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IB imageXiyu Zhu and Adeline Chow are two undergraduate students at Durham Law School. Here they review a seminar given by Professor Alex Sharpe in May 2016.

Professor Alex Sharpe from Keele University addressed sexual offence prosecutions based on “gender fraud” in the context of cis-trans sexual intimacy in her recent talk at Durham University. In the seminar, organized by GLAD (@DurhamGLAD), she discussed successful sexual offence prosecutions brought against young transgender men over the last four years. In these cases, the female cisgender partners, allegedly, were unaware of the defendants’ gender histories. Sharpe challenges the legitimacy of “gender fraud” prosecution, questioning the underlying cisnormative assumptions that ground it, and critiques criminalization as a legal response. (more…)

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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

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.

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seshauna.wheatle

Se-shauna Wheatle is a Research Associate in Public Law at Durham Law School. In 2013, she produced a report funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, entitled ‘Adjudication in Homicide Cases involving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Persons in the Commonwealth Caribbean‘. She tweets @seshauna.

The Debate

The controversy at the end of 2014 over the lyrics to the BandAid 30 Christmas charity song ‘How Can they Know its Christmas’ represents the tension, the struggle that is at the heart of this blog post. The song’s description of West Africa as ‘a world of dread and fear’ and its invocation to listeners to ‘bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa’ paints a picture of a desperate and dismal region that needs to be rescued by Britain. Though, of course, the song was motivated by a drive to provide assistance to the fight against the Ebola virus afflicting several countries including Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the lyrics sparked discourse about a recurrent ‘white saviour complex’ and a perception of the global south as desperate and helpless. This debate invites us to consider how we can engage meaningfully to solve the world’s problems, to enhance social justice and equality without unwittingly perpetuating stereotypes and thereby undermining the very efforts we seek to champion.

It is with these questions in mind that I believe human rights researchers and activists have to confront the critique that modern engagement, particularly in issues of rights and development, is approximate to a ‘new age imperialism’. The ‘imperialism objection’ in this sense has been accurately depicted by Nick Bamforth as ‘involving the imposition of a (stronger) imperial power’s laws on (weaker) colonies’. This presents a picture of a process of the subjugation of the local population to the legal authority of a more powerful, distant jurisdiction. (more…)

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Snapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill (NI)

Sarah Thin, Durham University

On the 20th of October, the Northern Irish Assembly passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, a controversial new law which purportedly seeks to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation by, inter alia, criminalising the act of paying for sexual services.  It is likely to become law by mid-2015.  By targeting the buyer as opposed to the seller (a novel approach within the UK), the proposals aim to recreate the supposed success of the ‘Swedish model’, the idea behind which is to reduce demand within the sex trade thereby reducing levels of sex trafficking.

There has been heavy criticism of the proposals: a survey of sex workers has found that 98% of them oppose the proposals and 61% believe the new law would make them less safe.  Many argue that the Swedish model ‘strips women of their agency and autonomy’ by criminalising the consensual buying and selling of sex, has increased the stigmatisation of sex workers, and its success appears to have been greatly exaggerated.  While no-one would deny that human trafficking is a major problem in today’s society, claims that the majority of sex workers in Northern Ireland are victims of trafficking have been shown to be unfounded, and many believe the plans will simply force the sex trade further underground, making it even more difficult to combat the issue and provide support to victims.  These proposals, while presumably well-meaning, conflate the two separate issues of trafficking and consensual sex work and are likely to be at best ineffective, most likely very harmful.  We must hope that the new campaign for a similar law in England meets with a more considered approach. 

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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

US Supreme Court (Sort of) Decides on Same Sex Marriage

Jesse Bachir, Durham University

Following last year’s decision in Windsor, same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy groups across the United States have been filing suits against State governments challenging the Constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

So far, almost every Court (with one exception) in the United States has found marriage bans to be unconstitutional either under Federal Constitutional law or State Constitutional law. Most recently, earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied a petition to review 7 cases from lower Federal Courts on the constitutionality of marriage bans. In denying review of the cases, the decisions of the lower courts stood (all of which found the bans unconstitutional), and the stays of execution issued by the lower courts were removed. That brings the total to 32 States with equal marriage.

The Supreme Court effectively, though indirectly, decided the issue for the rest of the country – in allowing the lower court decisions to stand, clear judicial precedent has been made.  The lower courts in all 7 of the denied review cases found the marriage bans to be unconstitutional for the same reasons. In denying review, the Supreme Court implicitly agreed with the rulings of the lower courts and avoided wading into the politically charged topic.

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Mark McCormack, Durham UniversityMcCormackHeadshot

One of the most significant social trends of the past thirty years in the UK has been the reduction of homophobia. And yet, sexual minorities remain under-represented at the top levels of sport, politics and business, hate crimes about sexual minorities have not dissipated and many people remain closeted in aspects of their lives. In order to address these issues, The Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities at Durham University is hosting a Sociological Review one-day symposium on Monday 30th June that seeks to understand the complexity of LGBT lives in contemporary Britain—a country that has undergone a transformation in attitudes toward sexual minorities that is reflected in the removal of homophobic discrimination.

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Snapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.IB image

Fear of imprisonment for homosexuality: a ground for asylum in EU member states

Gita Keshava (Durham University)

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that people who fear imprisonment on the basis on their sexuality in their home country have grounds for seeking asylum in all EU member states. The Court ruled that homosexuals may constitute a “particular social group” and that criminalisation or imprisonment can be considered persecution provided that it is applied in reality. The existence of a ban on homosexuality cannot itself be a ground for approving an asylum request. However, individuals cannot be expected to hide their sexuality to avoid persecution as to do so would amount to rejecting a fundamental characteristic of one’s identity. (more…)

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