The President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal has removed an LGBT activist from hearing the case of a Christian who was dismissed by the school she worked for because of Facebook posts about transgenderism and sex education.
Edward Lord had originally been appointed as the lay member of the panel to hear the appeal of Kristie Higgs, but had declined to recuse himself when questions about his suitability were raised.
In her judgment, Mrs Justice Eady concluded that she was “satisfied that if the lay member were to sit on the Employment Appeal Tribunal panel on this appeal, the fair-minded and informed observer could not exclude the possibility of bias.”
“…there was a real ground for doubt in the lay member’s ability to approach this matter with an impartial and entirely open mind. That being so, the lay member would be recused from hearing this appeal.”
Giving guidance for future cases, she ruled that:
“a lay member should raise any potential issues of this nature with the judge with whom they are sitting on the case in question; the judge would be best able to act as the fair-minded and informed observer, with an understanding of the issues to be determined.”
Getting a fair hearing
Reacting to the news, Mrs Higgs said: “I am relieved at the decision to recuse Edward Lord. He has made many public statements that strongly oppose the Christian beliefs at the heart of my case and I feared that his presence on the panel could lessen my chances of getting a fair hearing.
“However, I am disappointed that because of raising this issue, the full appeal hearing will be delayed again. This is another challenge, however, that I am determined to overcome as I continue to seek justice.
“I am grateful to God for sustaining me this far and am sure that he will provide for all my needs going forward.”
‘Justice must be done’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Justice must be done and must be seen to be done.
“We faced no alternative but to challenge Edward Lord’s involvement in this case. It’s not hard to see the conflict of interest in this case – a member of the tribunal going out of his way to publicly announce he blocks people on Twitter for expressing concerns on trans issues; the views Kristie was dismissed for.
“Edward Lord may say he wants to apply the law impartially, but his campaigning twitter account demonstrates the opposite. It is not kind; it is not tolerant. Asking Edward Lord to recuse himself in this case was a simple and reasonable request that helps avoid any suggestion of bias.
“An open, vocal, activist ought to proactively make his or her views known to a judge when he or she is so aggressively opposed to the beliefs at the heart of the case. It is profoundly unfair that Kristie has to wait even longer for justice in her case because we were forced to challenge Lord’s presence on the panel.”
“We will continue to stand with Kristie as she faces this latest hurdle in pursuit of justice.”
Edward Lord’s suitability challenged
At a hearing in June, Mrs Higgs’ lawyers challenged the suitability of tribunal member, Edward Lord, to hear the appeal.
It transpired that Lord had made a series of public statements relating to key issues in Mrs Higgs’ case, including the extent to which individuals should be restricted from making comments or statements regarding LGBT ideology, especially transgenderism.
The campaign group Sex Matters which campaigns for women’s rights, also objected to Edward Lord being on the panel for Kristie Higgs’ hearing. Sex Matters requested the right to intervene in the case and submitted its own document with evidence of the clear bias in Edward Lord’s views. The intervention from Sex Matters was not allowed by the judge, but the attempted intervention showed that there was a strong perception of bias by external observers of the case.
‘I will block anyone … who [denies] trans people’
Edward Lord’s pinned tweet publicly announces that he blocks people on Twitter for expressing views that challenge trans ideology, the very the views Mrs Higgs was dismissed for:
“My Twitter blocking policy: I will block anyone who tweets (or likes/retweets) abuse to or about me, my friends, my colleagues, or marginalised communities. This includes those who claim to be feminists but exclude or deny trans people or are otherwise not intersectional.”
Further tweets, submitted as evidence to the court, uncovered comments on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), a crucial issue in Mrs Higgs’ case, where he wrote:
“So, here comes Section 28 again in a different guise. I just despair. It makes me cry. Of course teachers should accurately reflect that some children might be trans. I wish mine had.”
He has also supported the exclusion from a debate in the Middle Temple of Barrister, Naomi Cunningham, who he regards as unacceptably critical of the transgender agenda.
Edward Lord tweeted:
“As a member of @middletemple’s @lgbtqforum and as one of the Inn’s @cityoflondon local councillors, I am sad to see the Inn offer a platform to a well known ‘gender critical’ barrister who champions transphobic causes at what should have been a celebration of #LGBTQ solidarity.”
Furthermore, Lord has described Professor Kathleen Stock, who was hounded out of her job at the University of Sussex by trans activists for her gender critical views, as “a notorious trans hater.”
In the case of R.(Miller) v College of Policing, however, Professor Stock was described by Mr Justice Knowles as a “serious academic.”
Associated with Mermaids, which promotes radical transgender education in schools, in 2012 Edward Lord was also appointed as one of Stonewall’s first seventeen LGBT role models.
Edward Lord has also served as a trustee and advisory board member of LGBT Youth charity, Albert Kennedy Trust, the LGBT Foundation, and Pride in London.
