This clearly represents a significant set back for supporters of independence for Scotland and the casual observer may arrive at the lazy conclusion that the matter is decided for the foreseeable future.
I think this is somewhat premature. The judgement of the Supreme Court contains difficulties for the U.K. Parliament and the Government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the sense that the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707 is clearly not one of a voluntary nature. This may represent something of a red rag to the bull for many Scots and give the SNP/Green Government in Edinburgh a rather large stick to beat whichever British Government happens to be in power over the next few years.
In any event, there are legal precedents for dissolution of the union of nations within the framework of the British and Irish State (as I have previously argued in The Long and Winding Irish Road).
It should not be forgotten that 26 Irish counties (now the sovereign state of the Republic of Ireland) are obviously no longer in union with the United Kingdom. In fact, the original Acts of Parliament which led to the Union of Great Britain and Ireland stated:
This piece of legislation (and it’s Westminster counterpart) contained the (very) ambitious statement that Great Britain and Ireland were to be united for ever. Unfortunately, for the parliamentary draftsmen of both pieces of legislation, they could not possibly foresee that this permanent union would be seriously undermined by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. 119 years is self evidently not aunion for ever.
It is also worth highlighting that the remaining six counties of the North of Ireland are still in part of the political framework of the United Kingdom, but this is by no means a racing certainty that this will continue. The rise of Sinn Fein as the largest political party in the Northern Ireland Assembly has raised huge question marks about the constitutional status of the six counties. I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination that the future of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland looks very uncertain.
Even the Soviet Union (the USSR) explicitly gave its constituent Republics the right to secede in its 1977 Constitution (a right which had existed in previous versions). This right, of course, was more apparent than real as long as the Cold War endured. With the fall of Communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the political space was created for the Soviet Republics to chart their own courses. Admittedly, this hasn’t always been plain sailing as the current war in Ukraine and other conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia amply demonstrate).
Interestingly, when the Brexit Referendum of 23 June 2016 produced a narrow majority in favour of the U.K. leaving the European Union, there was no clear constitutional process for a member state to secede, but yet on 1 January 2020, the U.K. became a former EU State.
This really leads me to the conclusion of this very short article: independence for Scotland is a political question rather than a legal question. The Supreme Court has answered a relatively easy question in the sense that the architecture of the Scotland Act 1998 does not currently permit the Scottish Parliament to hold a binding or non-binding referendum. As with the Irish Question over a century ago, permanent unions between countries or political units tend to be anything but.
One door closes and another opens …
The link to my previous article, The Long and Irish Winding Road can be found below:
It’s Halloween today and it seems perfectly natural to be talking about witches and the supernatural. It’s a day of fun for a lot of people – young and old.
That said, to call someone a witch – specifically – a woman, would likely be regarded as an example of misogyny or hatred of women. It would be intended as an insult.
Several hundred years ago, in Scotland, you would not be dressing up as a witch or a warlock (the male counterpart). There was a very real fear of witches and their ability to carry out evil deeds against well doing members of the community.
These sorts of beliefs may seem very strange to modern readers, but Scotland was a very different place some 400 years ago. Even the American colonies were susceptible to claims about witchcraft e.g. the Salem Trials (1692-93) which the playwright, Arthur Miller so marvellously and disturbingly brought to life in The Crucible. In Miller’s play, the authorities cynically use the trials to extend their control over the populace (it was no coincidence that the play was written at the time of the McCarthyite Anti-Communist witch hunts in fifties’ America).
European and American Society was markedly more religious in its outlook. These were pre-Enlightment times after all – before science and reason was in the ascendancy. Everything was either the handiwork of God – or his sworn enemy, the Devil. The evidence of this eternal struggle could be seen all around: a good harvest would be a sign of God’s favour, whereas times of famine would be a portent of evil stalking the land.
The Devil (or Deil in Scotland) was omnipresent and always on the lookout for followers to advance his agenda. This is where witches, warlocks, covens and familiars enter the story.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live
The Book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, was particularly strong on the issue of witchcraft:
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
The above verse – tellingly – comes from the King James Bible (chapter 22 verse 18). I use the word tellingly because King James (VI of Scotland and I of England) had a special interest, not to say primal fear, in and of witches.
