Court of Appeal to hear crucial case on freedom of public servant to speak out about anti-Christian discrimination2 November 2020 Issued by: Christian Legal Centre
Tomorrow, a five-year legal battle will reach the second highest court in England as Richard Page challenges his removal as a magistrate and non-executive NHS director, for expressing his view that children do best when raised by a mother and a father.
The case is believed to be the first time that the Court of Appeal will consider a Christian freedom of speech employment case.
Mr Page was suspended from the magistracy and forced out of a role at an NHS Trust after explaining on television that he had been discriminated against for his evidence-based Christian beliefs on parenting.
The case will test whether someone can be forced out of a public position for sharing their beliefs.
In October, an Employment Tribunal ruled that Christian school worker Kristie Higgs could be dismissed for sharing concerns about RSE lessons on Facebook because someone might think that she would discriminate against an LGBT student.
Mr Page was sacked as a director of Kent and Medway NHS Trust after talking in media interviews about anti-Christian discrimination in public life.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mr Page, said: “Richard Page’s Christian understanding of the family is being treated as so offensive that those who express it are excluded from public life.
“Christians have tremendous capacity to serve society, but they are not only being told to leave their faith at the door – they are being told they cannot publicly express their faith anywhere.
“As a magistrate, Richard Page only wanted to do what was best for the child – the ‘gold standard’ for cases involving the welfare of a child. For expressing his well-founded belief that a child will do better with a mother and a father he has been unfairly dismissed and ruled out of public life.
“If Richard can also be thrown out of his NHS post, despite all his experience, for sharing his beliefs, it raises serious questions over how Christians can fully participate in society. His NHS role had nothing to do with his views about the family.”
Ahead of the hearing, Mr Page said: “I am fighting this battle because I do not want anyone else to go through what I have. I do not want Christian beliefs to be barred from important positions in public life.
“When you sit in a Family Court, you have a huge responsibility to ensure the overall well-being of the children who are being recommended to be placed into new families. You weigh the reports and references before you and the evidence you hear. It is vital in such a scenario that a range of viewpoints are heard. That is why there are three magistrates who preside over a case, and not one dictating the decision.
“To punish and to seek to silence me for expressing a dissenting view is deeply worrying for our society. It is vital for Christians to take a stand for their freedoms, for the truth, and for the futures of our children.”
Removal from the magistracy
In 2014, Richard Page, now 74, from Kent, had been one of three justices considering an application by a homosexual couple to adopt a small child.
Discussing the social worker’s report on the case with two other Magistrates behind closed doors, Mr Page had remarked that it would be better for the child to be raised by a mother and a father.
Mr Page expressed this view, not only because of his Christian faith, but because a report provided to the court by social services sweepingly claimed that children up for adoption do better with homosexual couples than heterosexual couples.
The report also indicated that at least one of the applicants had been unsuccessful in a previous application for adoption.
A week after making the comments, Mr Page was left stunned when he found out that he had been reported to the judicial watchdog for alleged prejudice against the same-sex couple who were seeking to adopt.
He was banned from sitting on family court cases, reprimanded, and told he had to undergo ‘equality training’ by then Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling.
Excluding Christians from public service
Until this moment, Mr Page had an unblemished record working for 15 years in the judiciary.
He has described the ‘tremendous pressure’ Christians face in the courts to go along with what is politically correct rather than what, in their judgment and experience, is right.
Following the reprimand, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office released a statement on 30 December 2014 saying:
“The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice have issued Mr Richard Page JP, a Magistrate assigned to the Central Kent Bench with a reprimand. Mr Page, whilst sitting in the Family Court, was found to have been influenced by his religious beliefs and not by the evidence. The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice considered that this amounted to serious misconduct and that Mr Page should have recused himself from the matter.”
The Mail on Sunday picked up on the announcement, but were told that they would be breaking the law if they reported anything further than what had been released in the statement.
