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Magistrate who said same-sex adoption not in best interests of a child loses discrimination claims

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A Christian magistrate who publicly disapproved of same-sex adoption has lost his claim for religious discrimination and victimisation.

Mr Page was a lay magistrate who heard both criminal and family cases. He was also a non-executive director on the board of Kent and Medway NHS Trust. In July 2015, while hearing an adoption application concerning a same-sex couple, Mr Page expressed the view that he did not agree with same-sex adoptions. A complaint was made and an investigation carried out, during which he maintained his view that having two parents of the same sex was not in the best interests of a child. He was reprimanded and ordered to have further training.

Between January and March the following year, the incident was picked up by the press, reporting that Mr Page had been disciplined for his beliefs. Mr Page provided quotes to the media and appeared on a breakfast news programme despite magistrates having been given guidance not to communicate with the media. During his appearance, he repeated his view that it would be “better if it was a man and a woman who were the adoptive parents” of a child. Following his media appearances, he was suspended from his role at the NHS Trust, who he had not informed of the situation.
His remarks and comments to the media were investigated and ultimately he was removed from office both as a magistrate and as a non-executive director at the NHS Trust.

Mr Page raised various claims in respect of both dismissals, including direct religious discrimination, victimisation and breach of Article 10 (freedom of expression). However, his claims were dismissed in both cases. The Employment Tribunal (ET) held that he had not been dismissed for his religious beliefs, but the manner in which they had been expressed. While the ET recognised that a proportion of Mr Page’s interview, where he claimed that he had been disciplined because of his religious views, constituted a protected act, no other aspects of his interviews did. It was held that this act was not the reason for his dismissal, but the expression of his bias.

Mr Page appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), which upheld the decisions of the ET in both cases. In respect of his magistrate role, the EAT described his remarks as “potentially a very serious flouting of the judicial oath“. The EAT pointed out that it was not his views which resulted in his dismissal, but the clear indication that he would not be impartial in a decision where same-sex couples were involved. In respect of his NHS Trust position, it was found that his actions, in particular speaking to the media, would have a detrimental effect on the Trust’s engagement with certain sections of the community it served and were a direct contravention of instructions given to him. That was found to be the reason for his dismissal, rather than his beliefs themselves.

This is the latest case which highlights the possible conflict between religious beliefs and sexual orientation. It is a useful reminder that freedom of expression and religious beliefs do not serve as overarching protection, or provide a free pass, to express views which may bring the reputation of an employer into disrepute. In this case, Mr Page’s removal from the magistracy was considered a proportionate limitation upon his right to freedom of expression.