Landmark case will argue that veganism is a protected belief

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» Landmark case will argue that veganism is a protected belief

Earlier this year, The Guardian reported brief details of a legal dispute between the League Against Cruel Sports and a vegan, Jordi Casamitjana, who claims to have been unfairly dismissed from his job. Jordi’s case will be heard in Tribunal proceedings early in 2019.

The case presents a variety of issues for the tribunal to consider but one critical, initial point that Jordi and his lawyers will argue is that ‘ethical’ vegans hold beliefs that qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010. Jordi’s ethical convictions are ‘life-directing’. He explains that ‘[M]ost of my adult life I have pursued the philosophy of ethical veganism.  It has informed my daily existence, including my career and employment.’

This case will be the first time that a tribunal has considered, directly, the legal status of veganism, and if Jordi is successful, the outcome will be a landmark ruling that will not only recognise the cogency and importance of veganism, but also confirm that the needs of vegans in their employment and their everyday lives must be taken seriously. 

Veganism is:

A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

Equality law in the UK protects everyone from discrimination. The legislation lists the nine categories under which individuals can claim that they have suffered unfair or discriminatory treatment. These catagories are age, race, sex, gender reassignment, disability, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, sexual orientation and religion and belief. The category ‘religion and belief’ provides protection from discrimination for individuals who hold religious or non-religious philosophical beliefs. In this category, religious and philosophical beliefs have equal status as explained by the Employment Appeals Tribunal President, Mrs Justice Simler, in a recent employment case: 

The law does not accord special protection for one category of belief and less protection for another. All qualifying beliefs are equally protected. Philosophical beliefs may be just as fundamental or integral to a person's individuality and daily life as are religious beliefs.

This statement refers to the equality of protection for ‘qualifying’ beliefs. To qualify for protection a philosophical belief must be shown to be: 

• Genuinely held.

• A belief rather than opinion. 

• Concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

• Have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. 

• Worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. 

Using this criterion, tribunals have granted protection for a variety of beliefs including a belief in man-made climate change, and even public sector broadcasting. Of great significance is that a tribunal also granted protection for beliefs about anti-fox hunting. This particular case concerned Mr Hashman, a vegan hunt saboteur, who was unfairly dismissed from his employment. In this case, the court heard that Mr Hashman’s vegan beliefs affect every area of his life, that they are cogent, serious, coherent and important and that they amount to a philosophical belief both within the ordinary sense of the word and within the meaning of equality regulations. 

There is also strong support to be found in relevant human rights cases. In an early 1990s, case between a vegan prisoner and the UK government, heard at the European Court of Human Rights, the UK government did not contest that veganism could come within the scope of protection under the right to freedom of conscience. In a later case, Lord Walker commented that (even) vegetarianism is an example of an uncontroversial example of a belief that would fall within the scope of protection. 

The definition of veganism, promoted by The Vegan Society, explains that vegans manifest the ethical conviction that it is wrong to exploit nonhuman animals. Veganism is a serious, important, cogent and genuinely held moral belief that nonhuman animals have basic rights. This basic belief of vegans concerns a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, and is worthy of respect in a democracy. It is already acknowledged that the manifestation of sincerely held convictions concerning sentient nonhuman life is taken seriously in law and it is clear that Jordi’s vegan beliefs meet the legal test for protection (outlined above). As such, the only reasonable outcome of the initial stage of Jordi’s case would be a tribunal ruling that veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief within the scope of protection of the Equality Act 2010

by Dr Jeanette Rowley

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