R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary) (Respondent) [2018] UKSC 32.

In a unanimous judgment on June 27 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the current Civil Partnership law was incompatible with Article 14, read in conjunction with Article 8. of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Convention is incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004, which came into effect on the 5th December 2005, introduced civil partnerships, but they are only available to couples of the same sex. This case was brought by a heterosexual couple who wished to enter into a civil partnership but were refused under s.3 of the Act when they tried to register at Chelsea Town Hall back in October 2004.

Following a Judicial Review, and an appeal to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court heard the case in May 2018. The couple argued that not allowing them to enter into a civil partnership because they were not a same-sex couple was discriminatory. By the time the case reached the Supreme Court it was accepted that access to civil partnerships falls within the ambit of article 8; that there is a difference in treatment between same sex couples and different sex couples in relation to the availability of civil partnerships; that this difference in treatment is on the ground of sexual orientation, a ground falling within article 14; and that the appellants are in an analogous position to a same sex couple who wish to enter into a civil partnership. The question for the Court therefore was whether the government could show that unequal treatment of same-sex and different sex couples was justified.

The Court found that the current legislation was discriminatory, as same-sex couples can now enter into same-sex marriages or civil partnership but heterosexual couples cannot enter into civil partnerships. The fact that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was not repealed when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was enacted created the difference in treatment.

The Government is now under considerable pressure to urgently review the law.

Read the judgment on BAILII.