Court rejects appeal in Christian registrar case

Tue, 15 Dec 2009

Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar who was told to perform same-sex civil partnerships or face dismissal, has lost her case for religious discrimination at the Court of Appeal.

Lawyers acting for Miss Ladele say she intends to appeal to the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court.

She originally won a religious discrimination case against Islington Council at an employment tribunal in July 2008.

But that success was overturned months later by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) who said Miss Ladele had been treated badly but it did not amount to religious discrimination.

This morning a ruling handed down in the Court of Appeal by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, upheld the EAT’s decision.

The court accepted that Miss Ladele had been treated unfairly by Islington Council. The Council had discussed confidential disciplinary information about Miss Ladele with the Council’s LGBT forum.

The court said this was a breach of her rights and a breach of the Council’s own code of conduct.

The Council had also treated her letter of request for a reasonable accommodation of her religious beliefs as a freestanding act of “gross misconduct.” The court said this was an “unjustifiable characterisation”.

The Court of Appeal said that “Islington did not treat her fairly”. However, the court ruled this did not amount to religious discrimination.

The court said it wasn’t an act of religious discrimination to designate Miss Ladele as a civil partnership registrar.

Lord Neuberger said: “It appears to me that, however much sympathy one may have with someone such as Ms Ladele, who is faced with choosing between giving up a post she plainly appreciates or officiating at events which she considers to be contrary to her religious beliefs, the legislature has decided that the requirements of a modern liberal democracy, such as the United Kingdom, include outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on grounds of sexual orientation, subject only to very limited exceptions.”

Reacting to the ruling, The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “We are naturally disappointed at this decision and Miss Ladele intends to appeal. It is an important case of religious liberty not just for Lillian but for Christians working throughout the public sector.

“Several local authorities have been able to accommodate the religious beliefs of registrars who have a moral objection to same-sex partnerships. It is a shame Islington didn’t take the same approach.

“It is important to realise that not a single same-sex couple was denied, or would have been denied, access to a civil partnership registration at Islington Council due to Miss Ladele’s stance. There are plenty of registrars at Islington to meet the Council’s obligations.

“Looking at the matter more widely, Government regulations in this area have not done enough to protect religious liberty. Time and again, equality and diversity laws mean Christians are pushed to the back of the queue.”

The ruling was welcomed by Islington Council, the homosexual lobby group Stonewall, civil liberties group Liberty, and the National Secular Society.