Petition to prosecute ATOS & the DWP

Yes, I know, some of my readers voted for the callous hyenas who support this ongoing cruelty. But hey – we all make mistakes.

Perhaps a prosecution (or even a large collection of signatures) will send a message

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to ConDem MPs preparing to face the electorate in a little over a year. Either way – this inhuman government and the profiteering ATOS really should be called to account.

Will you sign?

And he will be missed

My morning began much like any other. The sun rose, the alarm clock chimed its morning message and slowly I opened my eyes to greet the world.

Like so many others in today’s world I use my smartphone in lieu of an alarm clock and so my first task (after silencing the electronically generated morning cacophany) is to use it to check the morning news online. It wasn’t the best start to the day.

Within minutes of opening my eyes I heard the awful news….

Tony Benn is dead. This world will be a poorer place without the wisdom and eloquence of this fine old man of the left. Tony Benn wasn’t just a politician, he was a gentleman. And he will be missed.

He was eloquent and insightful with an almost uncanny ability to boil down apparently complex concepts into the simple fundamentals that grunts like me can understand. Consider for example his five questions for those in authority.
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I wonder how the unelected Tory government would respond to these questions. After all if it wasn’t for ‘Kingmaker Clegg’ there would be no tory government to represent the interests of the wealthy at all.

Tony Benn wasn’t just wise – he was compassionate too. Tony Benn wasn’t just a campaigner – he was a guru of the left. Tony Benn wasn’t just a politician – he was one of my heroes. And he will be missed.

Even well into old age he continued to campaign. I first heard him speak at a CND rally in the early 1980s. He was captivating. More recently he could be found demonstrating against the rise of fascism in UK and neoNazi groups such as the BNP and the EDL.
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Tony Benn didn’t just believe in equality and human rights – he dedicated his long life to their attainment. And he will be missed.

Tony Benn was happy to rock the boat when morality demanded it.
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And he respected those others who did the same.
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And he will be missed.

Safeguarding 9: Discrimination

As most people are aware many forms of discrimination are unlawful in British society as they are throughout much of the rest of the world. However the nature of discrimination (what it actually means) isn’t always so clearly understood. The confusion about what is and is not discrimination isn’t helped by the way that certain individuals or groups claim ‘discrimination’ when really they are simply failing to get their own way.

A recent example of this involves the Bristol ‘Healing On The Streets’ (HOTS) team. This faith-based group published materials claiming that any and all ailments from mental disorders to cancer would be cured by the power of prayer. They did not state this as mere opinion but rather they presented it as fact without any reasonable evidence to support the claim. This would be a problem in any organisation, not just a religious ministry.

Hayley Stevens is a paranormal investigator who was ‘leafleted’ by a member of the HOTS team. She was concerned that the published material may offer ‘false hope’ to desperate and vulnerable people. She was also concerned that it might discourage people from seeking medical care and so she contacted the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who upheld her complaint and ordered the group to remove such claims from its publications. The HOTS team subsequently issued a statement claiming that Hayley represented a group, generally opposed to Christianity. They have since removed that statement from their website.

Criticising fraudsters for false advertising is fair comment. The reason for criticism of the HOTS team is not their religion, it is their unethical behaviour in making false claims that would be a problem whoever produced the publicity.

We can see then that what does or does not constitute discrimination depends upon relevance. It would be discriminatory to say that all religious people are liars but it is not discriminatory to ask all people, religious or not, for evidence to back up claims of miracle treatments and to expect them to abide by the law and by accepted advertising standards when they cannot.

It is when we make unreasonable distinctions between people that we are guilty of discrimination. For example when we make assumptions about someone based upon characteristics that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. This sort of discrimination, based upon irrelevancies, is what happens when people make judgements based upon skin colour, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, disability, profession or sexual preference. Skin colour for example has nothing to do with trustworthiness and disability does not invalidate a person’s right to be treated with respect. In both cases, colour and disability, the ‘condition’ is irrelevant to the point under consideration.

However the fact that an individual belongs to a group that is regularly discriminated against does not mean that they can do no wrong. A gay man who assaults his neighbour in a dispute about a garden fence will still be prosecuted. But he will be prosecuted because of the assault. His sexuality is irrelevant. He may claim discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality but his claim will not be taken seriously by the courts because his sexuality is not relevant to the case at hand.

