Supreme Court Decides on Fraudulent Divorce Case
Catherine Ravenscroft, Durham University
On 14th October 2015, the Supreme Court handed down judgement in the landmark case of Sharland v Sharland. This case concerned the division of assets upon divorce where one party, in this instance the husband, has fraudulently misled the court as to their future financial plans. Mr Sharland owned shares in a company which he told the Court he had no intention of selling. Mrs Sharland signed a consent order on the basis of this assertion. However, during the court hearing, it was discovered that Mr Sharland did indeed have plans to sell his shares, which would significantly affect the claim which Mrs Sharland advanced. She appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis that the consent order should be sealed. It was unanimously held that ‘fraud unravels all’ and the consent of Mrs Sharland was found to be vitiated by the fraudulent behaviour of her husband. The consent order was, thus, set aside.
The importance of this decision is to be found in its consequences. The decision of the Supreme Court has allowed Mrs Sharland to return her claim to first instance and have its value reconsidered by the courts. Although the full significance of this decision may not be felt for some time, it appears to create significant scope for the re-opening of divorce settlements on the basis of fraud. In contrast, there are also concerns that this decision may open the floodgates to couples attempting to revisit divorce agreements.
Devolution of Abortion Law to Scotland
Emily Whelan, Durham University
Abortion laws are being devolved to Scotland in a move which has been controversial amongst women’s rights groups and politicians alike. Supporters of the devolution argue that as Holyrood already controls a devolved NHS, including end-of-life issues, it is only logical that abortion should fall under their purview, and emphasise that there are no plans to reduce the 24 week limit. However, opponents, including Scottish Labour, the Church of Scotland and women’s rights groups fear that removing abortion legislation from its cradle at UK level, where there is some consensus around legal time limits, could open it to changes from pro-life pressure groups. They also criticise the way the devolution was decided, with no consultation with women’s rights groups.
Pro-choice supporters in Scotland fear a situation similar to that of Amnesty condemned Northern Ireland, where the 1967 Abortion Act was never extended. As a result, abortion laws are heavily restricted (even to victims of rape or incest), meaning Northern Irish women have to cross to England to seek costly private abortions. The Church of Scotland fears a similar “North-South abortion traffic” across the River Tweed, if legal abortions are restricted. Certainly, the change will open debate of an issue many pro-choice supporters had hoped was put to bed.
“Why do I make less than my male co-stars?” – Jennifer Lawrence and the Hollywood Pay Gap
Kitty Kirton, Durham University
Writing an essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter newsletter, Jennifer Lawrence spoke out against the gender pay gap in Hollywood and encouraged others to take a stand against it. A hack of emails from Sony Pictures revealed that Lawrence was paid considerably less than her American Hustle co-stars. Lawrence was paid 7% of the profits, while Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and the (male) director received 9%, provoking Lawrence’s essay.
Lawrence said that she did not want to seem “difficult” or “spoiled” when negotiating the pay she would get, later realising that every man she worked with “definitely didn’t worry about being difficult or spoiled”. Furthermore, she is sure “they were commended for being fierce and tactical” for negotiating, reflecting society’s unfair perceptions of how men and women should behave in business and Lawrence’s frustration at this.
Whilst Lawrence recognises that her pay gap is not “relatable” to you and I, in the sense that it is about “fighting over millions of dollars that frankly she does not need”, the issue as a whole is relatable. In November 2015, the Office for National Statistics figures showed that the gender pay gap for all employees (full-time and part-time) is at the lowest on record since 1997 at 19.1%. This is still a considerable and unsatisfactory difference.
In July 2015, David Cameron said that the government is to press ahead with plans to force firms to disclose data on the gender pay gap among staff, pressurising firms into boosting women’s wages. David Cameron vowed to eliminate the gender pay gap “within a generation”. Despite the government’s intentions, unless the private and public sectors want to eliminate the gender pay gap, it is something that could be prevalent for many generations.