There were similar exhortations in other books of the Old Testament (e.g. Leviticus, 19:26 & 20:27 and Deuteronomy, 18:10-11 about the consequences of practising witchcraft.
In 1590, James was convinced that some 200 witches had cast spells against him in an attempt to sink the vessel he was travelling on when he returned from Denmark with his new bride, Anne. The ship had run into a serious storm and the crew and passengers were lucky to make landfall safely. Only divine intervention, so it seemed, had thwarted the malevolent designs of the coven who had set out to ensnare the Royal couple.
Fears about witchcraft in Scotland did not begin with James. In 1563, the Scottish Parliament had passed the Witchcraft Act which made such practices a capital offence i.e. practitioners of the dark arts could expect the death penalty to be imposed (‘pane of deid’ in the language of the statute). The guilty parties (and there were rather a lot of them) would first be strangled and then burned. For the pious executioners this punishment was merely symbolic because eternal hellfire was the real and awful fate awaiting the newly deceased.
During his reign, James – who fancied himself something of an expert on the subject – would take the campaign against witches to a new level. Rooting out the followers of the Devil would be officially sanctioned by the Church and the State (which were really one and the same thing) according to Claire Mitchell QC. In fact, the King went so far as to record his thoughts on the occult in his Treatise called Daemonologie.
The Witchcraft Act would remain on the statute books in Scotland until 1736, but it would claim thousands of victims.
Pardoning the victims?
Claire Mitchell QC is one of the driving forces behind a campaign to have the existing Scottish Parliament issue a pardon to the estimated 3837 victims of the witchcraft trials. Most of the victims were women. As Claire explained, during an interview with Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 last week, we have an idea of the numbers of victims and their profiles because of the existence of Parish Records and the records of witchcraft trials from the period.
Claire became aware of this gruesome period in Scottish history when:
“Doing research in the Advocates Library on ‘Bloody Mackenzie’, a Lord Advocate during the Witchcraft Act, I read a quote from a poor woman who had been convicted of witchcraft. She was so confused that she asked, ‘Can you be a witch and not know it?’ I was very angry and decided to find out more about Scotland’s witches.”
For more information about Claire Mitchell’s campaign, click on the links below:
The issuing of general pardons by Parliament to redress historical miscarriages of justice are not a new development. Just this month, the Scottish Government published a Bill which aims to pardon people who took part in the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike in relation to three specific criminal offences.
For more information about this issue, please click on the link below:
In 2018, the Scottish Parliament passed the Historical Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act which issued pardons to all those men who had been convicted of the offence of same sex activity. Homosexual activity – even between consenting male partners – was unlawful in Scotland until 1981.
Opposition to the pardons
Despite the above precedents, some legal commentators are not as enthusiastic about a general pardon being issued to the victims of the Witchcraft Act. Professor Douglas J. Cusine was firmly of the view that such gestures were using up valuable parliamentary time which could be concentrated on more pressing issues. In some respects, the pardons for gay men and the proposed ones for the miners are more logical and can be more easily justified in that many of the victims are still alive – or at least the injustices took place within living memory.
A link to a letter submitted to Scottish Legal News by Professor Cusine can be found below:
We live in very different times when someone who says that they are a practitioner of witchcraft or the occult might well cause some curiosity on the part of his/her listeners.
Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 may, arguably, now protect such an individual on the basis of their philosophical beliefs. We also have a far greater respect for a person’s private and family life in terms of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the 16th Century, individuals who seemed to be a bit left field or eccentric would not have appeared harmless or endearing to most members of the community. The stereotypical old woman who lived alone in the woods and who was a healer, could very quickly become the subject of communal hostility. It might even cost her her life.
For information about a modern witch or a pagan practitioner, please click on the link below:
A famous saying about freedom of speech is often (rightly or wrongly) attributed to the eighteenth century French philosopher, Voltaire (François-Marie Aroue):
‘I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.’
Voltaire’s remark is, however, not without its problems. Freedom of speech is a contested concept. There’s no such thing as the right (in law) to say anything you like. The European Convention on Human Rights does, of course, recognise the right to freedom of expression in terms of Article 10, but European countries that are signatories to the Convention can restrict this right – quite legitimately.
Recently, in 2019, the European Court of Human Rights made it very clear that Holocaust denial is not a legitimate expression of free speech (see Pastörs v Germany ECHR 331 (2019)).
