Legal News Round Up: June 2022
Trigger Warning: This article discusses instances of sexual assault and bans on abortion which may be distressing to some readers.
June 2022 kicked off the summer with a range of legal developments across the globe. From the United States' Supreme Court decision to overturn the historic Roe v. Wade ruling to the conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell, here are some of the top headlines on which to keep an eye:
Ghislaine Maxwell Sentenced to 20 Years
Former British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for helping financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually assault underage girls. This follows years of relentless campaigning by women's rights groups who have worked to hold those who perpetuated these abuses over a decade accountable.
Epstein suspiciously died in jail in 2019 while awaiting trial. Nevertheless, his longtime companion Maxwell has been charged for her role in abusing hundreds of girls, some as young as 14. She was convicted by a jury in December 2021 on five counts, including sex trafficking of a minor and transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. She will also be required to pay US$ 750,000.
Maxwell has maintained that the blame for these atrocities lay with Epstein, with many criticising her for deflecting her culpability in these acts. She intends to appeal the conviction.
Transgender Athletes Banned from Women's Swimming Events
FINA, the international federation which governs world swimming competitions, has banned transgender women from competing in women's events. Described as part of a "gender inclusion policy", this decision means that only transgender women who transitioned before the age of 12 will be able to compete in women's swimming events. Their rationale was that swimmers who transition after puberty enjoy a greater performance advantage in such competitions.
FINA, a body which is recognised by the International Olympic Committee, heard from specialist groups (an athlete group, a science and medicine group and a legal and human rights group), after which it voted 71.5% in favour of the ruling. They also accompanied their decision with the suggestion that an "open competition category" may also be established in the future. They will be introducing a working group that can look into the feasibility of such a category.
Naturally, this announcement has faced significant backlash from LBTQ+ advocates for its "discriminatory" and "harmful" implications. Other criticisms include the selection of 12 as "an arbitrary age" whereas people reach puberty at different points in life. Furthermore, current laws mean that children under FINA's mandated age cannot undergo surgery and therefore will never be able to perform in such competitions.
FINA's decision comes at a time when various other sports, such as cycling, have been considering their policies on transgender athletes and will certainly have wider implications.
Barristers go on Strike in the United Kingdom
Criminal legal aid barristers across courts in England and Wales have gone on strike in the month of June. Frustrated with the lack of pay and exhausted by the long hours they are forced to work, barristers have been left feeling "taken for granted despite their critical contribution to the criminal justice system".
Hundreds of barristers began strike action to call out their treatment and criticise the United Kingdom government's proposed £135 million reform package, which they say is not enough the salvage the criminal sector. Furthermore, in response to the strike, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has encouraged barristers to accept a 15 percent pay increase, which could translate to around £7,000 more a year.
Currently, Criminal Bar Association Chair Jo Sidhu QC stated that legal aid lawyers are paid so little that "by the time they come home in the evening, they have less money... than when they started the day". Travel costs, chambers' rent, taxes etc can equal several thousands, bringing criminal barristers down to below national minimum wage. Furthermore, many barristers do not get paid until a case is resolved, leaving them waiting several years while a case is put forward before a court and decided.
Criminal legal aid barristers join a range of different groups striking unfair working conditions and compensation, from academic professionals to transportation workers, at a time when living costs are rising exponentially and salaries are not necessarily mirroring this increase.
US Supreme Court Overturns Abortion Rights
Following the Supreme Court's leaked draft majority opinion, they officially announced their intention to overturn Roe v. Wade after almost 50 years. The court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organisation, means that American citizens no longer enjoy a constitutional right to abortion, to the detriment of women's reproductive rights.
The Supreme Court's rationale was that the United States' Constitution makes "no reference to abortion" and therefore "no such right is implicitly protected" by the agreement. However, liberal Justices argued that such decision denies women rights "from the very moment of fertilisation" and will "destroy" the lives of those who have been sexually assaulted and impregnated.
At least 26 states are expected to, or have begun taking steps towards, banning abortions as soon as they are able. These are predominately located in south and midwest America and will force women to travel hundreds of miles to access abortions or engage in risky at-home procedures. Furthermore, economic research has shown that this decision will disproportionately impact young, poor and minority groups hardest.
The decision has polarised American society with left-wing critics fearing whether this could lead to key rights such as same-sex marriage, racial equality and access to contraception also being at threat. President Joe Biden thus claimed the ruling pointed America down "an extreme and dangerous path".