On the other hand a gay couple refused accommodation in a hotel or guest house would be supported under anti-discrimination legislation for exactly the same reason. Their sexuality is not relevant to their right to use services.

Similairly if the manager of a residential drug rehabilitation unit were to evict an Asian man because of his use of illicit substances on the premises he could not then claim racial discrimination. The eviction would be because of the rules of the service which are applied equally to all service-users regardless of skin colour or racial type. Colour is simply irrelevant and therefore the decision to evict is not discriminatory – it is simply an appropriate response.

The basic ‘rule of thumb’ then is to ask if the alleged discrimination is relevant. Is your action the result of the individual’s need or behaviour or is it motivated by the fact that they belong to a particular group.

If it’s because of individual circumstances and would be the same whatever subgroup the person belonged to then it’s probably not discrimination. I say probably not because there is the additional aspect of institutional discrimination that we will consider in a later post. If it’s because of the subgroup they belong to (eg religion, LGBT, disabled, Asian etc) then there’s a good chance you really are discriminating.

As ever ‘relevance’ is the key when deciding whether or not you’re being discriminatory.

About the Safeguarding series

This blog series first appeared on Stuart’s personal blog early in 2010. It has been reposted here as part of a process of ‘rationalisation’ in which work from several blogs has been removed and reposted on only two.

Safeguarding 6: Physical abuse

The definition of physical abuse may seem obvious and to many I’m sure it will be but it still warrants some description. The process of outlining what we mean by physical abuse will also allow me to make another point about abuse definitions in general:

Although different forms of abuse can be categorised separately there is considerable ‘crossover’ between types of abuse in practice. This means that a single abusive event can fall into several different categories.

The basic illustration of physical abuse (and the one that springs most readily to mind for most people) is physical violence. This is understandable. It is obvious, for the most part unambiguous and the effects of violence upon the physical body are often very easy to spot. However it’s not the only example.

Failure to provide adequate nutrition is also a form of physical abuse because it has a detrimental effect upon the physical body. Failure to administer medication or deliberately withholding medication is also a form of physical abuse for the same reason. These are also examples of neglect and very possibly would result in psychological/emotional harm as well. Particular abuses can fall into several different categories.

Consider the practice of withholding meds, food or any other need as a form of punishment or ‘behaviour modification’. If you are deliberately trying to ‘teach a person a lesson’ by withholding something to which they are legally entitled this is a form of punishment. The European Convention on Human Rights is very clear about this sort of practice – the significant phrase is:

“No punishment without law”

At the opposite end of the scale is more active abuse such as the over use of tranquilisation (prescribed or otherwise) which could also be physical abuse. The use of physical restraints or barriers to contain people or to prohibit movement may also represent physical abuse. This is not always the case as on occasions it is appropriate and justifiable to restrict a person’s freedom of movement, for example with the use of safety harnesses when transporting them in a wheelchair or in certain circumstances the use of door locks to prevent people from leaving unattended.

However such restrictions need to be proportionate and in the individual’s best interests to be lawful.

This is not the same as saying that the family demand it or staffing levels mean we need to lock the door.

If any such restriction crosses the line to become an actual deprivation of liberty then formal authorisation must be sought via the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards process.

Other forms of physical abuse might involve inappropriate temperature regulation (seasonally inappropriate clothing or maintaining the environment at an unreasonably high or low temperature), overly rough physical care. Insensitive/inadequate provision of food as well as hurried or unreasonable practice whilst assisting people to eat are also good examples.

One excellent ‘rule of thumb’ when thinking about abusive practice of all kinds, including physical abuse, is to consider how you might react if this happened to you. If you would be affronted by it there’s a reasonable chance that the experience would be a breach of your rights. This isn’t 100% reliable as a guide to abuse but it’s a pretty good starting place.

Bear in mind that your service-user has exactly the same rights as you have unless there is a legally justifiable way to say otherwise. Simply being a service-user/resident/patient or whatever isn’t sufficient to remove a person’s rights. If it was then anyone who is registered with a family doctor (GP) would give up their rights too. We’re all service-users but we still have rights.

