Yesterday, the Advocate General is a senior lawyer who reviews cases and offers an opinion on the issues to the judges of the European Court. His opinion is not binding on the court, however, it is followed in about 80% of cases.
The case was taken by Heyday, a branch of Age Concern, against the UK government. Heyday challenged the way the government had implemented the European directive banning age discrimination into UK law. The directive requires the elimination of discrimination in employment on the ground of age (this applies to all age groups). However the directive does allow individual countries to lay down compulsory retirement ages.
The UK age regulations set out a retirement dismissal procedure that when followed by employers will give them an absolute defence to any claim of unfair dismissal. Under the procedure an employer must write to the employee giving between six months’ and one year’s notice of the proposed retirement date. The employee then has the right to request to continue working beyond the proposed retirement date. The employer does not have to agree to the request and does not have to give reasons for refusing the request, although a right of appeal must be offered.
Heyday argued that the regulations were wrong to introduce a general defence to age discrimination and that each individual case should be justified. The government argued that the European directive permitted them to decide what was required in relation to UK law taking into account the local economic and social circumstances.
The court decided that the government was right and that the UK regulations were not contrary to the European directive.