A few choice words…
Baroness Deech has been quoted this week at the Future of Education Conference saying that it may be more advantageous for women to “do a Kate Middleton and snag a wealthy man at uni” than to pursue a career in law. Her controversial statement highlights that the struggle that women face in the legal profession remains strong.
NEWS FROM THIS FORTNIGHT
Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence
Tory MSP Bill Aitken has resigned as convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee following increasing pressure from women’s groups and opposition politicians after making controversial comments on the gang-rape of a woman in his Holyrood constituency on 11th February. Interviewed by the Sunday Herald on 13th, it appears that for Mr. Aitken, a former District Court Judge, the location of the rape in a red-light district is sufficient evidence for not only a dismissive attitude towards the allegations, but also an implication that the victim was a liar and a prostitute: “There’s always a lot more to these city centre rapes than meets the eye…it’s an area where a lot of hookers take their clients”. Rape Crisis Scotland have since commentedthat such prejudices undermine both the confidence of rape victims to take their cases to court and the power of the justice system to convict their attackers. A leaked transcript of Aitken’s conversation with the Herald can be found here.
In what is potentially more bad news for those working to increase conviction rates for perpetrators of sexual violence, proposals are being considered to halve the amount of time for which DNA of those arrested for, but not charged with, crimes including rape. While Labour opposition to the Protection of Freedoms Bill and campaigners such as Jill Saward have spoken out about the damage that could be caused to already low rape conviction rates, other groups, including Women Against Rape, have claimed that holding information on DNA database for an extended period constitutes an infringement on human rights. Once again private freedoms are pitted against public benefit, and whatever the result of this debate, it will no doubt find both criticism and support from different quarters.
Recent changes to legal aid have been causing a stir in the news, and, as Rights of Women have asserted, may make it more difficult for victims of domestic violence seeking divorce to qualify. The narrower definition of ‘domestic violence’ has attracted widespread criticism that the proposals threaten to worsen the already marginalised and invisible position of victims of domestic violence. As shown by Yemshaw v London Borough of Hounslow UKSC 3, public bodies are trying to limit the definition of domestic violence to physical abuse to protect their resources. Although this definition was rightly rejected by the Supreme Court, it is possible that there will be attempts to rely on relatively narrow definitions of domestic violence to deny citizens legal aid.
The ECJ has ruled (Association Belge des Consommateurs Test-Achats and Others C 236/09  ECR) that insurance companies cannot charge men and women differently on account of their gender, causing car insurance premiums to rise for women under 30, while men will lose out when it comes to pensions annuities. There is some debate as to whether this demonstrates a move towards gender equality or merely a drive for political correctness; read more about these changes and what they mean for equality in this Inherently Human post by Hannah Al-Othman.
Reproduction and Parenthood
The recent media fixation on a Christian couple losing their right to foster children has renewed fears of traditional values being undermined by the advance of gay rights. The couple had made a series of homophobic statements to a social worker and have faced quite a political fallout in addition to losing their right to foster. Whilst Stonewall were ‘delighted’ by the ‘landmark decision’, other more conservative sources including The Telegraph have disparaged the willingness of the courts to overlook the faith-based, albeit discriminatory, convictions of certain religious groups. The question is once again one of balancing rights in conflict.
More from afar…
In America the fight for the legalisation of same-sex marriage has once again made an appearance on newsstands, as President Obama has released a bold statement claiming that the Defence of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional and has directed the Justice department not to defend the statute in court. While this can be seen as a step forward in the fight for the legal recognition of homosexual relationships in the USA, in light of the claim that “the President opposes DOMA and believes it should be repealed”, it can equally seem to not go far enough.
A recent claim brought against the notorious Westboro Baptist family has failed on the grounds of freedom of speech enshrined within the First Amendment. The funeral of a US serviceman had been picketed and the relatives had been subjected to an onslaught of verbal harassment, homophobic slurs and anti-gay posters and propaganda. However, in an 8-1 ruling under Snyder v Phelps (2011 Supreme Court of the United States), the court reluctantly upheld the higher democratic priority of freedom of speech.
In a positive step for Mozambique’s gay community, Justice Minister Benvinda Levi stated explicitly and categorically to the UN that homosexuality is not illegal in Mozambique. While the Mozambican Association for the Defence of Sexual Minorities (LAMBDA) welcomed the statement, they also called for the removal of Article 71 of the Penal Code, which condemns “vices against nature”.
On a less positive note, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has appealed to Roman Catholics at a conference in Milan, claiming, “we’ll never allow gays to marry or adopt”, only reinforcing his position as a notorious bastion of moral rectitude.
And on a lighter note…
Facebook has added “in a civil union” and “in a domestic partnership” to its options for relationship status in a move that has been welcomed by civil and gay rights groups. GLAAD, who partnered with facebook last year in an initiative to fight anti-LGBT cyber-bullying, said that the change was indicative of growing popular support for marriage equality.