Article 14 No discrimination

All of the rights and freedoms contained in the Human Rights Act must be protected and applied without discrimination.

Article 14 requires there be no discrimination in the application of human rights on any ground, and this includes (but is not exhaustive of) grounds such as:

  • sex;
  • race;
  • colour;
  • language;
  • religion;
  • political or other opinion;
  • national or social origin;
  • association with a national minority;
  • property;
  • birth;
  • or any other status (including, for example, sexual orientation or marital status).

Article 14 does not provide for a free-standing right to non-discrimination but requires that all other HRA rights be secured without discrimination.  For Article 14 to apply it does not require that a breach of another right has to be made out, but the facts of the case must at least fall within the ambit of another HRA right.  For example, this means that discrimination in the privacy sphere can only be found where the issue in question is held to engage the right to private life.

Discrimination occurs when a public authority, for no objective or reasonable reason:

  • treats a person less favourably than others in similar situations on the basis of a particular characteristic;
  • fails to treat people differently when they are in significantly different situations; or
  • applies apparently neutral policies in a way that has a disproportionate impact on individuals or groups.

It is not the case that all discrimination is unlawful. However for discriminatory law or treatment to be found to be lawful, weighty and objectively justifiable reasons must be advanced. In determining whether there is an objective or reasonable justification for the measures imposed a public authority needs to demonstrate that the measures were advanced to pursue a legitimate aim and there is a reasonable relationship of proportionality between that aim and the measures applied.  For discrimination to be justified on grounds such as race, sex, nationality, religion or sexual orientation there will need to be particularly strong or serious reasons to justify it.

Case study - JM v the United Kingdom

In a victory for gay and lesbian equality, JM v the United Kingdom reinforced the unlawfulness of discriminating against a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

Liberty’s client, ‘JM’, had been required to pay more in child support because her lesbian relationship was not recognised under rules that resulted in people in heterosexual relationships paying less. 

JM’s payments were calculated in September 2001. Under the rules in force at the time the housing costs of a heterosexual couple were treated as a shared expense. Because they were a same-sex couple, JM and her partner’s joint housing costs were apportioned between them. This meant that JM paid more in child support than she would have done had she been in a heterosexual relationship

Overturning a ruling of the House of Lords (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v M) the Court of Human Rights found that treating JM differently on the grounds of her sexuality breached Article 14 of the Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of discrimination) taken together with Article 1 of the First Protocol (protection of property).

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