In the recent case of Redfearn v the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights held that the UK had violated art.11 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to freedom of assembly and association - by not making available to an employee a remedy in circumstances where he was dismissed from his job within the first year of employment for being a member of the British National Party. Solicitor Laurence O'Neill looks at the facts of the case, the court's findings and its potential implications for employers.
Mr Redfearn was employed by a private company, Serco Limited, as a driver. He was responsible for transporting mentally and physically disabled passengers on behalf of Bradford City Council. The majority of his passengers, and a significant number of Serco's employees, were of Asian origin. Soon after joining Serco, Mr Redfearn became a local councillor for the British National Party (BNP). Despite being a "first class" employee, due to concerns about the racist agenda of the BNP, and having regard to the ethnicity of Serco's staff and passengers, Serco dismissed Mr Redfearn.
Mr Redfearn did not have the requisite length of service to claim unfair dismissal. He therefore had to bring his claim under the Race Relations Act 1976 (the events occurred well before the implementation of the Equality Act 2010), arguing, among other things, that he had been treated less favourably on the grounds of race, specifically the race of Serco's staff and passengers. The employment tribunal found against him, holding that the reason for any less favourable treatment had not been race but, rather, to protect the health and safety of Mr Redfearn and Serco's passengers. Mr Redfearn successfully appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), but the Court of Appeal subsequently overturned the EAT's decision. In rejecting the claim, the Court noted that Mr Redfearn's complaint was of discrimination on political grounds, which fell outside the scope of the anti-discrimination legislation.
Mr Redfearn was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords and therefore lodged an application against the UK at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) arguing, among other things, that the UK had disproportionately interfered with his right to freedom of assembly and association under art.11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The European Court of Human Rights' findings