The Charity Tribunal has rejected the latest attempt by a catholic adoption charity to circumnavigate rules preventing it from discriminating against homosexual couples seeking to adopt children.
Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) had sought to take advantage of an exemption in the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which suggests that discrimination can occur if it is in pursuit of charitable objectives.
In its preliminary judgment in March, the Tribunal had ruled the exemption could only apply if the charity's activities were not made unlawful by other provisions.
But at the final hearing last month, the charity was unable to demonstrate that it could operate in such a way.
The charity is entitled to appeal, but could not be contacted at the time of going to press.
Tribunal criticises charity
In its judgment, the Tribunal appears to criticise the charity's representative Matthew Smith for only accepting on the day of the hearing that a ruling could not be made on the basis the Equality Bill 2009, which had recently had its second reading in the House of Commons, despite being told otherwise beforehand.
It says: “At the telephone directions hearing on 8 May, the Tribunal explained to Mr Smith that it could not properly have regard to draft legislation as an aid to the interpretation of existing legislation.
“However, that particular argument was finally withdrawn only at the 13 May hearing, when Mr Smith accepted it was a ‘red herring’.
“The Tribunal notes with regret that despite having the continuous benefit of legal advice, the Appellant's argument on this point was abandoned only after the Tribunal had indicated a strong view as to its lack of merit and after the Respondent had been put to the time and trouble of filing a skeleton argument in reply to it.”
At the telephone directions hearing, the tribunal also expressed “considerable doubt” over whether it could go back on its earlier ruling on the meaning of the charitable exemption.
However: “Mr Smith indicated that the Appellant wished to pursue the point as one of procedural fairness, although he did not then advance any legal argument or provide authority as to what power the Tribunal might have to reopen a matter on which it had previously ruled.”
Speaking at the hearing, the charity’s chief executive Mark Wiggin had argued: “It is essentially a principle that we are arguing and wishing to defend here, a principle of a Catholic organisation.
“The funding aspects of it and other aspects are very secondary to our position here today.”