A London borough has won its appeal against a ruling that it unlawfully discriminated against a Christian registrar who refused to perform same-sex civil partnerships.
The ruling was issued in favour of Islington Council just before Christmas, and has delighted both secular and Christian equalities campaigners.
Ms Lillian Ladele had said that she could not carry out same-sex ceremonies “as a matter of religious conscience”.
In July 2008, an employment tribunal found that Islington Council in north London had discriminated against her. But on 19 December 2008 an appeal tribunal (EAT) upheld the council’s appeal aginst this judgment at a central London hearing.
It ruled that the earlier tribunal had “erred in law” and there was no basis for concluding that any “discrimination had been established”.
The appeals tribunal declared: “The council were not taking disciplinary action against Ms Ladele for holding her religious beliefs; they did so because she was refusing to carry out civil partnership ceremonies and this involved discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The council were entitled to take the view that they were not willing to connive in that practice by relieving Ms Ladele of the duties, notwithstanding that her refusal was the result of her strong and genuinely-held Christian beliefs.”
The judgment went on to say that not all of the council management team treated Ms Ladele's beliefs sensitively. It also said there were “unsatisfactory features” about the way the council handled the matter and criticised the heavy handed approach adopted.
Ms Ladele's legal representatives say she intends to appeal again. "She wants to make it clear that, whatever other commentators may have said, this case has never been an attempt to undermine the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender communities (LGBT)."
The appeal judgment has been welcomed by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) and by other civic, religious and secular groups campaigning for equality in public life.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society (NSS), said: “This is the right outcome for this case. Although Ms Ladele may not have been treated well by her colleagues, the main principle that has been established is that gay and lesbian people are entitled to equal treatment from a public service provider. Religious convictions cannot be used as an excuse to deprive citizens of their legal rights.”
Councillor John Gilbert, on behlaf of Islington Council said: "This judgment provides clarity for employers across the country in requiring their employees to act in a non-discriminatory manner when discharging their public service duties."