ECHR Rules Same-Sex Marriage Cake Claim Is Inadmissible

7 January, 2022

The European Court of Human Rights today handed down its judgment in Gareth Lee v. the United Kingdom. Mr Lee had brought a claim for breach of Northern Ireland’s anti-discrimination laws against a bakery which had refused to supply him with a cake that had been iced with a message of support for legalising same-sex marriage. Mr Lee’s claim was ultimately dismissed by the Supreme Court, and he made an application to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the anti-discrimination laws had infringed his rights to private and family life (Article 8), to freedom of thought and conscience (Article 9), to freedom of expression (Article 10), and to freedom from discrimination (Article 14).

The Court declared Mr Lee’s application inadmissible, on the basis that he had failed to exhaust domestic remedies prior to making the application under the Convention. Mr Lee’s claim before the domestic courts had relied solely on domestic law, and had not asked the Supreme Court to balance Mr Lee’s Convention rights against those of the bakery and its owners. This balancing exercise was one that the domestic courts were better placed than the European Court of Human Rights to undertake. As a result of Mr Lee’s failure to exhaust domestic remedies, his application was declared inadmissible.

The judgment can be read here.

Jessica Wells and Jackie McArthur acted for the United Kingdom, instructed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.