That said, the ability by signatory countries to restrict Article 10 rights are subject to very rigorous safeguards:
it must be prescribed by or in accordance with the law;
it must be necessary in a democratic society;
it is in pursuit of one or more legitimate aims specified in the relevant Article [of the Convention];
it must be proportionate.
Even in the United States of America, where lots of unpalatable things are tolerated under the free speech provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution, there are limits (see the Miller Test formulated by the US Supreme Court in Miller v California 413 US 15 (1973)).
Our very own Miller case
In the various legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom, there is also such a thing as hate speech (a criminal offence). No one is pretending that freedom of speech is an area of the law which is clear cut and unambiguous. It can be minefield and deciding what is legitimate (but perhaps disagreeable or offensive) expressions of free speech from hate speech can be extremely problematic.
We have just been reminded of this fact by a case which has just been decided by the English High Court.
Harry Miller, who is a former Police officer himself, was subject to Police scrutiny because he had posted a number of Tweets about proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Let us just say that Mr Miller is clearly not in favour of changes to the legislation which would liberalise this area of the law e.g. by permitting individuals to decide their chosen gender by way of self-identification.
Someone complained about Mr Miller’s Tweets and the Police visited him at his work-place to discuss the matter. He was issued with a warning that his remarks could constitute a hate speech incident, but significantly the officers stated that no crime had been committed. This warning was issued to Miller in terms of the Hate Crime Operational Guidance 2014 (HCOG) issued by the College of Policing.
Mr Miller was not prepared to let this matter rest as he was strongly of the opinion that his right to freedom of expression had been violated by the actions of the Police.
He appealed to Humberside Police’s Appeals Body, but the appeal was rejected in June 2019. Mr Miller then commenced an action for judicial review of the actions of the Police.
Mr Justice Knowles sitting in the English High Court agreed with Mr Miller (see Harry Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) The Chief Constable of Humberside  EWHC 225 (Admin)). It is perhaps highly significant that Knowles J prefaced his ruling with a reference to the unpublished introduction to George Orwell’s celebrated novel, Animal Farm:
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
His Honour went on to highlight the remarks of Lord Justice Sedley in Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions (1999) 7 BHRC 375:
“Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative … Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having …”
It was also noted that Lord Bingham in Rv Shayler  1 AC 247 had stated:
“The reasons why the right to free expression is regarded as fundamental are familiar, but merit brief restatement in the present context. Modern democratic government means government of the people by the people for the people. But there can be no government by the people if they are ignorant of the issues to be resolved, the arguments for and against different solutions and the facts underlying those arguments. The business of government is not an activity about which only those professionally engaged are entitled to receive information and express opinions. It is, or should be, a participatory process. But there can be no assurance that government is carried out for the people unless the facts are made known, the issues publicly ventilated …”.
A subtle judgement?
It is important to understand that the judgement issued by Knowles J is one of considerable subtlety and it is not giving the green light to people to say what they want – even if this would cause offence.
There are still limits to freedom of speech and expression. Critically, Knowles J rejected Mr Miller’s very broad challenge that his human rights in terms of Article 10 of the European Convention had been violated merely because the Police had recorded and classified the matter as a non hate crime incident.
Such measures are necessary in a democratic society (and supported by a wealth of evidence) because, amongst other things, they can:
provide evidence of a person’s motivation for subsequent hate crimes;
provide context to what divides the cohesion of communities when hate incidents take place and how the Police can deal with these matters more effectively; and
prevent escalation of crime particularly with school children who might be aware of the seriousness and consequences of committing hate incidents, recording of such behaviour can be a very effective educational tool.
Knowles J found in favour of Mr Miller on the basis of his narrower challenge to the Police actions. This part of Miller’s legal action could be summed up in the following terms:
“He [Miller] contends that the combination of the recording of his tweets as a non-crime hate incident under HCOG; PC Gul going to his workplace to speak to him about them; their subsequent conversation in which, at a minimum, PC Gul warned him of the risk of a criminal prosecution if he continued to tweet; and the Claimant’s subsequent dealings with the police in which he was again warned about criminal prosecution, interfered with his rights under Article 10(1) in a manner which was unlawful.”
