Christian registrar registers European challenge

16 Oct 2012

Ms Ladele, a former Registrar at the London Borough of Islington, has also brought her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), questioning whether it was a breach of her human rights to be compelled to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies when she objected to doing so on the grounds of her religious belief.

Her complaint is that domestic law failed adequately to protect her right to manifest her religion, contrary to Article 9 of the Convention, taken alone and in conjunction with Article 14, which relates to discrimination based on religion.

The Court of Appeal held that Ms Ladele was not indirectly discriminated against.

It determined that Ms Ladele's proper and genuine desire to have her religious views relating to marriage respected should not be permitted to override the Council's concern to ensure that all Registrars manifest equal respect for couples, regardless of their sexual orientation.  In essence, any indirect discrimination was justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 

Ms Ladele, however, was not convinced by the justification argument.  There is a question over the precise nature of the legitimate aim in this case.  There is also a question over whether it was proportionate for the Council to insist on her performing civil partnership ceremonies, when accommodating her would not have affected the overall service provided by the Council.  The final question is whether permitting Ms Ladele not to perform civil partnerships would really have been overriding the Council's aim for equality.

Equality legislation in relation to sexual orientation effectively took precedence over her religious belief. That is sometimes right and justifiable. Clearly, in the context of employment, an individual does not have an unfettered right to manifest their belief in whatever way they choose.

Nevertheless, there does seem to be little practical reason why the Council could not have accommodated Ms Ladele because of her religious beliefs.  The manifestation of her belief, namely permitting her not to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies, would not have infringed anyone else's rights in that there were enough Registrars able to provide this service. 

Our view:

There is a delicate balance to be struck and the argument being made is that, in this situation, the UK Courts have got the balance wrong by interpreting the relevant discrimination law too narrowly and thereby not affording sufficient protection for the rights of those with religious beliefs. 

Whether Ms Ladele's human rights in relation to manifesting her religion and to discrimination have been infringed are now questions before the ECHR.