, for instance, 31-36).   Here, as elsewhere, Allan seems determined to enlist Dicey’s work to his own cause.

2.  Methodology

It is striking that Allan gives far greater coverage to questions of constitutional methodology in Sovereignty than in his earlier books.    Legal philosophers endlessly debate the nature of their own discipline: is it descriptive, evaluative, conceptual, interpretative or whatever?  The same sort of debates are slowly creeping into the work of constitutional theorists (alongside Sovereignty, see also, for instance, Nick Barber, The Constitutional State (2010), ch 1).

Allan attacks a ‘positivist’ approach to constitutional argument, one that involves describing the constitution without making any evaluative argument about why it – and the content of English law – should be understood in a particular way.    People who take this approach, he claims, mistakenly adopt the ‘external perspective’ of a political scientist, anthropologist or historian, rather than the ‘internal perspective’ appropriate to legal reasoning (chapters 1, 2 and the appendix are particularly good on this distinction). Their error is to suppose that there is a ‘fact-of-the-matter’ about the constitution and questions of public law (6-7).     Allan returns to this external/internal distinction again and again during Sovereignty.  His running contention, we shall see below, is that many of the different doctrines, distinctions and labels that public lawyers use make little sense once we abandon the positivist perspective.

The constitutional lawyer who takes the internal perspective, Allan explains, necessarily interprets statute and common law in the sense of ‘presenting reasons of justice or political morality for reading them in one way rather than another’ (6).  In this way, ‘legal analysis cannot be detached from…constitutional theory’ (22), and ‘legality is always connected to legitimacy’ (23).     Allan is careful to deny that he is inventing a new (ideal) constitution rather than elucidating the existing one.  The interpreter of the constitution, he insists, cannot bring any moral theory to their task.  They are constrained by the particular scheme of principle latent within current legal and political practice (340-346).   Allan draws heavily on the work of Dworkin in making these arguments.  However, there may be a fundamental methodological difference between the Dworkin and Allan, one which calls into question Allan’s external/internal distinction.   I shall return to this point below as a potential avenue for criticism.

3. Substantive Claims

Allan’s interpretative/internal approach generates a raft of bold, unconventional claims about the constitution.   Let me attempt to summarise some of them, roughly in the order that they appear.   Needless to say, I cannot do justice to the detail and nuance of Allan’s arguments here.  At best, I hope to capture their general spirit.    As you work through these claims, keep in mind the methodological distinction above.   In general, the view under attack is incorrect, according to Allan, because it is made from an external, descriptive perspective; and the correct view is correct because it is made from an internal, morally engaged perspective.   It is this ‘all or nothing’ stance that I think separates Allan from Dworkin.   More on this in section 4 below.

a)  There is no a priori distinction between law and constitutional convention, justiciable and non-justiciable powers, the ‘political’ and ‘legal’ constitution.  Whether a particular aspect of governmental practice raises questions of legal principle better enforced by courts, or questions of ‘good governmental practice’ better enforced by politicians will depend on a judgment about all of the relevant facts, reasons and values that apply in the specific context (ch 2).

b) The British constitution is founded on a model of rule of law that invokes the idea of   ‘liberty as independence’ (12).   This is ‘ultimately a principle of equal citizenship, precluding arbitrary distinctions between persons, irrelevant to any legitimate public purpose’.  The principle ‘…imposes a requirement of justification, connecting restrictions on liberty to a public or common good, open to fearless public debate and challenge’ (91).  (ch 3)

c)   Parliament does not possess absolute, sovereign legislative power.  Legislative supremacy (Allan’s preferred term) ‘may [only] operate within the constitutional framework of the rule of law‘ (133).   ‘Parliament’s authority is confined by the limits of our ability (in any concrete context) to interpret its enactments as contributions to the public good’ (12).   It follows that a statute is only recognisable as such if it can be read in a way that is compatible with the principle of equal citizenship (33).  (ch 4)

d)  Statutes do not mean what parliament intended, in the sense of communicating a ‘speaker’s meaning’ (193).   The interpretation of a statute instead requires us to construct the intent of the ‘ideal or representative legislator’ who seeks to reconcile ‘current policy and overarching legal principle’ (194).  There is then no conflict between Parliamentary supremacy and the rule of law.   These ideas are interdependent, embodying the twin imperatives of democracy and respect for individual dignity and autonomy (168). (ch 5)

e)  The traditional judicial review debate is loaded with positivist assumptions, notably that Parliament may abrogate fundamental rights using express language, and that there are discrete heads of judicial review which separately address issues of procedure and substance.   For Allan, fundamental rights ‘can be ‘overridden’ [i.e. defined] only in circumstances that justify curtailment‘   (258); ‘Judicial review…enforces standards of due process, which resist any neat division between procedure and substance’ (242); and the principles of legality, rationality and proportionality are all subsumed within a general right to fair treatment (260). (chs 6 and 7)

f)    There is no independent doctrine of judicial deference.   ‘The relevant considerations of constitutional legitimacy and institutional expertise are already implicit constraints on judicial review – reflected in ordinary legal reasoning…’ (241).   (ch 7)

g)  Section 3 of the HRA merely replicates the pre-existing common law order.  Common law reasoning involves precisely the same balancing of relevant considerations (176). It should not have mattered in the ex parte Smith case that the ECHR had not been incorporated (245).    ‘The court’s appraisal… fell short of what was necessary to protect the basic rights in issue (255).    If Parliament were to repeal the HRA, ‘the underlying common law constitution would remain untouched…’ (324) (chs 7 and 8).

h)  There is no distinction between the ‘legal’ and ‘political’ constitution: every account of the constitution is both legal and political in so far as it must include some coherent account of the separation of powers (305).  Nor is there any meaningful distinction between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ judicial review.  The common law constitution is distinct from both arrangements.  Courts have a duty to interpret statutes in line with basic common law rights, and so it will rarely be necessary to quash a provision (as exemplified in Anisminic). (230) (323).  (ch 8)

4. Potential Objections

Every reader of Sovereignty will find in it their own points of interest and controversy.    The book is bursting with provocative claims and arguments.    I shall pick out two areas where I think Allan may be vulnerable to criticism.   I shall use small letters in brackets to refer back to the substantive claims above.

Interpretation and the Internal v External Perspective

We have seen that, for Allan, the only way to understand the existing British constitution is to interpret legal and political practice from the internal point of view of a lawyer of judge.  This means, he tells us, that legal doctrines can only be defended with ‘arguments of principle… consistently with our commitment to constitutionalism‘ (10).    One cannot simply describe the constitution from the outside.

The thrust of my first criticism is this: while we can agree with Allan that no account of the constitution can be descriptively correct, the various positivist-inspired doctrines, distinctions, labels, and so on that he attacks in Sovereignty need not be understood in this way.   They can instead be understood, in line with the method Allan recommends, as interpretations of British legal and constitutional practice.   It can be argued that a lawyer or judge arguing from the internal point of view may have entirely plausible moral reasons to distinguish between law and convention a), to propound a narrow, formal conception of the rule of law b), to separate the extent of Parliament’s legislative powers from the justification for those powers c), to understand statutes in terms of a ‘speaker’s meaning’ d), to understand judicial review as a set of discrete rules e), to separate questions about the content of the law from question about how judges should decide cases (e.g. to fashion an extra-legal doctrine of deference) f).    Legal theorists such as Hart and Raz strongly resist this moral ‘recasting’ of their theories, but it is central to the interpretative method – as least as developed by Ronald Dworkin – that legal positivism is only intelligible in this form.

By automatically equating the interpretative, internal point of view with his own moral/theoretical approach to legal and constitutional argument, Allan rather rigs the interpretative debate.   In my view, he needs to confront the orthodox positivist account of the constitution – along with every other account – as a rival interpretation rather than dismiss it as belonging to a separate ‘external’ intellectual discipline (sociology, political science, etc).      Both Barber (above) and Goldsworthy (see, for instance, The Sovereignty of Parliament (1999), ch 10) have offered explicitly interpretative bases for their broadly positivist claims.    It may be that Allan can defend his approach as a better interpretation of the constitution than the positivist one, but that aim immediately encourages a far healthier debate than is perhaps envisaged by Sovereignty.

The Impact of the HRA 1998 on the Common Law

Let us grant for the sake of argument that Allan’s interpretation of the constitution is correct: that the content of the law – including the powers of Parliament and courts – depend on the particular scheme of principle embedded within current legal and political practice.  A second criticism of Sovereignty is that some of Allan’s claims pay too little attention, or no attention to the evolution of practice and principle in Britain.   I have in mind the claims contained in g) and h) above.     Allan can be understood as saying, first, that the enactment of the HRA had no meaningful impact on the British constitution; and, secondly, that his favoured model of common law protection of rights by judges is the only legitimate form of institutional protection of rights.     Both of these claims are highly contentious.

In terms of the first claim, whether or not one would ideally support the structure and aims of the HRA, an interpreter of the constitution must adjust their account of the practice in light of that important Parliamentary ‘decision’ (just as they would have to adjust their account in the event of its repeal).  The Act plausibly introduces a novel division of labour in respect of rights protection; or, to put this point in more philosophical language, it contributes a scheme of institutional morality that arguably differs from what went before.   The ‘declaration of incompatibility’ mechanism in HRA s 4 is almost invisible in Sovereignty.   My argument – which I cannot develop here – is that Allan’ account of the constitution must accommodate rather than erase this mechanism.   His discussion of Bellinger (319-321) is particularly revealing on this point.

