Three Laws Criminalising Aspects of Sex Work in Canada Declared in Breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Vikki Lang (Durham Law School)
‘It’s about whether or not we believe that sex workers are people deserving of the same rights and dignity as the rest of the public’ – Plaintiffs’ Memorandum, Bedford v Canada 2012
On the 20th December 2013, the landmark decision of Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott was reached. In this case, three sex workers used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to successfully challenge laws that criminalised certain actions relating to selling sex. Canada’s highest court has ruled that three provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code, s. 210 (keeping or being found in a bawdy house), s. 212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution), and s. 213(1)(c) (communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution) violate the s. 7 right to security of the person protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All three laws have been struck down.
In the decision the court said:
‘The prohibitions at issue do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky – but legal – activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risk.” (para 60)’
This landmark decision saw sex workers, for the first time, successfully rely on human rights legislation to protect their safety and freedom in relation to their occupation. The plaintiffs successfully argued that their right to liberty and security of the person was breached as they were forced to break the law and risk arrest in order to take actions that increase their security and safety. This is especially interesting for sex workers in England and Wales, who face very similarly restricting laws, pushing them into darker and more dangerous situations with little recourse for justice. This landmark decision illustrates the potential of human rights frameworks to protect the safety and the autonomy of the sex worker, an approach many would welcome in England and Wales.
Sexual Harassment in Political Parties
Ben Warwick (Durham Law School)
Lord Rennard, a frontline election strategist for the UK’s Liberal Democrat party until 2009, has been at the centre of a continuing controversy in recent weeks. The renewed attention follows the publication of an internal report, commissioned shortly after allegations of sexual harassment were made public by a Channel 4 documentary in early 2013. The report found that the evidence given by the women was ‘broadly credible’ and that Rennard ‘may have violated’ the women’s personal space. Despite this, the report concluded that the allegations could not be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and therefore no disciplinary charges should result. One women’s group criticised the use of the high criminal standard of ‘reasonable doubt’ in what was a disciplinary matter. Dr Elizabeth Evans, an expert in the Lib-Dems’ approach to women, has highlighted that the Rennard saga is unlikely to be an isolated incident within the party.
Israeli Government pass new law to ensure equal representation on the Judicial Appointments Committee
Dann’elle Barker (Durham Law School)
On the 19th January 2014 the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset, unanimously approved a bill mandating that every 4 out of 9 members of the Judicial Appointments Committee must be women. The law, pioneered by the Advancement of Women Committee (Yesh Atid) and the Meretz party, seeks to ensure equal representation which, according the Chairwoman of Yesh Atid, Aliza Lavie, is no longer optional in judicial institutions but necessary as part of the democratic structure of Israel. The Meretz party leader, Zehava Gal-on, has argued that appropriate representation will help to remove the ‘chauvinistic and sexist conceptions from the judicial apparatus’.
The Committee is currently made up of nine members: two government representatives, two Knesset members, two Israeli Bar Association members, two Supreme Court Justices and the president of the Supreme Court. Therefore, this new law requires at least one person in each pair to be a woman. It is argued that compulsory equality in the panel will have an effect of the diversity of judicial appointments. Only 10 of the 64 judicial appointments have been women and currently only 4 out of 15 Justices are women.
Although this law is a clear pronouncement that the legal institutions in Israel are committed to achieving equal representation, it may be questioned as to what extent the mandatory inclusion of women on the Judicial Appointments Committee will effect judicial appointments. In Britain the Judicial Appointments Commission is a relatively diverse body; 6 out of the 15 Commissioners are women. However, this has had little, if any, effect on the diversity of judicial appointments; the most recent batch of appointments of all white men is ample testimony of this. Therefore, it would seem that the solution to diversity and equality in the judiciary lies in something more than mere enforcement of equal representation in the appointments commission in the vague hope of creating a domino effect.
Women on the Honours List
Sarah Moorhouse (Durham Law School)
The New Year’s Honours list announced at the end of 2013 saw the first time that more women than men were on the list. It recognised not only key women from the arts but also from academia and the business-world. 51% of those to be honoured are women marking a drastic change from 1974 when only 17% of those honoured were women. This marks a massive shift in attitudes and a greater understanding and recognition of the contributions women make to society and culture, which is a great success for all women. However, the highest honours are still predominately awarded to men with just 40% of the higher level honours given to women. Whilst this may cast doubt on the suggested success offered by the fact there are more women on the list, it must be remembered that even these higher level statistics have doubled in the last decade. Thus, the great level of women recognised this year shows that their value is being recognised but only time will tell whether this will be echoed in the higher echelons of the system.