Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 - a year in review

Here is my annual round-up of cases concerning sexual orientation discrimination that were considered by the European Court of Human Rights in 2016.

This was a significant year, in many ways, which saw the Court issue some important judgments that enhance its existing LGBT jurisprudence. However, it was also a year in which the Court issued judgments that continue its established refusal to extend to same-sex couples the human right to marry...

In January, the Court declared the complaint in Pshenkina v Sweden, which concerned the refusal to permit the same-sex partner of a prisoner to visit in order to marry, inadmissible on the grounds that the applicant had not exhausted domestic remedies. The Court also issued its judgment in Kostadinov v Bulgariaupholding a complaint about the role of police in maintaining public order during a "gay pride" event. 

In February, the Court issued its judgment in Pajić v Croatia, upholding a complaint about sexual orientation discrimination in immigration law. 

In April, the Court held in Sousa Goucha v Portugal that a homophobic joke did not violate the Convention. It also held in M.C. and A.C. v Romania that the failure of police to take into account discriminatory motives when investigating a homophobic attack amounted to a violation of Article 3 (procedural limb) taken in conjunction with Article 14 of the Convention.

In May, the Court, in A.N. v France, once again rejected an application by a gay asylum seeker, thus continuing its established approach in respect of complaints by gay men and lesbians about Council of Europe States that seek to return them to States outside of Europe that criminalise homosexual acts. 

In June, the Court, in Chapin and Charpentier v France, restated its established opinion that denying a same-sex couple access to marriage does not violate the Convention. The Court also held, in Aldeguer Tomás v Spainthat a surviving same-sex partner who was denied access to survivor’s pension was not discriminated against. But, at the end of the month, in Taddeucci and McCall v Italy, the Court held that Italy had violated the Convention by refusing a residence permit to a same-sex partner. 

In July, in O.M. v Hungary, the Court held that the conditions of detention to which a gay asylum seeker was subjected amounted to a violation of the Convention.

And in November, the court held, in Kaos GL v Turkey, that the seizure of copies of a magazine promoting LGBT rights in Turkey breached Article 10 of the Convention.

"Judges of the Year"

Apologies for this tabloid turn, but I want to pay tribute to Judges Spano and Bianku who this year, in their concurring opinion in Taddeucci and McCall v Italy, made some striking statements about same-sex couples, marriage and family life. 

Specifically, Judges Spano and Bianku spoke of the Court being a "sanctuary" for same-sex couples when they are denied access by States to the family life rights available to opposite-sex couples. Such a plain statement from judges in the Court is heartening, encouraging and most welcome. 

Blog stats

In the time since I began this blog in February 2013, the stats page has recorded a total of 132,711 page views. The worldwide readership of the blog, from Aruba to United Arab Emirates, has improved my worldwide geography no end. Here is a list of the top ten countries by page views of all time: 

Thanks and Happy New Year

I want to thank everyone who has read this blog over the year for their interest. Many thanks to those of you who have written to me personally. Special thanks to Dr. Loveday Hodson for her excellent Guest Post on Pajić v Croatia.

I wish you all a very happy, a very peaceful, and a very prosperous 2017.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Research Associate post at the University of York

I am very pleased to provide details of the following post at the University of York which may be of interest to readers...

Research Associate

Based at
University of York - Heslington Campus
Hours of work
Contract status
Fixed term
£31,076 - £38,183
Apply by

The Department of Sociology is seeking a full time research associate to work with Professor Paul Johnson on a programme of socio-legal research relating to sexual orientation and human rights.
This is an exciting opportunity to work on a programme of research that will involve the investigation of a diverse range of issues relating to sexual orientation law at the national and international levels, with particular focus on the European Convention on Human Rights.
You should have an excellent knowledge of human rights and equality law relating to sexual orientation and possess highly developed skills in conducting socio-legal research. 
Your main roles will be to assist with conducting research, preparing applications for external funding, and writing for publication. The post will also involve you delivering some teaching at both undergraduate and taught postgraduate levels.
The essential qualifications that are required for this post are: 
  • First degree in sociology, law or other relevant subject
  • PhD (awarded or submitted) in sociology, socio-legal studies, or law or equivalent experience
This job will be located at the University of York. 
The closing date for this role is 25 January 2017 at midnight. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Alekseyev v Russia - further consideration by the Committee of Ministers

