Exclusive: Supreme Court ruling opens way for legal action against Michael Gove and Liz Truss for racial discrimination and victimisation

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Liz Truss former Lord Chancellor Pic credit:BBC

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UPDATE: At a Press Gallery lunch in Parliament last week I raised the issue of the Supreme Court ruling and the potential case to be brought by three judges with David Lidington, the current Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary.

He did not want to comment about the Supreme Court judgement or any pending legal action but he vigorously defended any of the judges from institutional racism. He said it would be against their ” oath of office” and  believed all of them would be  fair minded and ” in no way racist.” He did admit that the judiciary did not have enough judges from black and ethnic minorities and promised a ” mentoring programme” so more top barristers would come forward and become judges.

Michael Gove and Liz Truss, two former Lord Chancellors,  the former lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, six High Court judges and  heads of the tribunal services are facing lthe prospect of legal action for victimisation and racial discrimination by three fellow black and Asian  judges and a black former tribunal member following a ground breaking ruling by the Supreme Court. An article appears in this week’s Tribune magazine. the link is here.

The virtually unreported Supreme Court judgement last week, which involved interpreting an EU equality treatment directive, is seen by campaigners as removing immunity claimed by the Ministry of Justice, the Metropolitan Police, magistrates and tribunal bodies, barristers, solicitors, doctors and dentists disciplinary bodies, from the Equality Act when handling misconduct inquiries.

It will also apply to disciplinary hearings involving sexual and gender discrimination and disabled people.

The original case was brought by a disabled black woman police officer, known as Ms P against the Metropolitan Police. She claimed discrimination because of her disability during a disciplinary and misconduct hearing.  She had previously been assaulted and was then involved in an incident which led to her arrest. She claimed post traumatic distress syndrome following the assault had led her to act in this way.  The panel rejected her claim and she was dismissed immediately.  She appealed to an employment tribunal  saying she had been  subject to disability discrimination but it struck out her case because it ruled that the panel was exempt from the Equality Act.

Her case was turned down by the lower courts but they have now been overruled by the Supreme Court. At the hearing her case was joined by four black and ethnic minority organisations, Operation Black Vote, Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts (BARAC UK) the Society of Black Lawyers, and The Association of Muslim Lawyers who asked for a ruling on civil law in this case.

pete rherbert caseThe ruling has had an immediate impact on four other cases involving racial discrimination and victimisation brought by three judges and a tribunal member that had been stayed at employment tribunals because the Ministry of Justice said it had immunity under the Equality Act.

These involve cases bought by Peter Herbert, a recorder and part time immigration and employment judge and chair of the Society of Black Lawyers; Daniel Bekwe,of African descent,  a former member of Croydon Employment tribunal; a district judge and an immigration judge, who plan to go public at a later date.

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Recorder Peter Herbert who is also chair of the Society of Black Lawyers. Pic Credit: Operation Black Vote

Mr Herbert said: “We met last night and decided that our solicitor will write to the Employment Tribunal asking for the stay to be lifted and the hearing re-opened following the supreme court’s judgement. We hope to get a hearing in December.”

Dianne Abbott, the shadow home secretary, is planning to raise questions with ministers on the judgement.

Groups were jubilant following the ruling. BARAC said: “Today’s important ruling we believe, means that Judges, Magistrates, lay tribunal members, barristers, solicitors, doctors, dentists, nurses and other professionals and office holders cannot be prevented from enjoying the full protection of the Equality Act 2010. We are writing to the MoJ and the Government to ask them to clarify all those professions where this ruling will apply.”

Lord Herman Ouseley, former Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Chair of Kick It Out stated:

“There should be no hiding place in the form of judicial immunity for decision making bodies, decision makers and their processes enabling institutions to lawfully discriminate and not have these decisions challenged by those persons affected.
Too many attempts have already been made by the state to restrict access to and
therefore deny justice for individuals rightfully seeking to invoke the provisions of the
Equality Act 2010. No more denial of Justice”

Lee Jasper, former adviser to the Mayor of London on Equality, Chair of London Criminal Justice Consortium stated:

“The filing of an amicus brief indicates a renewed determination by British black organisations to embark on a focused legal strategy to achieve civil rights and equality. The notion of legal immunity from the Equality Act 2010 will now be the subject of intense legal examination. The black WPC at the centre of this case has been to hell at back at the hands of the Metropolitan Police, suffering the triple oppressions of race, gender and disability.”

