The last 25 years has seen the equality law landscape change significantly. Age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, religion or belief, and sexual orientation have been added to race and sex as protected characteristics; “other status” discrimination can be challenged; and public authorities must not only avoid discrimination but also mainstream equality principles into their policy-making processes.
At Doughty Street we use domestic, European and international law to fight discrimination on all of these grounds, wherever it occurs: in the workplace, the provision of goods and services, prisons, by the police, in immigration, education, housing, social welfare and mental health and by public authorities more generally. We also use public law to challenge policy decisions that have given insufficient regard to equality.
Several of our teams have developed the law relating to sexual orientation rights.
We were instructed in HJ v Iran and HT v Cameroon. HJ and HT were gay men who claimed asylum on grounds of their sexuality. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal had found that openly gay men were at real risk of persecution in the appellants’ countries of origin, but that the appellants would in fact be ‘discreet’ if returned and so avoid serious harm. The Supreme Court found that it was no answer to a claim under the Refugee Convention that a person would hide their sexuality because of a fear of serious harm. This was a hugely significant decision for refugee protection claims.
We also worked, with Liberty, on the case of Morgan and Black v. They were a gay couple who had been denied access to a double room in a Christian-run bed and breakfast establishment. The Court of Appeal concluded that once the owner had decided to open her home to business, she had to justify a failure to provide that business to everyone on the same terms, and she had been unable to do that. The case was key in helping understand the correct balance to be struck between religious freedom and freedom from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
One of our members represented the applicant before the European Court of Human Rights in JM v UK. In JM the UK government was found to have breached rights of a lesbian mother under Articles 8, 14 and Protocol 1, Article 1 of the ECHR by failing to afford her the same rights as a heterosexual parent under domestic child support legislation.
Going forward we intend to be at the forefront of enhancing the rights of transgendered individuals, and developing the law in new areas such as with respect to caste discrimination.