Richard Page says televised remarks opposing gay adoption stemmed from his Christian faith [Image: Matthew Walker/SWNS.com].
It is interesting that Richard Page’s claim to have suffered religious discrimination over his Christianity follows Theresa May’s claim that her own Christian beliefs are informing her conduct regarding Brexit.
This Writer’s opinion is that it is right that Mr Page should have been sacked as a magistrate and as a director of an NHS trust if he was allowing his religious bias to override the value of the evidence that was put before him, as he carried out those roles.
This story raises the following question, then (let’s run it as a poll):
A former director of an NHS trust is suing Jeremy Hunt for religious discrimination after he was effectively barred from applying for positions following his public opposition to gay adoption.
Richard Page has lodged a claim at the employment tribunal, saying his televised comments in 2015 that it was in the best interests of a child to have a mother and father stemmed from his Christian faith.
His remarks led to him being sacked as a magistrate in March for serious misconduct, after 15 years on the bench. Two years earlier, the lord chancellor and lord chief justice reprimanded Page after finding his religious beliefs, rather than evidence, had influenced his decisions during a family court hearing.
Page, 70, was also a non-executive director at the Kent and Medway NHS and social care partnership trust. In March, following a complaint by the trust’s LGBT staff network, Page was suspended for the final three months of his four-year term in office.
In August, the NHS Termination of Appointments Panel told Page “it was not in the interests of the health service for you to serve as a non-executive director in the NHS”, in effect barring him from applying for directorships in the future.
Page, a former NHS manager from Headcorn, Kent, is bringing a claim against the health secretary and NHS Improvement, which has the power to appoint non-executive directors. He is pursuing a similar case against the lord chancellor over his sacking as a magistrate.
The justice secretary, Michael Gove, has scrapped the mandatory criminal courts charge after more than 100 magistrates resigned in protest.
The abrupt U-turn ditches a money-raising scheme introduced by the previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling, that only came into force in April this year. Imposition of the criminal courts charge is due to end on Christmas Eve.
The swift decision implies that early returns from the criminal courts charge did not deliver the anticipated income of up to £135m a year that Grayling’s officials initially promised.
Gove made the announcement in an address to the annual meeting of the Magistrates Association in central London. “The basic principle behind the policy – that those who have broken the law should bear some of the costs of running the criminal courts – is right,” Gove said.
“However, as the justice select committee set out in its recent report, there have been concerns raised about how this has worked in practice.”
“Whenever I have had the opportunity to talk to magistrates over the last six months, the criminal courts charge has been raised and in almost every case it has been criticised.”
Critics said the criminal courts charge – ranging from £150 up to £1,200 – was unlikely to be collected in many cases and created a perverse incentive for the innocent to plead guilty.
The mandatory charge was levied on any defendant who pleaded guilty or was convicted, on top of the victims’ surcharge, prosecution costs and fines. It started at £150 for those admitting guilt at magistrates court, rising to £1,200 for those found guilty at crown court – creating a financial disincentive to risk the uncertainty of a jury trial.
Malcolm Richardson, the Magistrates Association national chairman, is quoted as saying: “In all my years on the bench, I’ve never seen something strike so hard at the heart of justice.
“Although we have lost many experienced magistrates, there will be an enormous sense of relief across the criminal justice system.”
Gove’s overturning of Grayling’s initiative is the latest in a series of policy reversals. The former justice secretary’s plan for a secure college for young offenders, a ban on books for prisoners, outsourcing the enforcement of court fines and a prisons training contract with Saudi Arabia have all been scrapped.
Ben Summerskill, director of the Criminal Justice Alliance said: “We’re delighted at the government’s decision. Introducing a charge which created an incentive to plead guilty to a crime someone hadn’t committed wasn’t justice, it was nonsense on stilts.”
Congratulations are due to Green MP Caroline Lucas, who walked free from court today after criminal charges against her were overturned.
She had been charged with obstructing a public highway and a public order offence, during high-profile anti-fracking protests last summer. Neither offence carries a prison sentence – the maximum penalty for either charge would have been a fine of up to £1,000.
District judge Tim Pattinson said the prosecution had failed to satisfy him that Lucas had “the requisite knowledge” about the Section 14 order being in place.
On the obstruction charge, he said he did not hear any evidence that any actual obstruction of a vehicle or person was caused by the protest.