A similar objection can be made to the second claim.   Whether or not the labels ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ review serve any useful purpose, Allan seems to preclude different forms of rights protection altogether.    He repeatedly tells us that Charters of Rights and Bills of Rights cannot affect the judicial role (e.g. 282, 327): that (his account of) the separation of powers is an ‘essential component of [a] conceptual polity, enshrining the rule of law…’(295).      Despite extensive discussion of the work of Waldron and Bellamy – both of whom wish to make the legislature the primary forum for decisions about rights – (304-329), I think there is greater scope in Sovereignty for argument on whether a political community can protect rights in different ways.

Closing Thought 

These are exciting times for scholars of the British constitution.   What had been a rather arid, doctrinal, area of study is now rich with philosophical interest.   We should be grateful to Allan for spearheading that transformation.    Many public lawyers will feel rather battered and bruised by their treatment in Sovereignty; the ‘externalists’ are a populous group!    But Allan’s aim is undoubtedly to encourage a particular style of debate rather than delivery knockout blows.   It will fascinating to see how that debate unfolds.

Dr. Stuart Lakin is a Lecturer in public law and jurisprudence at the University of Reading.

(Suggested citation:  S. Lakin, ‘Review: TRS Allan’s The Sovereignty of Law (OUP, 2013)’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (4th February 2014) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org/)).

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Judicial review, UK government, UK Parliament, Uncategorized

Alison Young: Horizontality and the EU Charter

young_alison-l2Concerns are often raised as to the impact of EU’s human rights provisions in English law, particularly concerning the impact of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. How far does the Charter apply and, in particular, can this be used in purely horizontal situations – i.e. where a dispute arises between two private parties and EU law is sought to be used, in and of itself, to impose an obligation on an individual they would not otherwise have but for the effect of EU law? The UK government is currently carrying out a review on the balance of competences between the EU and its Member States. Unfortunately the call for submissions on the EU and human rights closed before the decision of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union in C-176/12 Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT (AMS) was delivered on 15 January. Whilst the decision does provide some answers to the complex nature of the application of the Charter in national law, it raises more questions than it resolves.

 AMS concerned the appointment of Mr Laboudi as the local CGT union representative at AMS. AMS is an association in Marseille that implements social mediation measures and measures for the prevention of crime in Marseille. The French law implementing Directive 2002/14, which establishes a framework for informing and consulting with employees, required Unions to designate a representative for firms with 50 or more employees. However, in calculating the number of employees, the French law did not take account of apprentices.  AMS employed 11 full time members of staff and employed between 120 and 170 individuals on ‘accompanied employment contracts’.  AMS argued that those employed on ‘accompanied employment contracts’ were apprentices. Therefore, it had less than 50 employees and CGT were not able to insist on the appointment of a Union representative at AMS. CGT argued that the French law was contrary to the Directive and Article 27 and that they were able to insist on the appointment of Mr Laboudi as their representative. Two questions arose. First, does Directive 2002/14, either by itself or as interpreted in line with Article 27 of the Charter require that those employed on ‘accompanied employment contracts’ be counted as employees for the purposes of the Directive? Second, could the Directive, interpreted in line with the Charter, be used in a dispute between private parties so as to exclude national law?

The first issue was relatively straightforward. The court concluded that the Directive does not permit Member States to exclude certain categories of employees from its provisions. The second issue was more complicated. The provision of the Directive was sufficiently clear and precise to have direct effect. But, as a Directive, it was not capable of having horizontal direct effect: As the union and AMS were both private parties, the Directive could not be relied on. Nor was it possible to interpret the French law in line with the Directive. Any duty to interpret national law in line with Directives reaches its limit when it would require a contra legem interpretation, as would be the case here. The question remains, however, whether Article 27 of the Charter, protecting the worker’s right to information and consultation, could nevertheless apply to this dispute between two individuals.

For the Charter to apply, two hurdles need to be cleared. First, as established in C-617/10 Åkerberg Fransson, it has to be demonstrated that the situation before the court is ‘governed by European Union law’ as the Court of Justice of the European Union ‘has no power to examine the compatibility with the Charter of national legislation lying outside the scope of European Union law’. [paragraph 19, Fransson]. As the French law in question was designed to implement Directive 2002/14, then the case clearly was one that was governed by European Union law. Second, it needs to be established whether the Charter was able to have horizontal direct effect. The answer given is ‘yes – but not always and not in this specific case’. Article 27 requires that ‘[w]orkers or their representatives must, at the appropriate levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Community law and national laws and practices.’. The Court concluded that ‘for this article to be fully effective, it must be given more specific expression in European Union or national law’. [AMS paragraph 45]. Therefore, the Charter could not be invoked in this instance to exclude the operation of national law in a dispute between parties. Nor could the Charter and the Directive operate together to grant horizontal direct effect to the Charter provision and exclude the operation of national law in a dispute between private parties. If the Charter did not have the ability to apply in this manner in and of itself, then it could not acquire this ability by being combined with the Directive [AMS paragraph 49]. So, the only remedy available to the applicant is to invoke the principle of state liability, established in C-6/90 Francovich, to claim damages from the French state for its failure to implement the provisions of the Directive. What is important here is what is not said. At no point did the Grand Chamber state that the provisions of the Charter, like Directives, cannot have horizontal direct effect. This leaves open the possibility that the Charter could be used in and of itself to exclude the application of national law in a dispute between private parties when the Charter provision did not need to be given more specific expression in European or national law.

Which Charter provisions can have horizontal direct effect?

The judgment leaves open more questions than it answers: although we know that the Charter can exclude the application of national law in a dispute between parties, it is hard to know which Charter rights will do so. What we do know from the judgment is that Article 27 is an example of a Charter provision that does not have horizontal effect, whereas Article 21(1) of the Charter, as applied in C-555/07 Kücükdeveci is provided as an example Charter right that is capable of having such an effect [see AMS paragraph 49].

Article 21(1) of the Charter states:

Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

Article 27 of the Charter states:

Workers or their representatives must, at the appropriate levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Community law and national laws and practices

There are two obvious differences between the two Articles. First, Article 21(1) specifically prohibits certain conduct, whereas Article 27 guarantees information and consultation as provided for by Community law or national laws and practices. Second, the Articles are in different Chapters of the Charter. Article 21(1) is in the Equality Chapter and Article 27 is in the Solidarity Chapter. It could be argued that these differences point to the greater clarity and precision to be found in Article 21 as contrasted with Article 27. However it is hard to conclude that clarity is the sole distinguishing feature. Whilst Article 21 may be clearer in that it provides for the protection of a particular right – the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds lists in the Article – there is still uncertainty surrounding its scope. Does it extend to a protection against indirect and direct discrimination and how do we distinguish between these two concepts? Would it be breached if the discrimination occurred because of positive action – e.g. a policy making it easier for people of a particular social origin to enter University courses? How does the law determine the relative comparator to ensure that discrimination does not occur? The difference is perhaps better understood not as turning on the relative clarity of the Charter provisions, but, instead, as to whether the clarification of the scope of the right is regarded as better suited to the judiciary or better suited to the legislature or executive. There may also be a secondary factor of whether the right is one where there should be greater or lesser area of discretionary judgment granted to the national courts as opposed to the European Union. This stems perhaps from Article 27’s reference to ‘national laws and practices’.

Cruz Villalón AG, in his opinion, drew on the distinction between rights and principles to help determine which Charter provisions could have horizontal direct effect. Whilst Charter rights are meant to have the same legal effect as Treaty provisions, principles, according to Article 52(5) of the Charter, ‘may be implemented’ by legislative or executive acts of the Union institutions, or of the Member States when implementing European Union law and are ‘judicially cognisable only in the interpretation of such Acts and in the ruling on their legality’. However, although the Charter draws this distinction, and provides a few examples in the Explanations to the Charter, there is no precise account of this difference. Cruz Villalón AG starts his analysis by remarking that Article 27, as a social right, was a ‘right’ by virtue of its subject matter, but a ‘principle’ by virtue of its operation [paragraph 45]. He was influenced, first, by a similar distinction drawn in the constitutional documents of some of the Member States – Ireland, Spain, France, Austria and Poland – as well as concerns regarding the protection of social and economic rights, which could lead to the judicialisation of public policy. Second, referring to the language of the Charter, he argues that principles impose obligations on public authorities, whereas rights are designed to protect individuals in defined legal situations. Action is needed by the public authority to transform the principle into a defined legal right (paragraphs 50-51]. The wording of Article 27 demonstrates that it is designed to impose an obligation on public authorities. This is confirmed by its content, which is too vague to provide for the specification of a particular Act. Moreover, there were examples of this specification of Article 27 in EU legislation prior to the enactment of the current version of the Charter – including in Directive 2002/14. [paragraphs 54 and 55]. In addition, the Charter provision is found in the ‘Solidarity’ Chapter, classifying it as a social right, which leads to the presumption that the provision is a principle and not a right.  All three factors led Cruz Villalón AG to conclude that Article 27 was best understood as a principle and not as a right.

