Judgment reserved in humanist marriage High Court case

8 July, 2020

Claimants Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway.

The hearing has now concluded in the High Court legal challenge that six couples have taken over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. At the end of the hearing, the judge reserved her decision until a future date. Their case is being supported by Humanists UK.

Reserving her judgment, Mrs Justice Eady said that she doesn’t know when she will return a decision, but, recognising the importance of the matter to the claimants, intended to give the matter her priority. It is therefore hoped that the judgment will be returned soon.

At the end of the hearing, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We are glad these couples have had their day in court, after two years of hard work getting to this point, and on a hugely important issue that has been at the top of our agenda with the Government for a decade now. We very much hope the judge rules in our favour and look forward to receiving her decision in due course.’

Claimants Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson, who live in north Lincolnshire, commented: ‘It’s a terrific achievement to have got so far with this and had our day in court – here’s hoping the judge decides in our favour!’

Claimants Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway, who live in Tonbridge, Kent, and intend to marry in Somerset, commented: ‘We are incredibly thankful that our voice, and the voices of many more humanists, have been heard in court and across Government. Our legal team did a fantastic job at conveying all the evidence and we are eagerly awaiting the final judgment.’

Claimants Finbar Graham and Jennifer McCalmont, who live in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, and intend to marry in north Devon, commented: ‘After following the case in court over the last couple of days we are extremely confident of getting a successful outcome, and look forward to getting the result all this hard work deserves in the coming weeks.’

The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar Library of Northern Ireland. Humanists UK is supporting them in bringing the claim.

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: ‘The Court hearing is another significant milestone in what has been a protracted journey for legally recognised humanist ceremonies. We are confident that the legal principles and human rights arguments raised hold strong weight and we look forward to receiving a judgment in due course.’

Please see the press release announcing the case for: information about the couples, including why they are taking the case, quotes, and photographs; what evidence was provided; more about humanist marriages; and endorsement quotes from politicians.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 07815 589636.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely personalised and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple. Humanists UK has provided these ceremonies for many decades.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have a humanist wedding without legal recognition. They all must have a separate civil marriage – usually at a registrar’s office – for their marriage to be legally recognised, even though it is not what they want. Couples must go through formalities twice, leading to financial strain, and distress over the state failing to recognise their humanist wedding as their ‘real’ one.

The humanist couples are taking the case to try to compel the UK Government to change the law to recognise humanist weddings as legally recognised marriages. Their lawyers argued that the current law discriminates against them because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation, which precludes such discrimination.

Humanist marriages have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than any other religion or belief group. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will do the same.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal recognition of humanist marriages: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.