Are British civilians employed by the MoD in Cyprus protected by the Equality Act?

Case name: Holloway & Ors v Ministry of Defence

A group of British civilians working on a military base in Cyprus brought claims of discrimination against the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Before considering their claim, the Employment Tribunal had to decide whether GB equality laws applied to this group of workers. The first Employment Tribunal found that the Equality Act did apply to them. However, the MoD successfully challenged this in the Employment Appeal Tribunal. This meant that the case was remitted to the ET to be reconsidered.

Legal issue

Does the Equality Act apply to British civilian workers employed by the Ministry of Defence in Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus?

Background

A group of British civilians working for the Ministry of Defence on a military base in Cyprus – technically a Sovereign Base Area (SBA) – claimed they were being discriminated against on the grounds of their nationality and marital status. All were married to MoD personnel and were employed in jobs considered too sensitive for non-British citizens. The Employment Tribunal had to decide which law applied in this case: the Equality Act, which is a GB law, or the law of the SBA. The judge in the first Employment Tribunal had ruled that the Equality Act did apply on the military base. We supported the group in defending an appeal by the MoD against this finding, and again at the remitted hearing.

Why we were involved

Military bases in Cyprus are British Overseas Territories (BOTs) and more than 15,000 people live in them – a mix of British military personnel and their families, and Cypriot nationals. It is our role to uphold and defend the Equality Act and our interest in this case was to establish whether the act applies in these territories. The law is clear that the Employment Rights Act can offer protection to workers outside GB if their situation has a sufficiently close connection with GB; we wanted to ensure that they were similarly covered by the Equality Act. We hoped that through our involvement, we could protect this group and others like them in future from discrimination.

What we did

We paid legal costs allowing the group to defend the MoD’s appeal against the finding that the Equality Act applied in the SBAs, and again to allow the group to be represented at the remitted hearing. Our involvement was limited to the specific point of which law applied, rather than the detail of whether there had been discrimination.

What happened

Shortly before the EAT hearing, a similar case (Hottak) in the Court of Appeal found that the ‘territorial jurisdiction test’ used in Employment Rights Act claims also applies in Equality Act claims. The decision in the Hottak case established our aim in supporting the appeal in Holloway.

However, in Holloway a point of constitutional law, which the first ET had not considered, emerged in the EAT. This was relevant to the strength of the claimants’ connection to GB. This point was that the Crown is a legal concept in territories that have a shared monarch (eg UK, Canada, the SBAs) but it is a separate legal concept in each territory. The Crown in right of the SBAs is different to the Crown in right of the UK. This point needed to go back to the ET for it to consider its impact.

The remitted ET judgment clarified that even with an otherwise high degree of connection to GB, claimants in the SBAs do not enjoy Equality Act protections because SBA law governs their employment.

Who will benefit and how

This case has shown that people working for the MoD in bases in Cyprus are not protected under the Equality Act. We will continue to support those who have been victims of discrimination and to make sure that all institutions respect equality laws.

Date of outcome