It is hard to know how much of this analysis of the AG was endorsed by the Grand Chamber. The Grand Chamber makes no reference at all in its judgment to the distinction between rights and principles. Moreover, the Court of Justice reaches an opposite conclusion to Cruz Villalón AG, who advised that Directive 2002/14 could be regarded as the specification of Article 27 by a public authority and that its provisions could then be relied upon in a dispute between private parties, in a manner similar to Kücükdeveci. Yet, despite the differences as to outcome, and the lack of reference to principles, both the court and the AG recognise that Charter rights appear to be more likely to apply to a dispute between private parties if they:

(i)              Are clear and precise enough to give rise to individual rights in and of themselves without the need for legislative intervention/intervention by a public authority

(ii)            Can be understood as the expression of a right that can be relied upon by an individual as opposed to an expression of an obligation to be imposed on a public authority

(iii)           Are not social or economic rights

It is not clear how far any of these criteria are necessary or sufficient to determine the of horizontal application of a Charter provision. They are probably best understood as indications or guidelines.

How should the court make this assessment?

Even if we can provide some clarity as to what may influence the classification of a Charter right as one that can or cannot have horizontal direct effect, it is not clear whether these issues are discussed in the abstract or in relation to the specific facts of the case before the court. Article 27 of the Charter guaranteed worker information and consultation. Article 3 of Directive 2002/14 provides that Member States have a choice between whether the provisions of the Directive apply to firms with more than 50 employees in one Member State, or to firms with more than 20 employees in more than one Member State, and that it is for the Member States to determine how these employee numbers are to be calculated. Consequently, nothing in Article 27 or in Directive 2002/14 provided a clear answer to the factual issue before the court. In the words of the Grand Chamber:

It is not possible to infer from the wording of Article 27 of the Charter or from the explanatory notes to that article that Article 3(1) of Directive 2002/14, as a directly applicable rule of law, lays down and addresses to the Member States a prohibition on excluding from the calculation of the staff numbers in an undertaking a specific category of employees initially included in the group of persons to be taken into account in that calculation. [paragraph 46]

This can be contrasted with the situation in Kücükdeveci

 as the principle of non‑discrimination on grounds of age at issue in that case, (author’s emphasis) laid down in Article 21(1) of the Charter, is sufficient in itself to confer on individuals an individual right which they may invoke as such. [paragraph 47]

                  This reading of the judgment of the Grand Chamber also provides an explanation for the different conclusions of the Court of Justice and Cruz Villalón AG. This, in turn, suggests that the decision of the Grand Chamber may have a wider application than at first appears. Cruz Villalón AG concluded that the Charter could have horizontal direct effect, despite its classification as a principle, because it had been given substance by the Directive. The court concluded that, given that Article 27 did not have horizontal direct effect in and of itself, it could not have horizontal direct effect when applied in combination with Directive 2002/14 [paragraph 49]. This would appear to imply that, for the Grand Chamber, a Charter provision that is not sufficiently clear and precise can never have horizontal direct effect in and of itself. Even if a Directive were enacted to implement an unclear Charter provision, the Charter, in combination with the Directive, could not have horizontal direct effect.  However, if we interpret the Grand Chamber’s comments as relating to the specific issue before the court, a different conclusion is reached. If a Directive were to add to an unclear Charter right in a manner that did provide an answer to the specific question before the court, even if the Directive did not clarify all applications of the unspecific Charter right, then it may be that the Charter as applied through the Directive can have horizontal direct effect in a manner similar to Kücükdeveci. Therefore there may be two situations in which the Grand Chamber would grant horizontal direct effect to a Charter provision:

(i)              When the Charter provision is sufficiently clear and precise

(ii)            When the Charter provision is not sufficiently clear and precise, but nevertheless the Charter in addition to a Directive related to the Charter provision provides an answer to the specific question before the court.

Is ‘clarity’ enough?

The judgment of the Grand Chamber appears to focus predominantly on whether the Charter right is sufficiently clear and precise to have horizontal direct effect. Yet, this question is relevant not just to horizontal direct effect, but to direct effect more generally. Any provision of European Union law needs to be sufficiently clear, precise and unconditional if it is to have direct effect at all. This need not mean that an assessment of whether a Charter provision can have horizontal direct effect adds nothing to our assessment of whether it can have direct effect. But it does lend further grist to the mill in support of reading the decision of the Grand Chamber as one that distinguishes between Charter provisions that require specification from further legislative acts as opposed to merely focusing on their clarity and specificity. However, there is still one assessment missing from the Grand Chamber’s assessment that is present in the opinion of Cruz Villalón AG – whether the Charter provision is one that is suitable for application between private parties. For Cruz Villalón AG this was the case for Article 27 of the Charter. Article 27 refers to worker’s rights. Therefore it is clearly suitable for horizontal application. The objective of the Article would not be achieved if private employers were not meant to be subject to its obligations, once these were fleshed out by the action of public authorities of the EU or the Member States.

This issue of ‘suitability’ for horizontal application should be a necessary, albeit not a sufficient, component of the assessment of whether a Charter provision should have horizontal direct effect. Horizontal direct effect operates to impose obligations on private individuals. It is precisely this element that creates concerns as to the horizontal application of human rights. To impose an obligation on an individual in this manner may be problematic if the individual herself has human rights that could potentially conflict with her obligation to uphold the human right of another. This is not to argue generally against horizontal direct effect of Charter provisions. Nor is it an argument against the horizontal direct effect of Charter provisions that could give rise to conflicts between different human rights. However, it is an argument for further assessment of the need for care when assessing whether a Charter provision should have horizontal direct effect. Where the imposition of obligations on individuals could give rise to human rights conflicts there may be a greater need to ensure that these potential human rights conflicts have been taken into account through the specification of particular duties on private individuals by the legislature of the EU or by the legislature or judiciary of Member States that may be more aware of the relative importance of different human rights in their particular Member State.

Conclusion

The decision of the Grand Chamber in AMS paves the way for the potential horizontal application of Charter provisions, with the possible disapplication of national laws in disputes between private parties when these disputes occur within the sphere of European Union law. It is not clear from the decision whether this will apply to the vast majority, or merely a minority of Charter provisions. I would argue that Charter provisions should be capable of having horizontal direct effect, but that this should be limited to Charter provisions that:

(i)              are suited to imposing obligations on private parties, and

(ii)            are clear and precise enough to give rise to individual rights in and of themselves without the need for legislative intervention/intervention by a public authority, or

(iii)           are sufficiently clear and precise when applied in combination with a Directive to provide a clear answer to the specific issue before the court

It remains to be seen how far the decision in AMS will be applied in the future; but the case does illustrate the potential for the Charter to play a more important role in the protection of human rights than the Human Rights Act 1998, in particular as the former may provide for the disapplication of legislation whereas the latter does not. Whether this will occur in practice remains to be seen.

Alison Young is a Fellow and Tutor in law at Hertford College, University of Oxford.

(Suggested Citation: A. Young, ‘Horizontality and the EU Charter’  U.K. Const. L. Blog (29 January 2014) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org).

1 Comment

Filed under European Union, Human rights, International law, Judicial review

Joshua Braver: Counter-Interpretation, Constitutional Design, and the Right to Family Life: How the Conservatives Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the HRA (Briefly)

Joshua BraverUK Conservatives and the right wing papers continue to denounce the Human Rights Act (HRA).  Recognizing that the HRA is in crisis, some of its supporters have proposed new education efforts and some have even supported a rebranding in the form of a new Bill of Rights essentially similar to the HRA.  Both these arguments support the position that structural change is unnecessary.  The problem is perception, not the HRA itself.  Opponents are either irrational, misinformed or both.  The irrational, motivated by xeno and europhobia, maliciously spreads outright lies.  The misled, after reading salacious stories in the Telegraph and in the Daily Mail, are enraged that the HRA enables terrorism and also prevents the deportation of illegal immigrants who have committed horrible crimes.

No doubt absurd misunderstandings about the HRA are rampant.  But I will to argue that they and the HRA’s legitimacy deficit are derivative of a deeper structural problem, specifically the HRA’s intermediate constitutional status.  The HRA is neither ordinary nor higher law.  This intermediate status was designed to empower the judiciary to protect rights, but still prevent its domination over political issues.  Parliament too would play a substantive role in the interpretation of rights, and Parliament’s last word over the law was preserved. Ironically, even though it has the formal power to ignore court decisions, so far Parliament has almost always implemented the court’s incompatibility declarations.   My argument is that both the legitimacy deficit of and judicial domination over the HRA can be traced back to its peculiar middling status.  In conflicts between legislatures and courts, constitutional supremacy is a necessary condition for the democratization of rights.  I call this democratization, “counter-interpretation”, which occurs when a legislature interprets constitutional rights independently of and sometimes in conflict with the court.  I illustrate my thesis with the conflict between the courts and Home Secretary Theresa May over the right to family life in 2011 and 2012.  In it, a brief period of de-facto constitutional supremacy led to counter-interpretation; the Conservative party that led the opposition to the HRA briefly invoked it to support their stance on reducing illegal immigration.