This notion of rights and the fact that we all begin with the same rights is essential to understanding the reality of abuse and safeguarding in health and social care. These rights are our legal entitlements and liberties and as such they can only be taken away if the law says so. To put it another way:

The law giveth – the law taketh away.

If you are considering physical restraint or any other form of physical intervention ask yourself this question:

If I had to explain this to a court would the judge be satisfied?

Of course very often the judge would be completely satisfied. Circumstances count for a great deal but if the intervention seems in any way like neglect or punishment then you might find it harder to justify.

About the Safeguarding series

This blog series first appeared on Stuart’s personal blog early in 2010. It has been reposted here as part of a process of ‘rationalisation’ in which work from several blogs has been removed and reposted on only two.

Fallacies 14: Shifting the burden

“We must baptise dead people who didn’t believe when they were alive or they will not be saved. I know this to be true!”

“Can you prove that?”

“Can you disprove it?”

“No – it’s impossible to disprove.”

“Then it must be true.”

By the way – I haven’t made that stuff up. It’s part of doctrine for a very well-established worldwide religion. Devotees of The Church of Jesus Christ & Latter Day Saints (LDS) really believe that. You may have heard of this religion before. It’s more usual name is Mormonism.

Mormon missionaries don't always know about the racist beginnings of their church

Mormon missionaries don’t always know about the racist beginnings of their church

I use this example because of a discussion I had with a couple of Mormon missionaries who knocked on my door in an attempt to convert me to their way of thinking. They didn’t particularly want to talk about baptising the dead as it happens. It was one of a long list of topics they like to avoid with new ’prospects’ including:

The need to wear protective underwear (temple garments);
The belief that black people are unworthy;
The belief that black people can become “white and delightsome to the Lord” if they lead a good life;
The belief that women should be subservient to men.

There are many more unsubstantiable beliefs I could have listed but it isn’t my intention to pick on Mormonism particularly here. The LDS doctrine of post-mortem baptism is just an illustration to demonstrate how weak an argument becomes when the only way to support it is to show that others can’t disprove it.

The philosopher, Bertrand Russell illustrated this beautifully when he asserted that there was a silver teapot orbiting the earth and invited people to believe in it without evidence. To the best of my knowledge nobody did (not even Russell himself) precisely because there is no reason to believe in it.

Interestingly Russell’s assertion that nobody could disprove the existence of his teapot didn’t cut much ice with most people. I suspect that even Mormon missionaries can see right through that line of argument when it suits them.

Not being able to disprove something is no reason to assume it must be true. There needs to be positive evidence, not merely the absence of the negative.

But let’s not worry too much about religion here. Let’s face it, we’ve covered that enough in this series already. Instead we’ll turn to some other equally disreputable uses of this same tactic. The example I’m choosing here is used by various religions (including LDS as it happens) but I’m much more interested in its secular use right now. It’s the idea that white people are superior to other races.

Racism on the agendaThis idea has been around for centuries and is still a major blight on human society. Racism, like sexism and a host of other discriminatory ’isms’ makes no sense to the critical observer. B for those whose grasp of evidence and the nature of reality is at best tenuous it is convincing enough to prompt violence, even murder, segregation and a whole host of atrocities that are too well documented elsewhere to need much repetition here.

Of course most people don’t spend too much time thinking about racism. At least most people I know don’t. Race just isn’t relevant to many people. It’s reflects hereditary differences that are no more significant than eye colour or the particular shape of an individual’s chin.

Unfortunately though, the acceptance that race is irrelevant may not be enough. Maybe, just maybe those of us who aren’t directly affected by racism, sexism, homophobia, disablism etc should be more prepared to stand up and be counted in support of our peers (our very clearly equal peers) who are.

For those of us who do attempt to have reasonable discussions with racists the conversations are extremely illuminating. Admittedly such conversations don’t tend to teach us much about race but they do provide valuable insights into the way that many racists think (or perhaps more accurately don’t think) about what they believe.

A typical conversation goes something like this…

“White people are the best”

“How do you know”

“It’s obvious.”

“How is it obvious?”

“We just are.”

“I don’t think so. I’m white but I don’t think I’m particularly special.”

