Category: UK

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.

Learn More

Fawcett Society, Sex Discrimination Law Review (January 2018)

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

Policing and Crime Act 2009, Section 14

Policing and Crime Act 2009, Section 14

Coming into force on 1 April 2010, section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 made it a strict liability offence in England and Wales to pay for, or promise to pay for, the sexual services of a person who has been coerced, deceived, forced or threatened by a third party into prostitution.

Colour photo of pound coins
Pound Coins by William Warby [CC BY 2.0 (]
It is irrelevant where in the world the sexual services are to be provided, and whether the buyer is aware of the exploitative conduct of the third party. “Exploitative conduct” includes force, threats (whether or not relating to violence) or any other form of coercion; or they practise any form of deception.

Prostitution is undeniably gendered, and the significance of section 14 lies in the ways in which it sought to account for the role of gender inequality in situating agency. The amendment marked a shift in attention for prostitution legislation in England and Wales, away from the public nuisance discourse towards a more informed understanding of the role of material inequalities and the operations of coercion.

Fiona Vera-Gray

Section 14 is a landmark in women’s legal history not only as it was the result of concerted and coordinated campaigning from feminist activists both within and outside of government. It also marked an important shift in policy focus for England and Wales, moving legislative attention away from women and onto the choices of men.

The full version of this landmark is written by F Vera-Gray.

Learn More

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘New Law on Forced Prostitution Weakened, Say Women’s Groups’

Rights of Women, ‘Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 A Crucial Step Towards Ending Commercial Sexual Exploitation’

Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002

Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002

Political parties now seem to have embraced the importance of gender in their selection processes as an integral part of modernisation and election strategies, recognising it as a matter of democratic legitimacy as well as individual justice. Achieving women’s full and equal participation in elected bodies is one of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by 193 United Nations member states (including the UK) in 2015

Susan Atkins

The Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 was an enabling measure which allowed political parties to change their internal processes to improve women’s representation in elected bodies. The Act allowed political parties in the UK to use positive discrimination to tackle persistent under-representation of women in Parliament and other elected bodies. It did so by excluding from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Sex Discrimination Order 1976 (which applied to Northern Ireland) any arrangements made by political parties for the purposes of reducing inequality in the numbers of men and women elected as candidates.

Colour photo of the House of Lords during the Queen's speech
The Queen’s Speech from UK Parliament [CC BY-NC 2.0 (]
Proposals for a Bill were announced in the first Queen’s speech after the 2001 election, which saw a fall in the numbers of women MPs. This was in marked contrast to the doubling of the numbers of women MPs (to 18 per cent) following the 1997 election in which all women shortlists had been used by the Labour Party for half its “winnable” seats, until stopped by a legal challenge.

Passed with all party support in 2002, the Act put positive action to increase female representation in Parliament firmly on the map. Representation of women as MPs (which had remained at under 5 per cent until 1987) has increased at every following election up to 30 per cent by December 2016.

The full version of this landmark is written by Susan Atkins.


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Home of Commons Library, ‘Women in Parliament and Government’ (SN01250, 12 July 2017)

The Telegraph Media Group, ‘Labour to Change Law on All-Women MP Shortlists’

White v White [2000]

White v White [2000]

Colour photo of identical town houses painted different colours, yellow and greyPrior to the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, on marriage a woman’s property passed in common law to her husband. Since then married women have been able to own their own property, but English law has never adopted a system of community of property, as is normal in many American states and continental jurisdictions, according to which property is equally shared between the spouses. As a result, in English law, during marriage each spouse owns the property they brought into the marriage and the property they earned during it. Historically, this worked to the disadvantage of women and meant that until the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act the husband could on divorce walk away with all or a large proportion of assets.

The real significance of this case is that it is one of the few areas of law in which care work is valued and recognised, and even said to be valued as equal to money-making… [However] if the law is serious about the claim in White v White that we should value equally caregiving and money making we need vast changes in the law and societal structures. The achievement in White v White hardly deserves being called a scratch on the surface of that aim.

Jonathan Herring

The decision of White v White is one of the most striking acknowledgements of the value of carework in the law, and provides a powerful statement of equality between husbands and wives.

The full version of this landmark is written by Jonathan Herring.


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BBC News, ‘Divorce Money Battles Hot Up’

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘How London Earned its Status as Divorce Capital of the World’

Jonathan Herring, ‘All’s Fair in Love and…’ (2013) New Law Journal’s-fair-love-and…

Islam v Secretary of State for the Home Department, R v Immigration Appeal Tribunal and Another, ex parte Shah (Conjoined Appeals) [1999]

Islam v Secretary of State for the Home Department, R v Immigration Appeal Tribunal and Another, ex parte Shah (Conjoined Appeals) [1999]

Women represent half of the world’s 19.6 million refugees. Women and children are often part of large-scale movements of people who flee persecution and human rights abuses, poverty and lack of economic opportunities as well as escaping conflicts and devastation in their home countries.

Colour photo of tour of refugee camp in Jordan with the UN Secretary General
Jordan – UN Secretary-General meets with Syrian Refugee Women and Girls by UN Women [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (]
The joined appeals by Shah and Islam concerned two women from Pakistan who were subjected to serious physical abuse by their husbands and were forced to leave their homes. They applied for asylum in the UK, claiming that they feared if returned to Pakistan they would be subjected to domestic violence from which there was no state protection, as well as severe sanctions arising from false allegations of adultery made against them. The House of Lords decision is of major significance, as it is the first time the highest court in the UK recognised gender as a protected characteristic and women as a particular social group within the meaning of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The full version of this landmark is written Nora Honkala.