“ Those involved in the suspension of Recorder Peter Herbert can now be exposed as exercising institutional white privilege,   as they had been given cover by the
Government relying on the misguided concept of judicial immunity to give licence
to institutional racism. ”

The decision  by the Supreme Court will have enormous ramifications for disciplinary panels. But there is also  extraordinary irony as well. This case could be appealed by the Metropolitan Police or the Ministry of Justice to the European Court of Justice.

But given the entire  stance being taken at the Brexit negotiations where the ECJ is a red line for ministers – it is the one thing that the government can’t do.

Meanwhile the Equality and Human Rights Commission has indicated it wants to make sure the government doesn’t sneakily change the law once we have left the EU.

EHRC Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said:”This case goes to highlight the importance of EU law in protecting fundamental rights. This is why we are pressing for amendments to the Withdrawal Bill to protect our rights under the Brexit process.”

A summary of the Supreme Court judgement is here.

The Brexit court case: Much ado about nothing

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The absurd and despicable take by the Daily Mail on the court judgement

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The reaction to the High Court decision saying that Parliament should be able to debate and trigger Britain’s application to leave the EU has been both depressing and ludicrous.

Newspapers like the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have treated the judges as ” enemies of the people ” just for having the temerity to lay down what is a perfectly valid constitutional decision.

They have NOT ruled that Britain should never leave the European Union but only that our leaving should follow proper constitutional procedures.

The papers have whipped up popularism on a totally false premise and played to the ignorance of people about what is actually happening.

The people who voted to leave the European Union should be delighted not furious about what has happened.

Their main case for leaving the EU was that they didn’t want to be ruled by Brussels and wanted to take back our sovereignty to rule ourselves.

Well what has happened. A British court composed of British judges has ruled that a British Parliament should have the last word and decide how we leave the EU. Brussels or any other foreign power has not said a word.

That seems perfectly reasonable to me. We are a Parliamentary democracy who elect MPs to pass laws and take up issues on our behalf. What we had earlier this year was a referendum not a general election in which the people decided to leave the EU. Therefore it  is Parliament not the government that should be guardian of that referendum.

The last general election was won by a party that promised a referendum on whether we should leave the EU, not on a mandate that we will leave the EU – you had to vote UKIP for that.

The other criticism of media coverage of this ruling is the  despicable attack on both the person who brought the case and on the judges themselves. Anybody has a right to bring a case and the idea they should be pilloried for doing so is anathema to democracy.

And the attack on the judges – particularly the homophobic criticism of one of them – was absolutely beyond the pale. What right has the Daily Mail to highlight that one of the judges was gay. Do we have ruling that no gay judge can pass judgement in this country? That is utterly despicable – worthy more of Donald Trump than Paul Dacre.

There is another profound reason why Parliament should make the final decision. Yes we voted to leave the EU but nobody was given a clear picture of how we were going to leave the EU during the referendum. The No camp did not have a plan.

So given there  about 57 Heinz varieties of doing so – it is right that our MPs and for that matter peers under the present system  should  debate  how we are going to do it and question the government on their plans.

The government is arguing that to do so would give away their hand. This is ridiculous and untenable. If the government think they can negotiate in secret  they misunderstand the role of the press in this country and Europe. their plans will inevitably be leaked and when it comes to the negotiations to leave in Europe- journalists will have the resources to tap officials from 28 countries to find out what is going on. Theresa May is living in cloud cuckoo land if she thinks she can keep a lid on it.

So what is all this sound and fury about this decision by the judges – in my view it is much ado about nothing. People should grow up and accept in a mature democracy the issue should be debated and decided in the best forum to safeguard our sovereignty- Parliament.

 

 

 

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: Survivors should unite not fight

The future of the current child sex abuse inquiry reaches a  ” make or break ” moment this Wednesday. On that day it will either be wound up or reinvented.

What has particularly depressed me about the whole business is the way it has been handled. The Home Office, in particular, has not covered itself in glory – recommending two chairs that had to resign – and with a new chair still to be appointed months after the inquiry was originally set up.

What started with great hopes when seven MPs of opposing parties got together to ask Theresa May, the home secretary, to set this up has ended in despair with people quarrelling with each other on-line, demanding resignations  of panel members and refusing to co-operate or attend listening events.