In upholding part of Miller’s challenge on the narrower grounds, Knowles J explained his reasoning:
“There was not a shred of evidence that the Claimant was at risk of committing a criminal offence. The effect of the police turning up at his place of work because of his political opinions must not be underestimated. To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.“
His Honour concluded by stating that:
“… the police’s treatment of the Claimant thereafter disproportionately interfered with his right of freedom of expression, which is an essential component of democracy for all of the reasons I explained at the beginning of this judgment.”
A link to the judgement in Harry Miller v (1) The College of Policing (2) The Chief Constable of Humberside  EWHC 225 (Admin) can be found below:
Proposals to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act 2004 are, undoubtedly, causing heated debate and much controversy across the United Kingdom. There are strong opinions on both sides of this debate and Knowles J acknowledged as much in the Miller case:
“The Claimant’s Tweets were, for the most part, either opaque, profane, or unsophisticated. That does not rob them of the protection of Article 10(1). I am quite clear that they were expressions of opinion on a topic of current controversy, namely gender recognition. Unsubtle though they were, the Claimant expressed views which are congruent with the views of a number of respected academics who hold gender-critical views and do so for profound socio-philosophical reasons. This conclusion is reinforced by Ms Ginsberg’s evidence [CEO of Index on Censorship] which shows that many other people hold concerns similar to those held by the Claimant.”
This case is, however, not a green light for people to say what they like – no matter how offensive their remarks may be. Freedom of speech and expression carry responsibilities and people should be mindful of this. That said, cases which have at their centre arguments over freedom of expression will turn on their facts. It is useful to realise that legitimate expressions of free speech will be protected and upheld. It’s a question of balance, but this is easier said than done – much more difficult to achieve in practice.
Today seems to be something of a red letter day for the Blog with regard to the issue of protected philosophical beliefs in terms of the Equality Act 2010.
We have already heard the news that Jordi Casamitjana has won the part of his Employment Tribunal claim that his ethical veganism is a philosophical belief in terms of Sections 4 and 10 of the 2010 Act (see Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports ).
It was some interest that another news item popped up today concerning allegations that Amazon stands accused of threatening to dismiss those of its employees who become involved in climate protests. I would hazard a guess that Amazon is making a statement of intent that it may dismiss employees who perhaps break the law when they are involved in climate protests such as those organised by Extinction Rebellion and other similarly minded groups.
Criminal acts by employees committed outside the workplace could be regarded as gross misconduct in terms of Section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. In other words, such behaviour by employees could result in the employer suffering reputational damage and, consequently, any dismissal for misconduct could be potentially fair. That said, employers should always carry out the proper disciplinary procedures when contemplating dismissal as the ultimate sanction for employee misbehaviour.
The real gripe – according to Amazon Employees for Climate Justice – is that the tech company allegedly objects to employees speaking critically about its failure to be more environmentally responsible.
Yet, there are potential dangers here for Amazon in the UK. In Grainger plc v Nicholson (2010) IRLR 4, the Employment Appeal Tribunal established that an employee’s belief in climate change could constitute discrimination on the grounds of a philosophical belief.
So, we could have situation where Amazon employees who are taking part in quite peaceful and lawful climate change protests end up being dismissed. This would open up the possibility that employees of Amazon UK might have the right to bring claims for direct discrimination (Section 13: Equality Act 2010) in respect of their philosophical beliefs (Sections 4 and 10 of the Act).
In the USA, there could be even more serious legal implications – infringing the right to free speech which is protected under the Constitution.
Perhaps Amazon needs to go back to the drawing board …
A link to an article on the BBC News App can be found below:
… well now Jordi Casamitjana can believe … officially. He has just won part of his Employment Tribunal case (Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports) which confirms that ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief in terms of Sections 4 and 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
Please note, however, that the Employment Tribunal is yet to determine whether Mr Casamitjana was dismissed because of these protected beliefs – that is another matter.
A link can be found below to the Preliminary Judgement of the Employment Tribunal on the question of whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief in terms of the Equality Act 2010:
While we await the judgement of the Employment Tribunal in relation to the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, it’s interesting to note that veganism as a lifestyle choice seems to be on the rise.
Whether the Employment Tribunal will recognise Jordi Casamitjana’s ethical standpoint as a philosophical belief in terms of Sections 4, 10 and 13 of the Equality Act 2010 remains to be seen. Watch this space.
