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Smith and Grady v UK
European Court of Human Rights
Date decided 27th September, 1999
Citations (1999) 29 EHRR 493
Case history
Prior actions R v Ministry of Defence, ex p Smith [1996]
Right to A Private Life, Homosexuality in the Military

Smith and Grady v UK (1999) 29 EHRR 493 was a notable decision of the European Court of Human Rights that unanimously found that the investigation into and subsequent discharge of personnel from the British Army on the basis they were homosexual was a breach of their right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The decision, which caused widespread controversy at the time[1] led the UK to adopt a revised sexual-orientation-free Armed Forces Code of Social Conduct in January 2000[2 ]. In UK law the decision is notable because the applicants decision had previously been dismissed in both the High Court and Court of Appeal, who had found that the authorities' actions had not violated the principles of legality including Wednesbury unreasonableness,[3] thus highlighting the difference in approach of the European Court of Human Rights and the domestic courts.



Smith had been a member of the Royal Air Force since 1989. In June 1994 a woman telephoned the air force alleging that Smith was a homosexual and had been sexually harassing the caller. Smith was questioned by the service police and admitted that she was a homosexual and that she had held a homosexual relationship while in the RAF. The service police asked her intimate question on the details of her sexual life, asking for the names of previous partners, her HIV status and other details. A few months later Smith was given an administrative discharge from the Royal Air Force.[4] Grady had been a member of the Armed forces since 1980 but was discharged following disclosures of a nanny working for the British Defence Liason Service.[4] The applicants sought to challenge their discharges first through a domestic judicial review, and when this was unsuccessful they launched an application to the European Court of Human Rights. They were represented by the human rights organisation Liberty.[5]


The British government conceded that there had been an interference with the applicants' right to a private life under article 8 of the European Convention. The issue for the court was therefore whether such an interference could be justified. In order for an interference under article 8 to be justified it is necessary that it is in accordance with the law, in the pursuit of a legitimate aim, and must be considered necessary in a democratic society. The government policy had been given both statutory recognition and recognition by the lower courts and the court considered that the policy could be said to be in the pursuit of the legitimate aim interests of national security” and “the prevention of disorder”. However, the court was not satisfied that the policy could be considered "necessary in a democratic society". The court was not satisfied that the government had provided credible justification for its treatment of homosexual personnel. Observing that:[6]

”these attitudes, even if sincerely felt by those who expressed them, ranged from stereotypical expressions of hostility to those of homosexual orientation, to vague expressions of unease about the presence of homosexual colleagues. To the extent that they represent a predisposed bias on the part of a heterosexual majority against a homosexual minority, these negative attitudes cannot, of themselves, be considered by the Court to amount to sufficient justification for the interferences with the applicants’ rights outlined above any more than similar negative attitudes towards those of a different race, origin or colour.”

The court considered that the government had not offered convincing and weighty reasons for the investigation of the applicants sexual orientation or their subsequent discharge and therefore considered that there had been a breach of their right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention.[7]

Mowbray has suggested that the court may have been influenced in its decision by the doubts expressed by some of the Obiter dicta of the domestic proceedings which expressed doubts about the durability of the armed forces policy towards homosexuals.[8]


The decision was initially controversial,[9] with gay rights advocates arguing that it represented a breakthrough but some politicians and commentators expressing concerns that the decision would disrupt army morale. Today, such fears are widely regarded as having been proven unfounded. The Ministry of Defence has concluded that the policy had "been hailed as a solid achievement" and that "there has been no perceived effect on morale, unit cohesion or operational effectiveness". [10]

The decision has come to be widely accepted both within the military and outside it with Wing Commander Phil Sagar of the armed forces' joint equality and diversity training centre issuing a formal apology on behalf of the Ministry of Defence in 2007 to those affected by the MOD's former policy.[11] The current attitude of the Armed Forces was demonstrated in October 2008 when the outgoing head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt told delegates at a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender conference that "respect for others is not an optional extra"[12] and in July 2009 diversity within the armed service was actively celebrated with the first openly gay serviceman featured on the front cover of the armed forces Soldier magazine.[13]


  1. ^ "Delight and despair at gay ban ruling". BBC. Monday, September 27, 1999. Retrieved Monday, December 2,8 2009.  
  2. ^ Armed Forces Code of Social Conduct, retrieved 28th December 2009.
  3. ^ Mowbray, Alasdair (2007). Cases and Materials on the European Convention on Human Rights. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920674-2.  
  4. ^ a b Mowbray 2007, p. 489.
  5. ^ PR Newswire on behalf of Liberty -The Human Rights Organisation. "EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS: GRADY AND SMITH v UK - ('GAYS IN THE MILITARY' CASE)". Press release. Retrieved 28th December, 2009.  
  6. ^ Smith and Grady v UK, , Para 97 .
  7. ^ Smith and Grady v UK, , Para 111 .
  8. ^ Mowbray 2007, p. 495.
  9. ^ "Delight and despair at gay ban ruling". BBC. Monday, September 27, 1999. Retrieved Monday, December 2,8 2009.  
  10. ^ The Effects of Including Gay and Lesbian Soldiers in the British Armed Forces: Appraising the Evidence, retrieved 28th December 2009.
  11. ^ [|Attewill, Fred] (28th June), "Defence ministry apologises for gay discrimination", The Guardian,, retrieved 28th December, 2009  
  12. ^ Rayment, Sean (11th October), "Army's top general makes history by addressing conference on homosexuality", The Telegraph,, retrieved 28th December, 2009  
  13. ^ Simpson, Aislinn (27th July), "Armed Forces celebrates diversity with gay serviceman in Soldier magazine", The Telegraph,, retrieved 28th December, 2009  

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