Ex-magistrate challenges Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor over pro-family dismissal13 May 2019 Issued by: Christian Legal Centre
An ex-magistrate, removed from the judiciary for expressing the view that it is in a child’s best interests to be raised by a mother and a father, is set to take on the most senior judge and Lord Chancellor in England and Wales at an Employment Appeal Tribunal in central London on the 14 and 15 May.
The appeal will call into question the impartiality of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice who made the decision to remove Mr Richard Page from his post after comments he made on the BBC in 2015. The outcome of this case could have significant consequences for anyone in society who expresses a similar Christian view in a public or even private social setting.
The Lord Chancellor at the time was Michael Gove, who was reportedly reluctant to take the decision to remove Mr Page from the judiciary. It is a highly unusual step for a politician to remove a judge and strangely it took Mr Gove three months to sign off the ruling which has been described in court as ‘brutal’.
Mr Page, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, is challenging this ruling as based on discrimination of Christians, and will be represented in court by the highly-experienced religious freedoms barrister, Paul Diamond.
The judiciary were ‘closing ranks’
The permission to appeal was granted in December 2018 after Her Honour Judge Katherine Tucker, ruled that: “There was in my judgment a compelling reason for me to do so. In my judgment, some of the submissions made today appear to suggest that it is part of the appellant’s [Mr Page] case that the judiciary were ‘closing ranks’ or dealing inappropriately, and/or in a heavy handed manner with a member of the judiciary who had spoken out about their own beliefs. I considered that it was in accordance with open justice that any suggestion of that nature should be considered at a full appeal where full argument could take place. It is important to ensure that there is confidence in the judicial process and in the fair and proper administration of justice.”
As a Magistrate of some 15 years’ experience, Mr Page was one of the three justices considering an adoption case in 2014. During a closed-door discussion with his two colleagues, Mr Page expressed his view that it was in the best interests of the child to be raised by “a mother and a father” rather than a same-sex couple. 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.
Concerned by this and the politicisation of the case, Mr Page gave his reasoned view but was subsequently reported, and, following an investigation, disciplined by the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice. Mr Page was told that his views about family life were discriminatory against same-sex couples and he was barred from sitting as a magistrate until he had received ‘equality training’, which he duly undertook.
Children do best with a father and a mother
In 2015, Mr Page spoke to the BBC about his experience in the context of a news report about obstacles to freedom of religion or belief in the workplace. He explained: “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 woman who were the adoptive parents.”
His comments, however, prompted further investigation, and in March 2016 he was removed from the magistracy. One complaint was enough to see him removed, despite having received over 6,000 messages of support for the stand he had taken.
It is somewhat ironic that the interview for which Mr Page was dismissed occurred as part of a TV debate about Christians being squeezed out of public life. The BBC programme followed research conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission about challenges to freedom of religion and belief in the UK.
Meanwhile, Mr Page, who also has nearly 20 years’ exemplary experience as a finance director in the NHS, was serving a four-year term as a non-executive director of Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT). But just weeks after the decision to remove him from the magistracy, Richard was suspended from his role at the trust and any opportunity to re-apply was blocked. Mr Page is also separately challenging the NHS on this decision.
At the subsequent Tribunal against the judiciary, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice chose not to come to the Tribunal to speak for themselves, and not to make any written witness statements to answer the allegations of discrimination. In a normal Employment Tribunal case, such an unexplained failure to provide direct evidence from the actual decision-maker would have been fatal to their defence. It would be seen as practically an admission of guilt. In this case, the Tribunal just let it be and Mr Page was forced to continue his fight for justice and to clear his name.
Within the bounds of judicial functions
The case highlights that while the judiciary are expected to show restraint while commenting in public, Mr Page’s remarks were well within the bounds of his judicial functions, and he had therefore been victimised. There are several examples of other judges and magistrates making political comments publicly without any scrutiny, let alone being dismissed.
Baroness Hale, for example, the current President of the Supreme Court, shared her private views on the liberalisation of divorce to the Evening Standard. In light of this, at a previous hearing for Mr Page Judge Parry was asked if Baroness Hale should no longer preside over divorce cases in the same way Mr Page was barred from presiding over adoption. “This is a matter for her,” Judge Parry replied.
An important moment
Ahead of the appeal, Mr Page, who has expertise both as a member of the Family Panel and as a former foster parent of five children, says:
“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 is 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.”
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, says:
“The case of Richard Page reveals frightening developments in our society. We need to understand what is happening here, as Christians are being excluded from public office because of what they believe.
“This is an important moment, shining a light on how justice is done in our country. Even the top judges in the land should not be beyond proper scrutiny, and we are glad that this case will be heard. It was always disproportionate to remove a kind-hearted and long-serving public servant like Richard from his position simply because he expressed his well-founded beliefs. We will continue standing by Richard, and others like him, for as long as it takes for the legal system, and society in general, to recognise the positive impact of Christians in our nation’s life.”
Notes for editors:
Date and time of the hearing: 10.30am, Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 May 2019
Venue: 5th Floor, Rolls Building, 7 Rolls Buildings, Fetter Lane, London, EC4A 1NL