General Rights Disagreement, Counter-Interpretation and Constitutional Supremacy

This is a thesis about discourse.  When fighting against a court, parliaments can wield two different languages.  The first is general rights disagreement.  Both the court and Parliament value rights, but disagree over which set of rights are valid.  For example, the UK Parliament asserts a right to violate the HRA because its rights are alien to the English tradition.  By attacking the court, it stands up for traditional English civil liberties.  As David Cameron stated, before he became Prime Minister, “In many ways the Government has a choice between this country’s ancient rights of habeas corpus and the right not be detained without trial; between Magna Carta and the ECHR.”

The second language is counter-interpretation.  The parliament disagrees, not with the right, but with the judge’s interpretation of the right.  Counter-interpretation legitimates constitutional rights because all parties are wielding it.

In this battle over constitutional meaning, the odds are stacked against the legislature.  Courts are more popular, focused, and wield superior expertise. For these reasons, we should not be surprised that the UK Parliament has almost always declined to counter-interpret.  Instead, conservative opponents of court decisions condemn the HRA as “the world’s worst law” and a “charter for terrorists, perverts, malcontents and illegal immigrants.”

However, constitutional supremacy can restructure the incentives.  The intermediate status of the HRA offers both counter-interpretation and general rights disagreement.  By contrast, in the U.S., constitutional supremacy removes the option of general rights disagreement.      The Constitution proclaims itself the “Supreme Law of the Land”, and each officer must take an oath to it.  It is the only language of legitimation.  If the legislature disagrees with the court, its only way to fight back is to counter-interpret.

Hence, counter-interpretation is and has always been prominent in U.S. constitutional history.  Despite extensive and intense opposition to ratification of the Constitution, counter-interpretation began very quickly.  Those who opposed the Constitution now called upon it, claiming to understand it better than those who wrote it.  Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt all asserted the President’s right to interpret the Constitution independently of and in conflict with the courts.  Prominent activists, such as Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony denounced Supreme Court doctrine as invalid because it violated the people’s understanding of its own highest law.  Without addressing counter-interpretation, one cannot understand the U.S.’ most important moments of constitutional and political change.  This tradition continues today in battles over the meaning of free speech, religious freedom, and abortion.

UK De-facto Constitutional Supremacy

In the UK, through a quirk of coalition politics, we have a natural experiment providing substantial evidence that constitutional supremacy would encourage counter-interpretation of the HRA.  We can view the changes in counter-interpretation in the UK before de-facto constitutional supremacy, during it, and after it fades.  During de-facto constitutional supremacy, conservative counter-interpretation was robust.  As the coalition weakened so too did counter-interpretation leaving the conservative party torn over how best to fight back against the judiciary.

De-facto constitutional supremacy resulted from coalition government. In the 2010 election, the Conservative Party campaigned to “scrap” the HRA, but they were unable to fulfill this pledge because the election produced a hung parliament.  Six days after the election, on May 12th, 2010, The Conservative and Liberal parties formed a coalition government.  Very early into the Coalition, Nick Clegg warned that “any government would tamper with the HRA at its peril.”  In contrast to the Conservative pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act, the Coalition agreement promised a Commission on a UK Bill of Rights that “builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights” and also “ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law.”

Coalition policy and discourse was premised on the idea that compliance with the Human Rights Act was mandatory.  Politics granted what law had not.  By law, Parliament could repeal or ignore the HRA; it had an intermediate status subordinate to the Parliament’s supremacy.  However, coalition politics forced the government to treat the HRA as supreme and binding on all parties.  When controversy arose, the Conservatives in government could no longer trample on the HRA.  At the very least, the option of repeal was off the table.  Conservatives would have to find new ways to express their outrage and alter the constitutional policy.  In the case of the Right to Family Life, that new way was counter-interpretation.

On October 14th, 2011, Home Secretary Theresa May promised to introduce new executive rules to reduce immigration at the Conservative Party Conference.  The speech is infamous for the claim that a deportation was prevented because the immigrant had a pet cat.  Little-noted is that May began to shift from the language of general rights disagreement to that of counter-interpretation.  May stated that the new immigration rules would “ensure that the misinterpretation“ of Article 8 of the ECHR – the right to a family life – no longer prevents the deportation of people who shouldn’t be here.”  The problem is not Article 8 itself, but the “British courts” who have interpreted “the right to a family life as an almost absolute right.”  However, the draftsmen intended and the wording indicates that the right is limited: “The meaning of Article 8 should no longer be perverted.”  May would promulgate new executive immigration rules that would reflect the correct interpretation of Article 8 so that when foreign nationals “should be removed, they will be removed.”

On June 19th, 2012, May laid a resolution before the House of Commons to endorse the new immigration rules:

That this House supports the Government in recognizing that the right to respect for family or private life in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights is a qualified right and agrees that the conditions for migrants to enter or remain in the UK on the basis of their family or private life should be those contained in the Immigration Rules.

May explained that “Parliament had never before been given the opportunity to set out” the meaning of Article 8.  Judges have had to decide the meaning “in each and every individual case, and without the benefit of the views of Parliament.”  The new immigration rules take into account Article 8 and the relevant case law.  It is “in complete compliance with the principles of human rights.”  May emphasized that according to the Convention and the HRA, the right to family life is a limited one.  It must be balanced against the prevention of crime and the UK’s economic well-being.  The problem was that in the balances, judges had given insufficient weight to the public interest.  The Immigration rules clarified the appropriate weigh for judges to balance these competing interests.  Judges would no longer conduct a separate analysis outside the immigration rules, but rather apply the immigration rules to test whether there was an Article 8 violation.

At the end of January 2013, in Izuazu (Article 8 – new rules) [2013] UKUT 45 (IAC), the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber refused to defer May’s counter-interpretation because “the rules are those of the Secretary of State not Parliament.”  While Parliament and its statutes are supreme, the executive and its rules are subordinate.  Unlike a statute, May’s rules had not passed through both houses of Parliament.  Even more importantly, Parliament had not given the rules the same scrutiny as they would a statute.  “Only the parliamentary process for” a statute “permits a clause by clause discussion of the measures, with opportunity for amendment and revision.”

In response to and about two weeks after the Izuazu decision, Theresa May pledged to meet the court’s criticisms by introducing a statute to ensure “that foreign nationals who commit serious crimes shall, except in extraordinary circumstances, be deported.”  In an editorial in the Daily Mail, May reaffirmed that the immigration rules had correctly interpreted Article 8:

This is not a dispute about respect for human rights, which I certainly agree is an essential part of any decent legal system.  It is about how to balance rights against each other: in particular, the individual’s right to family life, the right of the individual to be free from violent crime, and the right of society to protect itself against foreign criminals.

Furthermore, May lamented that judges’ activism damaged the “notion of human rights” and its prestige among the public: “in the popular imagination, ‘human rights’ are wrongly, but perhaps understandably becoming synonymous with legal dodges that allow criminals to escape proper punishment and to continue to prey on the public.”

The court still stuck to its guns.  Several months after May’s speech, in MF (Nigeria) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWCA Civ 1192, the UK Court of Appeal again thwarted May.  The Court differed with the “form but not the substance” of the lower court decision and the Izuazu approach.  Rather than directly clash with Theresa May, the Court of Appeal interpreted the immigration rules to conform to and confirm its pre-existing Article 8 jurisprudence.  According to the Court, May did not want to bend judges to her will, but rather she would accommodate the well-established case law. (I plan to discuss this case further in a subsequent post).  On the surface the court agreed with May, but for practical and immediate purposes the court had almost completely refused to change its approach to Article 8.

At the beginning of 2013, ties between the Liberals and Conservatives were severely strained.  Both sides felt betrayed by the other for not showing full support over key issues.  Conservative backbenchers revolted against the Liberal’s and the Government’s bill to reform the House of Lords.  In retaliation, Liberals refused to support boundary reforms that would have increased the likelihood of future Conservative electoral victories.

In the midst of this strain, on Feb. 28th, 2013, a special election was held in Easterleigh. In the previous election, the Liberal Democratic candidate had narrowly beaten his Conservative opponent.  Conservatives had targeted the constituency as a potential gain for the party, as they had just narrowly lost the seat to the Liberal Democrats in the last election.  The race risked exacerbating tensions within the coalition.  The Liberal Democrats won the seat.  It was a dramatic and painful loss for the Conservatives whose candidate came in third behind the UK Independent Party (UKIP), a radically right wing populist party.  It was UKIP’s best electoral performance to date.

Many conservative backbenchers interpreted the election as a warning that their party should not compromise their values to retain the coalition.  UKIP’s victory signaled that the Conservative party must move right to retain its core supporters.  They should take tough stances on crime, immigration and Europe. It also stirred up the beginnings of competition over the party leadership.  Anticipating that Cameron might lose the next election, MPs began to position themselves to replace him.

Less than a week after the Easterleigh election, there was a small flurry of prominent MP proposals concerning the HRA and the ECHR.  The Sunday telegraph reported that the Justice Secretary “‘cannot conceive of a situation where a Tory majority administration would not repeal Labour’s legislation.”  Despite having called for counter-interpretation a few weeks before, May now proposed including in the manifesto an option to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights altogether.  More recently at the Conservative Party Conference in late September, multiple speakers denounced the HRA, and May promised that “the next conservative manifesto will scrap the Human Rights Act.”  As the coalition’s unity waned, the HRA was no longer treated as supreme.  As the de facto supremacy of the HRA faded, conservative politicians shifted back to the language of general rights disagreement.  Rather than counter-interpret the HRA, they began to call for an exit from it.