At the 1273rd Human Rights meeting of the Ministers' Deputies, held between 6-8 December 2016, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe once again considered the state of the execution of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Alekseyev v Russia. The judgment, it will be recalled, concerned the repeated refusal of domestic authorities to permit "gay pride" events - a refusal which the Court held to amount to, inter alia, a violation of Article 11 and Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Over six years have passed since the Court's judgment and the Committee of Ministers have considered the Russian authorities' response to it on several occasions. During this time, Russia has enacted federal law prohibiting the so-called propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors - a complaint against which is outstanding before the Court. 

The Russian authorities maintain - as they have many times before - that they have taken positive action to ensure that LGBT groups may exercise their right to freedom of assembly in public and hold "gay pride" events. They state, in their latest Action Plan, that
individual and general measures that have been previously communicated and described in this Action plan will help to provide the balanced approach to consideration of requests on holding public events of the category under consideration, uniformity and improvement of law enforcement practice, including the judicial one, as well as create additional assurance of compliance with provisions of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. 
However, submissions form NGO's - Coming Out and ILGA-Europe, and Gay Russia and Moscow Pride - suggest that the situation in Russia is not improving and is, in fact, worsening. Coming Out and ILGA-Europe state:
The execution of judgments process in this case has now been proceeding for 5 1⁄2 years. Regrettably, not only has there been no serious attempt to implement the judgment, but similar violations continue unabated. The Russian government’s latest Communication reveals that of 48 notifications for public events between 1 October 2015 and 30 June 2016, 47 were blocked by the authorities. Almost all the refusals were challenged in the courts, 41 to appeal court level, and two to the Supreme Court. No challenge was successful. 
Gay Russia and Moscow Pride state:
We would like to attract the attention of the Committee of Ministers to the fact that in 2016 the situation with the respect of the right of LGBT individuals to freedom of assembly in Russia continued to sharply deteriorate. At the time of the current submission, in 2016 alone municipal or regional authorities banned Gay Parade marches and all public assemblies in support of the rights of sexual and gender minorities and condemning homophobia and transphobia in [...] 56 Russian cities located in 55 out of 85 constitutional regions...
The Committee of Ministers reached the following decision (with my emphasis added):
The Deputies
1.         noted with interest the additional measures presented in the updated action plan, notably the actions of the Supreme Court intended to harmonise judicial practice in line with the requirements of the Constitution, the European Court’s judgments and the Committee of Ministers’ decisions, the creation within the judiciary of a database of relevant international materials and continued training and other awareness-raising activities for local authorities and judges;
2.         noted also the authorities’ declaration that Russian law affords the LGBT community the opportunity fully to exercise the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Convention, including by using the “mass event format”;
3.         noted with satisfaction that the courts appear now to be deciding on the lawfulness of refusals to allow public events of the kind here at issue before the date planned for the events in question;
4.         expressed, however, serious concern that, notwithstanding the measures presented, the situation does not attest to any improvement, as the number of public events allowed continues to be very limited: only one of all the requests to hold an assembly, deposited during the last period examined by the Committee (from 1 October 2015 to 30 June 2016), was allowed;
5.         noted with concern that the courts regularly uphold the refusal decisions of the local authorities and that the emerging signs of improvement in judicial practice, including compliance with the Convention requirements in some cases and an award in 2013 of non-pecuniary damages to compensate for an unlawful refusal to allow an event, do not appear to have been followed;
6.         urged the authorities to adopt all further necessary measures to ensure that the practice of local authorities and the courts develops so as to ensure the respect of the rights to freedom of assembly and to be protected against discrimination, including by ensuring that the law on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors does not pose any undue obstacle to the effective exercise of these rights;
7.         in view of the above, invited the authorities to continue action to address effectively the outstanding questions with a view to achieving concrete results;
8.         noted that, among the measures which could be considered, figure reinforced training of all the authorities involved, elaboration of a code of conduct for local authorities in charge of handling notifications for public events and for the police when handling assemblies and the possibility of further guidance by the highest courts to prevent violations of the kind at issue in the present case, as well as further measures to address continued widespread negative attitudes towards LGBT persons;
9.         invited also the authorities, in accordance with the existing practice, to continue providing statistical information on developments, this time for the period from 1 July 2016 to 31 March 2017. 
The Committee of Ministers' Decision can be seen as a clear statement that the Deputies do not accept the Russian authorities' claims that improvements have been made and, moreover, that significant reform is needed in Russia to ensure that LGBT people are able to effectively exercise their right to freedom of expression and peaceful association.

