Welcome to the The Lawyer Portal’s weekly news summary. This post covers the main legal news stories from 18th to 23rd April. It would be impossible to talk about the news events of the past week without mentioning the 8th June snap general election, which was announced by Theresa May last Tuesday. Also in the news: the UK has asked for an extension to comply with EU pollution targets and the government have rejected calls to ban the “high-heel dress code” in certain workplaces.
The prime minister announces a snap general election. Theresa May has cited divisions among the political parties at Westminster as the reason for calling the election on 8th June. The announcement came as a surprise given that the prime minster has completely denied the possibility of another election on five previous occasions.
The change of plan is likely due to the need for parliamentary support in the run-up to Brexit negotiations. The Conservatives currently have a working majority of just 17 in the Commons and with a strong position in the election polls, now seems like the best time to gain more seats.
Not only could this election give the prime minister a greater majority, it could also buy her more time in office – two extra years to be precise. However, many have questioned whether the decision to call a snap election now is a tactical one, designed to take advantage of the weaknesses in the opposition parties.
Whatever the reasons for the election, it certainly is not a guaranteed win for the Conservatives; Labour’s popularity is constantly fluctuating and the Liberal Democrats are set to put up a fight to unseat pro-EU Conservative MPs. Meanwhile, this election is forecast to have one of the lowest turnouts for years so the outcome is anything but clear-cut.
UK government launches a court bid to delay plans to cut air pollution. Environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has applied to the High Court for an extension on the deadline to tackle air pollution in UK cities. In November 2016, the High Court ordered Leasdom’s department to go back to the drawing board and draft a new plan by 24th April in order to tackle pollution faster. However, due to rules which restrict the activity of the civil service during an election period, this deadline may not be attainable. The period between the announcement of an election and the date it is held is called a “purdah”.
During this time there are strict rules preventing government departments from making major policy announcements that could give them an advantage in the election. As a result, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs applied to court on Friday 21st April asking for an extension until 30th June.
Many environmental campaigners have responded with anger, stating that this move proves that the government is not taking this public health issue seriously enough. James Thornton, chief executive of environmental law group ClientEarth, has suggested that the last minute application only cements the government’s dismissive attitude to pollution levels. Given that UK pollution levels have persistently breached accepted standards in 16 areas, it remains to be seen whether the extension will be granted.
In December 2015, receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home without pay from finance firm PwC for wearing flat shoes. In response, Thorp started an online petition which gained more than 152,000 signatures and was debated in Parliament. As a result, two parliamentary committees argued that the Equality Act 2010 was not effective enough in preventing gender discrimination in cases such as this one. In response, the government disagreed, saying that such a dress code would clearly be unlawful under the Act so no specific ban was required. However, the government did concede that more needed to be done to raise awareness of the law and ensure women are well aware of their rights.
As a result, the government has promised to produce new guidance on workplace dress codes for both women and employers. It is hoped this will make it easier for women to challenge sexist dress codes. The guidance is due to be released this summer.