The sacking of a Yorkshire bus driver for being a member of the far-right BNP was a breach of his human rights, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
The decision by judges in Strasbourg yesterday follows a long legal battle by Arthur Redfearn, 56, who was sacked in 2004 from his job in Bradford driving mainly Asian adults and children with disabilities.
The chamber of the court ruled the actions of Serco Ltd breached Article 11 – the Freedom of Assembly and Association – because he was sacked only because of his membership of a political party.
The seven judges came to this conclusion on a 4-3 majority.
In its decision, the court said: “The court was struck by the fact that he had been 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.
“In fact, prior to his political affiliation becoming public knowledge, neither service users nor colleagues had complained about Mr Redfearn, who was considered a ‘first-class employee’.”
The judgment also criticised the fact Mr Redfearn could not bring a case of unfair dismissal against Serco in 2004 because UK law said he had not worked long enough for the firm.
The driver was forced to claim race discrimination because no unfair dismissal claim was allowed within the first year of employment.
The court said the UK had 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 under the 1996 Act or through a freestanding claim for unlawful discrimination on grounds of political opinion or affiliation”.
The judgment added: “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.”
The court heard how Mr Redfearn worked for Serco as a driver from December 2003 until his dismissal on June 30, 2004.
In its judgment, the court said there had been no problems with his work but other employees and union officials complained after his BNP membership was revealed in a newspaper.
He was summarily dismissed when he was elected as a local councillor for the BNP.
In August 2004 he lodged a claim of race discrimination which was dismissed by an employment tribunal which found that any discrimination against him had been on health and safety grounds.
The tribunal found his continued employment could cause considerable anxiety among Serco’s passengers and their carers and there was a risk vehicles could come under attack from opponents of the BNP.
In July 2005 Mr Redfearn successfully appealed against this decision after an appeal tribunal heard no consideration had been given to any alternatives to dismissal.
But, in May 2006, the Court of Appeal allowed Serco’s appeal, finding that Mr Redfearn’s complaint was of discrimination on political and not racial grounds, which fell outside anti-discrimination laws.
Last night BNP leader Nick Griffin tweeted: “HUGE VICTORY! Human Rights Court in Strasbourg rules sacking of BNP councillor as bus driver was illegal. Congrats to Arthur Redfearn.”
Mr Griffin added: “Way now clear for all others similarly treated to claim well-deserved compensation. Great day for true democracy!”
A Serco spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the initial ruling that has been made by the European Court of Human Rights concerning the case of Arthur Redfearn and we will now digest and review the findings.”