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27 JUN 2018

Supreme Court declares Civil Partnership Act 2004 incompatible with human rights law

Supreme Court declares Civil Partnership Act 2004 incompatible with human rights law
The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that lack of provision in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 for opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership is incompatible with human rights law.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan were appealing the decision of the Court of Appeal in Steinfeld and Another v Secretary of State for Education [2017] EWCA Civ 81, [2017] 2 FLR 692, which dismissed their appeal against an earlier High Court decision refusing them judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision not - at this stage - to propose any change to the bar on opposite-sex couples entering into a civil partnership. 

The couple wish to formalise their committed long-term relationship but have deep-rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage based upon what they consider to be its historically patriarchal nature. They wish instead to enter into a civil partnership, which they consider would reflect their values and give due recognition to the equal nature of their relationship. Article continues below...
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Scott Halliday, family law solicitor at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, said:

'The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the Civil Partnership Act needs to be reformed as the current law is in contravention of Article 14 of the European Convention, discrimination, when read in conjunction with the right to privacy and a family life, Article 8. The Secretary of State has said consistently that they need to monitor and evaluate the future uptake of civil partnerships by same-sex couples now that there is same-sex marriage, and has taken a "wait and see" approach.

The UK Supreme Court have confirmed today that same approach is in contravention of our human rights law. In the judgment the court is clear that the Government created this discriminatory difference in treatment and now seeks further time to monitor and evaluate what to do next. This is in contravention of our human rights law.

We sincerely hope this result puts further pressure on the secretary of state to reform the law and introduce heterosexual civil partnerships, so that both same-sex and opposite-sex couples feel included in every aspect of family life.'

Rachael Griffin, tax and financial planning expert at Old Mutual Wealth, says:

'The future of civil partnerships has been swung wide open as the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment has opened the door to a myriad of different duos. It increases the pressure on Government to determine who deserves the inheritance and tax rights that marriage and partnerships involve.

There have been a number of high profile cases of siblings living together in later life for many years fighting to be afforded similar rights as spouses on death. In the future they may claim they are being discriminated against if they are not able to enter into a civil partnership.

The question for the Government is: what is the purpose of civil partnerships? With a review due in 2020, this will be up for debate. It is possible that the Government have been mulling scrapping these partnerships altogether. Today’s judgment may mean policymakers need to think again.

The real issue is with the UK’s more than three million cohabitees who are particularly vulnerable. For example, a woman who has looked after children for more than 20 years could he left in poverty when a relationship ends. This is due to legislation steeped in history and not taking into account modern set-ups.

We need sensible policymaking to consider how we afford rights to people who live together for an extended period of time. By doing so, the issue of siblings living together in later life could also be solved and it may prevent the need to further extend civil partnerships to multiple groups of people.'