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

A long-term unmarried couple in Northern Ireland sought to adopt together the woman’s 10 year old son.  The boy’s natural father had no contact with him and the mother’s partner had effectively acted as the boy’s father his entire life.  The adoption application was refused solely on the basis of laws that said that unmarried couples could not adopt.

The House of Lords held that there was no rational basis for having a blanket rule that unmarried couples could never adopt, and the rule was therefore discriminatory.  It held that although it was open to Parliament to say that in general terms married couples may be more suitable adoptive parents than unmarried ones, it cannot rationally be assumed that no unmarried couple can be suitable adoptive parents.  As such the law breached Article 14 (in conjunction with the Article 8 right to a family life).

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