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ET rules that ethical veganism is not a protected belief where it involves breaking the law

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In Ms S Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College Shakira Free Miles is a veterinary nurse. She believes that animals’ lives have innate value and that humans should not eat, wear, use for sport, experiment on or profit from animals and that humans have a moral obligation to take positive action to prevent or reduce the suffering of animals. She said in evidence that that included trespass on private property to expose the suffering of animals and the removal of suffering animals. She said that she supported disobeying unjust laws if it was done to expose the suffering of animals. She calls that belief “ethical veganism”.

Mrs Free Miles worked at the Royal Veterinary College. The Counter Terrorism Policing Unit commenced an investigation into Mrs Free Miles activities (and she was later charged and due to stand trial at the time of the employment tribunal hearing). It is believed she had broken into and rescued animals, at least one animal which had been treated by colleagues and kept by Mrs Free Miles at the accommodation she was provided by RVC and where no pets were allowed.

RVC undertook their own investigation into whether she had damaged the reputation of the RVC, amongst other things. The police shared various social media accounts and posts, including a LinkedIn account that identified her as an employee of RVC and also of animals being treated at the hospital where she worked without appropriate consents. One post had a heading ‘one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws’.

A disciplinary hearing was held in her absence, Mrs Free Miles having postponed once and being advised it might go ahead if she did not attend. Four of the allegations were upheld of which three were found to be gross misconduct and she was summarily dismissed.

She then went to the employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal, direct and indirect philosophical belief discrimination and breach of contract.

Dismissing her claims, Employment Judge Harjit Grewal concluded: ‘[Her] belief that she was morally obliged to take positive action to prevent or reduce the suffering of animals, which included trespass and removal of animals and its manifestation was not a philosophical belief.’

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