Next week, the European Court of Human Rights will hear four claims against the UK that raise perhaps the most sensitive rights of all: the freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed by article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the freedom to hold religious views is absolute, article 9 makes it clear that the freedom to manifest one’s religion is subject to certain limitations, including those designed to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
All four claimants are practising Christians who achieved some notoriety when their claims were dismissed by tribunals and courts in England. Lillian Ladele lost her post as a registrar of births, deaths and marriages after her employer required her to register civil partnerships. Gary McFarlane was dismissed from his job as a relationship counsellor because his employer believed he would not provide sexual counselling to same-sex couples. Nadia Eweida was suspended without pay by British Airways until her employer changed its policy and allowed uniformed staff to display religious symbols. Shirley Chaplin lost her job as a nurse because she refused to remove her crucifix when her hospital brought in v-necked tunics for staff.
Ladele has secured the services of Dinah Rose QC as her leading counsel – thereby greatly increasing her chances of success – and this piece will be mainly about her claim. Rose stresses that, contrary to the information note published by the Strasbourg court, Ladele’s case is not based on article 9 alone. That is not because the court’s case law on article 9 cases is against her, she explains. It is because her case is based on religious discrimination rather than interference with the freedom to manifest a religious belief.
To understand this, we need to look at article 14 of the convention. Despite the heading ‘prohibition of discrimination’, article 14 does not introduce a standalone ban. It simply extends the other rights and freedoms in the convention by requiring them to be ‘secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion’ and so on.
So Ladele’s case is based on article 14 taken with art