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Conflicting Rights

Lillian Ladele
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 10 February 1600 GMT
On Radio 4 and online

What happens when the rights of two people collide and how does the law deal with the issue?

We all want our rights protected and there is plenty of legislation in place to make sure we are not discriminated against because of our sex, age, religious beliefs, disability or sexual orientation.

But sometimes one set of rights can appear to conflict with another.

The most high profile of these cases tend to be where the rights to religious belief and those surrounding sexual orientation clash as in the case of Lillian Ladele.

She was a Christian registrar who was disciplined by Islington Council for refusing to carry out same sex civil ceremonies. After an appeal the decision was upheld by an employment tribunal.

Clive Coleman speaks to Amanda Ariss of the Equality Rights Forum, Joanne Owers of the Employment Lawyers Association and Michael Phillips from the Christian Legal Centre about how the law treats this problem.

Snap judgement

Clive Coleman and Rupert Grey
What can you photograph? Clive Coleman and Rupert Grey discuss

Some amateur and professional photographers have complained recently that they're being stopped from taking photographs and in some cases arrested by police when snapping away in public places.

Most have been stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act 2000. We took a stroll around central London with lawyer Rupert Grey to find out what the law says on the matter.

'Justice Re-investment'

And we look at 'Justice Re-investment' the latest buzzwords in tackling crime and reoffending that are coming from the US but creating a lot of interest over here.

Map showing prison admission per 1000 adults in New Haven
Map showing prison admission per 1000 adults in New Haven

We talk to Eric Cadora from the Justice Mapping Centre in New York about 'million dollar blocks' those areas in US cities where more than a million dollars is spent putting residents in prison.

The idea is to re-invest money, being spent on the prison system, in these areas in order to raise neighbourhoods, improve outcomes, and stop people re-offending.

Professor Rob Allen Director of The International Centre for Prison Studies tells us whether the ideas can transfer across the Atlantic.

Your thoughts: Conflicting Rights

The discussion on "competing rights" missed an important distinction between rights arising from religious convictions and those on the grounds of race, gender, sexuality, disability or sexual orientation. In the case of the latter group there is no predisposition to discriminate against other groups. There's no "gay" position on disability or "black" position on gender although individuals might take a position on other grounds. There is, however. a well defined position in many religious groups (much of it supported by text) which takes a negative stance on other parts of society, particularly on matters of gender and sexuality.

Geoff Webb

Wherever did we get this nonsensical doctrine of conflicting rights? A "right", by definition, is absolute - that's what distinguishes a right from an aspiration or a moral claim. If two "rights" conflict, this can only mean that one of them is not a right. The reason we are having all these absurd cases about the "conflicting rights" of Christians, Muslims, gays etc. is that we have abandoned the ancient liberal principle of freedom of association. Let us allow pro-gay organisations to refuse to employ fundamentalist Christians and let us also allow Christian or Muslim organisations to refuse to employ homosexuals. If we don't go back to freedom of association and "live and let live", we will descend further into a society of competitive victimhood.

Edward Hubbard

I am surprised the comment that "nobody wants these cases to come to court" went unchallenged. My impression is that the people in these cases want nothing more than for them to come to court in attempt to be proven right, set precedents and to inflict their views on other people. Further, is it an unreasonable general principle that rights associated with factors which people have no choice in (age, race, sex, disability) are considered more important than those which people choose to adopt such as religious views?

Niall Scott

There will always be problems with asserting the right to religious freedom in the context of other people, or the workplace. This stems from the fact that religious arguments are inherently weak and that personal belief is relevant only to the individual, whereas the decision to act based upon that belief will affect others. People who argue in favour of different court decisions are essentially arguing for "positive" religious freedom - for the state to enable them to live their lives and enact their beliefs. What can should only be guaranteed is "negative" religious freedom - the right to practice what you will free from molestation and impediment. To guarantee anything other than negative liberty would create conflict and impede the rights of others. Arguments will continue to take place about what counts as molestation in the workplace but in my opinion, the courts currently have the balance about right.

Josh Robson

Your guests defending the courts' decisions regarding cases where a Christian's religious beliefs conflict with the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation did not seem to understand the issue. The question was whether the right not to be discriminated against has come to "trump" the right to religious freedom. Based on their observations the answer must be a resounding "yes". In each case cited the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation was upheld instead of the right to religious freedom. This was analysed on your program using the suggestion that the right to religious freedom extended only until it infringed on another's rights. This is the very definition of a subordinate right. Instead of denying that this was the case your guests should direct their attention to the defence of that position (if they feel they wish to defend it). Denial is pointless.

Philip Fellows

Your thoughts: Snap Judgement

It's worrying - the creeping restrictions and surveillance in the name of anti-terrorism. As many have said before, we're in danger of letting the terrorists win by killing all the freedoms of our society ourselves.

S Mawby

I have a friend who is an amateur photographer who was in the West End recently. He was taking a picture of the outside of the Centrepoint building and was stopped by one of their security people and told he couldn't do that! Is that possible? Again on the same day he was taking pictures along the South Bank and was stopped from taking a picture on the forecourt of of a shop because he was "using a tripod."

Sharon Johnson

I have recently been told to not take photographs on a station and to make a formal request to the train company for permission. Does the company have to right to do impose this?

Mark Barratt

I was stopped by two community officers whilst photographing a local brook for a geography site called Geograph, which is aimed at schoolchildren. The reason given was that it was beside a synagogue and there are problems in the Middle East! My name was taken but, oddly enough, although I was happy to give my address, it was not. My ethnicity was noted. I would add that we had a very polite discussion. The officers were not in any way over the top in their attitude - though I am sure that some more timid persons than myself might have felt harassed. I just feel that my liberty to carry out a perfectly legal action was infringed and that my enjoyment of the day was adversely affected as a result.

Martin Addison

My daughter had an experience of being challenged when she was taking photographs in Trafalgar Square a few months ago. She is an art student and went with a friend to take photographs for an assignment. She was dressed in white and wearing a curly white wig (she is an art student - say no more) but within a few minutes, she was approached and told to stop taking pictures. When she explained that it was part of an art project, she had to produce her student card and was told, grudgingly, that she could stay for no longer than half an hour, that only tourists were allowed to photograph. She was made to feel very uncomfortable doing something which seemed to her perfectly normal.

Julie Davies

Contact the programme

If you have thoughts on any of the topics we've covered, or any other legal issues, you can contact us by email at, or by post at Law In Action, BBC White City, Wood Lane, London W12 7TS, or you can call us on 020 8752 5646.

Law In Action is broadcast on Tuesday 10 February 2009 at 1600 GMT on BBC Radio 4.

video and audio news
Clive Coleman and Rupert Grey What happens when human rights collide? Also, where can you take a picture in public? And the new idea in crime policy - "justice reinvestment"

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