The extreme decision of an employment tribunal in the case of Ladele vs Islington (pdf), that of the registrar who claimed to have discriminated against on religious ground for refusing to officiate in civil partnership ceremonies, has naturally drawn a considerable amount of attention amongst bloggers.
Thus far, the general consensus amongt legal bloggers is that the tribunal’s ruling is, at best, extreme, if not bordering on perverse and in the days since the ruling it transpires that Ms Ladele, whose views on marriage were described in the judgement as follows…
“Ms Ladele is a Christian. Her unchallenged evidence was that she holds the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others and that marriage is the God-ordained place for sexual relations”
“She could not reconcile her faith with taking an active part in enabling same-sex unions to be formed.
“She told us that she believed this to be contrary to God’s instructions that sexual relations belong exclusively between a man and a woman within marriage.”
Being a rather cynical and suspicious sort, when I see reactions to a judgement as strong as this one, from the excellent Head of Legal…
How on earth can the Tribunal have concluded this was direct discrimination? Direct discrimination is where you treat someone less favourably than others not because they refuse to perform this, that or the other duty, but because they are female, or black, or a Christian. That has plainly not happened here: the Tribunal has fallen into the obvious error of thinking that, because Ms. Ladele’s beliefs are in direct conflict with a duty to carry out civil partnership ceremonies, it follows that requiring her to carry them directly discriminates against her. It doesn’t. Nothing could be plainer than that what happened here was at most indirect discrimination.
…then I start to wonder whether there isn’t a little something missing from the overall picture, something that might explain how and/or why an employment tribunal chaired by a seemingly experienced Judge can manage to make what seems to be such a basic error – and when my “something’s not quite right” bump starts itching then, as regular readers should know well, that’s the point at which I start to do a bit of digging – and, in this case, I may have hit on what is possibly a very interesting little bit of paydirt.
If there’s a ‘secret’ to investigative blogging then, other than having a knack of getting the best of search engines, it lies in thinking ‘out of the box’ and coming at things from angles that others have overlooked.
So, while there has been much commentary, already, on the content of the tribunal’s judgement in this case, what no one has, as yet, questioned is the composition of the Tribunal itself.
In general, employment tribunals are heard either a chairman, sitting alone, or by a panel consisting of three members.
In all cases, the chairman is drawn from the legal profession and will be either a judge, or in some cases an experienced barrister. In panel hearings, the chairman is supported by two ‘wingmen’, on drawn a trade union background and the other from the business community, giving a notionally balanced representation from both employees and employers.
The Ladele case was heard, as the judgement indicates, by a panel consisting of Judge AM Lewzey and two wingmen, Mrs D May and Mr CJ Storr.
Of the three, Lewzey is the easiest to trace by way of the name cropping up in a small number of Employment Appeals Tribunal cases in which decisions taken by tribunals chair by Lewzey were questioned. That said, reading these judgements, it does not seem that Lewzey is particular prone to making the kind of basic errors, in fact she seems altogether rather competent and rarely has decision overturned at appeal – all of which makes the Ladele ruling all the more puzzling.
Mrs D May we’ll have to set aside for the time being – its such a common name that there’s almost no chance of pinning down the right Mrs Ma without additional information – all of which leaves us with CJ Storr who, on name alone, seems to offer a rather more promising line of enquiry…
…and sure enough, a search of the London area turns up only one CJ Storr who, it turns out, is most definitely female and, therefore, out of running.
However, the case was heard at the Central London tribunal and people commute, so we need to cast our need somewhat further afield, in which case it doesn’t take long for a possible candidate for ‘our’ CJ Storr to turn up on the radar in the form of a Mr Christopher John Storr of, ironically enough given the circumstances, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
Now, based on the limited information we have to hand from freely available public records, we can’t be certain that Christopher John Storr is the same CJ Storr who sat on the panel in the Ladele case but there are one or two things that suggest that we may be on the right track, not least of which being that Storr has an entry on the register of company directors which, if we’ve got the right man, would cast him as the employer’s wingman in the case, leaving Mrs D May as the trade union representative.
And if we do have the right CJ Storr here, then any appeal that Islington Council mounts may be about to get a whole lot more interesting because a search for references to our Kent-based CJ [Christopher John] Storr turns up a couple of rather interesting items of information.
For example, an advert placed in the International Catholic Weekly, The Tablet, in April 2007 (pdf) identifies Christopher Storr as the chairman of the governance committee of an independent Roman Catholic girls baording school in Mayfield, East Sussex – a matter of 9-10 miles from Tunbridge Wells:
St Leonards-Mayfield School Catholic independent boarding and day school for over 430 girls aged 11-18, GSA CISC BSA
The Governors invite applications from practising Catholics for the post of
which will become vacant in September 2008 upon the retirement of Mrs Julia Dalton after eight years of distinguished service.
Applications are sought from outstanding candidates with the vision and enthusiasm to lead and further develop this highly successful and well respected School.
Full details may be obtained from the Clerk to the Governors, Lt Col A.H. Bayliss, at the School, to whom completed applications must be returned by 14 May 2007.
Potential candidates who would like an informal discussion about the post are invited to telephone Mr Christopher Storr,Chairman of the Governance Committee, on xxxxx xxxxxx.
Elsewhere, Storr also crops up – as CJ Storr this time – in the minutes of the Kent School Organisation Committee in January 2007:
MINUTES of a meeting of the Kent School Organisation Committee held at Sessions House, County Hall, Maidstone on Tuesday, 23 January 2007.
Kent County Council
Miss S J Carey, Mr BR Cope (substitute for Mr J Law), Ms C J Cribbon, Mr L B Ridings, Mr J Simmonds, and Mr R Truelove.
Church of England:
Revered David Arlington (substitute for Mr R Bristow (Vice-Chairman)) and Canon J Smith.
Mr D Colley, Dr P Huddle, Mrs C Reed, Mr D Russell, Mr P Sayer and Mr H Scobie.
Roman Catholic Church:
Mr D Brunning, Mr K Burleton, Mr J Grogan and Mr C J Storr (Chairman).
And last, but by no means least, CJ Storr crops up in this 2002 DFES response to a consultation on regulations governing financial liabilities of Voluntary Aided Schools (MS Word) in the list of consultees, although at the time, Storr was listed as the Director of Education of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark.
You can see where this is going… if the CJ Storr who sat as a wingman on the Ladele hearing is the same Christopher John Storr who, at 68 years of age, must surely be the retired former Director of Education of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark then we have one hell of a conflict of interest on our hands here, given the nature of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal views on homosexuality and outright opposition to civil partnerships. In fact, the conflict of interest is such that Storr could, and probably should, have recused himself from hearing the case on discovering that it related to a religious discrimination claim in which the plaintiff had sought to avoid officiating in civil partnership ceremonies on ‘religious’ ground.
All this, of course, counts for nothing if we’ve got the wrong CJ Storr, but at the very least the question has to be asked and answered in the interests of justice.