“You’re a traitor to your race.”

How can I be a traitor to something that doesn’t really matter?”

“But it does matter.”

“Can you tell me why it matters?”

“Because it does.”

“But can you tell me why?”

“Can you tell me why it doesn’t?”

wpid-1374337096.jpgOf course – it’s not actually that hard to illustrate that race doesn’t matter a jot. There are plenty of illustrations that can be used to show both the highest and the lowest forms of human behaviour and achievement from across all racial groups. But that, of course, can be reduced to anecdote and so dismissed by the racist. And in fairness I have some sympathy with that process. Anecdote isn’t proof of anything.

But then I don’t have to prove that race is irrelevant. I’m not the one making the claim that it matters. The burden of proof is on the racist to convince the rest of us that they have a point and that means provide some proper evidence.

If you want my agreement – you need to give me a reason to believe you. It’s not enough just to assert that I can’t prove you wrong.

Typically at this point the racist will trot out an anecdote of their own about some Asian bloke who looked at them funny or a black woman who didn’t say thankyou when they held the door open for her. But that’s just as weak as every other form of anecdote. It proves nothing that can be generalised to an entire race of people.

Whenever I point this out (and the fact that they are using the same sort of argument they quite rightly declared invalid when I used it earlier) they almost always resort to the shifting the burden argument.

“You can’t prove that black people are as good as white people.”

And of course, they’re right, I can’t. I can’t prove that there is a silver teapot orbiting the planet either but that doesn’t mean it’s really there.

The principle is simple. If you want others to believe something, be it racism, religion, scientific conclusions, claims about therapeutic treatments or anything else, then you need to provide a convincing argument for that belief. That is your responsibility. The rest of us don’t have to disprove your ideas. You need to show why you are right.

If the person trying to convince you of their point of view has no argument beyond “You can’t prove me wrong” then I’d strongly suggest you take that as evidence in itself. They have just demonstrated how weak their assertions probably are. They have, in fact, almost (but not quite) proven themselves to be wrong.

After all – when they have no evidence to support their argument what other conclusion are we expected to reach?

About the ‘Fallacies’ series

The ‘Fallacies’ project was built up from a series of instalments that first appeared online during the summer of 2012. It is republished as part of a larger set of changes intended to rationalise the contents of several different blogs into just 2. The other remaining blog focuses mainly upon social care and mental health related issues. It can be found at http://www.TheCareGuy.com

Fallacies 12: The false dichotomy

Anders Breivik

Anders Breivik

The false dichotomy argument (AKA Black & white argument, false dilemma argument, fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses) is a favourite of a range of manipulators from quacks and politicians to clerics and snake-oil salesmen. It is a tactic used to convince the other person that there are only two possibilities when in reality there are more. For example…

The English Defence League claims to defend England from what it regards as the ‘Islamification’ of the Western world. You may have heard that argument before. It’s the one Anders Breivik used to justify his terrorist attacks in Oslo last year.

The argument is depressingly simplistic, allowing for only two possibilities….

‘The Muslims’ will take over the world
or……
We will stop ‘the Muslims’ from taking over the world

It’s not hard to see that there are many, many more possibilities than this. Other possibilities include…

People can learn to live harmoniously together.
Many parts of UK are peacefully integrated.
‘The Muslims’ is no more an homogenous group than ‘The Christians’ is. There are ‘good and bad’ in both religions.
The extremist antics of the EDL and other far-right neoNazi organisations is a bigger threat by far to our society than the presence of people whose creed or colour differs from the stereotypical ‘Aryan Christian’ ideal.
All people, regardless of race, colour or creed have equal rights.

And yet, by creating a false dichotomy this divisive group of neoNazis have managed to convince themselves that standing around in car parks and attacking anyone who looks a bit foreign somehow constitutes defending the nation.

An equally silly false dichotomy involves the political nonsense that led David Cameron and Theresa May to inform us that the UK’s only options were:

Scrap the Human Rights Act
or
Watch the collapse of the British economy.

Dale McAlpine preaching

Dale McAlpine preaching

It’s true that the British economy isn’t doing particularly well right now but there’s much more to the argument than workers’ rights and a legal system that protects minimum wages and opposes unfair dismissal. Reducing tax for the highest earners, destroying the public sector and using tax payers money to boost private profits might have something to do with it too – not to mention the global financial crisis.

