Friday, 29 March 2013

Equality Challenges facing the "New" Police Service

Corstorphine Police Station in Edinburgh

As of 1st April 2013 a new single Scottish police force will replace 8 regional and 2 national police agencies.

The amalgamation presents a number of challenges to policing in Scotland. One of the biggest challenges comes from the legal obligations the new force will inherit as a public authority, an large employer and as a service provider under the Equality Act 2010.

This article explores what potential risks and opportunities exist for the new force from an equalities perspective.

Legal obligations

The Equality Act will apply to the new police force. 

This means that the new force will have several legal obligations that cannot be ignored.

As a public authority, the force will have to have "due regard" to the promotion of equality of opportunity, the elimination of unlawful discrimination and the fostering of good relations between individuals who share protected characteristics.

The force will also act as an employer; not just of police officers but also of a large number of civilian staff. The force must not discriminate, harass or victimise someone because of their protected characteristic.

It is also likely, that the force will be a service provider. This means, that the clients or customers of the police are entitled not to be discriminated against in accessing police services.

It is all very well talking about these issues in the abstract. However, what will it mean in practice?

Example one - Hate Crime

This is the sort of racist graffiti that should be classified as a hate crime
It has already been acknowledged, by the incumbent Chief Constable, that there may be differentials between each of the individual force areas, in relation to the recording and processing of crime information.

This is due to different IT, training and employment practices between each of the existing police forces.

How this will impact upon the recording and monitoring of hate crime remains to be seen.

The identified issue here is not one of a lack of information within the police service generally about hate crime, but rather in the administrative processes behind reporting, identifying and then tackling hate crime at a local area.

Each individual police force areas utilises its own computer systems. Likewise, each individual force currently has separate training regimes in place for training both civilian staff and police officers concerning hate crime issues - or equality related issues generally.

It is unclear whether or not a new single police force will be any better equipped to deal with hate crime than its 8 predecessor forces.

The general duty described above, requires the new force to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and to foster good relations.

If the IT and administrative structures of the new force are not up to the task of properly identifying, recording and tackling hate crime, then it is likely that this could constitute unlawful discrimination.

It is also likely, that the new force will not be able to comply with either the general duty or the scottish specific duties.

This could leave the new force open to judicial review of decisions taken if it has not had "due regard" to these important legal obligations in adopting new IT, administrative and training systems for the prevention, recording and detection of crime.

Example 2 - Employment Practice

In all likelihood, there will be some job losses as a consequence of dismantling 8 regional police forces and consolidating these into as single scottish police force.

The most likely source of job losses will be in administrative and back of house roles. because the Scottish Government has made clear that it does not want to reduce the number of front line Police.

At the moment, each individual force has identified individuals responsible for particular equality remits. For example, many local forces have community liaisons officers responsible for pro active engagement with LGBT people, minority ethnic and particular religious groups. Similarly, other administrative roles are also primarily concerned with the pro active promotion of equality with each individual force area.

It remains to be seen whether or not such arrangements will survive after April 1st.

It also remains to be seen whether or not the new force will adopt local equality training and promotion practice or if these particular functions will be centralised - one central equality officer replacing 8 regional officers.

It is also important to ensure that as a consequence of staff attrition, particular staff skill sets, such as those dealing with equality issues are not lost.

I do not know if the new police services authority, which is meant to supervise the work of the new force, has considered this point.

It is my experience, that many public bodies, when considering redundancy situations look to cover the basic legal requirements alone. It may not occur to them to also think further about the wider equalities impact of any redundancy exercise.

Example 3 - Service Provision

It will be unlawful for the new police force to discriminate in the provision of services. However, this duty goes beyond the obvious - denying access to the police services, harassing or victimising particular groups or individuals because they share a protected characteristic.

Consider the example of campaigns designed to tackle domestic abuse.

At the moment, under 8 separate authorities, each force is empowered to work with communities and other stakeholders on particular campaigns.

In Strathclyde, a poster campaign was launched to highlight the effect of rape and domestic abuse. In Lothian and Borders, similar posters are displayed at each local police station.

What is important here, is that a message gets delivered that victims of domestic abuse will be properly supported and that the police will act to prevent domestic abuse in what ever form it takes.

