Judgment reserved in case of Christian magistrate dismissed from NHS over family views4 August 2017 Issued by: Christian Legal Centre
A Christian who was dismissed as a magistrate by the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, after expressing his view that it was in a child’s best interests to be raised by a mother and a father, must wait to learn the outcome of his claim of discrimination, harassment and victimisation against an NHS Trust after being blocked from returning to his role as a non-executive director.
Richard Page, who had nearly 20 years’ experience as a finance director in the NHS, was suspended from his role as a non-executive director of Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust in March 2016.
The Trust believed that the expression of his views about family life on TV and news media outlets had “undermined” the confidence of staff.
Mr Page, from Kent, brought his claim against the NHS Trust Development Authority, under the Equality Act 2010.
At a preliminary hearing in January this year, an Employment Tribunal judge said that Mr Page’s case was “crying out to be heard.”
After a four-day hearing which began on 1 August, Croydon Employment Tribunal today delayed handing down its ruling.
Mr Page is being supported in his claim by the Christian Legal Centre and was represented in court by Christian Legal Centre representative Pavel Stroilov.
‘Not in interests of health service’ to serve on NHS Trust
Richard Page, 71, worked for various NHS Trusts over the course of almost 20 years, and his experience contributed significantly to the success of the organisations he was involved in. Mr Page and his wife fostered children for 15 years.
In 2016, Mr Page appeared on various television programmes to defend his position that children should ideally be raised by a mother and father. He had expressed this view during a closed-door consultation in an adoption case while serving as a Justice of the Peace.
He was later sacked for serious misconduct from the Magistracy by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, who said his comments suggested he was “biased and prejudiced against single sex adopters”.
Then in August 2016, he was told that an NHS panel, convened to consider his suitability to return to his role as a non-executive director, was unanimous in its view that “it was not in the interests of the health service for [him] to serve.”
The panel believed that Mr Page’s actions were “likely to have had a negative impact on the confidence of staff, patients and the public in [him] as a local NHS leader.”
He was told that the panel’s decision would disqualify him for any further appointment as a non-executive director of any NHS Trust.
Perception of bias
The panel had received a single complaint about Mr Page’s views but was made aware of almost 7,000 emails supporting him.
Richard Page told the Employment Tribunal that his faith put him on a collision course with the NHS’s politically correct orthodoxy.
He said that the loss of his job signifies a worrying shift away from religious freedom, towards ideological dictatorship.
During the hearing, Mr Andrew Ling, former Chair of the NHS Trust said, “it is not legitimate to publicly state those (Mr Page’s) views when they are in relation to and give rise to questions of equality”.
Commenting on the impact of Mr Page’s views, Mr Ling continued, “there was a perception that he may not be unbiased when considering issues in the trust.”
When asked about how the NHS would treat someone favouring same-sex adoption, Miss Scanlan, Head of Non-Executive Development at the NHS Trust, initially observed that “if a Non-Executive Director expressed a view in the media in favour of same-sex adoption, we would not take the same action as was taken against Mr Page.“
Reflecting on the possible impact of Mr Page’s views, Miss Thomson, Chair of the Provider Leadership Committee said “[Mr Page’s] views were likely to cause offence or make people feel that the trust was influenced in a discriminatory way and they were not in line with the Equality Act policy.”
During the hearing, Mr Stroilov observed that, “The very purpose of the Equality Act is for different beliefs to be treated equally, whether we agree with them or not”. He continued, “it can hardly be within its purposes to permit discrimination against adherents of a particular religion or belief on the grounds that this religion/belief is in itself ‘discriminatory’.“
He continued, “[Mr Page’s] beliefs on a philosophical issue, having nothing to do with the practical workings of the NHS, turned out to be out of tune with its ideological orthodoxy”.
Finally, “The detriment suffered by Mr Page was because of his religious belief that it was in the best interests of the child to be raised by a mother and father, and he was treated less favourably that a Non-Executive Director who would publicly express a belief favouring same-sex adoption“.
Counsel for the NHS, David Massarella argued that, “It is beyond question that the views [Mr Page] expressed in his media appearances are discriminatory in respect of gay people”.
He continued by saying, “The fact that a view is a religious view cannot act as a cloak for the expression of the view, the context of which may be offensive or discriminatory for people hearing them.”
Additionally, he commented, “The Claimant (Mr Page) wants to focus his case on a religious belief that he holds that he wishes to characterise as an exclusively religious belief. On the face of it, that sounds entirely positive. But what he must do to avoid the consequences of that belief is to sever from that belief the obvious negative and discriminatory consequences of that view, which is that same-sex adoption is wrong, unnatural, sinful, or a last resort.“
Mr Page is also continuing his legal action against the Secretary of State for Justice, claiming that his dismissal as a magistrate was unlawful and discriminated against him on account of his Christian beliefs.
‘Appalling anti-Christian attitude’
Commenting on the hearing, Mr Page said:
“My desire to do the best for the child has been the paramount consideration throughout my time as a magistrate on the family panel. Yet by living out this belief, I have been drawn into a much bigger battle about my freedom, and the freedom of Christians more broadly, to express Biblical truth in the public square.
“To my dismay, I have discovered the appalling anti-Christian attitude prevalent throughout much of the establishment.”
“It is deeply shocking that someone like me, who cares deeply about justice and freedom, and who has spent my whole life working to serve the community out of love for Jesus Christ, should now be punished in this way.”
‘Focus on perception has far-reaching consequences’
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting Mr Page, commented:
“The suggestion that discrimination can be established where there is a ‘perception’ that homosexual people may be affected by Mr Page’s belief is deeply disturbing.
“The focus on ‘perception’ has far-reaching consequences, as it places unjustifiable limits on freedom of expression by shutting down unpopular views.
“Counsel for the NHS Trust’s assertion that stating a Christian view on marriage and raising children has “obvious negative and discriminatory consequences… that same-sex adoption is wrong, unnatural, sinful, or a last resort” is deeply disturbing.
“The NHS was deeply concerned that Mr Page spoke to the media about what happened to him. But why shouldn’t he speak to the media?
“We have to stand against the false assertion that it is best for a child to be raised by same-sex couples. The evidence directly contradicts this.
“Mr Page is a selfless and compassionate individual who has dedicated himself to public service. Yet he is another in a long-time of brave Christians who have suffered detriment for expressing Biblical truth in the public sphere. We continue to stand by him in his legal challenge.”