One of my least favourite false dichotomies came from a West Cumbrian, Christian street preacher who kindly informed my autistic, teenage stepson that he had only two options…

Convert to fundamentalist Christianity
or
Burn in Hell for all eternity

As you may imagine I was sure to point out a range of options to that preacher when I saw him in the street some time later.
And yet the narrow focus of the false dichotomy continues to influence people and can actually sound quite convincing if we accept their assessment of the situation at face value.

So I’ll set up a little dichotomous argument of my own. You can judge for yourself whether or not you consider the dichotomy to be a false one……

When you are presented with only two options ask yourself if
there may be more things to consider

or
Remain vulnerable to these manipulators and their superficial assessments of reality

About the ‘Fallacies’ series

The ‘Fallacies’ project was built up from a series of instalments that first appeared online during the summer of 2012. It is republished as part of a larger set of changes intended to rationalise the contents of several different blogs into just 2. The other remaining blog focuses mainly upon social care and mental health related issues. It can be found at http://www.TheCareGuy.com

The Convention 19: The future

The European Convention on Human Rights is not, as we have seen, universally popular in Britain. Neither is the UK’s Human Rights Act (1998). Not everyone agrees that these rights should be in place for everyone. Some argue that it is foolish to give the same rights to foreigners or to criminals and many within the current coalition government are vehemently opposed to any European legislation affecting what goes on within these shores.
I first wrote this in June 2011 – sadly government hostility to the ECHR remains just as strong two and a half years later.

From my perspective these arguments are all rooted in what is known as ‘special pleading’. The idea is that some people are somehow ‘special’ or more deserving of rights and consideration than others. As is probably clear by now I see things a little differently – and I hope that you will too.

I believe that history (including some very recent history throughout Europe) has shown us that none of us are really safe from the abuses of those who would exploit or abuse us. The International Court has issued a warrant just this week for the arrest of the Libyan leader ‘Colonel Gadaffi’ on charges of war crimes. Libya, of course is not a European state but the former Yugoslavia was and it’s hard to forget the religiously motivated ethnic cleansing that happened there in recent years.
Less extreme is the way that our current government portrays disabled people (especially those with mental disorders) as ‘benefit scroungers’. The discrimination that seems to be inherent both in the benefits system and the wider job market against people with mental ill health combines to prevent them from finding work and then to penalise and vilify them for their failure to do so.

Hate crime is on the increase in our country, presumably as a reaction to economic austerity (that seems to happen whenever people’s livelihoods are threatened) and intolerance of all kinds seems gradually to be becoming more widespread and socially acceptable. Perhaps now, more than ever before, we need the ECHR to keep the UK ‘on track’ as a civilised country.

The assault on prisoners’ rights and their proposed disenfranchisement (as though losing their liberty wasn’t punishment enough) is worrying, but not so worrying as the increasing calls for a return to capital punishment. There has even been some limited support in this country for an American organisation called ‘Project Prevention’. This ‘charity’ aims to sterilise substance users, as much upon moral and economic grounds as upon any platform of compassion.

It is interesting that Vince Cable MP, a current UK government minister threatened earlier this month that the law prohibiting strike action may be ‘tightened’ to prevent aggrieved workers from taking action to protect their interests. However many argue that without the ability to withdraw their labour workers have no effective means of asserting their rights. It will be interesting to see if workers’ industrial safeguards are removed as Cable threatened and if so whether or not the new restrictions are challenged under article 4.

However that turns out in the future it is already the case that a good deal of our UK employment law is based upon ensuring that working conditions are reasonable and do not become so exploitative that they fall foul of article 4. It is Europe that gave us limits to the amount of overtime we can be forced to work and the national minimum wage (also unpopular with the current government) is based as much on article 4 principles as it is upon anything else. This article, along with article 14 which outlaws discrimination, has also done much to assist minority groups such as women or disabled people to achieve both employment and comparable pay and conditions.