The majority of campaigns on domestic abuse are gendered - they specifically target men as perpetrators and women as victims. The majority of reported cases of domestic abuse follow this pattern and it appears logical that campaigns are designed around this model.

However, as our understanding of domestic abuse develops a new picture begins to emerge. In this new picture, we now see that domestic abuse can take place in same sex relationships too and that men can also be victims as well as perpetrators of domestic abuse. It is estimated that around 20% of cases reported and recorded in scotland place men in the role of victim.

The new police force cannot discriminate in the provision of services. This means that where a particular campaign is launched around an important social policy - such as tackling domestic abuse - that this campaign should not discriminate or stereotype to be more specific.

To a certain extent, this is already happening. Strathclyde made a point of highlighting that abuse can occur within a same sex relationship too as well as in mixed sex relationships in its latest poster campaign. However, there has yet to be any campaign, whether at a local or national level, addressing the issue of domestic abuse where men are portrayed in the role of victim and requiring support.

Hope for the Future

This article has sought to explore some of the equality issues and challenges that will face the new police force from April 1st.

I hope that the new force and the scottish police authority take the importance of these obligations seriously in order to build both the trust and confidence of the many diverse communities they will be empowered to serve.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

"AIDS comes from unhealthy relationships..." - BBC response

As you may recall, one of my earlier posts, concerned the media portrayal of HIV and AIDS.

In my previous post, I referenced a comment made on the BBC The Big Questions programme.

I was angry that the comments made went unchallenged.

Here is what the BBC had to say, in reply to my complaint:

"Thank you for contacting us regarding 'The Big Questions', broadcast on 17 March on BBC One.
We understand you were offended by a remark made by an audience member during the programme in relation to AIDS, which you felt went unchallenged by the presenter, Nicky Campbell.
Whilst we fully appreciate your concern, having reviewed the programme, we feel Nicky did challenge the audience member about his statement. I've transcribed the relevant part of the conversation below:
Audience Member: “When God laid down the Ten Commandments, 'thou shalt not', all the time he didn’t do it to try and oppress us, he did it for good reason, like AIDS, for things like that. Now it says in the Bible.....”
Nicky Campbell: "Like what?"
Audience Member: "Like getting AIDS, AIDS culture from unhealthy relationships and things."
Nicky Campbell: "Heterosexual people get AIDS too."
Audience Member: "Well yes..."
Nicky Campbell: "But what?"
Audience Member: "The thing about it, what I am trying to say, a man should be with a woman, okay? What I see there are gay people and lesbian people..."
Nicky Campbell: "But Syphilis and Gonorrhoea and all that...."
Therefore, as you have rightly pointed out, Nicky was making the same point to the audience member in question by clarifying that it isn't only gay or lesbian people who can get AIDS (i.e. HIV which can progress into AIDS).
However, we appreciate how strongly you feel on this matter and we're guided by our audience feedback, so we’d like to assure you that your complaint has been registered on our audience log. This is an internal report of audience feedback that we compile on a daily basis and it’s made available to 'The Big Questions', channel executives and senior management.
The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.
Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us."

It remains important that where there is a negative portrayal of HIV or AIDS in the media that this is challenged.

I do not agree that the BBC, on this occasion, made that challenge.

It looked as though the presenter of the programme wanted to encourage further comment from this particular audience member.

Unfortunately, the link to HIV and AIDS in relation to sexual orientation, be it straight, gay or bisexual, was never properly challenged.

HIV transmission

  • HIV can be transmitted through body fluid - blood, semen and vaginal fluid
  • It can also be transmitted through the shared use of intravenous needles or the use of contaminated needles
  • It can also be transmitted through breast milk.
It is time to separate sexual orientation from HIV,

There are several ways of transmitting HIV; sexual orientation is not a source of transmission of HIV

Greater awareness is required

What is important, is that everyone is aware of how HIV infection can be transmitted and the steps that can be taken to prevent transmission.

If there was a greater understanding of how HIV can be transmitted, then the old stereotypical assumptions, equating sexual orientation to the spreading of disease, would begin to fade away.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Law Society is not above the Law

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Law Society of Scotland (The Society) recently took place in Edinburgh.  

At the AGM, a report was submitted for approval.  The report argued for separate representation of the Borrower and the Lender in a residential conveyancing transaction.  

This would mean that each party would have to have their own Solicitor.  