It seems certain that the European Court of Human Rights will find further violations in similar cases against Russia before any progress is made in respect of the execution of the Alekseyev judgment. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

New academic article on ECHR and homosexuality

Christine Byron, lecturer in law at Cardiff Law School, has published a new article in the Judges' Journal (published by the American Bar Association) titled "The European Court of Human Rights: A Living Instrument as Applied to Homosexuality".

The article can be found here:

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Seizure of copies of a magazine promoting LGBT rights in Turkey breached ECHR - Kaos GL v Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights has today issued its judgment in Kaos GL v Turkey in which it has unanimously held that the applicant had suffered a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned the seizure of all the copies of a magazine published by Kaos GL, a "cultural research and solidarity association for gays and lesbians".

The facts 

From the Court's press release: 

The applicant is a Turkish association known as “The Kaos cultural research and solidarity association for gays and lesbians”, based in Ankara. Its aim is to promote the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community in Turkey. 

On 21 July 2006 the Ankara Chief Prosecutor, drawing on section 25(1) of the Press Act, seized three copies of issue 28 of the magazine Kaos GL before its distribution. The issue in question contained articles and interviews on pornography related to homosexuality, illustrated with occasionally explicit images. On the same day the Criminal Court of First Instance, at the request of the Chief Prosecutor, ordered the seizure of the 375 copies of issue 28 of the magazine with a view to launching criminal investigations. That court considered that the content of some of the articles and some of the images published were contrary to the principle of protection of public morals. The Kaos GL association appealed against that decision before the Ankara Criminal Court, which dismissed the appeal.

Furthermore, the Ankara Chief Prosecutor charged Mr Umut Güner, the President of the applicant association and editor-in-chief of the Kaos GL magazine, with publishing obscene images via the press, an offence punishable under Article 226 § 2 of the Penal Code. He considered that the painting reproduced on page 15 of the issue seized, showing a sexual act between two men, whose sexual organs were visible, was clearly obscene and pornographic. In 2007, the Ankara Criminal Court acquitted Mr Güner of the charge against him. It held that not all the factors constituting the offence were present because the copies of the magazine had been seized before they could be distributed. The Criminal Court also ordered the return of the 378 copies of the magazine seized to the defendant once the decision had become final. In 2012 the Court of Cassation upheld the judgment of the Criminal Court of First Instance.

The Court's judgment

From the Court's press release: 

Assessing whether the interference was prescribed by law, the Court noted that the domestic authorities had seized the copies of issue 28 of the magazine Kaos GL pursuant to Article 28 of the Constitution and Article 162 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Furthermore, the Court observed that the legitimate aim pursued by the impugned interference had been to protect public morals.

