Is opposition to single parent and same-sex adoption compatible with judicial office?: Page

Richard Page was a lay magistrate sitting on family cases involving adoption. A practising Christian, he opposed adoptions by single parents and same-sex couples as a matter of religious belief. When in 2014 a same-sex couple had applied to adopt a young child, he had told his fellow-magistrates that he had a problem with the application even though it was unopposed and supported by social workers. He later reiterated that position in media interviews. He was disciplined and, finally, removed from the Magistracy in March 2016.

He was also a Non-Executive Director of an NHS Trust, and after the disciplinary action against him as a magistrate had been reported in the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail Online in January 2015, he had taken part in a live radio phone-in on Radio Kent without warning the Trust in advance. He had been suspended and, ultimately, his appointment was not renewed.

He claimed direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of religious belief and victimisation; however, both the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed his claims, concluding that he had been dismissed not because of his beliefs but because of the manner in which he had expressed them. The Court of Appeal heard both appeals at the same hearing but handed down separate judgments.

In Page v Lord Chancellor & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 254, the Court dismissed the appeal, concluding that Mr Page had been 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” [83].

In a concurring judgment, however, Peter Jackson LJ went further, observing [86] that the claim that Mr Page had been “singled out because of his Christian belief” and “because he would not endorse the Zeitgeist” were

“a patent distortion of the facts. They demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the responsibilities of a judge as a public servant and the fact that the Appellant continues to hold them is a further confirmation that his dismissal from the magistracy was both lawful and inevitable.”

The Court also dismissed the appeal in Page v NHS Trust Development Authority [2021] EWCA Civ 255, Underhill LJ concluding as follows:

“100. At some points in his submissions [counsel] appeared to be suggesting that if the decisions of the ET and the EAT stood it would become impossible, or in any event difficult, for Christians (and members of other faiths) holding traditional views about sexual identity and sexual morality to hold any kind of public office. 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.

101. [Counsel] would say that even if that is the issue the implications for Christians remain serious: they should not be expected to remain silent about their beliefs simply because they may be unpopular with, or even offensive to, others – in particular, in this context, gay people – and therefore potentially embarrassing to the institution for which they work. That is true up to a point, and the Courts have shown themselves astute to protect the freedom of Christians to manifest their beliefs in relation to matters of traditional Christian teaching about these matters … But I say ‘up to a point’ because the freedom to express religious or any other beliefs cannot be unlimited. In particular, so far as the present case is concerned, there are circumstances in which it is right to expect Christians (and others) who work for an institution, especially if they hold a high-profile position, to accept some limitations on how they express in public their beliefs on matters of particular sensitivity. Whether such limitations are justified in a particular case can only be judged by a careful assessment of all the circumstances of the case, so as to strike a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the legitimate interests of the institution for which they work … [S]triking the balance in this case is not entirely straightforward; but I have concluded that … the Employment Tribunal was entitled to conclude that the Authority did not act unlawfully in taking the action that it did against the Appellant. This is a decision on the facts of a particular case, and wider conclusions should not be drawn from it.”

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Is opposition to single parent and same-sex adoption compatible with judicial office?: Page" in Law & Religion UK, 5 March 2021, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2021/03/05/is-opposition-to-single-parent-and-same-sex-adoption-compatible-with-judicial-office-page/

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