Currently, one Solicitor can represent both parties.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) also opposes the move to separate representation.

In my view, not enough consideration had been given to either the Equality or Human Rights implications of such as move.

Previous experience

I had attended the previous AGM, where I spoke from the floor of the importance of fulfilling legal obligations under Equality Law and also Human Rights Law.

I was given an assurance, following the issues raised, that the Society would, in future, publish both Equality and Human Rights impact assessments concerning any proposals being brought forward.

Indeed, earlier in the week, I had discussed this very point with the Society's Director of Representation and Support.

I am disappointed, that to date, the approach taken by the Society has been lacklustre.

I acknowledge that attempts are under way to make improvements, but I would have expected that such an important report, would have mentioned both human rights and equality elements.

Legal obligations

Unlike its counterpart in England and Wales, in Scotland, the Society operates as a Public Authority in terms of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Society is a Public Authority in respect of its regulatory and supervisory function of the Solicitor profession in Scotland.

The Society must have regard to the Convention Rights, namely those set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

By extension, the Law Society is also a Public Authority under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.

A Public Authority here, must have "due regard" to (1) the promotion of equality of opportunity, (2) the elimination of unlawful discrimination and (3) to foster good relations between groups who share protected characteristics (The General Duty).

There are also a series of "specific duties" which give teeth to the General Duty.

The Society acknowledges that it has to comply with the General Duty.

The Society also acknowledges that it has to comply with Convention Rights.

However, at today's AGM, as in the past, no evidence was presented that either obligation had been complied with.

Why are these obligations important?

In the present case, a proposal to approve the report of the working party on separate representation was presented to the meeting for endorsement.

The report, recommended making changes to the Professional Practice Rules to ensure that Solicitor's avoid conflict of interest by not acting for both a mortgage lender and a house purchaser.

It seems obvious, that in order to avoid an apparent conflict of interest, that a Solicitor either represents the borrower of the money - the house purchaser - or the lender of that money.

The Solicitor should not do both.

However, the case is actually more complex that the simple aim of avoiding a potential conflict of interest.

Human rights element: proportionality

As a Regulator, acting in the public interest, the Society needs to adopt a proportionate response to achieving a legitimate public policy aim.

It is not enough to simply say that avoiding a potential conflict of interest is a legitimate aim.

No one would disagree that there have to be rules concerning avoiding conflict of interest; what is important, is the way in which that aim is achieved - the response to achieving the aim must be proportionate.  

This is important, from a hypothetical house purchaser's point of view - keeping costs low and also needing to access a local Solicitor who would be willing to represent them.

It is also important from the point of view of any hypothetical Solicitor, who is potentially already being squeezed financially as a result of the current economic climate and may not be so keen on taking on low value work such as a first time purchase, the purchase of sheltered accommodation or negotiating the sale of a former matrimonial home.

Equalities element: avoiding indirect discrimination

It may be more expensive to buy a house if a client is forced to travel to appoint a Solicitor or if they are forced to pay more than one Solicitor for carrying similar legal work.

Whilst any requirement for separate representation would be applied equally to everyone seeking to buy a house, it could potentially have a disproportionate effect on younger people seeking to enter the housing market, disabled people seeking to buy supported accommodation or people getting separated or divorced.

Rural and high street practice: negative impact on wider legal representation 

Also consider the case of a hypothetical Solicitor engaged in rural or high street practice.

That Solicitor may rely upon the "bread and butter" income from conveyancing. That income too, may also be used, albeit indirectly, to subsidise other areas of practice, such as legal aid work or family law.  It could also mean the difference between keeping an office open in one location or closing down and centralising services elsewhere.

By restricting the type of domestic conveyancing work, the hypothetical Solicitor is now faced with a potential loss of income and has to decide whether or not to remain in practice or to close down the areas of work that were previously indirectly subsidised.

This would present a greater challenge for access to justice.

There is no merit in arguing the pros and cons of separate representation if there will be no one around to provide that representation in the first place.

No mention of human rights or equality

If a proper assessment of either Human Rights or Equality had formed part of the working group's report, it should have been in the report. There was no mention of it.

A proper assessment would have looked at the fine balancing act between being a Regulator and also the responsibilities of the Regulator to both act proportionately and also not to discriminate, albeit indirectly and to promote equality amongst other things.