As regards whether the interference had been “necessary in a democratic society”, the Court considered the reasons given by the domestic court and concluded that in the present case it was impossible to determine, from the decisions taken by the domestic courts, the reason why a given article or a specific an image in the issue in question of the magazine had infringed public morals. Indeed, there was nothing in the decision of the Criminal Court of First Instance to seize the magazines to suggest that the judge had examined in detail the compatibility of the magazine’s content with the principle of protection of public morals. Nor did the Criminal Court’s decision to dismiss the appeal against the seizure decision set out any further relevant details or reasoning. The Court accordingly considered that the protection of public morals argument advanced in such a broad, unreasoned manner had been insufficient to justify the decision to seize and confiscate all the copies of issue 28 of the magazine for over five years.

The Court then conducted its own analysis of the impugned publication, and noted that having regard to the content of the articles concerning the sexuality of the LGBT community and pornography, and to the explicit nature of some of the images used, issue 28 of the magazine could be considered as a publication specifically aimed at a certain social category. Nonetheless, the Court was prepared to accept that the measures taken to prevent access by specific groups of individuals - minors in particular - to this publication might have met a pressing social need, namely the need to protect the sensibilities of a section of the general public.

The Court noted, however, that it had been unjustifiable to prevent general public access to the impugned issue of the magazine. It emphasised that the domestic authorities had not attempted to implement any preventive measure less harsh than seizure of all the copies of the issue in question. Such a measure might have involved, for example, prohibiting the sale of the magazine to persons under the age of 18, or requiring special packaging with a warning for minors, or even withdrawing the publication from the newspaper kiosks, but not seizing subscriber copies.

Even supposing that the issue seized, accompanied by a warning for persons under the age of eighteen, could have been distributed after the return of the confiscated copies, that is to say after the Court of Cassation judgment of 29 February 2012, the Court held that the confiscation of the copies of the magazine and the delay of five years and seven months in distributing the publication could not be considered as proportionate to the aim pursued.

The Court therefore held that the seizure of all the copies of issue 28 of the magazine Kaos GL amounted to a disproportionate interference with the exercise of the applicant association’s right to freedom of expression and had not been “necessary in a democratic society” within the meaning of Article 10 of the Convention. There had therefore been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

Significance of the judgment

This is a significant judgment for at least two reasons. 

First, this is the first time that the Court has held that the suppression of a LGBT-specific publication promoting the interests of LGBT people amounts to a violation of Article 10 of the Convention. As such, the judgment establishes that the protection of morals cannot justify the blanket restriction of publications which positively promote LGBT people. 

Second, the judgment also appears to evolve the Court's jurisprudence on the issue of the regulation of pornography. This is the first time that the Court has held that the blanket restriction of pornographic images amounts to a violation of Article 10 and, as such, it establishes a new human rights standard for the regulation of sexual imagery. Whilst this is, obviously, not a LGBT-specific issue it is significant for LGBT rights because of the way in which public authorities have often focused on any sexual content in publications to justify their suppression. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

New communicated case against Russia concerning "homosexual propaganda" law

The European Court of Human Rights has communicated the case of Sozayev and Others v Russia. The case concerns the treatment of five applicants who were involved in peaceful public protests against the introduction of a regional law banning “homosexual propaganda directed at minors”.

The facts

In 2012 the Novosibirsk Regional Legislative Assembly introduced a federal bill banning “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relationships directed at minors” to the State Duma (the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament). The bill was supported by Ms Yelena Mizulina from the Fair Russia party; it became known as “the Mizulina bill” after her.

On several occasions in December 2012 and January 2013 opponents of the bill gathered in front of the State Duma building in Moscow to protest against its adoption by kissing each other. They were arrested and charged with minor disorderly acts under the Code of Administrative Offences of Russia.

In the evening of 6 June 2013 the mass media announced that the second and the third readings of the Mizulina bill were to take place on 11 June 2013 in the State Duma. On 8 June 2013 Ms Yelena Kostyuchenko, a journalist, called on opponents of the bill to come to the State Duma building and take part in a peaceful protest against it on the day of the second and third readings. Information about the protest was published on social media.

