What’s a philosophical belief?

02 June 2016

It is unlawful to subject someone to discrimination on the ground of their philosophical belief. But how wide can the interpretation of a philosophical belief stretch?

Harron v Chief Constable of Dorset Police

It is unlawful to subject someone to discrimination on the ground of their philosophical belief. But how wide can the interpretation of a philosophical belief stretch? Could it include a belief in the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector?

Possibly. It was an issue in Mr Harron’s case that reached the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). The earlier tribunal had found that this belief didn’t qualify for protection as a philosophical belief; it didn’t meet the criteria set out in an earlier case:

  1. The belief must be genuinely held.
  2. It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  3. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  4. It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  5. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

(The tribunal had found that numbers 3,4, and 5 weren’t met.)

The EAT allowed the appeal and sent the case back to the tribunal for a fresh decision. It commented that the bar shouldn’t be set too high, but that for a belief to qualify as a philosophical belief, it must at least reach a certain measure of seriousness and cogency.

While we don’t yet have the final word on this case, it’s a good reminder that there can be more to a person’s strongly held views than meets the eye.


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