Ladele v London Borough of Islington [2009] EWCA Civ 1357 CA

religious discrimination | refusal to conduct civil partnership ceremonies

The Court of Appeal has held that a registrar who refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies between same-sex couples on the grounds that to do so would violate her Christian beliefs was not discriminated against on the grounds of her religion.

Ms Ladele worked as a registrar and her duties included registering marriages. When the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced on 5 December 2005, all London Borough of Islington registrars were required to carry out civil partnership ceremonies, shared out in roughly the same proportion as marriage duties. However, Ms Ladele was unable to reconcile her religious beliefs with the new duty and refused to carry out these ceremonies. The council instigated disciplinary proceedings threatening her with dismissal for a failure to comply with its "dignity for all" policy. An employment tribunal found that Ms Ladele had been the victim of direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment contrary to the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/1660).

The Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the employment tribunal decision. Ms Ladele had not been directly discriminated against because the council had required all registrars to carry out civil partnership duties. Therefore Ms Ladele had not been treated less favourably. In considering the finding of indirect discrimination, the EAT accepted that the council’s requirement that all registrars perform civil partnership functions placed Ms Ladele at a particular disadvantage when compared with those who did not share her religious beliefs. However, the requirement was a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aims of promoting equal opportunities and fighting discrimination. In addition, the EAT found that the council's actions, while at times insensitive, did not constitute harassment on the grounds of religious belief.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the EAT that the council's treatment of Ms Ladele did not amount to direct discrimination or harassment under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. It also upheld the decision that the council's policy was justified and therefore it had not indirectly discriminated against Ms Ladele on grounds of her religion.

Having found that there had been no breach of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the Court of Appeal went on to address the effect of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1263), which make it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of services to the public. The Court of Appeal found that it would have been unlawful discrimination under the 2007 Regulations for Ms Ladele to refuse to perform civil partnership ceremonies. Therefore, the council was not only entitled to, but obliged to, insist on her performing those duties once it had designated her as a civil partnership registrar. The council would have been liable for any unlawful action on the part of Ms Ladele. The Court of Appeal commented that it may well be lawful for a registration authority to decide not to designate as civil partnership registrars those registrars who object to civil partnership on the grounds of their religious beliefs, but that this does not undermine the conclusion that the approach taken by the London Borough of Islington was not discriminatory.

Case transcript of Ladele v London Borough of Islington (on the BAILII website)

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