I have shown the potential for both a human rights and equality impact stemming from the published report.

I was disappointed that I again had to ask why the Society had no considered both important legal obligations.

Future proposals

The Society's working group will now take forward the question of separate representation.

It is likely, whether in the near or distant future, that a concrete proposed rule change will be tabled for approval.

I do not want to have to stand up again, at this time in 2014, and ask where is the relevant human rights or equality impact assessments.

The Law Society is not above the law.

The Society must show evidence to demonstrate that it has had "due regard" to the obligations described above.  The recommended way of doing this is to publish equality and human rights impact assessments.

It is now time to change decades of inherent bad practice in the Society.

If the Society acts in the public interest then the Society must respect both Human Rights and Equality.

Parliament and the public expect this too.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Everyone needs to pee - except transgender people in Arizona apparently

With thanks to Gordon Ellis for preparing this short commentary on a story that is currently making the rounds concerning why transgender people need to go to the bathroom.

"The Independent (20 March) reports that Equality activists are outraged as Arizona considers banning transgender people from using public toilets not designated for their birth sex.

The proposal comes less than a month after the city of Phoenix passed a human rights ordinance prohibiting gender identity discrimination in public accommodations.
The prohibition of gender identity discrimination appears to be a positive step in addressing an issue which crosses the Atlantic to the UK, but the illogical proposal to ban transgender people from using public toilets, seems to totally contradict the ordinance from Phoenix.
The Republican proposer, is nailing his colours to the mast and creating an opportunity for the national debate which seems to be taking place in the USA to be aired in the legislature.
One must hope that common sense prevails, and the “Land of the Free” lives up to its name.
From a UK equality perspective, it is good that issues such as this are being aired in our media, and in a relatively supportive way.
It is however, indicative of a fair way still to go on this, and many other equality issues. With absolutely no irony at all, I read another media report, that in Pakistan, all public forms which require to be completed now have three boxes for completion, male female or transgender."
This has happened before

Sadly, this is not the first time that a story like this has hit the media.

Around two years ago, a similar issue was raised in the national media in the United Kingdom. In that case, a trans woman was accosted and complained against in a Sainsbury's supermarket for using the ladies toilets.

It was claimed that the trans woman should have used the disabled toilet.

Everyone needs to pee

First of all, everyone need to go to the bathroom.

It does not matter is you are male, female or transgender.

The difficulty is societal perception; we are obsessed with gender stereotypes, gender norms and most relevant, an automatic assumption of binary gender - male and female.

There is also an unfounded perception that because a transgender man or woman is using a gendered toilet in their acquired gender, that they are engaged in criminal, or more usually sexual, activity.

The Scottish Transgender Alliance is an organisation that campaigns for transgender equality and awareness in Scotland, elsewhere in the UK and also in Europe.  I tweeted about this story and this is what they had to say.

Equality law in Great Britain

The Equality Act requires public bodies, service providers and employers not to discriminate on grounds of gender reassignment. The protection in law extends to cover discrimination by association and perception.

In order to obtain full gender recognition in Great Britain, there is no actual requirement to undergo gender reassigned to surgery.

Many transgender people will want to live their life in their acquired gender. For some, it is a requirement, prior to approval for gender reassignment surgery.

This would not be a problem if we did not have an obsession with binary gender roles and by extension, binary gender toilets - male toilets and female toilets.

Transgender does not equate to being disabled

Transgender people are also not disabled because of their gender reassignment status.

There may be some form of disability arising from gender reassignment, for example, on grounds of mental health.

There is no reason therefore to ask someone to use an accessible toilet, or to deny the use of gendered - male or female - toilets.


In many organisations, there are at least some, gender neutral toilets. In these circumstances, no one has a complaint.

The title of this article highlights the crux; transgender people need to pee too.

If peeing is criminal, then we will all be going to jail.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

"Cut services for women, increase services for men..".

A new political party has been launched in the UK which plans to stand candidates across the United Kingdom in the next General Election.  

The political party is called Justice for Men and Boys (and the Women who love them)

On a radio debate on the BBC's Call Kaye Programme, broadcast on Monday 18 March 2013, the party's founder, Mike Buchanan, advocated, amongst other things cutting services aimed at women, because men contribute more tax revenue to the UK Exchequer than they do. 

