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Court of Appeal rejects appeal by ex-magistrate over dismissal for views on adoption by same-sex couple

A magistrate and NHS trust board member who was dismissed over his views - based on his beliefs as a Christian - about the appropriateness of the adoption of a child by a same-sex couple, has lost two cases in the Court of Appeal.

The court heard the cases consecutively but gave separate judgments.

Richard Page brought one case against the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and the other against the NHS Trust Development Authority.

Giving judgment in the first case in Page v Lord Chancellor & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 254, Lord Justice Underhill noted both arose from the same sequence of events.

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While sitting as a magistrate on the family panel, Mr Page questioned the appropriateness of the adoption and declined to sign an order approving this. He said this resulted from his beliefs as a Christian.

He was formally reprimanded by the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor, but some months later repeated his views in a BBC interview.

That led to further disciplinary proceedings, and he was removed from the magistracy.

Mr Page had also been a non-executive director of the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, which took disciplinary action after several media interviews in which he reiterated his opinion about adoption by same-sex couples.

Both cases went to employment tribunals and later the Employment Appeals Tribunal, at both of which Mr Page lost.

He had complained that his removal constituted unlawful discrimination and/or harassment for his religion and/or victimisation.

Mr Page argued at the Court of Appeal that his media interview had been a ‘protected act’ as he was making an allegation that the respondents discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs.

He also argued that the EAT erroneously conflated the respondents' 'reason' for the detrimental treatment Mr Page with their ‘motivation’.

Underhill LJ said: “There is nothing in this ground of appeal. In the first place, any error in the reasoning of the EAT is immaterial except to the extent that it reflects an error in the reasoning of the ET. No such error is pleaded, nor is one identified in the skeleton argument;”

Mr Page also contended that the fact that a person has expressed discriminatory views does not necessarily mean these will affect their professional conduct.

“But that has no application to the circumstances of the present case,” the judge said.

“We are not concerned here with a mere ‘public perception’ or an incorrect assumption that [Mr Page’s] views about adoption by same-case couples would affect his conduct as a magistrate: the whole point is that he himself had said it would affect his conduct. I therefore see nothing in this ground.”

Underhill LJ said: “The appellant was removed as a magistrate because he declared publicly that in dealing with cases involving adoption by same-sex couples he would proceed not on the basis of the law or the evidence but on the basis of his own preconceived beliefs about such adoptions.

“He was not, which was the only issue on this appeal, removed because he had complained about the earlier disciplinary proceedings against him. The basis on which he was dismissed was entirely lawful and involved no breach of his human rights.

Peter Jackson LJ agreed with Underhill LJ and added: “Once a private individual takes on a judicial role, he is subject to the same obligations as any other judge. 

“In this case the appellant is not a victim. He was not dismissed for complaining about his treatment but because he had shown himself incapable of honouring his undertaking…to act as a magistrate in a way that was free from bias.”

The judges reached similar conclusion in Page v NHS Trust Development Authority [2021] EWCA Civ 255 and Underhill LJ responded to claims that the cases made it impossible for Christians, or others who held traditional views on sexual identity, to hold any kind of public office.

He said: “That is obviously wrong. The issue raised by this case is not about what beliefs such a person holds but about the limits on their public expression.”

Mark Smulian

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