Expert Comment on Christian Rights Case

A University of Wolverhampton academic has given his take on the story of four British Christians who claim they lost their jobs as a result of discrimination against their beliefs are and are now taking their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

Senior lecturer, Andrew Hambler, specialises in employment law and also has written a paper on one of the cases, that of Lilian Ladele.

He is very much of the view that judges could have easily interpreted these cases differently as they considerably underestimated the importance of religious conscience in weighing up the respective interests concerned.

Andrew Hambler, senior lecturer in Employment Law and Human Resources at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “The right to follow one’s conscience is a vital to individual autonomy - one of the three blocks on which notions of human rights are based. The others being equality and dignity.

“People with religious beliefs usually characterise their conscience as compelling them to act or not to act in particular ways. Many are willing to make considerable sacrifices in order to follow the dictates of conscience. For this reason it is both the humane and appropriate response in a liberal society to seek to accommodate conscience where possible.

“In the case of Ladele (the registrar who lost her job after refusing to conduct civil partnerships) the employer could easily have accommodated her religious conscience by choosing not to designate her as a civil partnerships registrar.

“By its own admission, it could perform a ‘first class service’ without Ladele’s involvement. In other words, to accommodate conscience would have led to no adverse effect on people seeking a civil partnership – no one need even have known about the objection.

“Instead, and with the endorsement of the higher courts, the employer was permitted to require Ladele to conduct same sex civil partnerships or be dismissed. In so doing, it placed the abstract rights of same sex couples, who were unaffected in practical terms either way, ahead of the real practical rights of Ladele, who lost her job.

“This was not ‘necessary’ (a requirement of EU law) and should have failed the balancing exercise of weighing up competing rights required by both UK and EU discrimination law, and by the European Convention on Human Rights, under Article 9. It is now up to the European Court of Human Rights to determine whether or not it is willing to over-ride the UK courts and force a major change in UK discrimination law.”

Andrew Hambler Profile

Andrew Hambler is a Senior Lecturer in Employment Law and Human Resources. He formerly worked as an HR Consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. His research interests are in the field of employment discrimination law and freedom of religion in the workplace. He is currently completing his PhD at the School of Law, Durham University and has published articles in the 'Ecclesiastical Law Journal' and 'Religion and Human Rights'. He has also given papers at various conferences including the Law and Religion Scholars Network Annual Conference in Cardiff in May 2009 and in May 2011. Andrew is a member of the Law and Religion Scholars Network and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Religion and Belief Network.

ENDS

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