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Legal Corner: Christian NHS Director dismissed for publicly expressing his religious views

29th Jul 2019

There are inevitably occasions when an individual’s religious beliefs conflict with their working life; how that is resolved, and what the ramifications of that might be, is an area which is attracting great interest at present. The recently decided case of Page v National Health Service Trust Development Authority UKEAT/0183/18/DA is an interesting example of the difficulties that arise in such situations.

Mr Page was a Non-Executive Director of the Kent and Medway National Health Service Trust. He also sat as a Magistrate in criminal and family proceedings. In that capacity, he was part of a panel which heard an application by a same-sex couple to adopt a child. As a committed Christian, Mr Page believed that it was in the best interests of a child to be cared for by a mother and a father and that anything else was ‘not normal.’

He voiced these views to his fellow Magistrates and was subsequently reprimanded for doing so. This disciplinary action was later reported in various newspapers and Mr Page also conducted a radio phone-in about his views. Mr Page did not inform the National Health Service Trust about the matter, but when they heard about it they arranged to meet with him.

At the meeting, he accepted that he had not considered the impact on the National Health Service Trust if a link was made between his views and his role. It was made clear to him that he needed to alert the National Health Service Trust if there was to be any further media coverage. Subsequently, a complaint was received about Mr Page’s conduct, which highlighted the negative impact of his views on the LGBT community served by the Trust. Mr Page was asked to give assurances that he would not express his views in public, but he refused.

Despite agreeing to inform the NHS Trust of any further media coverage of his opinions, Mr Page took part in live interviews on BBC Breakfast and Good Morning Britain without the National Health Service Trust’s knowledge.

As a result of the views he expressed on those programmes, he was removed from the Magistracy. When the National Health Service Trust learnt of his removal and the interviews, it suspended Mr Page from his position and later terminated his appointment; the reasons for this were that Mr Page’s public statements might impact on his credibility as a Non-Executive Director of a Trust which sought to engage with the LGBT community, particularly in the field of mental health.

They were concerned about the fact that Mr Page appeared unwilling to distinguish between his personal views and what it was appropriate to say to the media, given his role with the National Health Service Trust. In addition, Mr Page had failed to inform the National Health Service Trust of future publicity of his views, despite agreeing to do so.

Mr Page brought proceedings against the National Health Service Trust in the Employment Tribunal, alleging that he had been discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. He also sought to rely on Articles 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Page’s claims were rejected, and his subsequent appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal also failed.

The Employment Tribunal concluded that the reasons for the National Health Service Trust’s actions were not because of Mr Page’s beliefs, but because of the manner in which he had expressed them – in particular, the fact that he had appeared in the press and on national television. The expression of his beliefs in this way was not, the tribunal found, intimately linked to his religion or his beliefs, and therefore he could not rely on the protection of Article 9. Mr Page had sought to argue that his religious beliefs could not validly be distinguished from the manner in which he expressed them, but this assertion was rejected.

This case is another example of the principle that whilst the law protects those who hold a particular view based on their religion or belief, that protection does not necessarily extend to the way they may share or broadcast that belief. I recently discussed this same issue concerning the case of Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham National Health Service Trust which concerned a Christian nurse who was dismissed for initiating discussions with patients about her faith despite agreeing not to do so when complaints were made about her conduct. The clear lesson here is that if by expressing your religious beliefs publicly, offence might be taken by others, or it might negatively impact on how other’s view your ability to impartially perform your role, there is no legal protection available in such circumstances.

Safia Tharoo
Barrister 40 Bedford Row London

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