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Belief in anti-fox hunting and higher purpose of public service broadcasting both protected

Posted on 20th April 2011
Case law

Two cases have recently concluded that a belief in anti-fox hunting and the higher purpose of public service broadcasting are protected under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

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a belief is protected if it is a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour

Mr Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Limited

Mr Maistry v the BBC

Background

In the first case Mr Hashman (H) alleged that he had a belief in 'the sanctity of life' including 'a belief in the value of anti-hunt activism'. In the second case, against the BBC, Mr Maistry said that he had a belief 'that public service broadcasting has the higher purpose of promoting cultural interchange and social cohesion'.

The decision

Paraphrasing, case law provides that a belief is protected under the Regulations (and now the Equality Act 2010) if it is genuinely held, it is not a viewpoint or opinion, it is a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, attains a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and is worthy of respect in a democratic society. Both beliefs were found to satisfy these criteria. This was so for H even though his behaviour was at times inconsistent with his beliefs. For example, he wore clothes coloured with animal dye and worked for an employer which sold meat and whose owners were 'hunt's people'.

In practice

Both cases are employment tribunal decisions so will not create binding precedents. Both decisions were based on the individual facts. It will not therefore necessarily be the case that everyone who alleges a belief in anti-fox hunting or the higher purpose of public broadcasting will be entitled to protection against discriminatory treatment as a result of those beliefs. The cases are important, however, as they give an indication of how wide employment tribunals are willing to interpret what amounts to a philosophical belief - even if at first consideration the employee's belief appears to be far too esoteric to be protected!

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