In Harron -v- Dorset Police 2016, the EAT held that a belief that the public service is improperly wasteful of money could potentially be a ‘philosophical belief’ within the Equality Act 2010.
Mr Harron, a policeman for Dorset Police, claimed he had suffered discrimination as a result of expressing his ‘belief in the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector’. A Tribunal Judge ruled that such belief was not sufficient to amount to a protected characteristic of religion or belief within section 10(2) of the Equality Act 2010. Mr Harron appealed.
The EAT held the case did not concern religion. The five criteria to determine whether a belief could be deemed a “philosophical belief” were those outlined in Grainger plc and ors -v- Nicholson 2010. It had been held by the first instance Tribunal that Mr Harron’s belief was genuinely held, and the Respondent had not challenged the fifth criteria, that such a belief was worthy of respect in a democratic society. However, the EAT questioned the Tribunal’s process, through which it had concluded the other criteria were not met.
The EAT referred to R (Williamson) -v- Secretary of State for Education and Employment 2005, where it was held the ‘belief must relate to matters more than merely trivial’, and that the threshold requirements of establishing whether a belief was philosophical should not be set too high. The EAT held the Tribunal had failed to ensure the bar was not set too high and further that the Tribunal had not provided sufficient reasons for its conclusions. The case was therefore remitted to the same Tribunal judge for re-determination of the question of whether the belief qualified for protection.
The case did not establish that a belief in public sector efficiency will necessarily be protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, however, the decision does indicate Tribunals must ensure their assessments are reasoned and carried out in accordance with the principles in Grainger plc and ors -v- Nicholson 2010, R (Williamson) -v- Secretary of State for Education and Employment 2005, and the Code of Practice for the Equality Act 2010.