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    The Legal Challenge

In June 2018 Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan finally received the legal ruling they had been seeking. By a unanimous vote, the five judges of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United Kingdom, ruled that the Government’s refusal to allow opposite sex couples to have civil partnerships ‘incompatible’ with human rights law. 

The issue was whether the bar on different-sex couples entering into civil partnerships breached the appellants’ rights under article 14 (the prohibition on discrimination) together with article 8 (the right
to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Lord Kerr, speaking on behalf of all five judges ruled that it did.

The full details of the judgment can be read here. Supreme Court – UKSC 2017/0060

The full statements made by Rebecca and Charles, outside the Supreme Court after their victory, can be found on our Latest News page.

Background to the case

In October 2014, London-based couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan tried to form a civil partnership at their local registry office – Chelsea Town Hall in London – but were told that they couldn’t because they were not of the same sex – civil partnerships are restricted to same-sex couples only.

Following this refusal, Rebecca and Charles launched a legal challenge in December 2014 in the form of a Judicial Review at the High Court.

Over 3 years later, their case was heard in May 2018 in the UK’s Supreme Court, which concentrates on “cases of the greatest public and constitutional importance”.

Timeline of legal case

  • October 2014: Charles and Rebecca were refused by the Registrars at Chelsea Old Town Hall when they sought to give “notice of intention” to form a civil partnership.
  • December 2014: Charles and Rebecca launched a legal challenge – in the form of a Judicial Review – at the High Court.
  • February 2015: A High Court judge, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing DBE, granted permission for Charles and Rebecca’s legal claim to proceed. The Judge also granted Charles and Rebecca a Protective Costs Order recognising the public interest and importance of the case.
  • January 2106: Rebecca and Charles’ case is heard in the High Court. The judge rules that the continuation of a ban on civil partnerships for opposite sex couples is lawful but grants immediate permission to appeal.
  • November 2016: Rebecca and Charles’ case is heard in the Court of Appeal.
  • February 2017: Result announced from the Court of Appeal stating that the couple’s rights had been breached and that the current ban could not continue indefinitely. However in a 2:1 split ruling, the court gave the government limited time to decide on the future status of civil partnerships. Buoyed by the support of the lead judge Lady Justice Arden, who stated “the appellants are right”, Rebecca and Charles lodge their appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
  • August 2017: The Supreme Court grants permission to hear the case.
  • May 2018: The case was heard on 14 May, Lady Hale ruling that the case would only need one day, rather than the planned day and half.
  • June 2018: Result announced. The judges rule unanimously that the Government’s refusal to allow opposite sex couples to have civil partnerships ‘incompatible’ with human rights law.

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Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan with the court's permission

Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan with the court’s permission


Top Image: Royal Courts of Justice and city limits dragon by Ruth Hartnup on Flickr

Registry office image: Robert Taylor