Author: Women's Legal Landmarks

Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, Section 2

Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, Section 2

Section 2 of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 makes it a criminal office to disclose, or threaten to disclose, a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person in an intimate situation. Introduced in response to the growing phenomenon of ‘revenge porn’, whereby vengeful ex-partners distribute private sexual images without the consent of their former partners, the offence goes further than this. It also extends to the non-consensual distribution of other forms of image-based sexual abuse, notably so-called upskirt images, that those (often but not always) surreptitiously taken up a woman’s skirt, and pornographic photoshopping, where, for example, an individual’s Facebook profile picture is superimposed onto an explicit image. As such it was the first – and to date only – legislation in the UK and Ireland addressing varied forms of image-based sexual abuse.

Section 2 of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 is unusual in delivering more than it promised. Sold as an offence to address the problem of revenge porn, from the outset it has gone beyond this. By the time it was passed, the so-called ‘revenge porn law’ provides a bespoke response to multiple forms image-based sexual abuse. As such it is a key milestone in ongoing efforts to protect and respect women’s privacy and sexual autonomy both on and off line.

Erika Rackley

The full version of this landmark is written by Erika Rackley.

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Not Yours to share:

Clare McGlynn and Erika Rackley, ‘Not “revenge porn”, but abuse: let’s call it image-based sexual abuse’ (Everyday Victim Blaming, 6 March 2016)

Clare McGlynn, Erika Rackley and Ruth Houghton, ‘“Beyond ‘Revenge Porn”: The Continuum of Image-Based Sexual Abuse’ (2017) 25(1) Feminist Legal Studies 25–46

Clare McGlynn, ‘The Law Must Protect All Victims Of Image-Based Sexual Abuse – Not Just Upskirting’ Huffington Post, 9 March 2018

Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz

On 28 December 1918 the first woman MP was elected to the House of Commons. She was an Irishwoman, a nationalist, a revolutionary & a suffragette: Constance Markievicz, ‘the Rebel Countess’. Of 1,623 candidates in the election, only 17 were women & only one, Markievicz, succeeded. However, she never took her seat. She was one of 72 Sinn Féin MPs who all followed an abstentionist policy, not recognising the validity of Westminster’s jurisdiction in Ireland.


The full version of this landmark is written by

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Karl McDonald, ‘Countess Markievicz: The Violent Republican Feminist Who Was UK’s First Female MP’ (iNews The Essential Daily Briefing, 8 January 2018)

Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015

Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015

Black and white image of the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act (Wales) 2015
Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0 (

The Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 (VAW Act) is the first piece of legislation in the United Kingdom to explicitly and specifically address violence against women as opposed to ‘domestic violence’ generally. Following a unanimous vote of the National Assembly for Wales, it became law in Wales on 29 April 2015. The key purpose of the VAW Act is to improve the public sector response in relation to the prevention, protection of victims and support of those affected by acts of gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and sexual violence (section 1).

At the very least, the VAW Act reshaped the way in which public sector in Wales is responding to violence against women, domestic abuse, and sexual violence. It made those issues a priority, both for the local government in Wales and for the public sector. It is certainly hoped that, in the long-term, the Act will have a transformative effect on public attitudes towards violence against women.

Olga Jurasz

The VAW Act is significant for women as it sets out practical steps which local government and public sector ought to implement in order to work together to prevent violence against women. Despite a plethora of legislation in England and Wales punishing various forms of violence against women and offering some remedies for victims, thus far there has been little focus on preventative measures within such laws. The VAW Act introduces an important shift in that respect: it focuses on establishing strategic and coherent public sector mechanisms aimed at prevention of and protection from gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and sexual violence in Wales. The Act also aims to strengthen the support available to the victims of gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and sexual violence.

The full version of this landmark is written by Olga Jurasz.

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Welsh Government Llywodraeth Cymru, ‘Violence Against Women and Domestic Abuse’

Matter of an Application of Judicial Review by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission [2015]

Matter of an Application of Judicial Review by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission [2015]

Colour photo of person holding a sign with pro-choice, pro-child, pro-family
Pro-Choice Rally in Dublin by William Murphy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

The symbolic significance of Horner J’s declaration that denial of a woman’s ability to make choices about her pregnancy can in certain circumstances breach her human rights is huge, while the case’s attentiveness to the lived experience of women seeking abortion, coupled with its vindication of the NIHRC strategy, have surely marked the first tentative steps on the road to securing more accessible abortion services in Northern Ireland.

Marie Fox and Sheelagh McGuiness

In 2015, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) took a ground-breaking judicial review seeking a declaration that the law in Northern Ireland breached the human rights of women seeking abortion care. Sitting in the High Court in Belfast, Horner J ruled that the law was not human rights compliant (under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) in denying terminations to women who were carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality or who had become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. While the exceptions carved out in Horner J’s ruling were very limited, his ruling nevertheless represented a significant legal advance. Northern Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in Europe, which has been facilitated by women travelling to access abortion care or accessing abortion pills online. The action taken by the NIHRC and Horner J’s ruling acknowledges the importance of abortion as a human rights issue and carries the potential to contest the criminalisation of the actions of significant numbers of Northern Irish women.

