The abstract legal subject of liberal Western democracies fails to reflect the fundamental reality of the human condition, which is vulnerability. While it is universal and constant, vulnerability is manifested differently in individuals, often resulting in significant differences in position and circumstance. In spite of such differences, political theory positions equality as the foundation for law and policy, and privileges autonomy, independence and self-sufficiency. This article traces the origins and development of a critical legal theory that brings human vulnerability to the fore in assessing individual and state responsibility and redefining the parameters of social justice. The theory arose in the context of struggling with the limitations of equality in situations I will refer to as examples of ‘inescapable’ inequality. Some paired social relationships, such as parent/child or employer/employee are inherently, even desirably, unequal relationships. In recognition of that fact, the law creates different levels of responsibility, accepting disparate levels of authority, privilege and power. Those laws, and the norms and rules they reflect, must carefully define the limits of those relationships, while also being attentive to how the social institutions in which they exist and operate (i.e. the family and the marketplace) are structured and functioning.
On the basis of a few initial judgments, the literature has identified an emerging vulnerable groups approach under Article 14 ECHR. This article enquires into how this trend has played out in subsequent case law. It provides an analysis that is firmly anchored in the full body of the European Court of Human Rights' jurisprudence under Article 14, and asks whether the emerging vulnerable groups approach is innovative when assessed against that background. The article concludes that, while group vulnerability under Article 14 continues to have the function of facilitating stricter review and a more substantive approach in the case at hand, this may seem more novel than it actually is, since the traditional ‘suspect’ discrimination grounds approach could be described in exactly the same terms. Instead, the article argues that the novelty involved rather seems to be the potential of vulnerability to function as a tool for identifying and elaborating the instances when variations in approach may be appropriate even within the same discrimination ground. Finally, it exhibits how classic approaches are still being applied by the Court where vulnerability could be raised, and how the Grand Chamber of the Court still seems extremely cautious in adopting vulnerability as an analytic lens.
When the European Convention on Human Rights was drawn up in 1948, the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity were not considered by its drafters. At that time, the discussion of the rights of LGBT people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuals and Transsexuals), which has at present become very vivid, was virtually non-existent. As a consequence, the legal protection provided to heterosexual and cisgender people in the areas covered by the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8), the right to marry and found a family (Article 12), and the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14) was inaccessible to the non-heterosexual and non-cisgender community. The current article elucidates on the topic of the gradual opening up of the European Court of Human Rights in applying the Convention to sexual minorities, and argues that the Court has made significant progress in defending the rights of LGBT ever since its installation in 1959. The article describes the Court’s ultimate balancing act, in which it oscillates between progressiveness and reticence, never fulfilling the role of protagonist but still aiming at providing a most fundamental principle of human rights law: equality.
Oslo Law Review
3-2017, volume 4
Oslo Law Review was established in 2014, and publishes research articles from all areas of legal scholarship, as well as interdisciplinary articles or articles that engage with law from the perspective of other related disciplines (e.g. political science, anthropology, sociology, linguistics and philosophy).
Professor Lee A. Bygrave, Department of Private Law, University of Oslo
Professor Vibeke Blaker Strand, Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo
Professor Ingunn Ikdahl, Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo
Doctoral Research Fellow Bård Sverre Tuseth, Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo
Professor Vidar Halvorsen, Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo
Doctoral Research Fellow Anders Narvestad, Department of Public and International Law, University of Oslo
Professor Alla Pozdnakova, Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo
Professor Shaheen Sardar Ali, University of Warwick
Professor Bert Jaap Koops, University of Tilburg
Professor Elise Poillot, University of Luxembourg
Professor Giovanni Sartor, European University Institute/University of Bologna
Professor Emeritus Carsten Smith, University of Oslo
Professor Lawrence Solum, Georgetown University
Design and typesetting: Type-it AS, Trondheim
Cover design: Scandinavian University Press, Sissel Tjernstad
ISSN online: 2387-3299
The journal is published by Scandinavian University Press (Universitetsforlaget) on behalf of the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo.