Supreme Court rejects B&B owners discrimination appeal

Christian guest house owners who refused to allow a couple to take a double room because they were gay have had their appeal rejected by the Supreme Court.

The B&B owners, Hazelmary and Peter Bull, instructed Matrix Chambers’ Aidan O’Neill QC to take their appeal to the court after the Court of Appeal (CoA) found they had directly discriminated against Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall (see ruling).

Cloisters’ Robin Allen QC was instructed for Preddy and Hall by the Equality & Human Rights Commission, which has supported the couple in the case since 2009.

The appellants argued that their policy of only accepting heterosexual married couples to stay at the B&B did not constitute direct discrimination. While they accepted that the policy did constitute indirect discrimination, they argued that the it could be justified.

O’Neill contended that if the policy were in breach of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, the appellants’ right to freedom to manifest their religion should be called into play.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal.

Supreme Court Justice Lady Hale, who shared the bench with four other Supreme Court justices, issued the substantive judgment rejecting the appeal. She said: “Sexual orientation is a core component of a person’s identity which requires fulfilment through relationships with others of the same orientation.”

Lords Kerr and Toulson SCJ agreed with Hale SCJ that the Bulls had directly discriminated against Preddy and Hall. Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger and Lord Hughes SCJ also said the Bulls’ appeal should be dismissed, but found that they had indirectly discriminated against the couple.

Commenting, Cloisters barrister Catriona Stirling said: “The court found that, even if the Bulls’ actions had amounted to indirect discrimination, rather than direct discrimination, such discrimination could not be justified by reference to the Bulls’ deeply held religious belief that sexual intercourse outside marriage was sinful.”

Weightmans partner Phil Allen added: ““The judgment reinforces the message that no individual may insist on manifesting their religious beliefs, whether in a commercial or employment context, where the rights of others may be impacted.”

The legal lineup:

For the appellants, Hazelmary and Peter Bull

Matrix Chambers’ Aidan O’Neill QC leading 3 Hare Court’s Sarah Crowther and Sarah Ramsey, instructed by Aughton Ainsworth partner Tom Ellis

For the respondents, Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall

Cloisters’ Robin Allen QC leading Catherine Casserley of the same set, instructed by the Equality & Human Rights Commission

For the intervener, Liberty

Matrix Chambers’ Karon Monaghan QC leading Doughty Street Chambers’ Henrietta Hill