On 11 June 2013 at around noon about thirty opponents of the bill came to the entrance of the State Duma building facing Georgiyevskiy Lane in Moscow. Journalists were present there, as well as a group of about 100 conservative Orthodox Christian activists who were supporting the bill. Riot officers from the Moscow Police Department were also present in Georgiyevskiy Lane; they stood between the opponents of the bill and the Christian activists. The opponents of the bill lined up against the wall of the State Duma building and kissed their partners. Christian activists chanted “Moscow is not Sodom!”; the bill opponents tried to shout them down by chanting “Down with fascism”, “Moscow is not Iran” and “Fascism shall not pass”. At some point Christian activists started throwing eggs and nettles at the opponents of the bill.

At around 12.15 p.m. the police officers surrounded the anti-bill protesters and pushed them into police buses. About thirty of them were apprehended in this way and taken to police stations. 

None of the Christian activists were apprehended in this way.

Complaints to the European Court of Human Rights

All the applicants complain under Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention about the allegedly unlawful and disproportionate measures taken against them as peaceful protesters. 

Furthermore, they claim that the dispersal of the gathering which called for equality for LGBT people constituted discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation and political views, in violation of Article 14 of the Convention.

The applicants complain that their apprehension by the police officers during the gathering was arbitrary. One applicant complains under Article 5 § 1 of the Convention that his detention at the police station after being arrested at the gathering was unlawful.

All the applicants complain under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the proceedings in which they were convicted of administrative offences fell short of the guarantees of a fair hearing. They point out, in particular, lack of impartiality on the part of the domestic courts owing to the absence of any prosecuting authority; that role was allegedly performed by the judges.

Four applicants complain under Article 6 § 3 (d) of the Convention that the courts refused to call prosecution witnesses, namely the police officers who had arrested them at the gathering.

Questions to the Parties

Common questions
1. As regards each applicant, has there been an interference with his or her freedom of peaceful assembly, within the meaning of Article 11 § 1 of the Convention? 
2. If so, was that interference prescribed by law and necessary in terms of Article 11 § 2 of the Convention, in respect of each applicant? In particular, given the spontaneous character of the assembly and that it was impossible to give notice within the time-limit prescribed by law, was the interference proportionate in the circumstances of the present case (see Bukta and Others v. Hungary, no. 25691/04, §§ 35-37, ECHR 2007‑III, and Eva Molnar v. Hungary, no. 10346/05, §§ 36-38, 7 January 2009)? 
3. Have the applicants suffered discrimination in the enjoyment of freedom of assembly contrary to Article 14 of the Convention read in conjunction with Article 11 of the Convention? 
4. Was each applicant’s arrest on 11 June 2013 compatible with the requirements of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention? In particular:(a) What were the legal grounds for the applicant’s arrest during the gathering on 11 June 2013?(b) Did it pursue any aim enumerated in Article 5 § 1 of the Convention? 
5. As regards the applicants’ trials, did they have fair hearings by independent and impartial tribunals in the administrative proceedings against them, in accordance with Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, given the absence of any prosecuting authority, whose role was allegedly performed by the judge?
Case-specific questions
Mr Babitskiy, Ms Mishina, Ms Samoshkina (no. 67685/14) and Mr Samburov (no. 35199/15) 
1. As regards each applicant, were they able to examine witnesses against them, in particular the police officers who had arrested them at the gathering, as required by Article 6 § 3 (d) of the Convention? 
Mr Samburov (no. 35199/15) 
2. Was the applicant’s deprivation of liberty lasting four hours compatible with the requirements of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention? In particular:(a) What were the legal grounds for the applicant’s detention?(b) Did the detention pursue any aim enumerated in Article 5 § 1 of the Convention?

Monday, 24 October 2016

"Going to Strasbourg" book launch

An event was held on Friday 21st October 2016, at Conway Hall in London, to launch Going to Strasbourg: An Oral History of Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the European Convention on Human RightsI and five former applicants to Strasbourg spoke at the event. An audio recording of the talks is available here.