The full version of this landmark is written by Marie Fox and Sheelagh McGuiness.

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Marie Fox and Sheelagh McGuinness ‘The highs and lows of one hectic day in Northern Ireland’s abortion struggle’ The Conversation, 2 July 2017

Ruth Fletcher, Marie Fox, and Sheelagh McGuinness ‘Trial and Error in Northern Irish Abortion Law’ (London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, 7 July 2017)

Amendment to Canon C2 of the Canons of the Church of England

Amendment to Canon C2 of the Canons of the Church of England

On the 17 November 2014 the Church of England’s General Synod formally changed the Church’s Canon Law passing legislation enabling women to be consecrated as bishops, and formally amended Canon C2 of the Canons of the Church of England to state that “a man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop” [C2.1]. For the avoidance of doubt, the Canon also made explicit that “In the forms of service contained in The Book of Common Prayer or in the Ordinal words importing the masculine gender in relation to bishops are construed as including the feminine” [C2.6].

Colour photo of female priests
From Diverse Magazine

For the Church of England, this was the culmination of theological debates over women’s ordination which had spanned the twentieth century. From a legal perspective, it was even more significant. Because the Church of England is an established church, the Canon Law which governs its operation forms part of the law of the land.

The position of Church of England bishops is enshrined in the British parliamentary system, as the House of Lords comprises both Lords Temporal (those holding hereditary or life peerages) and Lords Spiritual (the most senior Church of England bishops). The Lords Spiritual had until this point been the last element of the Houses of Parliament that was legally barred to women, and so this Canon removed the final constitutional barrier to women’s full participation in parliament.

The full version of this landmark is written by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes.

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BBC News, ‘Church of England Formally Approves Plans for Women and Bishops’

Fabiana Barticioti, ‘Archive of the Movement for the Ordination of Women’ (LSE History, 1 December 2016)

The Independent, ‘Church of England Shatters ‘Stained-Glass Ceiling’ by Allowing Female Bishops’

R v Nimmo and Sorley [2014]

R v Nimmo and Sorley [2014]

Colour photo of woman's hand holding an iphone with a laptop on a desk in front of her

R v Nimmo & Sorley gave prominence to online misogynist abuse and the harm it inflicts on its victims. It brought the issue of gender based online abuse into the mainstream. The visibility of women, and the visibility of women suffering for their efforts in campaigning for the recognition of women is a legacy attributable to this case.

Kim Barker

R v Nimmo & Sorley [2014] changed the perception of social media offences in England and Wales. The decision in this case followed a short – but significant – period whereby social media abuses such as trolling, and harassment were prevalent but often remained outside of the focus of the criminal law. It saw the first custodial sentences imposed for sustained abusive messages made via social media platform Twitter to two women – Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy – during a campaign against the replacement of the only woman (Elizabeth Fry) to appear on English banknotes with a man (Winston Churchill).

Colour photo of the unveiling of Elizabeth Fry on the £10 note
The New £10 Note Unveil Event from Bank of England [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (]
The case is significant not only in the development of prosecutions for social media offences, but also because it is the first judgment issuing custodial sentences for abusive social media messages against women. Additionally, it was the first decision handed down under the revised guidance on social media prosecutions from the Director of Public Prosecutions issued in light of Chambers v DPP.

The full version of this landmark is written by Kim Barker.

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CPS, ‘Hate Crime: What is a Hate Crime?’

Ruth Lewis, Michael Rowe, and Claire Wiper ‘Online Abuse of Feminists as An Emerging Form of Violence Against Women and Girls’ [2016] The British Journal of Criminology


Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

The PLDPA is unsatisfactory, insufficient, and ineffective. But it is still a landmark for women. It was the first time that the Irish parliament gave effect to the (very limited) constitutional right to access abortion. The fact that this right had lain effectively unusable for more than 30 years had not only made it more or less illusory but also hidden in plain sight the true scale of its restrictiveness.

Fiona de Londras

Ireland, one of the world’s most restrictive abortion law regimes, permits abortion only where there is a “real and substantial risk” to the pregnant woman’s life and recognises “the right to life of the unborn” in Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution (the 8th Amendment). The combination of the Constitution, very conservative medical and legal professions, case law that resulted in an extremely restrictive interpretation of the 8th Amendment, and a political establishment seemingly unwilling to acknowledge or tackle the harms done by a lack of access to abortion care means that pregnant people who do not wish to continue with their pregnancies in Ireland have very few options.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 provides for abortion where medical practitioners certify “in good faith” that there is a real and substantial risk to the pregnant woman’s life, and that it is their reasonable opinion that this can only be averted by terminating the pregnancy. “Reasonable opinion” is defined as “an opinion formed in good faith which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable” (s.s. 7(1)(a)(ii), 8(1)(b), 9(1)(a)(ii)). If the risk to the pregnant woman’s life emanates from a physical illness two medical practitioners must certify to this, if it emanates from a risk of suicide three practitioners must so certify. In an emergency a single medical practitioner must certify that is it is her reasonable opinion that an abortion is “immediately necessary in order to save the life of the woman” (s. 8(1)(b)).