Learn More

Asylum Aid: Protection from Persecution, ‘The Women’s Project’

Refugee Council, ‘Refugee Council Briefing: The Experiences of Refugee Women in the UK’

UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, ‘Figures at a Glance’

UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, ‘The 1951 Refugee Convention’ 

Webb v EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd (No 2) [1995]

Webb v EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd (No 2) [1995]

Webb is a landmark decision because it emphasises the reality that employers must accept – pregnancy is a normal part of the lives of many working women

Debra Morris

Black and white photo of a pregnant womanIn Webb v EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd the House of Lords held that dismissal on grounds of pregnancy was contrary to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, even though a man in similar circumstances (i.e. unable to work for a time) would also have been dismissed. Significantly, it was finally recognised that no comparison (e.g. to a sick man) was necessary to establish discrimination against a pregnant woman.

Looking back, we can appreciate how the English courts made heavy weather of this issue. It took the dedicated Ms Webb eight years, and a trip to Luxembourg (the location of the Court of Justice of the European Union) to win her case. Her tenacity is to be admired, especially upon learning that she was only a teenager when she was told that she would be sacked for being pregnant.

As Anne Morris commented at the time: “Nowhere was the reluctance to promote equality of opportunity for pregnant workers more apparent than in the long, tortuous saga of Mrs Webb”.

The full version of this landmark is written by Debra Morris.

Learn More

Clare McGlynn, ‘Pregnancy Dismissals and the Webb Litigation’ (1996) 4 Feminist Legal Studies

The Independent, ‘Law Report: Pregnancy Dismissal Amounted to Sex Discrimination’

R v Ahluwalia [1993]

R v Ahluwalia [1993]

Ahluwalia was an overwhelmingly positive legal landmark for women. However, the gendered nature of the justice system remains. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the dilution of the sexual infidelity exclusion [in R v Clinton], as well as in interpretations of the requirement to focus on the circumstances of the defendant’s loss of control. It is clear that despite progress made, the pervasiveness of gendered stereotyping around (battered) women remains.

Siobhan Weare

The landmark case of Ahluwalia liberalised the defence of provocation for women who kill their abusive partners, and acknowledged Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) could be a relevant characteristic of the defendant’s for the purposes of the defence. The case began a process of law reform, culminating in the abolition of provocation and its replacement with a new partial defence to murder; loss of control, found in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.


The full version of this landmark is written by Siobhan Weare.


Learn More

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘I Wanted Him to Stop Hurting Me’

The Independent, ‘Law Report: Battered Woman Syndrome Relevant to Defence’

Justice for Women

Law Commission, Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide (Law Com No 304, 2006) (EasyRead version)

Southall Black Sisters,

Southall Black Sisters, ‘Kiranjit Ahluwalia’

Southall Black Sisters, ‘Provoked: The Story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia’

Patricia Scotland

Patricia Scotland

In June 2007, Patricia Scotland (1955- ) became the first woman – and to date only woman – to take up the position of Attorney General for England, Wales and Northern Ireland since its foundation in 1315. She was also the first black woman, and indeed the first black person – and only black person – to be elevated to the post. She was in office from June 2007 until May 2010 when the Labour party lost the general election, after which she became the shadow Attorney General until 2011. On her appointment, members of the press described her as the most prominent black woman in government and as a leading voice on racial, feminist and equality issues.

However, this was not her only ‘first’.

Colour photo of Patricia Scotland sitting on a couch
Patricia Scotland, from Commonwealth Secretariat [CC BY-NC 2.0(]
In 1991, she became the youngest and first black woman to ever become Queen’s Counsel. She was also the first black woman to be appointed Deputy High Court Judge, Recorder and Master of Middle Temple. In 2001, she became the first black woman ever to be appointed as a minister in a UK government when she was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for the Lord Chancellor’s Department.

The full version of this landmark is written by Linda Mulcahy.


Learn More

Chuka Umunna, ‘The Duty to Inspire’ (New Statesman Media, 30 August 2007)

Dan Newling, ‘The Future QC Born Into A Family of 14’ (17 September 2009)

Patricia Scotland QC, ‘Who I Am’

Patricia Scotland QC, ‘News’

Finance Act 1988, Section 32

Finance Act 1988, Section 32

Section 32 of the Finance Act 1988 provides that the income of a woman living with her husband shall not be treated as his income for income tax purposes. It is an important legal landmark for women. Before 1988, a wife’s self-reported income was included with that of her husband for tax purposes automatically. Separate taxation affords wives the option to ignore marriage for tax purposes, and to be assessed for tax separately.

Colour photo of woman holding an ipad that has word finance open the screenIt was introduced in 1988 by Nigel Lawson, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, for reasons related to the social advantages that would be achieved by encouraging women’s fiscal independence. It was a lobbying victory of the UK’s Women Budget Group; and, indeed, its introduction in 1988 was in many ways a feminist victory.

In addition to the financial independence for women it fostered, separate taxation of married couples was heralded for the fiscal privacy now afforded to women.

The full version of this landmark is written by Ann Mumford.


Learn More

Sisterhood and After Research Team, ‘The Impact of Legislation on Women’s Lives’ (British Library, 8 March 2013) 

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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The landmarks that appear on this website were chosen by participants in the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project.

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