Yet, constitutional supremacy still lingers on and so too with it some gasps of counter-interpretation.  On October 22nd, May made good on her promise to introduce a statute codifying her severe interpretation of Article 8 and demanded that judges’ defer to it.  The codification was but one of many measures in the bill designed to reduce illegal immigration, so it received limited attention by May and Parliament in the second reading.  Nonetheless, May again counter-interpreted.  She condemned judges who had ignored Parliament’s opinion, as embodied in the previous immigration rules, on the balance between the right to family life and the public interest.  “This Bill will require the courts to put the public interest at the heart of their decisions.”  The Bill passed overwhelmingly with support from all parties.

Notably, unlike her previous 2011 immigration rules speech in the House of Commons and her February editorial in the Daily Mail, May did not explicitly affirm the validity of Article 8, human rights or the UK judiciary.  This may simply reflect the fact that this time May have limited time to address HRA issues.  Alternatively, the waning of constitutional supremacy may have freed May from paying tribute to what she truly opposed.

The Conservative Party approach to the HRA is now schizophrenically split between two modes.  When trying to govern and create policy that will address the problem of blocked deportation, it counter-interprets.  Since Conservatives lack the votes to repeal the HRA, it can only satisfy its constituents’ demands for solutions to the blocked deportation problem by trying to work within the HRA.  On the other hand, when the party is in campaign mode looking ahead to the election, its language returns to general rights disagreement.  It anticipates the regaining of a majority in government that will have the power to repeal the HRA.

Conclusion

The legitimacy problem of the HRA is not a result of its content, but its structure.  Rights should be supreme over both judges and Parliament.  The HRA gave Parliament the means to assert the final word on the validity of law, but it has failed to structure incentives so this power is wielded on behalf of the rights in the HRA.  Constitutional supremacy would direct the UK Parliament and Conservatives to counter-interpret the HRA rather than trample upon it.  Counter-interpretation is both a good in its own right, and a means to create public ownership over constitutional rights.

What would this supremacy look like?  I can only give a brief sketch here, but I think there are three important features.  First, the text should include a constitutional supremacy clause i.e., but also reserve to Parliament the final word over the meaning of constitutional rights.  Second, to overturn a court ruling Parliament must prove that its actions express a counter-interpretation rather than a derogation of the right.  A variety of mechanisms are possible, but it may include requiring Parliament to have a full and open debate if it wishes to refuse to comply with a court ruling.  That debate should be informed by the work of the Joint Committee of Human Rights, but that Committee would be redesigned to express its own opinion on the HRA rather than echoing judicial doctrine.  Lastly, overturning the new Bill of Rights should require a substantial supermajority in Parliament.  This would discourage political parties from running on overturning the document and redirect their energies towards ensuring that its interpretation fits with their own political commitments.

There are no simple fixes or easy answers in constitutional design, especially in its relationship to constitutional discourse and legitimacy.  No one variable ensures success.  But Theresa’s May’s brief flirtation with counter-interpretation is testament to the great power of constitutional supremacy.  The UK ignores the lesson at its peril.

Joshua Braver holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and is a Ph.D. student in Yale Political Science.

Suggested citation: J. Braver, ‘Counter-Interpretation, Constitutional Design, and the Right to Family Life:  How the Conservatives Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the HRA (Briefly)’ UK Const. L. Blog (6 January 2014) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org/blog/).

1 Comment

Filed under Human rights, Judicial review, UK Parliament

Tarunabh Khaitan: Koushal v Naz: The Legislative Court

khaitan_tarunabhIn Koushal v Naz—the case being touted as one of its worst judgments—a two-judge bench of the Indian Supreme Court has overturned a 2009 decision of Delhi High Court which had struck down the criminalisation of sodomy by s 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 as unconstitutional. In doing so, it has recriminalized every Indian who has ever had oral or anal sex (irrespective of the gender of the person they had it with, and irrespective of consent).

Many commentators have already pointed out the spectacular lack of constitutional and judicial aptitude, understanding of human rights and compassion in the judgment (see these excellent commentaries by Vikram Raghavan, Gautam Bhatia, Pratiksha Baxi, Mayur Suresh, Siddharth Narrain, Arghya Sengupta, and Shreya Atrey among others). In this post, I will focus on the deeper structural and institutional decline of which this judgment is a painful symptom. If Koushal were read simply as the failure of a couple of judges to get the law right, India would miss a rare opportunity to treat the root causes of the malaise.

Koushal represents two structural failures of the Indian Supreme Court, at least one of which has sometimes been commended as a great success by some Indian and foreign commentators. The first structural failure, one that many progressives see as a model for how the judiciary should be organised, is the near-total abandonment by the Supreme Court of the principle of separation of powers, and its transformation into a populist, legislative court of governance. The second failure, one that flows from the first failure, is the Court’s routine dereliction of its duty to give reasons for its decisions and the Indian legal academy’s failure to hold it accountable for this dereliction. Let me explain both of these failures in turn, and how they have facilitated the decision in Koushal.

Failure I: Judiciary as a Counter-majoritarian Institution

In Koushal, the Court could barely conceal its disdain when it described lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people as ‘a miniscule fraction of the country’s population’ [43] with ‘so-called rights’ [52]. This may seem bizarre to those of us who believe that one of the primary functions of constitutional courts is the protection of vulnerable minorities. Clearly, a ‘miniscule’ minority should be of particular concern to a counter-majoritarian institution.

The Court’s position is easier to fathom if understood in the context of its history following the authoritarian Emergency imposed in India in the mid-70s by Indira Gandhi. During the Emergency, a scared Court agreed to the suspension of Habeas Corpus. After the deeply unpopular Emergency was lifted and the country returned to democracy, the Court started to reinvent itself to gain institutional legitimacy. This reinvention was, however, not in terms of pitting itself against the representative organs of the state, but by competing with these organs. The process, which began in the ‘80s, only intensified in the ‘90s which saw an end to one-party-dominance in politics. Coalition politics and weak legislatures remain a feature of Indian politics to this day. The Court, in the meantime, became a populist institution of governance—stepping in to fill the void left by an increasingly dysfunctional Parliament. In a country where the majority of the population suffers significant disadvantage, majoritarianism can often become aligned with ‘progressive’ politics. A majoritarian Court continued to play to the gallery and wrecked havoc on the principle of separation of powers. As it laid down detailed guidelines, took up cases without any litigant, appointed commissioners, created policy, and micro-managed implementation, it was cheered on by civil society, while meek politicians barely managed occasional squeals of disapproval. Its occasional retrogressive missteps were brushed aside as aberrations, and the Indian Supreme Court, regularly invoking its popular Public Interest Litigation jurisdiction, came to be seen as a model of progressive judiciary by many people in India, and outside India.

It should not surprise us that this majoritarian populist institution found it impossible to respect the ‘so-called’ rights of a ‘miniscule’ minority. Of course, Indian courts have sometimes stood up for minority rights. So has the Indian Parliament. What matters is the self-image the Court has been allowed to cultivate, which overwhelmingly determines its institutional course of action. This self-image is not that of a counter-majoritarian institution correcting the excesses of democracy, but one that is acutely conscious of the reception of its judgments by the people (such consciousness extends only to the outcome of a case, not its reasoning). Under this model, if representative bodies did a good job of representing the people, the courts would be unnecessary. The Court is a political actor, which wants to be judged as politicians are judged. Its legitimacy rests on popular acceptance, not constitutional mandate.

This political context explains, rather than complicates, how the bench in Koushal suddenly discovers the joys of separation of powers. The Court first extends the presumption of constitutionality to a pre-constitutional colonial law by suggesting that the democratic Parliament has ‘adopted’ it by failing to amend it! [28, 32]. It specifically mentions a 2013 legislation amending the law dealing with sexual assault as proof that ‘the legislature has chosen not to amend the law or revisit it’, ignoring completely the fact that there was no need for Parliament to do so after the Delhi High Court had read down s 377 to exclude private sex between consenting adults from its ambit. That the 2013 legislation was enacted after the hearing in Koushal was concluded, thereby affording no opportunity to the parties to challenge its use by the Court, is another matter.

This ostensible deference to democratic will is an opportunistic fig leaf of a populist Court with little more than contempt for the representative institutions of democracy. In an act of concluding magnanimity to the legislature, the final sentence of the judgment grants it permission to consider the ‘desirability and propriety of deleting section 377’ [56]. The fact that it thought such a clarification was necessary tells us that this is not a Court deferential to the legislature—this is a Court with unhesitant pretensions of being the legislature.