In the meantime, the BBC has produced an interesting article on the rise of veganism which can be found on its News App:
There is no such thing as the absolute right to free speech or free expression – not even in the United States of America. The US Supreme Court formulated the Miller Test as far back as 1973 which defined boundaries as to what forms of expression may constitute obscenity (see Miller v California 413 US 15 (1973)).
This country is (certainly) not America when it comes to the issue of freedom of speech. Although Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (as implemented by the Scotland and Human Rights Acts 1998) do protect the individual’s right to freedom of conscience, thought etc and expression, there is recognition that the State may have good reason to restrict these rights (known as the margin of appreciation).
In an earlier Blog, I discussed the fact that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that denial of the Holocaust is not a belief which should be protected by law.
A famous example of the margin of appreciation being utilised (and approved by the European Court of Human Rights) in this country was the decision of Wingrove v UK . Here the film, Visions of Ecstasy, used highly sexualised imagery in its depiction of religious themes. Such a presentation would have been highly offensive to devout Roman Catholics (and a breach of the then, very strict blasphemy laws). Consequently, the British Board of Film Classification (the UK censor) refused to allow the film to be released. In this case, it was felt that someone’s artistic freedom of expression would cause grave offence to another group of people.
Wingrove is a really a moot point these days given that, in 2008, the UK reformed its blasphemy laws and the uncut version of Visions of Ecstasy was given a theatrical release (with an 18 certificate) in 2012. Yet it remains an interesting example of the tension between diametrically opposed viewpoints and how the State can be forced to mediate between these.
I was reminded about freedom of speech only this week when an Employment Tribunal put clear limits on an individual’s right to say certain things. The individual lost the case, but its aftermath has stirred up a hornet’s nest of recriminations, with even JK Rowling weighing in to criticise the Employment Tribunal.
The case in question was Forstater v 1) CGD Europe 2) Centre for Global Development 3) Masood Ahmed Case No 2200909/2019 18 December 2019. It involved Maya Forstater who was engaged by the Centre for Global Development (a Think Tank) as a Visiting Fellow from January 2015 to 31 December 2018. Ms Forstater is a professional researcher and writer on public policy, tax and business. She provided services in this respect to the Think Tank. She is also had an active social media presence on Twitter.
Ms Forstater had issued a number of tweets about UK Government policy in which she questioned the right of trans females to call themselves women. Several of her colleagues complained about these and stated that they were ‘transphobic’ in nature. When her contract with the Think Tank was not renewed, she took the view that this decision had been motivated by her statements on Twitter. She, therefore, took the view that she was being subjected to direct discrimination by reason of her beliefs in terms of Sections 4, 10 and 13 of the Equality Act 2010. Furthermore, Forstater argued that her rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and expression (Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention) had been breached.
As Employment Judge Tayler noted:
“When questioned during live evidence the Claimant [Ms Forstater] stated that biological males cannot be women. She considers that if a trans woman says she is a woman that is untrue, even if she has a Gender Recognition Certificate. On the totality of the Claimant’s evidence it was clear that she considers there are two sexes, male and female, there is no spectrum in sex and there are no circumstances whatsoever in which a person can change from one sex to another, or to being of neither sex. She would generally seek to be polite to trans persons and would usually seek to respect their choice of pronoun but would not feel bound to; mainly if a trans person who was not assigned female at birth was in a “woman’s space”, but also more generally. If a person has a Gender Recognition Certificate this would not alter the Claimant’s position. The Claimant made it clear that her view is that the words man and woman describe a person’s sex and are immutable. A person is either one or the other, there is nothing in between and it is impossible to change form one sex to the other.”
In dismissing Ms Forstater’s claim, Employment Judge Tayler stated:
“However, I consider that the Claimant’s view, in its absolutist nature, is incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others. She goes so far as to deny the right of a person with a Gender Recognition Certificate to be the sex to which they have transitioned. I do not accept the Claimant’s contention that the Gender Recognition Act produces a mere legal fiction. It provides a right, based on the assessment of the various interrelated convention rights, for a person to transition, in certain circumstances, and thereafter to be treated for all purposes as the being of the sex to which they have transitioned.”