Unperturbed, The Mail released the story. Huge controversy followed with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali stating at the time that the British justice system had: “declared war on even residual notions of the faith having any place in our legal processes… This is but the latest in a long line of cases having the effect of excluding Christians from public service and holding public office.”
Subsequently, Mr Page was bombarded with media requests which included appearing on a BBC feature on religious discrimination in the workplace in March 2015 where he made the following comment:
“My responsibility as a magistrate as I saw it was to do what I considered best for the child, and my feeling was therefore that it would be better if it was a man and a woman who were adopted parents.”
Following the interview, fresh disciplinary proceedings were brought against him and a year later he was dismissed by the then Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove.
Removal from the NHS
More punishment was to follow. After 20 years’ unblemished experience, his role as a non-executive director for the NHS came into question.
Following his removal from the judiciary, NHS bosses summoned him to a meeting where he was told that he needed to resign or face disciplinary proceedings.
After refusing to resign, Mr Page was suspended on 21 March 2016. His term as a director was due to expire in June 2016 and he was told not to apply for an extension. Following his refusal, the case was then escalated to the Termination of Appointment Panel, chaired by the wife of a Labour peer, Caroline Thomson, who concluded the hearing in August 2016 by stating:
“The panel was unanimous in its view that it was not in the interests of the health service for you to serve as a non-executive director in the NHS. It felt that your public response to the decision of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to remove you from the magistracy, the events following that decision and your position in relation to those matters was likely to have had a negative impact on the confidence of staff, patients and the public in you as a local NHS leader.”
The panel had received one complaint about Mr Page’s views compared to the 6,000 emails supporting him and protesting his suspension.
First in British legal history
Claiming religious discrimination and harassment, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Page brought legal proceedings against the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, challenging his removal from the Magistracy – the first such case in British legal history. He brought similar proceedings against NHS Improvement.
The case against the NHS was heard in August 2017, where for the first time Mr Page was able to explain the reasons for his dissenting opinion without fear of breaking the law on a confidential adoption case.
Reporting from court, a BBC report stated:
“In a witness statement presented to the tribunal [Mr Page] denied being homophobic and said the reasons for refusing the adoption in this case were three-fold: one of the applicants had a previously failed adoption application and there was no background on the circumstances of that; the child’s foster parents of nearly three years also wanted to adopt the child; and he suspected the applicants of “adoption shopping” in England where the process is easier than in some countries, with plans to then take the child abroad.”
NHS lawyers argued that Mr Page was removed from office, not for his beliefs but rather, for openly expressing those beliefs in the media. His claims were subsequently dismissed.
Chairman of Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, Mr Ling, was asked during proceedings what would happen to a non-executive director who was in favour of same-sex adoptions and who publicly expressed that view in the media. Mr Ling admitted that in such a case, “we would not take the same action as was taken against Mr Page”.
Mr Page’s case against the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice was heard separately at a Central London Employment Tribunal in February 2018.
Employment Judge Heather Williams QC ruled that Mr Page’s interviews “cannot be seen as the exercise of a legitimate right of reply”. She added: “there may be circumstances in which judges have a… right to make public pronouncements, the same only extends to the making of moderate and proper statements… This was not the case with Mr Page’s public statements.”
Mr Page appealed both decisions to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. His appeals against the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, and NHS Improvement, were heard together on 22 January 2019. On 19 June 2019, Mr Justice Choudhury dismissed both appeals.
In December 2019, Lord Justice Underhill granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice Underhill commented in his written decision: “I am very doubtful whether this appeal has a real prospect of success. But the removal of a magistrate for making a public statement of the kind in question raises issues of some public importance and sensitivity which I think there is a public interest in this Court considering.”
Notes for editors
Tuesday 3 – Wednesday 4 November, 9.30am
Court of Appeal, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, Holborn, London WC2A 2LL
Streamed online via YouTube: https://www.judiciary.uk/you-and-the-judiciary/going-to-court/court-of-appeal-home/the-court-of-appeal-civil-division-live-streaming-of-court-hearings/