Key Cases to Watch From the World’s High Courts - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Key Cases to Watch From the World’s High Courts

Key Cases to Watch From the World’s High Courts

By Sean Braswell

Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, one of three current and former sex workers who initiated a challenge to Canada's prostitution laws, reacts at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa December 20, 2013.
SourceChris Wattle/Reuters


Just because Justice Scalia doesn’t put much stock in what other high courts have to say doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.

By Sean Braswell

For those of us who are U.S. Supreme Court watchers, this past week served up another key decision on America’s campaign finance laws. But the highest appellate court in the states is not the only one that has been busy lately.

Here’s a quick glance at some of the recent decisions and pending cases before some of the world’s other supreme courts.

Key Rulings: Canada, Denmark and Zimbabwe

Canada Weighs Decriminalizing Prostitution

• What Happened: Last December, the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa struck down the nation’s anti-prostitution laws because they were overbroad and did not adequately protect the health and safety of prostitutes.

• What It Means: Canada’s Conservative-led parliament has one year to remedy the law, or be left with no law at all. Will Canada adopt the Nordic model and go after the johns by criminalizing only the buying of sex? Or will they, like Germany, go for outright legalization and regulate the world’s oldest profession like, well, any other profession? Many are skeptical that legislators will make the right call. As one of the claimants in the underlying case put it, “The thing here is politicians, though they may know us as clients, they do not understand how sex work works.”

Denmark and Freedom of Speech for Terrorist-Affiliated Media

• What Happened: In a February ruling, Denmark’s Supreme Court upheld the closure of the Kurdish channel Roj TV on grounds it was merely a mouthpiece for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, regarded by Europe, the U.S. and Turkey as a terrorist organization. The judgment is now being challenged before the European Court of Human Rights.

• What It Means: While applauded by the Turkish government, many argue that Denmark’s anti-terrorism law is being misused to suppress a minority group’s media outlet in countervention of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 19). “People with a special interest, a specific language or a separate culture have the right to be able to access a media outlet,” says Danish media law expert Oluf Jørgensen.

Zimbabwe Orders State to Compensate Rape Victim

• What Happened: In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ordered the state to compensate a rape victim who was denied an abortion (due to the negligence of state police and doctors) and forced to go through an unwanted pregnancy after she was brutally attacked in her home eight years ago.

• What It Means: Violence against women has grown during the recent economic turmoil in Zimbabwe, and abortion remains illegal except when the pregnancy results from rape or poses a threat to the woman’s life. Still the supreme court’s decision is being heralded as a substantial victory for women’s reproductive rights in the nation. “This ruling sends a clear signal,” says Nyasha Chingore, a lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, “that it is time for the Zimbabwean government to prioritize the rights of women, particularly the survivors of sexual- and gender-based violence — it has failed them too many times in the past.”

Other Cases of Note

• Australia’s Top Court Recognizes Third Gender: Although still well short of the 56 gender identities recognized by Facebook, Australia’s High Court recently ruled that a person can be legally recognized as neither male nor female, but gender-neutral or “non-specific.”

Germany’s Constitutional Court Curbs Political Influence on Public Broadcaster: Politicians (or those with a close affiliation to a German political party) comprise 44 percent of the management board of public broadcaster ZDF and therefore wield too much influence over its decisions, a violation of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press, according to a recent decision by the nation’s constitutional court.

U.K. Supreme Court Considers Protections for Non-Employee Whistle-blowers: In a likely continuance of the trend toward expanding the ranks of corporate whistle-blowers, the U.K. Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer whether whistle-blowers working for limited liability partnerships, including many hedge funds and law firms, will receive the legal protections afforded to whistle-blowing employees of more conventional company types.

Israel to Examine Whether Top Officials Committed War Crimes: Israel’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear evidence that senior Israeli officials, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, committed war crimes during the country’s attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza in 2008.

Those are just some of the highlights of the global high-court docket. Which cases are you watching? Please share below.

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