In my own field of health and social care it is amazing how many hard working people are barely able to make ends meet as they exist on minimum wage, regardless of how difficult, exhausting and sometimes dangerous their work may be. Without a strong legal framework to protect them how much more exploitative would their working conditions be? As I write this I’m aware that a private members bill aimed at removing the minimum wage itself has recently been tabled in parliament by a coalition MP.

I don’t know what the future holds for UK but I do know this. Without the ECHR it would be far easier for exploitative and abusive people, especially those in positions of power and authority, to walk roughshod over the rights of citizens who already are struggling to survive in this tough economic climate.
Whatever generalised, unrepresentative illustrations cynical politicians may make about illegal immigrants or ‘loony lefties’ please remember that for most of us – and that almost certainly includes you, the reader – life would be far less secure and a great deal more difficult without the ECHR.

Thankyou for reading this.

Stuart Sorensen (June 2011)

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

The Convention 18: The right to freedom from discrimination

ARTICLE 14
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

As most people are aware many forms of discrimination are unlawful in British society as they are throughout much of the rest of the world. However the nature of discrimination (what it actually means) isn’t always so clearly understood. The confusion about what is and is not discrimination isn’t helped by the way that certain individuals or groups claim ‘discrimination’ when really they are simply failing to get their own way. A recent example of this involves Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pope Benedict’s personal preacher who likened the current criticism of the Roman Catholic church to anti-semitism. Cantalamessa claimed that the current outrage at the Catholic church’s failure to protect children from paedophile priests is anti-catholic discrimination.

In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Raniero Cantalamessa

Raniero Cantalamessa

What we see is arguably pro-Catholic discrimination in that the leaders of the church appear to be receiving preferential treatment. If the management of any other organisation had protected paedophiles from the law and knowingly continued to place them in positions of trust with vulnerable children they would be prosecuted. The ‘blind eye’ that the current Pope himself turned in the past would, according to UK law at least, result in prosecution and very probably a lengthy prison sentence. If there is any discrimination at all it is not anti-Catholic. It is pro Catholic.

The desire to protect children from abuse is not discrimination and such claims are merely an attempt to distract attention from the real issue – the repeated abuse of children by paedophile priests in the full knowledge of a hierarchy that was more interested in secrecy than in upholding the law. This would be a problem in any organisation, not just a Catholic one.

Criticising criminals for their abuse is fair comment. The reason for criticism of the church hierarchy is not their Catholicism, it is their criminal behaviour in shielding abusers from justice and continuing, consistently to place paedophiles in positions where they can repeat their abuses of vulnerable children.

We can see then that what does or does not constitute discrimination depends upon relevance.

It would be discriminatory to treat all Catholics, or even all Catholic clergymen as though they were child abusers. This is because Catholicism is not relevant to paedophilia per se. Not all Catholics are paedophiles and not all paedophiles are Catholic.
It is when we make unreasonable distinctions between people that we are guilty of discrimination. For example when we make assumptions about someone based upon characteristics that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. This sort of discrimination, based upon irrelevancies, is what happens when people make judgements based upon skin colour, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, disability, profession or sexual preference.

Skin colour for example has nothing to do with trustworthiness and disability does not invalidate a person’s right to be treated with respect. In both cases, colour and disability, the ‘condition’ is irrelevant to the point under consideration.

However the fact that an individual belongs to a group that is regularly discriminated against does not mean that they can do no wrong. A gay man who assaults his neighbour in a dispute about a garden fence will still be prosecuted. But he will be prosecuted because of the assault. His sexuality is irrelevant. He may claim discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality but his claim will not be taken seriously by the courts because his sexuality is not relevant to the case at hand.

On the other hand a gay couple refused accommodation in a hotel or guest house would be supported under anti-discrimination legislation for exactly the same reason. Their sexuality is not relevant to their right to use services.

Similairly if I, when I was manager of a residential drug rehabilitation unit had to evicted an Asian man because of his use of illicit substances on the premises he could not then have claimed racial discrimination. Actually, anyone who knows me would understand how ludicrous such a claim against me would be but that’s not the point. The eviction would be because of the rules of the service which are applied equally to all service-users regardless of skin colour or racial type. Colour is simply irrelevant and therefore the decision to evict is not discriminatory – it is simply an appropriate response.

