Council struck common sense balance between equal treatment and freedom of conscience

15 December 2009

Today the Court of Appeal ruled that Islington council was right to expect employee Lillian Ladele to perform same-sex civil partnerships as part of her role as registrar.

The judgment, which upheld the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision of December 2008, also said that, in order to avoid discriminating unlawfully on grounds of sexual orientation, the council had no alternative but to require Ms Ladele to perform civil partnerships duties along with all the other registrars.

Upholding the arguments made by Liberty, who intervened in the case, the Master of the Rolls said:

“…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 she considers contrary to her religious beliefs, the legislature has decided that the requirements of a modern liberal democracy….include outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on grounds of sexual orientation.”

Corinna Ferguson, Liberty’s legal officer who specialises in religious freedom cases, said:

“Freedom of conscience is incredibly precious but other people have rights and freedoms too. Employers can’t be expected to promote equal treatment under the law if they must also accommodate discrimination on the part of their employees.

This common sense judgment can be contrasted with cases in which people of faith have been punished for doing no harm and Liberty looks forward to representing Nadia Eweida in her Court of Appeal battle with British Airways in the New Year.”

In addition to intervening in the Islington Council case, Liberty represents Nadia Eweida, the Christian BA check-in employee banned from wearing a small cross on a chain, whose case is due to be heard by the Court of Appeal in January 2010.

Contact: Mairi Clare Rodgers on 020 7378 3656 or 07973831128

Notes to Editors

1) Ms Ladele had been a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Islington Council since 2002. After the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force she was designated a civil partnership registrar, along with all other registrars in the Council. She refused to officiate at civil partnerships because she believed same sex unions to be “contrary to god’s law”. Following the commencement of disciplinary proceedings by the Council Ms Ladele brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for religious discrimination. She was successful but in December 2008 the Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the Tribunal’s decision.
2) Under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 it is unlawful for public authorities and other service providers to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. The Regulations include exceptions for religious organisations.
3) In October 2006 BA check-in worker Nadia Eweida, a committed Christian, was suspended for refusing to remove a small cross worn around her neck. The employment appeal tribunal last year found that this was not discriminatory - this ruling has set a dangerous precedent for freedom of conscience in the workplace.