There is merit in highlighting any form of gender inequality where it exists.

I doubt anyone would disagree on this salient point.

On the tax revenue issue, it is important to highlight that the majority of part time workers are women, that women still receive only 75% of the pay of male comparators and that women are still under represented in the boardroom.

No surprise that the majority of tax generated comes from men then, eh?

I believe that the approach taken here, and the policies being espoused by this new political party, are ultimately counter intuitive.

Men deserve more, women less

The key mantra put forward seems to be that men deserve the support more so than women.

By setting each of the sexes against one another like this, the approach, in my view, is counter intuitive for the following reasons;

  • The approach taken works against the cause of campaigning for greater awareness of the inequalities which do exist between both men and women in the law, politics and social policy
  • It is too simplistic because throwing money at a particular problem, may not necessarily, address that problem and fails to actually examine and address the under lying reason for the inequality in the first place.    
  • By demanding resources are taken away from another group, to support your cause, there is a real risk of alienating allies and losing the argument. 

I wish to make clear from the outset that I do not subscribe to, nor support, the key political mantra of Justice for Men and Boys - I do not believe in removing support from women for the sake of it.

Health inequalities

The Following information is taken from the Men's Health Forum; which bases its information on statistics available from the Office of National Statistics.

It is important to note that rates of mental ill health between men and women are roughly equal.

Cause for concern

The illustrations given above are shocking.  They should, quite rightly, give any policy maker cause for concern.

However, what has caused, or continues to cause, such statistical inequality?

There is a range of sociological commentary on the subject.

Some of the reasons highlight,

  • the level of risk taking behaviour in young men, 
  • the rate of engagement with health care professionals by men - spotting a problem too late for instance.  
  • that men lack the basic health education to look after themselves properly.    

If you look at these reasons, it is unlikely that taking money away from support services for women and diverting those resources into support services for men will make an automatic difference.

Multi faceted problems

If you set up a men only service, how can you be certain that men will use that service, if you are already aware that there is a problem of engagement?

Similarly, how do you address risk taking behaviours?  Or re-educate men to know that going to their GP regularly is important?

The Equality Act

There is an obligation on the National Health Service to promote equality of opportunity, to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to foster good relations.  This is referred to as the Public Sector Equality Duty.

This important legal obligation is made up of "general duty" described above and a series of "specific duties", designed to give teeth to the general duty.

The general duty applied across Great Britain and there are different specific duties for UK wide public authorities and for Public Authorities exclusively working in Scotland and Wales.

The NHS is also required not to discriminate as a service provider, as an educator or as an employer.

It is clear that there is a legal obligation on the NHS and any other public service provider to tackle health inequalities.

It would be interesting to see, on a health board by health board basis, what is actually being done to address men's health and the particular inequalities highlighted above.

Current work

There are a number of efforts already under way to look at these particular problems.  One such approach, is to encourage men to attend "well men" clinics, changing the culture of engagement and education by encouraging male role models, such as footballers, to take a lead.

Tackle the inequalities

It is important that the health inequalities between men and women are addressed.

However, the view of Justice for Men and Boys, involves taking a sledge hammer to an identified problem and hoping that by smashing it to pieces, it will some how make it right.

Here is what the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) had to say about suicide rates and men:

You can find out more about Twotoomany by clicking this link.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

"Getting AIDS comes from unhealthy relationships"

On BBC The Big Questions, aired on Sunday 17 March 2013, a religious audience member stated live on BBC TV that "getting AIDS comes from unhealthy relationships".  He went on to reference Gay men and Lesbians.  

The Presenter of the the programme did not robustly challenge him concerning this contribution.  

It can be difficult on a live television discussion programme to ensure that audience participants in the show avoid making derogatory  offensive or prejudicial remarks.

However, the BBC must set some standards for its television presenters and audience participants, even if the show is the topic of Christianity and Modernity.

My primary objection to this particular contribution, is that it was allowed to go unchallenged.

The Presenter moved quickly onto the next contribution and encouraged the audience member to elaborate on his contribution.

Because of the show's religious element, the BBC permitted this particular contribution to be broadcast and also to go unchallenged.

The BBC knew, or ought to have known, that this contribution was both stigmatising and inaccurate.

Two resounding questions for the BBC

Why is it that linking someone's sexual orientation to the spread of AIDS makes acceptable Sunday morning television?

