In the recent case of Farrell v South Yorkshire Police Authority, the Employment Tribunal had to decide whether certain beliefs held by an employee were protected by the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.  Mr Farrell was a Principal Intelligence Analyst with South Yorkshire Police Authority.  He was dismissed after he was asked to prepare a strategic threat risk assessment, and, in the report, Mr Farrell expressed views that 9/11 and 7/7 were "false flag operations" authorised by the UK and US governments to gain support for foreign wars.  His employer considered that these views were incompatible with his particular role, and dismissed him.  Mr Farrell complained that his dismissal was discriminatory contrary to the Religion or Belief Regulations.  At a preliminary hearing the Tribunal found that Mr Farrell believed that the end of the world would be presaged by the rising up of "the New World Order", comprising the members of various governments, banking institutions, the global media and members of certain secret societies. Their goal was to create a one world, Fascist government, stripped of nationalist and racial boundaries.  He believed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were morally wrong and a furtherance of the New World Order agenda; the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 were perpetrated by the US and UK governments against their own citizens, and that the media overstates the risk of terrorist attack on the US and UK, all to gain support for their foreign policy agenda.

The Tribunal, in applying the case of Grainger v Nicholson, found that Mr Farrell's beliefs were genuine, related to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, and were not incompatible with human dignity.  However, to qualify for protection, the beliefs also need to have a certain level of cogency and coherence.  The Tribunal considered that his beliefs lacked this required level of cogency and coherence and were not therefore capable of protection.  In assessing this, the Judge held it was necessary to take account of the accepted body of knowledge in the public domain.  It found Mr Farrell's theory to be "wildly improbable" and "not supported by any body of respectable academic commentary in peer reviewed journals" and that, in questioning Mr Farrell, the incoherent nature of his beliefs was apparent.  The Judge commented that applying an objective test, Mr Farrell's beliefs were "absurd", albeit sincerely held. 

Impact for employers

  • This case adds to a growing body of case law, which explore the limits of the protection given to philosophical beliefs under the Religion or Belief Regulations.  Many recent decisions have meant that various philosophical beliefs are capable of protection, suggesting the limits were wide ranging. However this case demonstrates Tribunals still need to consider each claim individually, applying each and every strand of the Grainger test.
  • Of particular interest in this case is the Judge's approach to assessing the cogency and coherence of the beliefs, which, in his view, required an objective assessment with reference to the evidence in the public domain.
  • Employers should note that establishing that a belief is capable of protection is only the first step, the Tribunal must then go on to consider whether the employee has been unlawfully discriminated against because of that belief.