Smith and Grady v. the United Kingdom and Lustig-Prean and Beckett v. the United Kingdom |1999

Historic ruling ends ban on gay people serving in the armed forces

Now many LGBT+ people in the forces are role models for our communities; they feel confident to be who they are.

Duncan Lustig-Prean, quoted on Scene


Jeanette Smith and Graeme Grady were investigated and dismissed from the armed forces because of their sexual orientation.

In 1994, military investigators separately quizzed Jeanette and Graeme after learning that they were gay. Both were asked intimate questions about their relationships and sex lives before decisions were taken to end their careers.

Jeanette and Graeme – together with two other service members who had experienced the same thing, Duncan Lustig-Prean and John Beckett – applied to the UK courts for a legal review of the decisions.

They argued that the UK authorities’ stance against gay people in the armed forces was “irrational” and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Their application, however, was refused.

The group decided to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found that the investigations into Jeanette and Graeme’s sexual orientation, and the decisions taken to discharge them, interfered with their private lives in an unjustified way.

The UK government claimed that the policy against gay people serving in the military, and Jeanette and Graeme’s resulting dismissal, was necessary for the morale, fighting power and operational effectiveness of the armed forces. 

But the European court did not accept that these reasons were sufficiently convincing to justify Jeannette and Graeme’s discharge. It therefore ruled that the UK violated their human rights. On the same day, the European court also found similar violations in the case of Duncan Lustig-Prean and John Beckett.

In the first place, the investigation process . . . was of an exceptionally intrusive character.

European Court of Human Rights judgment, September 1999


On 12 January 2000 – and in response to the European court’s judgment in Jeanette and Graham’s case, as well as the case of Duncan Lustig-Prean and John Beckett – the UK government introduced a new armed forces policy which lifted the ban on gay people serving in the military.

Additional information 

Jeanette Smith (second left) and Graeme Grady (right), together with Duncan Lustig-Prean (left) and John Beckett (second right) - © Photo Dr Jo Stanley


Related examples

Better protections for peaceful demonstrations after protest was banned

An NGO organised a series of demonstrations in Warsaw, to highlight discrimination against women and minorities. The gatherings were banned, after the city’s mayor said that he was against them because they included support for gay rights. The European court ruled that the ban violated the right to public assembly. This led to changes to Polish law to protect the right to protest.

Read more

Man persecuted for his sexuality wins landmark judgment – transforming the law in Northern Ireland and beyond

Since the age of 14, Jeffrey Dudgeon experienced fear and psychological distress because his sexuality was seen as a crime. His house was raided by police, and he was interrogated for hours. In a test case, the European court ruled that the law violated the right to private life. In 1982, Northern Ireland legalised gay relationships – followed by many other European countries.

Read more