"Gay cake" case declared inadmissible by European Court of Human Rights


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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has declared inadmissible a challenge to the Supreme Court's ruling that the Christian owners of a bakery did not discriminate against a gay man when they refused to supply him with a cake decorated with a message in support of same-sex marriage in Lee v United Kingdom.

Mr Lee brought a claim for breach of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 in a county court.  He also claimed discrimination on the ground of political opinion (i.e. support for same-sex marriage) under the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.  The court upheld both claims, and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal dismissed the bakery owners' appeal.  When they appealed to the Supreme Court it allowed the appeal, holding that the bakery refused to provide the cake on the ground of the message, not on the ground of Mr Lee's actual or perceived sexual orientation.  It also held that the bakery's refusal did not constitute discrimination because of Mr Lee's political opinion; the bakery owners' had a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to freedom of expression, and the 1998 Order should not be interpreted as requiring them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.

Mr Lee lodged an application with the ECtHR relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private life), Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), Article 10 (freedom of expression), and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The ECtHR declared that Mr Lee's application was inadmissible as he had not invoked his Convention rights at any point in the domestic proceedings.  As he had relied solely on domestic law he had deprived the domestic courts of the opportunity to address any Convention issues raised, and so had failed to exhaust domestic remedies.

Take note:  The "gay cake" case has been rumbling on now for a number of years.  The ECtHR's refusal of Mr Lee's challenge to the Supreme Court's decision demonstrates the power of domestic courts to consider an individual's human rights, and the necessity of exhausting any domestic remedies before the ECtHR gets involved.

 
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