Down Arrow

Hina Belitz published in The Times discussing the recent Employment Tribunal case on anti-Zionist beliefs

25 April 2024

Our partner Hina Belitz has been published in The Times discussing the legal implications of the recent Miller case, in which a university professor who was dismissed following a sustained campaign against him on the basis of his anti-Zionist views successfully claimed for discrimination and unfair dismissal, confirming that beliefs relating to Israel-Palestine can be protected under the Equality Act 2010. 

We have reproduced the article below - alternatively you can read it at The Times

When does a political opinion become a protected belief?

With horrific and distressing images emerging daily from the ongoing Gaza conflict, emotive reactions to such scenes have become routine. Despite this, and the International Court of Justice's January 22nd ruling of a plausible genocide in Palestine, there remains an alarming lack of awareness around an employee’s legal right to express a political opinion.  It has been disturbing to see a number of my clients being disciplined or dismissed for publicly expressing support for the ordinary citizens of Gaza. This highlights the urgent need for legal clarity, which only arises through cases judged at court.

The first step towards this clarity arose in February's Miller v University of Bristol Employment Tribunal judgment, which confirmed for the first time that anti-Zionist beliefs fall within the scope of a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. A tribunal panel ruled that Professor David Miller was discriminated against when he was dismissed in 2021 for his views on Zionism. The timely judgment confirmed his anti-Zionist view was a protected belief, so his dismissal for expressing such opinions was an act of discrimination, just as dismissing him for his sex or race would be.

The very careful application of existing law in Miller has set the ball rolling and has gone some way in providing clarity on what is in my view one of the most pressing questions facing our courts. Courts have been increasingly willing to accommodate political beliefs, including gender-critical beliefs and ethical veganism, though the question of whether a political view qualifies for protection remains difficult to answer with certainty, given courts inevitably lag behind social developments due to the time it takes for cases to reach them.  

Crucially, however, and in no way detracting from the importance of the Miller decision and its meticulous 108-page judgment, is that, as a case before an Employment Tribunal, it does not create legal precedent. As such, we will likely continue to see such cases until an appeal to a higher court to confirm the law as it applies to emerging political beliefs, such as those relating to Israel-Palestine. In the context of UK law, whether an employer can lawfully take disciplinary action against an employee for expressing their political views is case specific - for example, it was central to the judgment in Miller that his anti-Zionist beliefs were not anti-Semitic.

A senior court must precisely delineate and render binding the boundaries of discrimination law as it applies to beliefs relating to Israel-Palestine and other sensitive political beliefs gaining increasing traction in public life. Without such certainty, I remain concerned that many employers will continue to lean on their implicit biases rather than taking a legally informed approach.

 

Hina Belitz, a Legal 500 Leading Individual, is a partner and employment law specialist at Excello Law. 

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