Ethical veganism encompassing belief in illegal action to relieve animal suffering was not protected


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An employment tribunal has held in Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College that a belief in ethical veganism encompassing a positive obligation to break the law to expose and reduce animal suffering did not amount to a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010.

The claimant was a veterinary nurse employed by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) who was arrested by the police in connection with alleged burglaries by the Animal Liberation Front. Following her arrest she was summarily dismissed by RVC on the basis that she had participated in activities including trespass and theft. The claimant brought a claim against RVC for direct and indirect philosophical belief discrimination, arguing that her belief in ethnical veganism included a moral obligation to take positive action to reduce animal suffering, including trespass on property and removal of animals. By the time of the hearing she had been charged by the police with criminal offences relating to animal rights activities.

The tribunal held that the claimant's belief was not protected as it included trespass and acting in contravention of the law. A belief that comprised taking actions that are unlawful and interfere with the property rights of others could not be worthy of respect in a democratic society; it was not open to individuals to decide which laws to obey and disobey.

Take note: The decision in Free Miles can be contrasted with that in Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports, a case in which ethnical veganism was held to be capable of being a philosophical belief. In this case the Employment Judge noted that the individual's ethical veganism was not just about choices of diet, but about choices relating to what he wore, what personal care products he used, his hobbies and the job he did. In Casamitjana the claimant's beliefs were worthy of respect in a democratic society in a way in which the claimant's in Free Miles could not be as they resulted in illegal action.

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