Why is sexual orientation always viewed as a moral issue, inevitably linked to sex and then promiscuity?

History repeating itself?

The comment referencing AIDS to being Gay reminded me of the ill-informed, offensive and "hate" campaigns that featured throughout the 1980s.

At this time, a series of national adverts were being run by the UK Government to make the public aware of HIV / AIDS.  However, the reactionary media, were more focused on linking AIDS to being Gay and being Gay to spreading disease - this is where AIDS got its first name - The Gay Plague.

Call to be vigilant

Has nothing changed?  Or is this just a one off example, of an ill-conceived, off the cuff comment, made to promote the virtues of a religious celibate life?

I would like to think that this is the case.

However, it does go to show that we must all be vigilant.  Public opinion and with it, government and legislative policy can be easily swayed by both positive and negative media portrayal.

"Stories in the media can have a positive effect in increasing people's awareness of HIV and what it means to live with HIV. However media reports about HIV are often stigmatising or inaccurate. Many stories contribute to a culture of blame about HIV transmission, focusing on so-called irresponsible sexual activity, use judgemental language and stereotype people living with HIV."

People who are either HIV positive or who have AIDS already face discrimination and stigma.

We must do all that we can to address this problem and to challenge those, particularly in the media, who would like to see us revisit recent history.

 The episode of The Big Questions is available on iPlayer by clicking here.  It is available for the next 7 days from today.  The Contribution in question was made approximately 28 minutes into the programme.  

I have made a complaint to the BBC.

If you wish to complain too, you can do so by following this link:-

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Abolish the Bishops

The House of Lords, which forms part of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, has 26, unelected, Bishops of the Church of England within its membership.  

The Bishops are all from the same religious denomination, they are able to participate in Parliamentary business and they do not have to answer to any particular local community or constituency.  

In a modern 21st Century United Kingdom, should we allow one religious group an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords and have such an important role in the life of our Parliamentary democracy?

It is easy to answer this question in a partisan way.

If you believe that Parliament should be formed as part of a representative democracy, it is difficult to argue that one religious group should be given automatic representation in Parliament to the expense of other communities of faith or belief.

Another argument concerns the legitimacy of having religious representation in Parliament at all.  If we believe that the Government should operate on a secular basis and not subscribe to any one religion, then it follows that religion should play no part in the Parliamentary process.

I have concerns about the way the "Upper House" operates within our constitutional settlement generally, but for this purpose of this article, I shall focus on the "Lords Spiritual" to give the Bishops their proper constitutional title.

The Constitutional Position

The Church of England is the established Church.  The Queen - the Head of State - is also the head of the Church of England.

Parliament sits under the authority of the Queen and the Bishops are members of the House of Lords by virtue of their ecclesiastical role in the established Church.

For this reason, it is difficult to argue that the United Kingdom can ever be a truly secular state.

They are not members of any Political Party but they do always sit on the Government side of the House of Lords.  Their seats are located closest to the Queen; symbolising their loyalty.

No other religious group is represented as the Church of England is the only state Church.

The House of Lords is the Upper House of the British Parliament.  This means that although the Bishops only represent the Church of England, they can also become involved in matters that concern the whole of the United Kingdom and not just the dioceses from which they come.

Constitutional lawyers always argue over the relationship between the Church of England and the State.

Because of the link between the Queen, as Head of the Church of England and also as Head of State and also because Parliament sits under the authority of the Queen, arguments over the role of the Bishops in the House of Lord are often left unresolved.

Petition for Reform

A new petition has been launched on the HM Government e-petitions site.  This petition highlights the constitutional inequality, where one faith group is represented and others not.  It also calls on the House of Lords to become a fully elected second Chamber of Parliament.

There are whole text books dedicated to the subject of the British Constitution.

There are also numerous Government, academic and public media commentaries available on the subject of reform of the House of Lords.

For this reason, I cannot truly do the subject justice in a small article on this Blog.

I have signed the petition calling for reform.

If anything, the current constitutional settlement within the United Kingdom is already in a state of flux.

There is no better time to consider proposals for reform.

The Petition is available by clicking here

Monday, 11 March 2013

Criminalising Mental Health

In Perth sheriff court a man was recently prosecuted for disorderly conduct.  He was depressed and jumped off a bridge.  It was the anniversary of his son's death.