Should a woman wish to challenge a refusal to provide her with abortion care: she can apply for the decision to be reviewed either by two doctors (where she claims there is a risk to life from physical illness), or by three (where the risk is said to be one of suicide), and that panel should decide within ten days of the review request having been made.

The full version of this landmark is written by Fiona de Londras.

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BBC News, ‘Irish Abortion Bill Becomes Law’

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, ‘Ireland’s Little Christmas Starts A Year of Big Change For Women’s Rights’ (Huffington Post UK, 7 January 2018)

Fiona de Londras, ‘This is Why Repeal Matters’

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘Pregnant Women Face Abortion Ban in Ireland Even if They’re a Suicide Risk’

Jem Collins, ‘ ‘A Flagrant Violation of Women’s Human Rights’: Thousands of Women March to Decriminalise Abortion’ (Human Rights News, Views and Info, 9 March 2017)

Repeal Eight: Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment

Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012

Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012

Colour photo of three hands placing ballot in ballot boxThe Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 introduced a political gender quota in Ireland. Section 42 provides that political parties will have their State funding cut by half, unless at least 30 per cent of their General Election candidates are of each gender. This quota will rise to 40 per cent in 2023.

The Act has already begun to have a transformative effect on Irish politics. It was applied for the first time in the 2016 General Election, in which a record 35 women were elected to the Dáil out of 158 TDs (Teachtaí Dála or members). Women now make up 22 per cent of TDs for the first time; 16 per cent was the highest percentage previously achieved.

Experience elsewhere, and now in Ireland, clearly shows that, without enforceable legal targets or quotas, the numbers of women in politics will not rise. Without this landmark law, the work of the suffrage campaigners would not have been fully vindicated, and Irish democracy would have remained unfinished and incomplete.

Ivana Bacik

The full version of this landmark is written by Ivana Bacik.

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National Women’s Council of Ireland

Birmingham City Council v Abdulla [2016]

Birmingham City Council v Abdulla [2016]

Just over 40 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, 11,000 low-paid women local authority employees brought equal pay claims against Birmingham City Council. Mrs Abdulla was the lead claimant in a test case involving 170 women and four men. The claimants (the ‘Abdulla Group’) were ostensibly too late to bring their claims in the Employment Tribunal, where the limitation period for such claims is fixed at just six months. So they boldly challenged the received wisdom that equal pay claims belonged in the specialist tribunal, and instead lodged their claims at the High Court. When Birmingham City Council challenged this, they took their case all the way to the UK Supreme Court and won.

Abdulla established an important legal principle, namely that women had a right to bring equal pay claims in the civil courts, even when out of time in the Employment Tribunal, and even though it had been unheard of for women to exercise that right during four decades of operation of the equal pay legislation.

The full version of this landmark is written by Harini Iyengar.

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Fawcett Society, Sex Discrimination Law Review (January 2018)

Women’s Equality Party General Election Manifesto 2017: Equal Pay Policies

Concluding Observations of UN Committee against Torture regarding the Magdalene Laundries (2011)

Concluding Observations of UN Committee against Torture regarding the Magdalene Laundries (2011)

In June 2011, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) examined Ireland’s human rights record for the first time. The CAT’s Concluding Observations addressed an issue which had long been ignored by the Irish government, and had not yet been considered by any international human rights treaty body or national or international court: the so-called ‘historic’ abuse of girls and women in Ireland’s Catholic church-run Magdalene Laundries.

Colour photo of wall covered with papers and the phrase Magdalene Justice
Magdalene Justice by William Murphy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]
The CAT noted that it was ‘gravely concerned’ by both ‘the failure by the State party to protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries’, and the State’s failure to investigate allegations of ill-treatment in the institutions. The CAT therefore recommended that the Irish government (a) ‘institute prompt, independent and thorough investigations into all complaints of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries’; (b) ‘in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed’; and (c) ‘ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible’. These recommendations were included in the CAT’s urgent follow-up mechanism, requiring the government to respond within one year.

The full version of this landmark is written by Maeve O’Rourke.

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Nicole Gernon, ‘Magdalene Survivors Say Government Broke Its Promise’

The Journal, ‘UN Committee Against Torture Recommends Inquiry into Magdalene Laundries’

Justice for Magdalenes Research: A Resource for People Affected by and Interested in Ireland’s Magdalene Institutions

Maeve O’Rourke, ‘Ireland and UNCAT One Year On: Magdalene Survivors Still Denied Their Right To An Apology And Redress’ (Human Rights Ireland, 28 May 2012)

Read an interview with Maeve O’Rourke in Rachel Cooper, ‘The forgotten women of Ireland’

Find out more about the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project

Project leaders, Rosemary Auchmuty and Erika Rackley, talk to Elizabeth Woodcraft about the aims, methodology and ambitions for the Project for PodAcademy

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