The Guardian by Owen Bowcott | Tuesday, 6 November 2012 | Click here for original article
A Bradford bus diver should not have been sacked for being a member of the British National Party, the European court of human rights has ruled.
Removing Arthur Redfearn, a BNP councillor, from his job transporting disabled passengers – most of whom were of Asian descent – breached his rights to freedom of association, the Strasbourg court declared.
"In a healthy democratic and pluralistic society, the right to freedom of association ... must apply not only to people or associations whose views are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those whose views offend, shock or disturb," the judgment said.
The decision, by a majority of four votes to three, was one of three cases in a single day in which the United Kingdom was found to have violated individuals' rights under the European convention on human rights.
The ruling on Redfearn, who was 56 when dismissed in 2004 by his employer, Serco, noted that: "Prior to his political affiliation becoming public knowledge, no complaints had been made against him by service users or by his colleagues.
"Nevertheless, once he was elected as a local councillor for the BNP and complaints were received from unions and employees, he was summarily dismissed without any apparent consideration being given to the possibility of transferring him to a non-customer-facing role."
It added: "It was incumbent on the [UK] to take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect employees, including those with less than one year's service, from dismissal on grounds of political opinion or affiliation."
Redfearn had initially appealed against his sacking on the grounds that he was the victim of race discrimination. An employment tribunal had, however, dismissed his claim in 2005, finding that any discrimination against him had been on health and safety grounds.
His continued employment, the tribunal had said, could cause considerable anxiety among Serco's passengers and their carers. There was consequently a risk that Serco's vehicles could come under attack from opponents of the BNP.
Redfearn had been refused leave to take his case to the House of Lords but pursued it at Strasbourg.
The dissenting ruling by three ECHR judges, including the UK judge Sir Nicolas Bratza, found there had not been a violation of Article 11 of the convention, the right to freedom of association. Redfearn had been working for less than a year and his employment rights, they argued, were not as extensive as those who had been working for the qualifying one year period.
"In a complex area of social and economic policy," the three judges observed, "it is in our view pre-eminently for parliament to decide what areas require special protection in the field of employment and the consequent scope of any exception created to the general rule."
In a separate case in Strasbourg, the UK was unanimously found to have discriminated against a Djibouti refugee, Hawa Aden Abdi, who was refused permission to join her husband in England.
Abdii and Ilyas Elmi Hode, who have two children, married after he was granted asylum in the UK in 2006. The ECHR noted that UK immigration rules have since been amended.
In a third judgment, the court found that the UK violated the rights to a fair trial within a reasonable time of a convicted murderer, William Beggs, 49, because his legal appeals had taken too long.
In its ruling, the ECHR said: "The appeal proceedings had lasted 10 years, three months and 21 days. Although the case was complex, this did not in itself justify appeal proceedings which lasted over 10 years.
"A substantial proportion of the delay had been caused by the applicant's own conduct. However, there were also periods of inactivity where the courts had failed to take steps to progress matters of their own motion, and this led the court to find a violation of the right to trial within a reasonable time."
Beggs was awarded €6,000 (£4,820) in damages and costs. The decision against the UK on delay is highly unusual. As the court added: "The vast majority of [delay] cases involved Ukraine, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Poland. There was only one finding of a violation in respect of the United Kingdom."