The PILS Project Newsletter




Welcome to the first PILS Project Newsletter. In this edition we will provide a brief update on the work we have done since the Project began just over a year ago and talk a little about what we hope to achieve over the duration of the pilot. We have also tried to give a flavour of the types of public interest cases that are currently being taken. We hope over time the PILS Project Newsletter will became a useful resource for those interested in public interest litigation and we invite you to stay with us as we tackle that aspiration!



Word from our Chair, Paul Mageean: The present climate for public interest litigation

The PILS Project has defined public interest litigation as the use of litigation or legal action which seeks to advance the cause of minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals, or which raises issues of broad public concern. We are interested in supporting cases that will have a strategic impact.

Northern Ireland has a relatively long history of this type of litigation partly as a result of the conflict in this jurisdiction. The PILS Project wants to make sure that the vibrant public interest litigation culture we have is not lost as Northern Ireland normalises. We want to ensure that the impact of these types of cases can now be felt in non-conflict related areas and can lead to improvements in the equality and human rights situation here.

We also want to expand the number of lawyers doing this type of work, in part at least by trying to develop a more vibrant pro bono culture in the profession, and particularly in those parts of the profession that might in the past have tended not to become involved in this type of work.

We are also interested in addressing the barriers to public interest litigation, for instance by working with statutory funders and also through the development of protective costs orders.



PILS Project Update

PILS Project UpdateOur aim is to advance human rights and equality in Northern Ireland through the use of and support for public interest litigation.

We spent the majority of our first year establishing a Stakeholder Forum and Case Support procedures as well as setting up solid governance structures. We hope to build up our case support work and enhance relationships with our Stakeholder Forum members in the future. As our Chair mentioned, we also hope to identify and tackle barriers to public interest litigation through conferences/seminars and publications as well as liaising with statutory bodies who have a duty to protect human rights/access to justice. Finally, we will strive to foster a more co-ordinated culture of pro bono work within the legal profession; something we hope to start work on in the coming year.

We would like to thank those of you who are already doing important work in this area and those who are starting to think about how to get involved in this type of work for your energy and support. We look forward to working with you in the future.



Recent public interest cases

Civil claim for damages against the Chief Constable for Omagh bombing unsuccessful

A claim for damages against the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the Secretary of State for negligence in their handling of the Omagh bombing has been unsuccessful. The case of Mr Rush, whose wife died in the bomb and who was injured himself, was struck out after it was found that the police had no duty of care to members of the public who suffered injury in this particular attack.

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Female Birmingham council workers win £200m equal pay case

More than 4,000 female council workers have won a case that could lead to an estimated £200 million in payouts, on the basis that bonuses paid to men and not women constitute sex discrimination.

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Female single mother solider wins discrimination claim against the army

A female soldier has won a case of sex and racial discrimination against the army. It was found that the army’s policy of soldiers being deployment-ready 24/7 put Tilern DeBique at a particular disadvantage as a single mother whose extended family could not help with her child care responsibilities because they were foreign nationals who, under immigration rules, were only allowed to stay in the UK for a short time.

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Christian counsellor refuses to conduct same-sex therapy

A Christian relationship counsellor who was dismissed because he refused to conduct same-sex therapy has lost his claim that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his religion or belief. Lord Justice Laws’ judgment in the case reinforced the need to balance protection for religious beliefs with the independence of the law, arguing that “judges…administer the law in accordance with the judicial oath: without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”.

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Nurse banned from wearing crucifix at work losses discrimination claim

An NHS nurse who was moved to a desk job for wearing a crucifix at work has lost her discrimination claim against the NHS because the policy was reasonable on health and safety grounds.

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PSNI injury benefit policy found to be discriminatory to unmarried partners of deceased police officers

The unmarried partner of a deceased police officer who was killed on duty has won a claim for discrimination against the PSNI for its refusal to award her special Injury benefit. It was found that Ms Morrison had been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of her marital status because the benefit was provided only to spouses and civil partners.

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Prisoner disenfranchisement and the right to vote

The European Court of Human Rights has reaffirmed the right of prisoners to vote in a recent case taken against Austria. The case draws comparisons to the 2007 case of Hirst v UK in which the UK government was found to be in violation of the Convention for its blanket ban on prisoner voting. Significantly, the UK still has not rectified the issue meaning that prisoners in last month’s general election were again disenfranchised.

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Settlement in discrimination case that clarified the law

A Warrenpoint woman, whose case clarified disability discrimination law and potentially extended disability discrimination protection, has reached a settlement of £125,000 with her employer. The case highlights the potential to advance human rights, equality and the public interest even where the case settles.

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Supreme Court declares sex offenders regulation incompatible with ECHR Article 8

In this case the UK Supreme Court declared that the requirement that former sex offenders notify the police of where they are living and when they travel abroad for the rest of their lives without review was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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Other relevant public interest cases

Detention of mentally-ill immigrant pending deportation was illegal

Prisoners in psychiatric hospitals not entitled to equal rights with other patients in receipt of welfare benefits


Prisoner with learning disabilities discriminated against by authorities who should have done more to enable him to participate in programmes which could have helped him gain earlier release


The European Court of Human Rights found that the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) does not breach Articles 6 or 8 of the Convention


High Court found hospital liable for patient’s suicide signifying an important shift in the law relating to public authorities’ responsibility to preserve life under the Human Rights Act


High Court found that DPP/PPS officers should have given consideration to the offence of perjury regarding certain police officers arising out of evidence given into the death of Mrs Nora McCabe on 9th July 1981. However the relief requested by the applicant was refused because of the delay involved in taking the case which the court judged would “make any positive decision to prosecute at this stage unfair and wholly disproportionate”



Ongoing public interest cases

First challenge to the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007

Groundbreaking privacy case

Challenge to UK policy on gay and lesbian asylum seekers

Australian same sex couple’s foster application refused



Other Public Interest initiatives

The Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) was established around the same time as the PILS Project. It is a project of the Dublin-based Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) and aims to facilitate and promote the use of law in the public interest for the advancement and protection of human rights and the benefit of marginalised and disadvantaged people.

Click here for further information:



About us

The PILS Project is an independent organisation established in May 2009 which seeks to advance human rights and equality in Northern Ireland through the use of and support for public interest litigation.

For further information, click here:

About PIL

Public interest litigation is defined as the use of litigation or legal action which seeks to advance the cause of minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals, or which raises issues of broad public concern.

For further information, click here:

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