The basic ‘rule of thumb’ then for front line workers is to ask if the alleged discrimination is relevant. Is your action the result of the individual’s need or behaviour or is it motivated by the fact that they belong to a particular group.

If it’s because of individual circumstances and would be the same whatever subgroup the person belonged to then it’s probably not discrimination. I say probably not because there is the additional aspect of institutional discrimination that we will consider in a later post. If it’s because of the subgroup they belong to (eg Catholic, gay, disabled, Asian etc) then there’s a good chance you really are discriminating.

As ever ‘relevance’ is the key when deciding whether or not you’re being discriminatory.

The Human Rights Council recently expressed grave concern at discrimination & violence based on sexual orientation
Their concerns are mirrored by the Crown Prosecution Service here in UK who reported on prosecution rates for ‘hate crimes’ here.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

The Convention 17: The right to effective remedy

ECtHR in sessionThere is little that needs to be said about article 13. All it really means is that each country must enact laws to ensure that European Convention rights are upheld. If they are not then enacted then aggrieved citizens can take their country to the European Court of Human Rights to sit in judgement in their particular case.

Appealing to Europe is expensive and time-consuming though and so most countries try to ensure that their own, domestic legislation reflects the ECHR. Here in UK that’s what the Human Rights Act 1998 is all about. It includes all the articles of the ECHR except for article 13. That’s because the government believes that article 13 is automatically upheld simply because the Human Rights Act 1998 exists. It provides effective remedy in itself and needs no further discussion.

ARTICLE 13 says:

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”

The Human Rights Act 1998 also re-emphasises the duty of all UK courts to interpret the law in a way that is consistent with the ECHR when reaching a judgement. There is a ‘side option’ known as a ‘statement of incompatibility’ which allows the court to say that existing UK law cannot be interpreted in keeping with the ECHR and so pass it back to Parliament to review but this is rarely needed.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

The Convention 16: The right to marriage

Are you married?
If not, do you plan to marry one day?
If so would you like to be free to marry the person of your choice?
What if you fell foul of the UK’s racial purity laws?
What if you fell in love with someone from a different ethnic group?
How does the prospect of imprisonment ‘grab you’?

Of course there are no ‘racial purity’ laws in UK. You are free to marry whomever you wish, regardless of their race, creed or colour. That’s good isn’t it?

Things weren’t always this way in Europe. During the Nazi occupation marriage was strictly managed according to racial values and characteristics. The German state took it upon itself to interfere in the reproductive rights of citizens in a number of ways based upon the prejudices of Nazism and the myth of Aryan superiority. That’s why article 12, ‘the right to marry’ (along with article 14 ‘freedom from discrimination’) are so important.

ARTICLE 12

Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right. Nobody can interfere with this right, especially if their objection is based upon arbitrary or prejudicial grounds.

Sacked: Registrar Ladell

Sacked: Registrar Ladell

Consider the case of Ms Ladell, the Christian registrar who refused to officiate in a civil partnership between two gay men. Ms Ladell was denying the men their legal right to engage in a civil partnership because her religion (qualified right) told her that homosexuality is ‘an abomination’. Therefore marriage before God is neither consistent with Christianity nor indeed possible within the Christian sense of the word. However this was not a marriage ‘before God’. It was a civil partnership before the state – a very different proposition.

In fact the term ‘civil partnership’ itself only came about so that a distinction could be made between religious marriage and state institution. The newspapers may talk about ‘gay marriage’ but the law does not.

Remember what we said about religious freedom – it’s a right so long as its expression does not interfere with the lawful rights of others. In this case Ms Ladell’s actions very definitely impeded the rights of others and also constituted discrimination on grounds of sexuality. That’s why she was sacked and why she lost her appeal. This may seem harsh but to restrict gay relationships on religious grounds is no more reasonable than to restrict inter-racial marriage on ideological grounds.

Mormon missionaries don't always know about the racist beginnings of their church

Mormon missionaries don’t always know about the racist beginnings of their church

Indeed some religions have done just that. The Church of Jesus Christ and Latterday Saints (Mormons) prohibited marriage between lack and white citizens until the late 1970s. This may be religious doctrine but it does not have any basis in law. The right to religious expression does not equate to the right to discriminate against other people and their right to marry.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

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