The round-up of the stories that a budding Student Lawyer should be aware of this week. Sign up here to get these updates in your inbox every week.
Legal action against the Garrick Club
Reported by Ellena Mottram
Businesswoman Emily Bendell has launched legal action against the Garrick arguing that its rules
relating to membership are a breach of equality legislation.
After discovering that the club still implemented its men-only policy, following her membership denial in March, Ms Bendell contacted lawyers to issue a discrimination claim. A pre-action letter was sent to the club arguing that the club’s refusal to admit woman was a breach of the 2010 Equality Act.
Whilst the equality act does allow the existence of single-sex organisations, for example men only sports clubs, it does not allow discrimination by businesses which provide services to customers.
Under s29 of the Equality Act such an organisation is required not to discriminate against a person requiring or seeking to use its services. It is therefore argued that because the club runs a restaurant and guest rooms, it is discriminatory to now allow women to use them in the same way as men. Solicitors for Ms Bendell argue that the Garrick is ‘holding on to value that are outdated and quite simply not legal in this day and age.”
Under the membership rules, women cannot become members at the Garrick. Male members are however allowed to bring female guests into the club but they are not allowed to pay for themselves when they do attend. Lawyers for Ms Bendell argue that ‘women are only able to access the club’s services as second class citizens on the whim of a man who has to both invite and pay for them.”
The decision to take legal action was fuelled by her attendance at business and investment events where there was an under-representation of woman. Ms Bendell stated ‘If this was a tiny little club with four members in the back of beyond, then that would be one thing, but this is a club in the middle of London with QCs and MPS are members – these are people who are running the county.”
Ms Bendall argues that women not being allow to join the networks of these individuals is detrimental to women’s cause. The club has many notable members including Sir Trevor McDoanld, Damian Lewis, Michael Gove and many QCs and Judges. Lady Hale has previously expressed her anger at the clubs continued exclusion of woman, and the involvement of the judiciary in the club. Lady Hale said ‘I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick’ arguing that judges ‘should be committed to the principle of equality for all.”
The Harrick club was founded in 1831. In 2015 a vote was held as to whether to include woman. Whilst 50.5% of members voted in favor of introducing female membership, the club rules require a two thirds majority before change can be introduced. Ms Bendell is seeking an injunction to prevent the Garrick from continuing with its policy and has requested a response from the club within 28 days.
Potential changes to sentencing laws could see 18 year olds given whole life sentences for murder
Reported by Jasmine Cracknell
Under proposed changes to sentencing laws, 18 year olds could be given whole life sentences for serious murder crimes. The proposals will be set out in a White Paper by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland next week.
Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, only those who are 21 or over can be given whole life sentences for murder, but the Government hopes to lower the age to 18. A whole life sentence means the offender will be in prison for the rest of their life without ever becoming eligible for parole. This differs from a regular life sentence, where the prisoner serves a certain number of years, usually 15-20 years, before they are eligible for parole. Whole life sentences are therefore only used for the most dangerous crimes, such as terrorism.
The reforms come after Hashem Abedi, an accomplice in the Manchester Arena Bombing attack of 2017, could not be given a whole life sentence as he was under 21 when the attack took place. He was instead given a life sentence of at least 55 years. The court heard he was ‘just as guilty’ as his brother, Salman Abedi and said he would have been given a whole life sentence if it was not for the fact he was under the age of 21.
The proposals would also create new powers to prevent those who have been radicalized whilst in prison, but who are serving non-terror related offenses, from being released automatically after a certain time. Instead, offenders would be referred to the parole board who would consider whether it is safe to release them.
Alongside this, the proposals contain plans for judges to take age and the seriousness of a crime more into account when sentencing young people who commit murder. For 15-17 year olds, the Justice Secretary will propose the minimum sentence is changed from 12 years to two thirds of the starting point for adults. This means that for the most serious crimes (where the starting sentence for adults would be a minimum of 30 years), 15-17 year olds could expect to face a minimum of 20 years imprisonment. For those aged 10-14, the minimum sentence would be half the adult equivalent, meaning they could serve between 8 and 15 years at least.
The plans also include whole-life sentences without parole for the murder of a child. The Justice Secretary said the reforms are the “most radical reforms to sentencing in almost 20 years.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said: “Protection has to be the priority. That is why we are changing sentencing laws to keep the most dangerous offenders behind bars for longer”. “We’re going to remove a loophole that lets some truly despicable criminals avoid such a sentence because they’re under 21 at the time of their crime…”.
However, some worry that there are more pressing issues to tackle within the criminal justice system. Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said: “The criminal justice system is in complete disarray because of years of cuts, of privatisation of the probation system and of undermining of the courts and of the police”.
The proposals will be put before Parliament next week.
UK Withdrawal Agreement Bill
Reported by Laurence Tsai
Last week, the UK government introduced important legislation, the internal market bill. It has the aim of ensuring the maintenance of a free market in goods and services and enforcing trade rules and regulations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after leaving the EU. For example, rules regarding food safety and air quality, which are currently set by EU agreements, will be controlled by the devolved administrations or Westminster.
The government announced that the bill is designed to protect jobs and trade within the UK after the transition period for leaving the EU, and would also enable the government to provide financial assistance to the other three nations with new powers previously administered by the EU.
The main controversy surrounding the bill is the UK government’s open and explicit disregard for the rule of law. Section 45 of the draft bill expressly states that it has effect “notwithstanding any relevant international or domestic law with which they may be incompatible or inconsistent”. The most controversial target of this provision is the Northern Ireland protocol contained within the withdrawal agreement signed in January. The protocol requires Northern Ireland to remain in the EU single market in the event that the UK and EU do not reach a trade deal. Although the UK government voluntarily signed the withdrawal agreement and protocol, it announced that the protocol contains many ambiguities and lacks clarity in critical areas and refuses to allow the protocol to kick in if a trade deal cannot be reached due to the damaging effect this may have on the UK. This is a justification for the overriding provisions in the new draft bill in an attempt to save itself from any consequences triggered under the protocol.
Many lawyers are divided amongst whether the breach caused by the bill could be legally justified. It is an established principle of international law that a state is obliged to discharge its treaty obligations in good faith. However, supporters for the bill argue that such a principle of international law is subordinate to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. In contrast, opponents contend that the government’s outright intention to break international law harms the UK’s reputation for honoring promises and agreements, as well as punctures people’s faith in the justice system. It would potentially harm any future trade talks with other jurisdictions for fear that the UK would overturn its contractually agreed obligations.
As soon as the bill was announced, Brexit talks were at a standstill. Brussels has warned the UK that it has until the end of September to remove the offending parts of the bill or fact the threat of legal action. The duty to negotiate in good faith goes both ways, so one could argue that the EU must respect parliamentary sovereignty. Even the mere threat of legal action arguably distorts the notion of good faith. The bill is likely to be amended in the House of Commons, or if not, in the House of Lords as many Tory MPs have voiced their dissent against the bill. Although the government stands robust in its position not to withdraw the bill, over time it may need to compromise any of the offending parts to practically maintain good relations with the EU and rekindle any loss of reputation perceived by other jurisdictions. Another factor the government must consider is a potential US-UK trade deal. The US has warned that there will be no chance of securing a deal if the government presses ahead with the move.
If parliamentary sovereignty indeed prevails, then the government has the right to issue the bill and protect the UK internal market, yet must also face the potential consequences of this decision. Any loss of reputation in relation to the rule of law and breaching international law would likely throw caution to other countries.