Britain's legal commitment to women's rights is unquestioned. The combined verbiage of the much-heralded Equal Pay Act of 19701 and the Sex Discrimination Act of 19752 probably provide the most comprehensive formulation of the rights of women to be found in any constitution or law in any place in the world. But the effect of these laws has been a disappointment. The British Parliament (and even more so its parliamentary draftsmen) must be blamed for the current situation, where the most important progress in rights for British women is the product of the courts of the European Economic Community and the Council of Europe.
These two Acts, unfortunately, "were clearly intended not to be mutually exclusive." 3 But it does not work in practice. Two of the justices of the House of Lords made appropriate comments on that issue in Shields v. Coomes (Holdings) Ltd. Wrote Lord Bridge: "The particular provisions designed to prevent overlapping between the two Acts are complex and it may often be difficult to determine whether a particular matter of complaint fails to be redressed under one Act or the other."4 Wrote Lord Denning: "The task of construing them is like fitting together a jig-saw puzzle. The pieces are all jumbled together, in two boxes."5 And not only that, the very verbiage tends to be verbose and confusing.
This is in stark contrast to the clarity and simplicity of the laws of the European Community discussed in the previous chapter.
But language infirmities are not the only obstacles to proper enforcement. The Acts themselves lack desirable and desired enforcement procedures. And, in addition, there are too many substantive gaps.
"Some of the gaps," according to J. M. Steiner, 6 "have been filled by the courts arguing by analogy from one Act to the other, as Browne Wilkinson, J., did in Jenkins v. Kingsgate." 7"There is little doubt," concludes Steiner, "that these gaps have been filled with our EEC obligations in mind."8
But Steiner is wrong. Significant gaps have not been filled, especially in the areas of personal autonomy. Britain's laws on women's rights say little, for example, about family planning and abortion in the wave of new medical and scientific techniques available for birth control.
There is one more important reason why there are more United Kingdom cases before the Luxembourg and Strasbourg courts than cases from any other country. It is simply because Britain does not have a one-document constitution encompassing a bill of rights. 9 There are no "constitutional" provisions on