I have written on numerous occasions about the sometimes odd and unexpected practical applications of the Religion and Belief Regulations (now incorporated within the Equality Act).
This month has seen another and some would say rather tenuous interpretation of what constitutes a protected philosophical belief. Mr Devan Maistry worked for the BBC and presented complaints to an employment tribunal alleging discrimination based on his age and his belief that “public service broadcasting has the higher purpose of promoting cultural interchange and social cohesion”.
At a preliminary hearing the tribunal had no difficulty in finding that Mr Maistry had a genuine belief in the “higher purpose” of the BBC. Perhaps more surprisingly the tribunal was also willing to accept that this constituted a philosophical belief capable of protection under discrimination legislation.
I am bound to observe that this latest in a series of similar decisions makes one wonder where the limits will be drawn when considering such matters. It is hard to imagine that the legislators had this type of scenario in mind when approving legislation to provide protection against discrimination primarily on religious grounds. Belief systems can be undertood to encompass religion, world view, philosophy, ideology or even “life stance” (for more on the latter read here).
I should make clear that I do not think that either Mr Maistry or those advising him are wrong in their approach to the claim based on current law. However I do question whether this is a legitimate area for statutory protection from discrimination. It is easy to see how many employees could have very strong views about the purpose and importance of the work that they do, e.g. teachers, doctors, lawyers, charity workers etc., but does that really mean that all should have a potential route to legal redress based on discrimination? There is also the troubling aspect of those whose philosophical beliefs are at the edges or perhaps beyond those which are acceptable to society as a whole. Presumably they should be entitled to similar protection? Perhaps the ultimate irony would be discrimination law coming to the protection of someone whose beliefs are profoundly discriminatory. Based on current case law, this is entirely conceivable and more or less inevitable. Yet again it seems that the best of intentions could result in a wholly unintended and unwanted outcome.