6th December 2012

Protection for political beliefs: Redfearn v UK [2012] ECHR 1878

Article by admin | Legal Updates

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has held that the UK does not currently provide adequate protection from dismissal on the grounds of political party membership.

Mr Redfearn was employed by Serco as a driver. He provided transport services to Bradford City Council by transporting children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. The majority of his clients were of Asian origin. Mr Redfearn was revealed in local press to be a member of the BNP and although there were no complaints about the standard of his work concerns were raised about his political beliefs bearing mind the ethnicity of his clients. The Council therefore dismissed him on grounds of health and safety and protecting the reputation of the Council.

As Mr Redfearn had less than one year’s service, he was unable to claim unfair dismissal and so he claimed racial discrimination in his tribunal application. The Employment Tribunal system proved fruitless for Mr Redfearn and so he turned to the ECHR.

At the ECHR, it was held there had been a violation of his rights under Article 11 (right to freedom of assembly and association).

The ECHR stated that UK authorities are obliged to protect employees against dismissal solely on the grounds of their membership to a political party but that sometimes an employer may have to lawfully restrict one employee’s freedom of association in order to protect the rights of others.

The court considered whether Serco had struck a balance between Mr Redfearn’s Article 11 right and the risk his continued employment posed for fellow employees and those who used the transport. As Mr Redfearn did not have the recourse of unfair dismissal open to him (as he did not have the requisite one year’s service) the European Court of Human Rights held that the UK was breaching Article 11 as the UK does not protect those with less than one year’s service who are dismissed for being members of particular political parties.

The ECHR’s view is not that dismissal on the grounds of political belief should be automatically unfair, but that the Mr Redfearn should be able to challenge his dismissal at tribunal.

This case may lead to the law being changed to allow those dismissed for their political membership to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. This case means that tribunals may view ‘political views’ as falling under the umbrella of ‘philosophical beliefs’ which are already protected under the Equality Act 2010.