Court of Justice rules against the UK in gender reassignment case – MB v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

26 Jun 2018 | by Monckton Chambers

In an important ruling issued today, the Court of Justice has held that, in requiring a transgender person to be unmarried in order to be recognised in her acquired gender for the purposes of claiming a state retirement pension (SRP), UK legislation gave rise to discrimination on grounds of sex, contrary to EU law. The case will now return to the Supreme Court to apply the ruling.

Prior to the legalisation of same sex marriage, the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which establishes a mechanism for the legal recognition of changes in gender, required a transgender person to be unmarried in order to be legally recognised in her acquired gender. Any pre-existing marriage therefore had to be annulled before a gender recognition certificate could be issued. As a result, a person who remained married to a person of the same sex as her acquired gender was prevented from claiming a SRP from the pensionable age for persons of that gender.

MB was a male-to-female transgender person who had been denied her SRP from the pensionable age for women on the basis that she remained married to her wife. Whilst the refusal was in accordance with domestic legislation, MB claimed that it was contrary to EU Directive 79/7/EEC on equal treatment in matters of social security. Whilst her claim was dismissed by both the Upper Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court was divided on the point and referred the issue to the Court of Justice.

In today’s ruling, the Court of Justice has found in MB’s favour, holding that the relevant provisions of the 2004 Act gave rise to direct discrimination on grounds of sex. In particular, it found that Article 4(1) of the Directive precluded: “national legislation which requires a person who has changed gender not only to fulfil physical, social and psychological criteria but also to satisfy the condition of not being married to a person of the gender that he or she has acquired as a result of that change, in order to be able to claim a State retirement pension as from the statutory pensionable age applicable to persons of his or her acquired gender”.

The relevant provisions of the 2004 Act were amended in 2014, to reflect the legalisation of same sex marriage. The Court of Justice’s ruling will, however, be welcomed by the transgender community in the UK and may have significant wider implications for the rights of transgender people across the EU.

Ben Lask is acting for the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  The Court of Justice’s judgment can be read here.

This case has been covered by BBC News and The Guardian.

Please click here to read the news item on the Upper Tribunal ruling, and here for the news item on the Court of Appeal judgment.