Failure II: The Duty to give Reasons

A key feature of adjudication is the public articulation of reasons after hearing principled submissions by the parties involved, on the basis of which a judge arrives at her decisions. In this respect, adjudication differs from voting, which allows a decision-maker to decide without having to articulate her reasons (or even without having any reasons). The Indian Supreme Court in Koushal fails to respect this fundamental judicial duty at so many levels that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Court seems to be voting, not adjudicating. The following factual inaccuracies, unsupported conclusions, and omissions in the judgment are particularly noteworthy in this regard:

    1. The Court records the Government of India’s position on the case as one defending the criminal provision under review [7]. This, despite the fact that the Government had chosen not to appeal the High Court ruling, and its top lawyer—the Attorney General of India—had clearly told the bench that the Government supported the High Court’s decriminalisation of adult consensual sex. Remarkably, the Court describes the Attorney General as ‘amicus’ [21], forcing him to publicly clarify that he had very much represented the Government’s official position in the case.
    2. The Court found itself able to ignore the voluminous material placed before it to conclude that there was no evidence to show that ‘homosexuals, gays, etc., are being subjected to discriminatory treatment either by State or its agencies or the society’ [40].
    3.  Long-standing precedent is clear that Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution requires every legal classification to be based on an intelligible differentia and have a rational nexus with a legitimate state objective. The Court, while repulsing the Article 14 challenge, finds it sufficient to say that the classification between ‘[t]hose who indulge in carnal intercourse in the ordinary course and those who indulge in carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ is intelligible [42]. It wastes no ink trying to identify the state objective being pursued, or asking whether the measure has any nexus with that objective.
    4. Even this half-hearted attempt to give reasons is not made when rejecting the Article 15 (right against discrimination) challenge. No reasons whatsoever are provided [44].
    5. The way the Court deals with the challenge under Article 21 (the right to life and liberty) is even more curious. After devoting several paragraphs quoting established precedents on Article 21 [45-50], the Court makes no specific finding with respect to Article 21! After these block quotations, the Court moves seamlessly to simply assert that the use of s 377 to ‘perpetrate harassment, blackmail and torture’ is ‘neither mandated by the section nor condoned by it’ [51]. How the preceding six paragraphs setting out the established doctrine under Article 21 help the Court reach this conclusion, and how this conclusion repels the Article 21 challenge, is anybody’s guess.

The judgment seems to have been written carelessly, perhaps even in a hurry—the hearing in the case concluded in March 2012, and the judgment was delivered in December 2013, on the day before the senior judge on the bench was due to retire. A cavalier attitude to its duty to give reasoned judgments is not uncommon in the Indian Court’s jurisprudence. Although unfortunate, this is hardly surprising. The Court has a total strength of 30 judges, who usually sit in benches of 2. In 2011 alone, they decided some 47,000 admission matters (the Court sets aside two days every week to hear admission applications!), of which 9,070 were admitted for regular hearing. The main reason for this staggering docket, apart from the size of the country, is its remarkably liberal invocation of its ‘special leave’ jurisdiction, which allows review petitions from any court or tribunal in the country to be placed directly before the Supreme Court (Article 136, Constitution). A direct approach to the top Court deprives it of the benefit of the considered views of the courts below, and should be allowed very rarely. The pressure of its workload also results in the constitutional requirement that any constitutional case involving a substantial question of law must be heard by at least five judges (Article 145) being routinely ignored (including in Koushal). Only 0.12% of all cases disposed of by the Court between 2005 and 2009 were decided by a bench of five judges or more.

Given such volume, what is surprising is the respectable number of cases where Indian judges do manage to give reasoned judgments. The fragmentation of the Court into small benches deciding thousands of cases every year had led to a situation where even a conscientious judge would find it next to impossible to respect stare decisis. For less conscientious judges, the opportunity to cherry-pick precedents is limitless.

Furthermore, the academy simply cannot keep up with the judicial assembly line. Academic criticism is the real check on judicial power in a democracy. In the Indian context, academics are forced to focus on the outcome of the cases alone—only a handful of cases (like Koushal) that really stand out receive proper academic attention. This reinforces the judicial belief that all they need to do is to make the outcome generally palatable; all else will probably be ignored. Thus, the judges decide as if they were politicians, and they are judged as if they were politicians—based not on how they reason but on the way they vote.

Conclusion

The outrage that this judgment has inspired amongst politicians, activists and academics in India presents an opportunity to rethink the fundamental structural weaknesses of the Indian Supreme Court. Most of the recent debate on the reform of the Court has focussed on changing the appointment system of judges (currently, the Court appoints its own judges!) and dealing with the lack of diversity in the judiciary. While who gets to be a judge is an important issue, unless these structural infirmities are addressed, even Herculean judges cannot change the situation very much. The Court needs to reaffirm its central counter-majoritarian purpose in a liberal democracy. It must do less and do it well. It must stop voting and stick to adjudicating.

Dr. Tarunabh Khaitan is Hackney Fellow in Law at Wadham College, Oxford.

Suggested citation: T. Khaitan, ‘Koushal v Naz: The Legislative Court’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (22nd December 2013) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org).

Postscript: Some readers have emailed to ask about the possibility of review. Although this is a judgment of the highest court of the land, because of the proliferation of 2-judge bench rulings, the Court has had to invent two further review stages to challenge its own judgment–a (rarely invoked) review jurisdiction and then a (very rarely used) ‘curative’ jurisdiction. The  government has been the first of the parties to seek review.  Other petitioners are expected to follow suit. How the Court will react remains to be seen.

3 Comments

Filed under Human rights

Cormac Mac Amhlaigh: Once More Unto the (Public/Private) Breach …: s. 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Severability Thesis

cormacTwo interesting recent blog posts dealt with the meaning of public and private under  s. 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.  They were motivated by injunction proceedings in the High court whereby the Olympic Delivery Authority, (ODA) the body charged with the logistics and infrastructure of the London Olympic Games, had sought injunctions to restrain protestors from entering and occupying land which was to be developed as part of the Olympic site.  The main issues emerging from this case discussed in the two posts was whether the ODA constituted a ‘core’ or ‘hybrid’ public authority under s. 6 HRA; whether it could itself enjoy human rights to defeat or counter any human rights obligations it may hold in its capacity as a ‘hybrid’ body exercising public functions; and where the ‘centre of gravity’ for determining the human rights obligations of hybrid bodies lay under the Act; under the  s. 6(3)(b) ‘public function’ test or the definition of ‘private act’ under s. 6(5).

In this post, I wish to contribute to the discussion on the third point by highlighting a common essentialist fallacy in approaches to the meaning of ‘public’ under the HRA which leads to circular, question-begging conclusions.  This essentialist fallacy is problematic on its own terms but also has a bearing on the relationship between s. 6(3)(b) HRA and s. 6(5) HRA.  Avoiding the essentialist fallacy requires reading the term ‘private acts’ under s. 6(5) within the context of public functions under s. 6(3)(b) and as such, the post concludes that s. 6(5) cannot stand alone as a ground for determining the human rights obligations, or immunities, of hybrid bodies.

The Severability Thesis

Perhaps the main point of disagreement between the two previous posters on this topic was the question of the relationship between s. 6(3)(b) and s. 6(5) HRA.  As is well known, s. 6 creates a legal obligation on public authorities to act compatibly with the rights contained in the ECHR, and s. 6(3)(b) extends the meaning of public authority to ‘any person  certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature’.  s. 6(5) furthermore states that ‘In relation to a particular act, a person is not a public authority by virtue only of subsection (3)(b) if the nature of the act is private’.  This has resulted in a classification of two types of body which are subject to human rights obligations under the act:  ‘core’ and ‘hybrid’ bodies. (See Lord Nichols, para.11 in Aston Cantlow PCC v. Wallbank [2003] UKHL 37).  Defining the human rights liabilities of hybrid bodies, moreover, raises the question of what can be called a ‘severability thesis’; that is, whether s. 6(5) is severable from s. 6(3)(b) such that it constitutes a separate head of analysis for determining the human rights liabilities of particular hybrid bodies.   If it is not severable, s. 6(5) simply serves to compliment an analysis of the functions of hybrid bodies by simply reinforcing the ‘hybridity’ of the body in order to distinguish it for ‘core public authorities’.  As such, the notion of ‘private acts’ under s. 6(5) is assimilated into a broader analysis of the ‘publicness’ of the functions of a hybrid body under s. 6(3)(b).    If the two provisions are severable, then a two-stage test to assess the human rights liabilities of hybrid bodies is necessarily; firstly to determine whether the hybrid body undertakes ‘functions of a public nature’ and then a further analysis to determine the ‘privateness’ of the act which was taken pursuant to the public function.    Moreover, as well as adding another limb to the test of the human rights liabilities of hybrid bodies, the severability thesis also, significantly, shifts the ‘centre of gravity’ on the human rights liabilities of hybrid bodies from s. 6(3)(b) and the definition of ‘public functions’, to s. 6(5) and the definition of private ‘acts’, where s. 6(5) and not s. 6(3)(b) provides the ultimate litmus test to determine the human rights liabilities of these bodies.  On this analysis, even if a hybrid body is not deemed to be discharging a public function under s. 6(3)(b), it can still be caught if it is found that the nature of the act which caused the alleged human rights violation was public and vice versa.

