Legal Corner: Magistrate who declined to order a same-sex adoption not discriminated

19th Mar 2021
Legal Corner: Magistrate who declined to order a same-sex adoption not discriminated

The tension between one’s religious beliefs and one’s professional responsibilities can, from time to time, cause considerable strain, this was the position that Richard Page found himself in whilst sitting as a magistrate in a family case in 2014, regarding the adoption of a child by a same-sex couple.

Mr Page expressed his opinion, based on his Christian beliefs, about the appropriateness of the adoption, and declined to approve it. This led to misconduct proceedings, on the basis that Mr Page had failed to uphold his undertakings as a magistrate to administer justice according to the law, free from any bias. Mr Page was found guilty of misconduct and received a reprimand “to show that it is unacceptable for him to allow his religious beliefs to prevent him from acting in an unbiased and unprejudiced manner”.

He was required to undertake remedial training, following which he was permitted to resume sitting as a magistrate. Shortly after, Mr Page gave interviews to the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which suggested that he believed that the reprimand was unjustified. Following this, he was reminded that members of the judiciary (including magistrates) should not speak to the media, but that if they felt the need to do so, they consult the judicial press office first. Mr Page had failed to do this, and so was warned about his conduct.

However, just a few months later, without contacting the judicial press office beforehand, Mr Page took part in a television interview for BBC Breakfast as part of a report on workplace religious discrimination. He set out his views on the same-sex adoption case that he had been involved in. Mr Page was invited to further disciplinary hearing on the basis that he had wilfully disregarded the advice, bringing the magistracy into disrepute and failure to uphold his judicial oath.

Mr Page brought his claim to the employment tribunal, arguing that his removal had been discriminatory on the grounds of his religious beliefs. He argued that the second set of disciplinary proceedings had been brought as an act of victimisation after he had complained that the first round amounted to an act of discrimination, he failed. The employment tribunal ruled that the decision to discipline and remove Mr Page, was based on the context of adoption, he was not prepared to discharge his functions as a magistrate according to the law and evidence and had not acknowledged that mistake.

Mr Page unsuccessfully appealed to the employment appeal tribunal, and then the Court of Appeal, who has issued their judgement in this case. The Tribunal concluded that despite the many assertions made by Mr Page, the issue was simple, he was removed as a magistrate because he had publicly declared that in dealing with the case he would proceed not based on the law or evidence, but his preconceived beliefs.

The Court of Appeal made clear that if a person takes on a judicial role, it is simply unopen to them to superimpose their own beliefs into their decision making, however sincerely held they are.

This case serves as another reminder that where tensions arise between religious beliefs and professional responsibilities, how they are dealt with depends very much on the impact of those beliefs on the responsibilities held. Mr Page was wholly entitled to maintain his religious views, and indeed to practise them if he so wished, in his own life. However, in taking up a position where he was obliged to follow the law and evidence, the courts made clear that there was simply no room for him to insert his own beliefs into the decision-making process.

Safia Tharoo
Barrister, 40 Bedford Row, London

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