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Obligation to break the law under “Ethical Veganism” is not a protected belief

In Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College an employment tribunal determined that a belief in ethical veganism that encompassed an obligation to contravene laws to ease the suffering of animals was not a philosophical belief under section of the Equality Act 2010.

Ms Free Miles (‘Ms Miles’) was employed by the Royal Veterinary College (‘RVC’) as a veterinary nurse. In 2019 she was arrested by police investigating alleged burglaries of farms and private residences in England by a splinter cell of the Animal Liberation Front. Ms Miles was later summarily dismissed by RVC for reasons including a suspected connection with an animal rights group that approved of law breaking and that she had herself been involved in trespassing and the theft/removal of animals from private property.  

In response to her dismissal, Ms Miles brought a claim against RVC alleging direct and indirect philosophical belief discrimination (amongst other reasons she contended for unfair dismissal). She argued that her belief in ethical veganism included an obligation to break the law to reduce the suffering of animals. At the time of the hearing, Ms Miles had been charged with criminal offences of conspiracy in connection with animal rights activities.

The tribunal concluded that Ms Miles’ belief in ethical veganism would have been a protected philosophical belief under the EA 2010 if it had been limited to believing that humans should not eat, wear, use for sport, experiment on or profit from animals. Additionally, it stated it might also have reached the same judgment if the moral duty to take positive action to reduce or prevent the suffering of animals had been limited to lawful action, such as protests and demonstrations.

Nonetheless, Ms Miles’ beliefs included trespassing on the private property of others, removing their property and breaking the law. The tribunal considered that a belief to take such actions that are unlawful (whether contrary to civil or criminal law) did not satisfy the fifth element of the test as outlined in the case of Grainger Plc v Nicholson. As laws were made by democratically elected representatives they should be obeyed by all citizens and it was not for individuals to decide the laws they could obey and disobey. The discrimination claims therefore failed.