Hall v. Bull, Bristol County Court, United Kingdom (4 January 2011)
Discrimination claim brought before the Bristol County Court under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. The claimants sought damages and declaratory relief. The Equality and Human Rights Commission assisted the claimants in their claim.
The claimants were a same-sex couple in a civil partnership. They had made a reservation for a double room at the defendants’ hotel. However, upon arrival they were refused service on the basis of a hotel policy that double rooms were only to be provided to married heterosexual couples. The defendants, whose hotel was adjacent to their family home, were devout Christians and the policy reflected their religious beliefs. Although their usual practice was to inform guests of the policy at the time of booking, the claimants were unaware of its existence.
Whether, contrary to Regulation 3 of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, the defendants’ policy directly or indirectly discriminated against the claimants on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, Regulation 3 (discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation) and Regulation 4 (discrimination in the provision of goods and services).
Human Rights Act 1998, Section 3 (legislation to be interpreted, as far as possible in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights).
An Application for Judicial Review by the Christian Institute and others, High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, Queen’s Bench Division, United Kingdom, 2007 (finding that service providers should not be required to act in a manner inconsistent with their religious beliefs in the provision of a service; risk of replacing one form of “legal oppression” with another).
Ontario Human Rights Commission v. Brockie, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Canada, 2002.
European Convention on Human Rights, Articles 8 (right to family and private life), 9 (freedom of religion and right to manifest religious beliefs), and 14 (prohibition of discrimination).
Reasoning of the Court
The defendants submitted that their policy was based on their belief that both homosexual and heterosexual sexual relationships outside of marriage were sinful. They argued that the policy was not discriminatory as it was focused on sex outside of marriage and applied equally to unmarried heterosexual or homosexual couples. The defendants also argued that, if they had indirectly discriminated, it was justified by their right to manifest their religious beliefs under the United Kingdom Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court found that the claim raised issues under Articles 8, 9 and 14 of the Convention and that a balance needed to be struck between the competing rights of the claimants and the defendants.
The Court concluded that the defendants had breached Regulation 3(1) of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The defendants’ policy discriminated on the basis of marital status and therefore implicated Regulation 3(4), which affirmed that no material difference existed between marriage and civil partnerships for the purpose of the Regulations. As the claimants were civil partners, the Court held that the policy directly discriminated against them on the basis of their sexual orientation. It followed that the defendants had also breached Regulation 4, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services.
The Court considered the interplay between the Regulations and the Convention and concluded that the two were compatible. Although the defendants’ Article 8 right to family and private life and Article 9(2) right to manifest their religion were affected by the regulations, neither right had been breached. The defendants’ Article 8 rights were “inevitably circumscribed by their decision to use their home in part as a hotel”. Furthermore, although the hotel was connected to their family residence, the Regulations did not require them to let guests enter the private area of their home. Turning to Article 9(2), the Court held that the right was qualified and that, “in so far as the Regulations do affect this right they are … a necessary and proportionate intervention of the state to protect the rights of others”. The Regulations justifiably protected the claimants from sexual orientation discrimination and, moreover, gave effect to their Article 14 right to non-discrimination.
Having balanced the impact of the Regulations on the competing rights of the claimants and the defendants, the Court found no reasonable justification for the discriminatory practice. Each claimant was awarded £1800 in damages.
Hall v. Bull, Bristol County Court, United Kingdom (full text of judgment, PDF)
Hall v. Bull, Court of Appeal, United Kingdom (full text of judgment at Court of Appeal (Civil Division), published 2012, PDF)