It is good for British justice that Ms Lucas was acquitted – but bad for British justice that she was taken to court in the first place, most particularly because the case contrasts so strongly with that of disgraced former cabinet minister Maria Miller.
Miller claimed tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money under false pretences. You can call that fraud, if you like (maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment).
Did she go to court? No.
Because she is a member of Parliament, the financial irregularity was investigated by a Parliamentary body, the Commons Committee on Standards. Rather than take the advice of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who recommended that Miller pay back the full amount, the committee ruled that she should return just £5,800 and apologise to Parliament for obstructive behaviour during the investigation.
Surely everybody can see the double-standard here?
The least we can learn from these two stories is that the law absolutely does not treat everybody equally.
Ms Lucas was arrested, detained at Her Majesty’s convenience and now she has faced trial for the offences alleged against her. This MP, who opposes the government in Parliament, was then acquitted after a fair trial and has the support of the general public in this matter.
Miller was accused of a far more serious crime than Ms Lucas but has not been arrested, has not been detained, and has not been tried for the offences alleged against her. The then-government minister was whitewashed by her colleagues and only resigned because of a public outcry against the decision.
What conclusion can the public draw, other than that government MPs are effectively above the law?
David Cameron’s government can only redeem itself with two actions: It must remove Parliament’s right to investigate claims of financial irregularity by MPs and placing this duty firmly where it belongs – with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The other action?
Maria Miller must face a criminal trial, charged with fraud.
Jobless criminal: Proposals by the Tory Free Enterprise group would put the clock back to the 16th century, when joblessness was a criminal offence.
According to the Telegraph, that outstanding group of backwards-thinking Tories, the Free Enterprise group, has come up with a new way of turning back time to the Middle Ages.
The group, some of whose luminaries were responsible for the stain on literature known as Britannia Unchained, believe those out of work for more than a year should have their benefits docked by 20 per cent.
Anyone unemployed for more than six months should do 30 hours’ community service and lose 10 per cent of their benefits, they reckon.
Britannia Unchained, you will recall, wrongly suggests that workers in the UK are among the laziest in the world.
Magistrates regularly dish out community service orders to people who have been convicted of criminal offences that may be punishable by imprisonment. These orders are for work totalling not less than 40 hours. I suppose the Free Enterprise zealots think they have cleverly avoided comparisons by limiting their suggestion to 30 hours, but if a person is unemployed for more than a year, under their proposal, they would have to do 60 hours’ unpaid work in the community – well within the amount for criminal offences.
Taking away 20 per cent of a person’s income has never been within a magistrate’s – or a judge’s – powers as fines have always been specific amounts. I would imagine that a judge would consider such a sentence to be an overly cruel and unusual punishment.
The whole proposal is reminiscent of the days – perhaps the Free Enterprisers consider them ‘good old days’ – when unemployment was considered a crime, along with vagrancy. Perhaps we should be happy they don’t want to reintroduce the death penalty for it!
That is exactly what unemployment used to attract. From 1536, the law allowed vagabonds and the jobless to be whipped and hanged. In 1547, a bill was passed that subjected vagrants to some of the more extreme provisions of the criminal law, namely two years servitude and branding with a “V” as the penalty for the first offense and death for the second. During the reign of Henry VIII, as many as 72,000 people are estimated to have been executed.
He was on the throne for a fair amount of time, so he’d probably be impressed by the death toll already racked up by this government among the sick and disabled.
Chris Skidmore, Conservative MP for Kingswood, who part-wrote the report, tried to make it look respectable by saying, “Now is the time for the Conservative party to be brave. We need bold thinking and ideas that reflect the fact that we are the party that believes people should have the freedom to make the decisions about the things that affect them.”
Which people? Not unemployed people, I take it. People like you, Chris?
We know the welfare budget is going to be hit again by the Coalition government – these idiots simply don’t have any other ideas. Comedy Prime Minister David Cameron told Andrew Marr his party would “level” with the public about the need for another £16 billion of spending cuts in 2015-16.
“We have to find these spending reductions and if we want to avoid cuts in things like hospitals and schools, services that we all rely on, we have to look at things like the welfare budget,” he said.
So the Free Enterprise group’s foolishness might soon become government policy.
And don’t be fooled by Cameron’s comments about hospitals and schools. When he says these are services “we all rely on”, he means that he and his cronies are relying on turning them into cash cows from which they can all profit. The hospitals are already being sold off piecemeal to private firms that Tory ministers partly own.
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