Top General Endorses LGBT Recruitment: “It is possible to be a homosexual and extremely brave”
Emily Whelan, Durham University
Lieutenant General James Everard, commander of Britain’s land forces, has argued that in the Army, “diverse teams of people, well led, are far more effective than bog-standard teams” due to improving “the breadth of capability and understanding” in an interview with the Telegraph. He particularly endorses recruitment from the LGBT community, but his word come during a recruitment push for more soldiers from ethnic minorities, and as the Army holds a review on allowing women to occupy combat positions.
The Army’s operational tactics are changing, with a greater focus on engaging with local populations, diplomacy, greater use of technology, and conquering the “psychological terrain”. Lt General Everard believes that clinging to the traditional recruiting pool “of the working class of Middlesborough” will limit “operational effectiveness” in these areas.
Members of the LGBT community have been able to serve openly in Her Majesty’s armed forces since 2000, although only 230 soldiers have come out formally to the military, compared to the 14,000 soldiers Stonewall claims. Lt General Everard acknowledges that whilst the armed forces have transformed themselves as an employer, some gays found “the lived experience is not ideal”, as they struggle to change lingering homophobic attitudes. However, he added that openly gay soldiers serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has aided change on the front line, saying: “those that were slightly frightened of what they didn’t understand; what they learned from those wars, there they fought alongside gay people, was that you can be homosexual and extremely brave … people came back saying, these guys are part of the team.”
Recognition of a Third Gender in the UK
Erna Kozica, Durham University
Currently only male and female are legally recognized genders in the UK, which is an issue for those who do not fit in the gender binary. On October 13, parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee heard evidence from campaigners arguing for legal recognition of people that don’t identify as male or female. Amongst the campaigners was Christie Elan-Cane, who has fought for legal recognition of non-gendered individuals and non gender-specific X passports. The committee also heard from Ashley Reed, the initiator of a petition to adopt the Irish system of gender recognition where there is no need for medical involvement in order to define one’s own gender. The petition also called for provisions on non-binary gender identities.
The idea of third non-binary gender recognition is far from new. Countries like Germany and Australia already legally recognise a third gender, and have been doing so for a couple of years. Recognising it in the UK would be a step closer to equality. It would also be beneficial to those who are born intersex, as they wouldn’t have to be assigned a gender at birth that they may not identify with. In addition, it would allow people who don’t feel like they fit in the binary to truly be themselves and have society recognise that both legally and socially, instead of forcing them to conform.
Lord Sumption’s Dismisses Positive Discrimination for a Diverse Judiciary
Emily Whelan, Durham University
Lord Jonathan Sumption is a towering figure on the legal scene, a legendary QC heralded in the Guardian as “the brain of Britain”, and who holds the distinguished position of being one of the few Supreme Court judges to have attained that position without having had to serve on the lower bench. However, he has little problem with the fact that of his 11 colleagues on the Supreme Court Bench, the only women is Baroness Hale.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, Sumption stated that it could take 50 years for there to be gender balance on the bench, but that whilst this is a “significant problem” women have “to be patient” and that “change will happen naturally”. A noted historian, Sumption took the long term view that “in the history of a society like ours, 50 years is a very short time.” Perhaps somewhat ironically, he cautioned against any attempt to “[change] things at a speed which will make male candidates feel that the cards are stacked against them.” (Presumably, female candidates do not feel at all disheartened by the fact that only 25% of court judges are women, with the proportion decreasing to roughly 20% amongst the upper echelons.) The former Eton pupil rubbished claims of an Old Boys network holding female barristers back, stating that the Bar is “meritocratic… but demanding in the hours of work…more women than men are not prepared to put up with that…it’s a lifestyle choice.”
Lord Sumption’s comments have caused a backlash amongst prominent male and female lawyers alike, who claim that he overlooks institutionalised sexism within the legal system as a cause of the disproportionality of men in the upper ranks, and dismisses child rearing as a “lifestyle choice”. It does seem a pity that the young women currently making up 62% of law undergraduates in the UK will have to wait until retirement to see a gender balanced judicial bench.