In a YouTube video, 5 minutes and 10 seconds in, Edward Lord has described how he refused to go to a function where Liz Truss and Mike Pence were in attendance because their “views simply do not accord with my values.”
Mrs Higgs’ lawyers argued to the court that Lord’s public statements could give rise to a perception of bias and politely invited Lord to recuse himself from hearing the appeal as a lay member.
Barrister, Richard O’Dair, who represented Mrs Higgs, said that Edward Lord is not simply a person with views, but is a highly committed transgender activist, who, in very public forums, from a position of considerable influence and power, has taken sides on one of the most aggressively contested issues of our day, opposing everything Mrs Higgs stands for.
Mrs Higgs’s ordeal began in October 2018 when the Church of England primary school attended by her youngest son adopted ‘No Outsiders’ teaching about sexual minorities.
In late October 2018, mother of two, Mrs Higgs, shared two posts on her private Facebook page, that made no mention of her employer, under her maiden name.
The first post encouraged friends and family to sign a petition challenging the government’s plans to introduce Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) to children in primary schools.
The post flagged that a government consultation on plans to make RSE mandatory for children as young as four was coming to a close, and asked its readers to sign a nationwide petition calling on the government to uphold the rights of parents to have children educated in line with their religious beliefs.
A similar petition was subsequently signed by over 115,000 people and was debated in Parliament.
In the second post, Mrs Higgs shared an article from Judybeth.com on the rise of transgender ideology in children’s books in American schools and added her own comment: “This is happening in our primary schools now.”
The article critiqued the same LGBT ‘No Outsiders’ books promoting transgenderism to children that Mrs Higgs had discovered were being introduced in her son’s Church of England primary school.
The following weekend, Matthew Evans, the headteacher of Farmor’s School, received an anonymous complaint which described the posts as “homophobic and prejudiced to the LGBT community.”
In response, Mr Evans asked the complainant to find more “offensive posts” on Mrs Higgs’s Facebook page, and promised to take immediate action.
The following week, despite the posts being only visible to her friends, Mrs Higgs was pulled into a meeting by Mr Evans.
Mr Evans read a letter out telling her that she would be suspended and that an investigation would follow for gross misconduct. Told she had to leave the premises, Mrs Higgs, shaking and tearful, collected her things and left the school grounds.
An investigation into her conduct was launched, which involved Mrs Higgs being questioned on why she had used her school email to receive ‘inspirational’ quotations from the Bible.
The investigation culminated just days before Christmas when Mrs Higgs was asked to attend a disciplinary hearing at a hotel.
‘Pro-Nazi right-wing extremist’
For six hours until 8pm, Mrs Higgs was subjected to intimidating questioning by the panel of three governors, supported by three other members of staff. Her posts were compared to ‘pro-Nazi’ views, and she was accused of intolerance.
When she tried to explain the context of her Christian beliefs she was told: “keep your religion out of it.” Mrs Higgs argued that her aim had been merely to raise awareness among parents of the Government’s education plans and the transgender books being taught in primary schools.
The academy concluded, however, that Mrs Higgs would be dismissed for: ‘illegal discrimination’, ‘serious inappropriate use of social media’, and ‘online comments that could bring the school into disrepute and damage the reputation of the school.’
In October 2020, Bristol Employment Tribunal ruled against Mrs Higgs’ claims for discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her Christian beliefs in connection with her 2018 sacking from Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire.
Having worked for 7 years as a pastoral assistant at the school, Mrs Higgs was summarily dismissed in early 2019 after sharing a petition against the extension of relationship and sex education on her private Facebook page.
Launching legal action, the tribunal hearing that followed concluded that her dismissal was not related to the Christian beliefs she expressed on social media, such as her opposition to sex education in primary schools or to the idea of gender fluidity.
The ruling said that her beliefs are protected by the Equality Act, however, it claimed that Mrs Higgs was dismissed because some of the content in the articles she linked to could lead someone to think that Kristie “was hostile towards the LBGT community, and trans people in particular”, despite there being no evidence of this.
Ironically, the ruling was made shortly after new Government guidelines restricted the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum to prevent the LGBT indoctrination of children – vindicating the protests of parents such as Mrs Higgs.
Barrister Richard O’Dair, representing Mrs Higgs, argued before leave to appeal was granted that: “It is not transphobic to have doubts about gender reassignment for children” and described the tribunal’s conclusions as “perverse” and “not a view to which one can come if one has a proper understanding of free speech”.
Mrs Higgs’ lawyers are appealing on the grounds that in affirming the school’s position, the Employment Tribunal erred in law and demonstrated a manifestly incorrect understanding of freedom of speech.
Lawyers will argue at the appeal that no reasonable and informed person, having read Mrs Higgs’ posts, could conclude anything other than that the posts were a critique of a certain approach to education, whether held by members of the LGBT community or non-LGBT secular liberals.
Find out more about Kristie Higgs