The severability thesis was a significant point of disagreement between the two previous posters.   David Mead seemed persuaded by the severability thesis, claiming that s. 6(5) can be read narrowly to warrant an independent analysis on the question of the ‘privateness’ of the act which is separate from ,and can defeat, the analysis for ‘public function’ under s. 6(3)(b) relying on statements from the Court of Appeal in Weaver in support.    Alexander Williams, on the other hand, explicitly refuted the severability thesis, arguing that the centre of gravity of the human rights liabilities of hybrid bodies lies with s. 6(3)(b) and not s. 6(5).  Evidence of this, he argues, can be found both in the failed attempt by Elias LJ in Weaver to apply the two-stage test implicit in the severability thesis, as well as Parliament’s intention in drafting the provision.

Beyond the blogosphere, the severability thesis has gained some traction from the bench, not least from one of the leading cases on s. 6; YL v. Birmingham City Council.  In this case, Lord Scott, for example, argued that:

“[t]he effect of [s. 6 HRA] is that an act (or an omission) of a private person or company that is incompatible with a Convention right is not unlawful under the 1998 Act … unless the person or company has at least some “functions of a public nature”; but even if that condition is satisfied the private person or company will not have any liability under the 1998 Act if the nature of the act complained of was private.” (para. 23, Emphasis Added).

  In the same case, Lord Neuberger found that :

“In my view, both as a matter of ordinary language and on a fair reading of [s. 6], there is a difference between “functions”, the word used in s. 6(3)(b) and “act[s]”, the word used in section 6(2) and (5) […].  The former has a more conceptual, and perhaps less specific, meaning than the latter.  A number of different acts can be involved in the performance of a single function.  So, if this appeal succeeds, a proprietor … would be performing a “function”, which, while “of a public nature”, would involve a multitude of acts, many of which would be private … a hybrid public authority is only bound by section 6(1) in relation to an act which is (a) is not private in nature and (b) is pursuant to or in connection with a function which is public in nature.” (para.  129, Emphasis Added)

The two-stage test to determine the liabilities of ‘hybrid bodies’ is clear from this latter judicial endorsement of the severability thesis; firstly it must be ascertained whether the function being discharged was a ‘public’ one within the meaning of s. 6(3)(b), and secondly, it must be determined that the impugned act which gave rise to the alleged human rights violation was not private.  Furthermore, this two-stage test, as Lord Neuberger noted, requires a distinction between functions and acts.  This means, as Elias LJ noted in Weaver, that:

“ …  Not all acts concerned with carrying out a public function will be public acts.  Conversely, it is also logically possible for an act not to be private act notwithstanding that the function with which it is most closely connected is a private function, although it is difficult to envisage such as case.  Such situations are likely to be extremely rare.” (para. 28).

In the remainder of this post I will join the side of those arguing against the severability thesis by showing how it relies on a problematic essentialist fallacy which is best avoided.

The essentialist fallacy

            The essentialist fallacy relates to the notion that concepts such as ‘public functions’ or ‘private acts’  have some natural referent in the real world betraying certain essential properties which automatically determines their public or private character.  That is that whether something  (e.g. a relationship, an act, function etc.) is to be deemed public or private relates to the ‘essential nature’ of the thing itself which is in some sense self-evident.  The fallacy was alluded to, albeit obliquely, by Lord Neuberger in YL when he noted that:

            “Any reasoned decision as to the meaning of s. 6(3)(b) risks falling foul of circularity, preconception, and arbitrariness. The centrally relevant words, “functions of a public nature”, are so imprecise in their meaning that one searches for a policy as an aid to interpretation.  The identification of the policy is almost inevitably governed, at least to some extent, by one’s notions of what that policy should be, and the policy so identified is then used to justify one’s conclusion.” (para. 128).

 As I have argued elsewhere, it affects other areas of the HRA, however for current purposes I will focus on its expression with respect to the question of the relationship between s. 6(3)(b) and s. 6(5) HRA.   In Aston Cantlow, in determining the potential human rights liabilities of a Parochial Church Council suing landowners for the cost of repairs of the chancel of a local parish church, several of the bench fell foul of the essentialist fallacy with respect to question of the nature of the acts which constituted the alleged human rights violation.  Having considered the functions of the Parochial Church Council, for example, Lord Hope argued that the nature of the act was that of ‘seeking to enforce a civil debt’ (para 64) which was a ‘matter of private law’ (para. 71).  In the same decision, Lord Hobhouse found that the act in question was  ‘the enforcement of a civil liability’  (para. 89).  Such liability, moreover, was one which ‘arises under private law and which is enforceable by the PCC as a civil debt’. (para. 89).  These considerations were part of the basis of the finding that the act in question was a private one which contributed to the finding that the PCC did not hold human rights obligations under s. 6.   Similarly in YL, Lord Scott, looking at the nature of the act which gave rise to the litigation against a privately owned and run care home by a resident who was being evicted, argued that:

 “the service of a notice terminating the agreement under which YL was contractually entitled to remain in the care home, the notice was served in purported reliance on a contractual provision in a private law agreement.  It affected no one but the parties to the agreement.  I do not see how its nature could be thought to be anything other than private.”  (para. 34).

  In the same case, Lord Neuberger found that:

“[t]he liability of Southern Cross to provide Mrs. YL with care and accommodation in the present case similarly “arises as a matter of private law“.  That is illustrated by the fact that Mrs. YL (or her relatives were) free to choose which care home she went into, and took advantage of that right by selecting a care home more expensive than Birmingham was prepared to pay for … the services provided in this case are very much of a personal nature, as well as arising pursuant to a private law contract between Southern Cross and Mrs. YL”  (para. 168).

In these examples, we can see essentialist fallacy at work.  For each of their Lordships,  the nature of the acts in question, namely the enforcement of a civil debt and a notice to terminate a contractual agreement, were governed by private law and therefore were, by implication, private acts within the meaning s .6(5).  There is therefore a loose and fluid equation of meanings of ‘privateness’ between different contexts. However no explanation or justification of what private law constitutes, nor how this matters for the determination of ‘private acts’ under s. 6(5) HRA is proffered.  It is presented as intuitive or somehow ‘self-evident’.  This is problematic as, it leads, as Lord Neuberger himself acknowledged, to circularity.  To claim, as their Lordships have done, that the enforcement of a civil debt or the enforcement of a contractual provision is inherently private and therefore a ‘private act’ under s. 6(5) is simply to beg the question.  This circularity, moreover, runs the risk of subjectivity in determining ‘privateness’ under the Act as well as, perhaps more problematically, as Neuberger noted, arbitrariness.

It could, of course, be argued that it is relatively common knowledge that contracts between private parties involving the purchase of land or a tenancy agreement are examples of private acts par excellence given that they form the core of what most people would consider private law as a field of law.  Therefore we can reason by analogy that they would fall under the definition of ‘private acts’ under s. 6(5).   However, this reasoning by analogy is not unproblematic.  Firstly, resistance to the classification of   the enforcement of a civil debt for chancel repairs as a naturally and inherently private act came from within the court itself in  Aston Cantlow.   Lord Scott, for example, argued that ‘chancel repair obligations’ in the case had an ‘unmistakable public law flavor to them’. (para. 131)  Secondly, privateness, including privateness in the law, is neither natural nor self-evident but is necessarily context dependent.  Sometimes even prima facie naturally or intuitively private branches of law such as property law can be public.  A good example of this is the US Supreme Court Case of Shelly v. Kramer (334 U.S. 1 (1948)) where the Court found that the enforcement of a racially discriminatory restrictive covenant over land – surely the most intuitively private branch of law; property law – was considered to be a public act in the form of a ‘state action’ given the fact that, in the final analysis, it was ultimately enforced by a Court, which can (and indeed in the HRA is) considered a public authority.  On this logic, then, all private law can conceptually enjoy a public character given that it will ultimately be enforced by a public body, a court.  Thus the essentialist fallacy erroneously assumes an ‘essence’ of publicness or privateness in the law which is imminently contestable.

The essentialist fallacy also conflicts with the ‘sui generis’ nature of publicness and privateness under s. 6.   Academic commentary and the Courts themselves have warned against the importation of conceptions of publicness or privateness from other areas of law into the HRA in order to determine the human rights liabilities of core and hybrid  bodies under the act.  For example,  Lord Nicholls in Aston Cantlow noted  that:

“The word “public” is a term of uncertain import, used with many different shades of meaning:  public policy, public rights of way, public property, public authority (in the Public Authorities Protection Act 1893), public nuisance, public house, public school, public company.  So in the present case the statutory context is all important.  As to that, the broad purpose sought to be achieved by section 6(1) is not in doubt.  The purpose is that those bodies for whose acts the state is answerable before the European Court of Human Rights shall in future be subject to a domestic law obligation not to act incompatible with Convention rights.”  (para. 6, Emphasis Added).

There are numerous other admonitions, both judicial and academic, against importing conceptions of the ‘public’ from, for example, bodies subject to judicial review, ‘emanations of the state’ under EU law, The Race Relations Act 1976 or the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in order to determine the concept under s. 6 HRA.  (See generally, D. Oliver, ‘The Frontiers of the State:  Public Authorities and Public Functions Under the Human Rights Act’ (2004) Public Law, 476.) This has to do with specific purposes of the HRA itself; to ensure the enforcement of human rights ‘at home’ rather than at Strasbourg.  If this is the case, then, importing ‘naturalistic’ understandings of ‘privateness’ from personal intuition or political preference, or from designations of publicness or privateness with different taxonomic or pedagogical purposes, is particularly problematic.

