A former British National Party councillor should not have been dismissed from his job because of his political beliefs, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
In a judgement which the far-right party claimed could lead to “several dozen” claims for compensation by its members who were sacked in similar circumstances, the court found that the British authorities should have taken greater steps to protect Arthur Redfearn’s right to freedom of association under Article 11 of the European Convention.
Mr Redfearn, now aged 64, was employed by a private transport company Serco, driving adults and children with physical and mental difficulties – many of them of Asian origin - around Bradford in West Yorkshire on behalf of the council.
But he was sacked when he was elected as a local councillor for the far right party in 2004 following concerns raised by local trades unions and other employees.
However, there had been no previous complaints about his conduct and he had been nominated for the award of first class employee by his supervisor who was Asian.
Ina majority decision of four votes to three, the judges found that the British authorities should have done more to protect Mr Redfearn’s rights even though he had been employed by Serco for less than a year.
“The Court was struck by the fact that he had summarily dismissed following complaints about problems which had never actually occurred, without any apparent consideration being given to the possibility of transferring him to a non-customer facing role,” the judgement said.
Following his dismissal Mr Redfearn lodged a claim for racial discrimination at an employment tribunal but this was rejected in 2005.
He successfully appealed against the decision but this was overturned by his former employers at the Court of Appeal when it was found his claim was political not racial. Mr Redfearn, who has since left the party, was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords.
The ruling, which is not final, concluded: “It was … the United Kingdom’s responsibility 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, either through the creation of a further exception to the one-year qualifying period … or through a freestanding claim for unlawful discrimination on grounds of political opinion or affiliation.
“A legal system which allowed dismissal from employment solely on account of an employee’s membership of a political party carried with it the potential for abuse and was therefore deficient.”
BNP leader Nick Griffin welcomed the decision. “This is a tremendous result not just for us but for everyone involved in any kind of politics or any kind of views outside the mainstream. He has opened the doors for a significant number of our people to pursue compensation claims,” he said