A link to the Forstater judgement can be found below:
In arriving at his judgement, Employment Judge Tayler was influenced by an earlier decision which defined the scope of a person’s beliefs and whether they ought to be protected.
Mr Justice Burton sitting alone in the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Grainger v Nicolson Appeal No. UKEAT/0219/09  formulated some pretty clear guidelines about what constitutes a belief capable of protection under the UK equality laws. His Honour stated that for a belief to be capable of protection, it must satisfy the following requirements:
It must be genuinely held.
It must be a belief and not … an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
We may not have heard the last of Ms Forstater who may well be given to leave to appeal against Employment Judge Tayler’s judgement.
A link to the decision in Grainger v Nicolson can be found below:
Maya Forstater lost her job after she questioned government plans to let people declare their own gender.
Since the original article was published in December 2019, Ms Forstater has successfully appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and overturned the original decision of the Employment Tribunal.
Please see a link to the EAT’s judgement in this respect which was issued on 10 June 2021:
Over the last few months, several of my blog entries have examined the impact of conduct or behaviour of employees which occur outside working hours. The focus of these blogs has largely centred upon social media use (or misuse if you prefer) by employees and the likely consequences of reputational damage which the employer might suffer.
The overwhelming conclusion that visitors to this site should now have is that I take the view that what employees do in their private lives can have a significant impact on work-place relations. Yes, primarily we do have rights to privacy, expression and association as enshrined in Articles 8, 10 and 11 respectively of the European Convention on Human Rights (amongst other things), but does this does not give us a blank cheque or free pass to behave badly or engage in downright dubious activities outside working hours. In other words, our Convention rights are not absolute.
I decided to write this recent blog entry on the back of a story which appeared in The Independent last month in conjunction with the lead up to the European Parliamentary elections held in Germany on 26 May 2019. It was reported that a German national – Dr Gunnar Beck – was a candidate for a far right political party in Germany called the AfD (the Alternative for Germany).
Dr Beck is currently employed as a law lecturer at SOAS, University of London and many of his colleagues and the students were outraged when they learned that he was running as an AfD candidate for one of Germany’s seats in the European Parliament. There were calls for Dr Beck to be dismissed from his post at SOAS.
As it happened, Dr Beck was one of 10 German MEPs elected for the AfD Party.
This story is a very good example of issues such as freedom of speech versus the employer’s duty to prevent discrimination and intolerance in the work-place.
What should employers do if they stand accused of being complicit in the spread of extremist views or beliefs by one of their employees? It can be a very difficult call to make.
A link to the story about Dr Beck as reported by The Independent can be found below:
Section 98(4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives the right to dismiss employees (quite fairly) for misconduct – whether in the work-place or outside.
Furthermore, we live in times where political extremism of all shapes is much more prevalent. Again, the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employers – primarily agents of the State e.g. the Police and the intelligence services (and other sensitive posts) – the right to dismiss employees on national security grounds (see Home Office v Tariq and KianivThe Secretary of State for the Home Department ). Such a dismissal – even where the evidence against the employee in question might be fairly tenuous – would still constitute an automatically fair dismissal.
Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 does protect an individual’s philosophical beliefs, but this does not mean that all sorts of extremist views will necessarily be tolerated (or should be tolerated) by employers.
In Redfearn v Serco t/a West Yorkshire Transport Services (2005) the employer dismissed Mr Redfearn on health and safety grounds because of his membership of the racist British National Party (BNP). Redfearn’s political affiliations might lead to violence arising in the workplace.
This was not the last word on the matter and Redfearn took his claim to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that the then United Kingdom equality laws did not provide sufficient protection to individuals like him who suffered discrimination on grounds of their philosophical (political) beliefs.
In Redfearnv UK  the European Court of Human Rights stated that Redfearn had been dismissed on account of his membership of the British National Party and this was an example of unlawful discrimination. This decision effectively ensured that the protected characteristic of a person’s philosophical beliefs (now contained in the Equality Act 2010) is capable of including political beliefs.
In Grainger plc v Nicholson (2009), the Central London Employment Tribunal stated that individuals seeking the protection of the law [now contained in Section 10 of the Equality Act] must prove that the belief was “a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”.
A belief which demonstrates “a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” and this belief is ultimately “worthy of respect in a democratic society, [that it] be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others”.
