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Bermuda ‘violating’ European Convention

Human rights lawyer Nicola Barker
Human rights lawyer Nicola Barker

By Raymond Hainey, for The Royal Gazette

Bermuda is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights over gay partnerships, an English lawyer and academic has warned.

Dr Nicola Barker, a senior lecturer at the University of Kent’s law school, said that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had extended rights which were the norm for straight couples, whether married or not, to gay couples as well — although it had not yet backed gay marriage.

And she pointed to age of consent for gay sex in Bermuda — which is 18 compared to 16 for straight people — as a “clear violation” of the Convention.

Dr Barker said that Britain — which had the same age limit — had been forced to lower it by Europe to keep in line with human rights law.

And she added: “A different age of consent is contrary to the Convention and a very clear violation of the Convention. The Strasbourg court could not be clearer on that.”

Dr Barker added that the Strasbourg court had also ruled that gay couples have “a right to family life.”

She explained: “That means unmarried heterosexual couples’ rights should be extended to gay couples in a similar position.”

And Dr Barker added: “At some point, the European Court of Human Rights is going to change its mind on same-sex marriage.

“Over time, social attitudes change and evolve.”

Dr Barker said that Bermudians, as British citizens, had the same rights as UK citizens living in Britain in European law — and could take cases to Strasbourg.

But she added: “We have got a gap between what Bermudians are entitled to expect from the Convention as British citizens and what they get access to through their own courts.”

Dr Barker said: “I wonder if Bermudians are aware the Convention applies to them and if they’re aware that British citizens in Britain get much more protection than British citizens in Bermuda.

“Legally, the problem is Britain is responsible for the international relations of Bermuda, but not internal matters.

“There is a gap there between the two governments into which Bermudians seem to fall in terms of the effectiveness of the Convention.”

Dr Barker added that European lawmakers assumed that Britain would have to legislate for the Island if its own Government failed to do so.

She said: “The interesting question is should the Bermuda Constitution be amended to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights. Bermudians are entitled to these protections, but at the moment they seem to have difficulties accessing them.”

Dr Barker added: “It depends on the political will here in Bermuda — I don’t think it would necessarily be appropriate to pressure Bermuda from London. It would be better if the Government would consider these issues themselves.”

Dr Barker was one of the main speakers at last week’s Justice Today: Human Rights Since Emancipation conference, organised by the Centre for Justice.

The conference marked the 180th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Bermuda and which started yesterday morning at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute on East Broadway.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley was the keynote speaker at the event, which examined the development of human rights since the British Government ordered an end to slavery in 1834,

Dr Barker in 2012 wrote ‘Not the Marrying Kind: A Feminist Critique of Same-Sex Marriage’, which examined the issue in jurisdictions around the world.

 

Source: Royal Gazette

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