In December, Christian Concern was pleased to bring the news that ex-magistrate Richard Page was granted permission to take his case to the most senior judges in England and Wales. Richard was blocked from returning to a non-executive director role at an NHS trust because he expressed the view that it is in a child’s best interests to be raised by a mother and a father. Now, the results of his appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (on 22 January) could have significant consequences for anyone across society who expresses a Christian view in a public – or even private – setting.
Children do best with a father and a mother
The momentum of this case has been building for over four years.
In 2014, during a closed-door consultation with two other magistrates about an adoption case, Richard expressed his view that, wherever possible, children do best with a mother and a father.
Despite having served as a magistrate in Kent for 15 years with an exemplary record, Richard was reported for his comments, and, following an investigation, was disciplined by the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice. He was told that his views about family life were ‘discriminatory against same-sex couples’ and was barred from sitting as a magistrate until he had received ‘equality training’.
One complaint, 6,000 emails of support
Then in 2015, Richard spoke to the BBC about his experience, speaking of the obstacles to freedom of religion 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.”
However, his comments to the BBC prompted further investigation, and in March 2016 he was removed from the magistracy by the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice.
At the time, Richard, who has nearly 20 years’ 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). Just weeks after the decision to remove him from the magistracy, Richard was also suspended from his role at the trust.
When his term as a non-executive director came up for renewal in June 2016, Richard expressed an interest to continue in the same role. But in August 2016, he was blocked from the position. Richard was told that a panel had convened to consider his suitability and had unanimously decided that “it was not in the interests of the health service for you to serve as a non-executive director in the NHS.”
The panel believed that Richard’s actions, in expressing his beliefs about family life, and in responding to his dismissal as a magistrate, were “likely to have had a negative impact on the confidence of staff, patients and the public in you as a local NHS leader.”
Richard was told that the panel’s view would be taken into account if he applied for a similar role in the NHS in the future. The panel had received only one complaint about Richard’s views, but was made aware of more than 6,000 emails supporting him and protesting at his suspension.
It is this decision to bar him from returning to his role as an NHS non-executive director that Richard challenged at an Employment Tribunal in February 2018, but the tribunal upheld the original decision. Now, Richard is appealing that ruling.
The outcome of the hearing could have significant consequences not just for members of the judiciary or the NHS, but for anyone who expresses a Christian view in a public setting, or even a private social setting.
Everyone is allowed freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights, which has served to protect a wide range of offensive and provocative speech far surpassing anything Richard has said. For example, the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, hurled abuse at a Jewish journalist while in office, calling him a German war criminal and concentration camp guard – and won his appeal.
Ahead of his own appeal, Richard commented: “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.”
The Christian Legal Centre is supporting Richard with his appeal. Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, added:
“The trust’s decision to block Richard from returning to his role is an attack on the man and his views and nothing to do with the practical workings of the NHS. The freedom for Christians to hold and express their views is under threat.”
Find out more about Richard Page