So what has all of this to do with the severability thesis and the relationship between s. 6(3)(b) and s. 6(5) HRA which was the subject of the dispute between the two previous posters?  Well, if it is the case that the essentialist fallacy is to be avoided, and it is argued that there are many good reasons why it should be, we should be sensitive to the contextual nature of ‘publicness’ and ‘privateness’ under s. 6 HRA.  Avoiding the essentialist fallacy, therefore, requires recognizing that the meaning of ‘publicness’ and ‘privateness’, as Lord Nicholls above suggested, is context-dependent. These terms have no independent meaning outside of the specific legal context within which they appear. Against this backdrop, the relevant context which can give meaning to the term ‘private acts’ under s. 6(5) is that of the public function under s. 6(3)(b) pursuant to which the particular (putatively private) act was taken.  The nature of the act itself under s. 6(5), given that it is not inherently public or private, will always be conditioned by the function which governed the act.  Thus, as Elias LJ himself discovered in Weaver when attempting to apply the severability thesis, s. 6(3)(b) and s. 6(5) are relational such that the finding of a public function under the former will have a bearing on ‘privateness’ of the act under the latter. In this sense, they are two sides of the same coin.

 Cormac Mac Amhlaigh is Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Edinburgh and a visiting Fellow at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.

   

Suggested citation: C. Mac Amhlaigh,  ‘Once More Unto the (Public/Private) Breach …:  s. 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Severability Thesis’   UK Const. L. Blog (13th December 2013) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org)

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Judicial review

Se-shauna Wheatle: Maurice Tomlinson v Television Jamaica Ltd: Horizontal Rights Application in Jamaica

seshauna-studio-copy1For more than twenty years Jamaica was engaged in the process of amending the Chapter of Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution of Jamaica 1962. The culmination of that project was the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act 2011, which ushered in substantial changes in the application of rights (including explicit provision for horizontal rights application) and the scope of rights (for example, designing some of the equality provisions to exclude equal protection on the ground of sexual orientation). As the first case to test the terms of Jamaica’s new constitutional rights arrangements arising under the Charter, Maurice Tomlinson v Television Jamaica Ltd v Others, is of historical import. The case is significant for its assessment of the issues of horizontal rights protection, freedom of expression, and the position of gay persons under the Charter.

Tomlinson, who is a gay Jamaican and was formerly Legal Advisor to Aids-Free World, submitted a proposed Public Service Announcement (PSA) to the two major television stations in Jamaica (Television Jamaican Ltd and CVM Television Ltd). The video message encouraged tolerance towards, and respect for, the human rights of gay men in Jamaica. The stations refused to air the video, whereupon Tomlinson filed a claim in the Supreme Court of Jamaica, a court of first instance in Jamaica which has original jurisdiction in constitutional cases and is of equivalent jurisdiction to the High Court of England and Wales. Tomlinson sought declarations that the stations’ refusal constituted breaches of his right to freedom of expression under section 13(3)(c) of the Charter, and freedom to disseminate information and ideas through the media under section 13(3)(d) of the Charter. He also sought these declarations against the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica, though it was accepted during argument that as the PBCJ was a statutory body, it was limited by the terms of its statute which barred it from airing paid advertisements. The court unanimously dismissed the claim against all three defendants.

Horizontality Under the New Charter

Some of the most interesting and potentially impactful parts of the judgments delivered by the three judges of the Supreme Court concern the issue of the application of horizontal rights protection under the Charter. The Charter expressly provides for the first time that the rights and freedoms under the Charter are binding on private persons as well as the state to the extent that they are applicable in light of the right and duty under consideration. Thus, section 13(5) states:

A provision of this Charter binds natural or juristic persons, if, and to the extent that, it is applicable taking account of the right and the nature of any duty imposed by the right.

In his judgment Justice Sykes articulates an equality-based view of horizontal rights protection, stating that Jamaica copied the horizontality section in the Final Constitution of South Africa, ‘a country with significant inequality between social groups’ and that that section ‘was, perhaps, seen as a way of addressing that inequality through judicial decision on the scope and meaning of the Bill of Rights’. [191]. Indeed, constitutional scholars Stuart Woolman and Dennis Davis have argued that the inclusion of horizontal application in the South African Constitution gives recognition to the fact that power wielded by private bodies can undermine justice and that ‘inequalities in social power’ undermine the autonomy of individuals. While Justice Sykes identified horizontality as a means of addressing inequality, the Jamaican Supreme Court’s approach to horizontal protection in the Tomlinson case pays little attention to the context of inequality that surrounded the case. Justice Sykes held that the stations did not interfere with the claimant’s right to freedom of expression since the Constitution ‘does not give any private citizen … the right to use another private person’s property to disseminate his message by any technological means available.’ [311] Accordingly, he held that it was not necessary to balance the rights of the rights and responsibilities of the claimants and defendants. Justice Paulette Williams J, on the other hand, balanced the claimant’s rights to freedom of expression and the defendants’ rights to freedom of expression and held that to grant the declarations sought by the claimant would prejudice the rights of the defendants, and that since the claimant has a corresponding duty to uphold the defendants’ rights, the ‘horizontal application … is not applicable’. [98]

The judges did not sufficiently address the special position of the first and second defendants (Television Jamaica Ltd and CVM Television Ltd) as the two major television stations in Jamaica, commanding the vast majority of the market share in televised media, and their resulting dominant position in determining what is televised in Jamaica. The Court also failed to address the context of societal and structural inequalities that confront Jamaican gay men, such as the claimant. These shortcomings in the judgment are all the more striking given the emphasis placed by the members of the court on the section of the South African Constitution from which section 13(5) of the Jamaican Charter draws its influence and much of its language. The corresponding horizontality section of the South African Constitution has been said to embrace a conception of liberalism which recognizes that ‘the real issue regarding the application of fundamental rights is …about how all kinds of power are distributed throughout a polity and what that means for the lives of individuals and the associations that inhabit the larger political community.’ Despite repeated references to the South African provision and the suggestion that it was conceived in an ethos of equality, the Jamaican Court did not take sufficient notice of the context of power distribution that arose in the case before it.

A difficult issue that arises in this area is how courts should approach a conflict between the rights of private citizens. This became central to the Tomlinson case because the defendants, as media companies, also asserted their right to freedom of expression. The approach adopted by Williams J was to balance the claimant’s rights against those of the defendants. The Charter provides some guidance as to how to resolve such a conflict, section 13(2) of the Charter stating that the rights are guaranteed, ‘save only as may be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society’. This textual guarantee ought to be a guide to determining whether a limitation of rights was justified, irrespective of whether that limitation occurred as a result of an act of the state or an act of a private party. Yet, Williams J appeared to reject the use of this section to resolve conflicting rights as between private parties, referring to the decision of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in Khumalo v Holomisa. In Khumalo the Constitutional Court balanced the media’s right to freedom of expression against the constitutional value of human dignity in determining whether the law of defamation applicable to the private parties in the dispute before the Court was consistent with the Constitution. While referring to the judgment in Khumalo, Williams J failed to note that the Khumalo Court did not actually engage with this question of whether the general limitations clause was applicable in a case of conflicts between rights. Further, the section of the Khumalo judgment that addresses horizontality has been criticised for being ‘cursory’ and there have been more recent judgments from South Africa which shed light on the horizontal application of rights and the conflict between the rights of citizens. These cases were not referred to in Williams J’s judgment. These more recent judgments are particularly interesting because they contain suggestions that the requirements in the limitations clause are relevant to cases of conflict between rights of private parties. Whichever conclusion Williams J arrived at, it would have been useful, in light of the fact that this was the first Jamaican case to raise these issues, for the judge to engage in a more comprehensive analysis of this issue.

Williams J concluded that while balancing the rights of the claimant and the defendant, the court must not tip the balance in favour of one as this would suggest that one party’s right was greater than the other. [94]-[97]. She held that to make the declarations sought against the television stations would prejudice their rights and freedoms, so the claim must be dismissed. She further held that ‘the horizontal application … is not applicable as the claimant has the duty to uphold the corresponding rights of the 1st and 2nd defendants.’ This invites a final observation on Williams J’s decision. While she ostensibly rejects the suggestion that the scale must be tipped in favour of one side, her decision actually does tip the balance in favour of the television stations, while undermining the rights of the claimants. Her denial of this result reflects a mistaken notion that preserving the status quo (that the PSA is not aired) is to refuse to choose, when in fact that preservation of the status quo is a rather demonstrative choice on the part of the court.

This case is of historical import in Jamaica and the Commonwealth Caribbean, and the issues that arose will no doubt be tested when the case is appealed. It is to be hoped that the appellate courts will engage in a more thorough and contextual analysis of some of the contested questions that arise in the field of horizontal rights application.

Se-shauna Wheatle is a Research Associate in Public Law at Durham University.

Suggested citation: S. Wheatle, ‘Maurice Tomlinson v Television Jamaica Ltd: Horizontal Rights Application in Jamaica’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (10 December 2013) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org).

2 Comments

Filed under Comparative law, Human rights