From a mental health practitioners point of view, it is important to provide support to someone who is depressed and potentially at risk of taking their own life.  In this post, I examine whether or not the  criminal law, in the form of the Police and the Crown takes the same view

The Equality Act 2010

As you may be aware, mental ill health often falls within the protected characteristic of "disability" in terms of the Equality Act 2010. Provided that the condition lasts, or is likely to last more than 12 months and also has a substantial effect on a persons ability to carry out day to day activities.

 This important legal protection, is designed to ensure people who have mental Ill health do not experience discrimination and are also entitled to reasonable adjustments in the work place.

This being said, where does it leave the criminal law? Obviously, if someone commits a crime, the police are entitled to investigate and the Crown is entitled to prosecute, in the public interest. However, what happens if someone is depressed and attempts to take their own life?

Police and the Crown 

Before last week, I would have answered the question with a resounding Yes! I would have confidently stated that the Police and the Crown would have had appropriate training in mental health issues, in compliance with their civil law obligations under common law, to take reasonable care, under the human rights act, to act proportionately and also under the Equality Act, as a public authority required not to discriminate and also to promote equality of opportunity as a general duty.

However, today, I am less certain and am now no longer as confident as I was before.

The reason for my uncertainty was the story mentioned above carried online by STV News.  The man was prosecuted and now potentially faces a prison sentence.  The sheriff outlined his reasoning, namely that the man had placed the rescue service at unnecessary risk and he wanted to deter anyone from taking similar action.

I am not in full possession of the facts, as such I cannot comment on the specifics of this case. However, it does concern me from what has been reported that this case was both prosecuted by the Crown and that the Sheriff wished to deter others from jumping off of a bridge.

There was no mention of the man's mental welfare or concern that support should be offered.

Support not Prosecution

If someone is depressed, they require support not prosecution.

Similarly, if someone has taken steps to take their own life life, they also require support.

We cannot allow our criminal justice system to revert to a 19th century system where attempted suicide is criminalised and where people who are experiencing mental ill health are routed through the criminal justice system because they are not offered support, or do not know where to access support.

There are exceptions to this reasoning, if someone is a risk to others, or at risk to themselves then the law must act; but only where it is appropriate to do so.


In the current economic climate, I am concerned that with further cut backs planned, support services for people who have mental ill health will not meet the needs of the people who they are designed to serve.

There is already a high prevalence of mental ill health within the criminal justice system.

My primary concern is that the justice system will become a poor substitute for support services that ought to be there in the first place.

Monday, 4 March 2013

An Open Letter to the Catholic Church in Scotland

An open letter to The Most Revered, Philip Tartaglia, President of the Bishop's Conference of Scotland, Archbishop of Glasgow and Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Edinburgh and St. Andrews.

Dear Archbishop,

I invite you to meet with me and other members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Community in Scotland.

I want to give you an opportunity to have a positive and straightforward dialogue with LGBT people in Scotland.

I also want you to understand that the recent and historic words and actions by the Church have been tremendously hurtful towards LGBT people, no more so than the deployment of words and phrases that lack the basic compassion that should be at the root of Catholic Charity.

It is not easy growing up Catholic with such negative re-enforcement, where the love we express for our partners of the same sex or of the opposite sex as the case may be, is belittled and not recognised. It is also hard to rationalise the view taken that being gay is a “choice”, in the same way we choose the clothes we wear in the morning or what we buy for lunch. The Church can no longer promote a non sequitur.

This is an opportunity for you to hear from us and for us to hear form you; to enter into dialogue with members of our community.

I am disappointed that my previous correspondence to the Church has gone unanswered. I now, following recent events, make the offer to you again, in an open letter, affording you another opportunity to respond.

In the Words of Saint Paul, it is now time to show Charity.

Yours respectfully,

Daniel Donaldson

Hello World

Hello and thank you for stopping by.

My name is Daniel and I am a Scottish qualified Solicitor, although I do not practice just now as a Solicitor.  I am very passionate about equality issues and taking forward issues of equality in a practical way.  

Please feel free to read my posts and general musings here about Equality issues.  You are welcome to comment, but free speech is not an absolute right, so I'll be moderating what is being said.  

I will up date my Blog from time to time, stay tuned!