This would seem to rule out protection for extremist beliefs, but as Redfearn v UK  clearly established employers will have to tread carefully. Essentially, the upshot of Redfearn is that employees are entitled to hold views which a large group within society may well find abhorrent and objectionable, but nonetheless such views fall within the protected characteristic of philosophical beliefs. Turning now to the employee holding such views or beliefs, the European Court of Human Rights made it very clear that such individuals did not have a right to act on these beliefs. So, for a person such as Mr Redfearn, he undoubtedly espoused racist beliefs by virtue of his BNP membership, but critically he had never acted upon these during his employment by, for example, subjecting a person from an ethnic minority group to unlawful, less favourable treatment.
In 2018, Councillor Christopher McEleny of the Scottish National Party took legal action against his former employer, the UK Ministry of Defence for alleged discrimination and constructive dismissal by reason of his political beliefs. An Employment Tribunal Judge, Frances Eccles ruled that McEleny’s beliefs in Scottish independence should be treated as a philosophical belief in terms of Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
Whether McEleny ultimately wins his Employment Tribunal claim on what exactly motivated his ex-employer to act in the way that it did towards him remains to be seen. It is a decision or outcome in which many people are undoubtedly interested.
Regular readers of this Blog will be aware that several of my previous articles have examined whether veganism could be a protected characteristic (a philosophical belief) in terms of Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
We still await the decision of the London Employment Tribunal in relation to the case of Jordi Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports (lodged in December 2018) which will give us a first indication as to whether veganism is capable of being a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act.
A link to an article on the BBC website about Mr Casamitjana’s claim can be found below:
A landmark tribunal will decide whether veganism is a “philosophical belief” akin to a religion.
In the meantime, Crossland Solicitors (an Oxfordshire based law firm) have carried out some really interesting research concerning the issue of vegan beliefs and work-place discrimination.
Nearly 1,000 employees and 1,000 employers took part in the research. The conclusions from this exercise are that nearly 45% of employees are of the opinion that they have experienced less favourable treatment due to their beliefs and nearly a third of respondents felt that they had been actively victimised by their employers because of their veganism. It seems to be the case that a large number of employers take the view that veganism is a fashion trend or a fad as opposed to an ethical and philosophical set of views which guides people in their daily lives.
Hopefully, the London Employment Tribunal will issue it’s decision in the very near future about Mr Casamitjana’s claim in order to provide some needed clarity to this area of the law.
A link to the research on Crossland’s website can be found below
Over the last few months, articles about veganism have cropped up pretty regularly on this Blog. It’s certainly a way of life for many people, but we still await a legal ruling from the Employment Tribunal as to whether it can be a protected, philosophical belief in terms of the Equality Act 2010 (see Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports lodged at the end of 2018).
In any event, there still seems to be a lot of reservations about veganism as a lifestyle (and a philosophical outlook).
An interesting article appeared on the BBC News website about an athlete who had chosen to become a vegan. Many people criticised this decision (could a vegan compete successfully at this level?), but here’s a young man (Ross Mackay) who bases some pretty important life decisions around his vegan beliefs. Mackay is certainly experiencing and having to overcome a lot of prejudice when many in sporting circles emphasise the importance of meat as a source of protein in order to aid performance.
After playing international tennis in his teens, Ross Mackay says he really learned about food when he became vegan.
The vegetarian cyclist
It reminded me of the reaction of many in Europe when the American cyclist, Jonathan or ‘Jacques’ Boyer started to compete in big races. In 1981, he was the first US rider to take part in the Tour de France, taking part five times and his best ever finish was 12th in 1983). Boyer was famously (or infamously – depending on your point of view) a vegetarian. To the French, Boyer’s US nationality was slightly less controversial than his diet (He didn’t eat meat and ate a lot of nuts and berries). Even his own directeur sportif (manager or head coach) Cyrille Guimard spoke of Boyer in slightly disbelieving terms – un marginal i.e. French for a hippy, an outsider or something approximating these attributes. As Ross Mackay would attest, it seems that attitudes in sport haven’t changed a lot in the intervening years.
A link to a short YouTube video where Boyer talks about his experiences of racing in Europe can be found below (Spoiler alert: Boyer refers to Lance Armstrong before he was exposed as a cheat).