Conflict of rights

16th December 2009

The Court of Appeal has today upheld the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision in the case of London Borough of Islington v Ladele.

The case involved a Christian registrar who refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies, due to her genuine and firmly held religious beliefs. Her refusal created tension amongst her colleagues (two of whom were homosexual) and contravened Islington’s “Dignity for All” Policy. The council disciplined Ms Ladele and threatened her with dismissal if she continued to refuse to conduct civil partnership work. She brought a claim for direct and indirect religious discrimination and harassment.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that Ms Ladele’s claim of direct discrimination must fail, as she was not claiming that she had been treated differently from others on the grounds of her religion. On the contrary, her complaint was that she had not been treated differently because an exception had not been made due to her religious convictions. In relation to Ms Ladele’s claim of indirect discrimination, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that she had not been subject to indirect discrimination since the treatment accorded to her resulted from her refusal to carry out civil partnership work, not from treatment as a result of her religion.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the Employment Appeal Tribunal that the Religion or Belief Regulations 2003 did not entitle Ms Ladele to refuse to perform civil partnership duties because of her beliefs, and that she had not been discriminated against by the council.

The Court of Appeal went on to confirm that the right not to suffer discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation takes precedence over any right a person would otherwise have to practice such discrimination due to their religion or beliefs (subject to the very clear exception set out in the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 where a person is employed for the purposes of an organised religion).