Court upholds public servant’s double sacking for speaking to the media about Christian views on family26 February 2021 Issued by: Christian Concern
The Court of Appeal has today ruled that it was lawful for a Christian non-executive NHS director and magistrate to be sacked for expressing in the media that children do best when raised by a mother and a father.
Mr Richard Page, 74, from Kent, 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 Christian beliefs on parenting while presiding over an adoption case.
After a six-year legal battle seeking justice against the decisions to remove him, today’s judgment has instead taken a significant step in developing further limitations on freedom of speech for Christians in the workplace.
Mr Page now intends to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
In his judgment on Mr Page’s claim against NHS Improvement, Lord Justice Underhill stated that: ‘The extent to which it is legitimate to expect a person holding a senior role in a public body to refrain from expressing views which may upset a section of the public is a delicate question.’
He recognised that Mr Page ‘had a particular interest in expressing publicly his views about same-sex adoption in the context of his removal as a magistrate, which was a legitimate matter of public debate’ and that he expressed his views ‘temperately’ in the media.
However, he judged that Mr Page’s views on same sex-marriage and ‘homosexual activity’, might cause ‘offence’.
The ruling suggested, for example, that Mr Page should have ‘declined to answer’ Piers Morgan’s questions on his beliefs during an interview on Good Morning Britain in 2016.
Mr Morgan’s treatment of Mr Page during the interview led to 70 complaints to Ofcom.
However, it was ruled that Mr Page’s responses to Piers Morgan’s questions justified his removal from his financial role in the NHS, as they might inadvertently ‘deter mentally ill gay people in the Trust’s catchment area from engaging with its services.’
Lawyers representing Mr Page had argued at the hearing in November 2020 that upholding his removal on these grounds would force Christians holding traditional views about sexual morality into silence, making it almost impossible for them to hold any kind of public office.
Concluding his judgment Lord Justice Underhill stated, however, that: ‘The issue raised by this case is not about what beliefs such a person holds but about the limits on their public expression.’
He added that: ‘the freedom to express religious or any other beliefs cannot be unlimited. In particular, so far as the present case is concerned, there are circumstances in which it is right to expect Christians (and others) who work for an institution, especially if they hold a high-profile position, to accept some limitations on how they express in public their beliefs on matters of particular sensitivity.’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said:
“This is the first time the Court of Appeal has endorsed the perverse distinction between unlawful discrimination for Christian beliefs and lawfully dismissing someone for offending an LGBT audience by expressing those beliefs.
“This is simply an artificial way to exclude Christian beliefs from the protection of the law. Nobody would get away with applying a similar distinction to any other protected characteristic. You would not get away with dismissing a homosexual for coming out as a homosexual, and then saying: “we duly respect your sexual orientation as long as you keep it to yourself”. This is an unfair and chilling decision, and the Supreme Court should put it right.
“The judgment sends a direct message to Christian public servants that if they allow their beliefs to influence their decision-making while in public office, they must self-censor and be silent, and are ultimately unfit for that office. If they express their beliefs in private to colleagues, they will be reprimanded, and if they then state those beliefs to the media, they will be sacked and will have their lives torn apart.
“The idea that you can remove a director from the NHS based on a perception that members of the LGBT community may be offended by something he said in the media, is extraordinary and should concern us all.
“This ruling provides a green light for employers to punish Christian employees who do not fall in line with and unquestionably support LGBT ideology. We will continue to stand with Richard Page as he seeks justice. We will not stop until this wrong is put right.”
Responding to the outcome, Mr Page said: “This is another deeply concerning ruling from the courts against Christian freedoms, and I intend to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.”
Removal from the magistracy
In 2014, Richard Page 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 15 May 2019. On 19 June 2019, Mr Justice Choudhury dismissed both appeals.
Notes to editors:
Video: Richard Page’s full story
NHS judgment: https://christianconcern.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/CC-Resource-Judgment-Richard-Page-CoA-NHS-Final-210226.pdf
Magistracy judgment: https://christianconcern.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/CC-Resource-Judgment-Richard-Page-CoA-Magistracy-Final-210226.pdf