I don’t think people realise what a mean feat it is – thanks to the open-mindedness of Tory Mp, Zac Goldsmith- to get together  seven MPs from four parties with opposing views- Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green – and get them to agree to press an initially reluctant government to set up the overarching inquiry in the first place.

The MPs have frankly not followed the ” yah boo ” script of scoring political points off each other – and tried to take the issue out of party politics. The Opposition has also rightly tempered its criticism of Theresa May in Parliament  when it would be easy to score cheap points from her discomfort as the debacle unfolded. They recognised she was genuinely committed to the inquiry- and respected that.

I wish I could say the same for some of the survivors and professionals but I can’t. By all means have a lively, rational debate on what is to be done and try to convince others of your case. But to descend into demanding people are removed from a panel, banned from attending meetings ( as the Survivors Alliance wants) or to claim that your view is what every one of the probably millions of survivors want is both arrogant and wrong.

You can change people’s minds. I originally thought it would be better to have a non statutory inquiry after the success of Hillsborough. I now think it should have statutory powers because of the issues it is dealing with – and the fact it has to tackle very powerful people whose instinct will be to want to cover  everything up.

However they are lots of ways to run a statutory inquiry. The simplest one is to scrap the existing panel replace it with a judge, employ phalanxes of highly paid lawyers and hold judicial style hearings where witnesses are cross-examined in public. This means it  will be transparent but survivors will have to face cross-examination even if their hearing is in private. It will also mean that the judge – and the judge alone – will decide what the report will say. And I am afraid the history on this is not good – with  findings often at odds with the evidence presented – take Hutton and Leveson for starters. Or more pertinently, take the Waterhouse inquiry into North Wales child sexual abuse, which is now having to be reviewed. Also statutory inquiries can be delayed and delayed  as lawyers argue about their findings – as is the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War for example,

Survivors will be confined to giving their evidence in this model -but the judge will decide whether to believe them.

The other way to do this is to combine the present panel with a judge and work in a collegiate way. Here survivors not only give evidence but alongside other professional people – have an input into what the report will say. They are real participants.

Just a moment. Isn’t this what we have got already? Yes it is, we have a panel of  experts who can tackle the issue and understand child sexual abuse. So why throw the whole thing out and start again.

Now it is clear from an article I have written with Mark Watts in Exaro today that while some survivors  and professionals have told Theresa May the whole inquiry has to be scrapped other survivors who have attended the listening events in London and Manchester passionately want it to continue. And I don’t understand why the people who want it scrapped seem to want to deny the people who want it to continue any voice. Particularly as some of them have turned down invitations to attend.

Isn’t it  about time that survivors tried  to work with each other rather than undermine each other?

Misusing deregulation to smash journalists’ freedom

One of the most precious freedoms for journalists is the protection of their sources. Now it appears the Cabinet Office is using an obscure bill – as part of the government’s drive to cut “red tape”- as cover to erode that freedom.
By changing the rules to allow the police to go to court to obtain reporter’s notebooks, pictures and computer files- without facing an open challenge from newspapers, TV, or even individual freelance journalists themselves – they are placing that protection in serious danger.
No wonder the Newspaper Society is up in arms and media lawyers are raising very serious questions. There is an excellent and elegant argument on the Inforrm blog by Gill Phillips,the Director of Editorial Legal Services at Guardian News and Media, about the dangers.
She rightly concludes: “This appears to be yet another backdoor attempt to limit and restrict essential and hard-fought journalistic protections.”
Bloggers should also be aware of this as it could affect them – and they will be much more vulnerable to a police raid- as they would be in a weak position to defend themselves. It is worth reading Vox Political’s blog on this point and taking action.

The official response according to my former colleague Owen Bowcott in the Guardian has been muted.
He reports :A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Every measure in the deregulation bill is intended to remove unnecessary bureaucracy. Clause 47 would bring the Police and Criminal Evidence Act into line with other legislation in this area and would allow the criminal procedure rules committee to make procedure rules that are consistent and fair.

” However, the government has noted the concerns raised about this issue and Oliver Letwin is happy to meet with media organisations about this before the bill goes to committee.”
I think the government should go further and drop this now. It can hardly save much money and I think their motives in introducing this are questionable and undo good work under the Defamation act and by the Information Commissioners’ Office to protect journalists from interference by the police and the state.