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, has lost in case in the Employment Tribunal claiming 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 asserted that the expression of his views about family life on TV and news media outlets had "undermined" the confidence of NHS staff, noting that “it was not in the best interests of the health service” for Mr. Page to carry on in his role.
Mr Page, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, brought his claim against the NHS Trust Development Authority, under the Equality Act 2010.
Following a four-day hearing which began on 1 August, Croydon Employment Tribunal has ruled that Richard Page’s claim to be reinstated as a non-executive director of the NHS Trust should be rejected.
'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 it is a matter of record that 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.
A slippery slope away from democratic pluralism
During his trial at Croydon Employment Tribunal, Mr Page’s representative, Pavel Stroilov of Christian Legal Centre, argued:
“Mr. Page was removed from office not for any misconduct in the ordinary sense of the word: something objectively reprehensible or unworthy. He was removed for dissent. His beliefs on a philosophical issue, having nothing to do with practical workings of the NHS, turned out to be out of tune with its ideological orthodoxy.
He continued, “Dressing this as undermining ‘confidence’ of a particular group, or splitting hairs between ‘belief’ and its ‘expression’, can hardly disguise the ugly truth of the matter. He was removed for his legitimate, sincerely held beliefs which the Respondent disagrees with. This is a slippery slope away from the democratic pluralism and into ideological dictatorship”.
However, in the judgment released by the Tribunal, Employment Judge Bryant and two lay members rejected the submission that Mr. Page was dismissed for his views.
They held: “the act or acts resulting in the Respondent taking action were not the Claimant holding or expressing his views as such, but the Claimant accepting invitations to appear, and then appearing, in the press and on national television, compounded by the fact that he did so without informing the Trust when he had been expressly told to do so. Expressing his views in that context was not something that the tribunal finds was intimately linked to his religion or his beliefs.”
The judgment also says: “Had the belief relied on by the Claimant been the wider views expressed in his Good Morning Britain television interview in March 2016, ie that ‘homosexual activity’ is wrong then the tribunal may well have concluded that this was not a belief that was worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
'A disingenuous attempt to silence Christian beliefs'
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting Mr Page commented:
“The court claims that Mr Page was not being dismissed because of his views per se, but because of the expression of those views in the public space.
“Yet this is a distinction without a difference, and amounts to a perverse attempt to silence Christian beliefs.
“Each time someone takes part in a television debate or interview, personal beliefs are expressed. Yet most people do not lose their jobs for doing so. It seems that the NHS bosses and liberal judges cannot tolerate the expression of Christian views on morality – particularly on sexual morality.
“It is clear that appearing on tv would not, in itself, have led to Mr. Page being dismissed. Had he spoken about the weather, or the plight of the near-extinct white rhino, for example, he would not have found himself on the receiving end of the NHS’ wrath.
“He was not targeted for the expression of beliefs, but rather for the expression of certain beliefs – namely, belief in the traditional family.
“The Tribunal asserted that Mr Page’s actions 'were clearly in conflict with the protection of health' which is the NHS Trust’s function.
“It is ludicrous to suggest that people are not using NHS Kent now because of Mr Page appearing on Good Morning Britain, or to suggest that Mr Page’s expression of his views had any impact on the ability of NHS Kent to provide health services to the entire community.
“The Tribunal accepted evidence that members of the LGBT community “suffer disproportionately from mental health problems.”
"The Tribunal then assessed the problem raised to the effect of 'but what about the rights of Christians?'
"The Tribunal then stated: 'However, that rather misses the point. There has been no suggestion as far as the tribunal is aware that there was, or has ever been, any issue with Christians suffering disproportionately from mental health problems or any difficulty for Christians engaging with and/or accessing the mental health services provided by the Trust.'
"We suggest that it is in fact the Tribunal that has missed the point here. It is the rights of Christians to express their views that have been impinged, not their rights to access mental health services."
'Sacrificed his right to freedom of religion'
Andrea Williams continued: “According to the European Court of Human Rights, bound up in the right to freedom of religion is the right to communicate a belief to others. This right is engaged regardless of the platform on which the belief is expressed. Indeed, without the right to communicate a belief, the individual cannot enjoy the full protection granted to freedom of religion.
“Yet in a remarkable comment, the Tribunal noted that “Expressing his views in that context [in the press and on national tv] was not something that…was intimately linked to his religion or his beliefs.
“In other words, Mr Page’s Christian views were inherently protected if stated during daily life, but could not be expressed on national television. By appearing on national television then, he inadvertently sacrificed his fundamental right to freedom of religion, as enshrined under domestic and international law.
“This is not what the drafters of the Convention on Human Rights intended. They would not have conceived of a forum in which the individual was beyond the scope of their right to religious freedom. If the tribunal is suggesting that there are places in which an individual does not enjoy the fundamental right to freedom of religious expression, this is a cause for concern and could have a chilling effect on freedom of belief and expression."
'Makes a mockery to freedom of speech and religion'
Richard Page said:
“I am very disappointed by this outcome but I am determined to appeal. This case is much bigger than me now. It is about how ordinary folk, just like me, are becoming increasingly fearful to speak out against the homosexual agenda. They bully, intimidate and force you of your job. It is time for this to stop”
Andrea Williams added:
“This judgment makes a mockery of the freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. There is no real difference between suppressing dissent and suppressing an expression of dissent. To split hairs in this way makes no sense.
“Judgments like this do enormous damage to people’s confidence in the administration of justice.
“We will of course appeal this judgment which clearly contravenes Mr Page’s human rights, and we will appeal any number of times until we get justice.”