Casamitjana v League of Cruel Sports

In the case of Casamitjana v League of Cruel Sports an Employment Tribunal in Norwich has ruled that ethical veganism is a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010.

This case has generated a significant volume of reporting today.  But what does it mean and what additional protections have developed as a result?

Does this change the law?

Simply put, no it doesn't.  The law - and the leading case law - remains unchanged.  Religion or belief has been one of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act since 2010 and before that under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.  However, what the Regulations and the Act did not do was identify specifically what beliefs would be protected and which beliefs were not protected.  We have been reliant on the development of case law to establish the scope of protection beyond the established religions.  This recent case adds to the long list of other cases which continue to explore this rather unpredictable area of the law.

The development of protections for 'belief'

The current leading case which deals with the scope of 'belief' is Grainger plc and others v Nicholson [2010] IRLR 4 (EAT)).   This case established the following tests to be able to show that a particular belief is protected:

  • The belief must be genuinely held;
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint;
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others;
  • It must "have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief";
  • It need not be shared by others.

Under these tests we have seen beliefs such as:

  • political beliefs, namely being an advocate of left-wing democratic socialism (GMB v Henderson);
  • climate change (Grainger above);
  • that as a Christian you must not lie ( Hawkins v Universal Utilities Ltd t/a Unicom)
  • belief in the "higher purpose" of public service broadcasting to encourage debate and citizenship in a public space (Maistry v BBC)
  • a belief in the sanctity of life, specifically anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing (Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd t/a Orchard Park)
  • spiritualism, life after death and the ability of mediums to contact the dead (Greater Manchester Police Authority v Power)
  • belief in Scottish independence (McEleny v Ministry of Defence)

In contrast we have seen numerous cases fail to establish the necessary level of cogency of belief to be protected, including:

  • Finnon v Asda Stores Ltd and Baggs v Fudge (membership of the British National Party)
  • Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd and others (that a poppy must be worn to pay respect to those who died in wars)
  • Farrell v South Yorkshire Police Authority (that there is a global elite seeking destruction of society through the atrocities of 9/11 and 7/7)
  • Arya v London Borough of Waltham Forest (Jewish religion's professed belief in Jews being "God's chosen people" was at odds with a meritocratic and multicultural society)
  • Ellis v Parmagan (belief that homosexuality is contrary to nature and the teaching of the bible, and is a corrosive force in society, was not one worthy of respect in a democratic society)

Vegansim

It is therefore not at all surprising that ethical veganism has, in this instance, been established as being a belief that is protected by the Equality Act.  We have already seen recently the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited & Others towards the end of 2019 that vegetarianism is potentially protected (although in that particular instance, was not) and accordingly the decision in Casamitisjana is entirely consistent with this.  

In fact, the draft Equality Code of Practice had already provided the following guidance in relation to veganism:

"A person who is a vegan chooses not to use or consume animal products of any kind. That person eschews the exploitation of animals for food, clothing, accessories or any other purpose and does so out of an ethical commitment to animal welfare. This person is likely to hold a belief which is covered by the Act."

As we see the growth of veganism it will be interesting to see whether the courts make a distinction between 'ethical' vegans and 'dietary' vegans.  It does not therefore follow that simply because someone is a vegan that they will be afforded protection under the Equality Act.