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Improper Proselytising

The Court of Appeal in the case of Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust has considered whether it was unfair to dismiss an employee for proselytising to patients.

Background

The Claimant was a Christian and worked as a nurse for Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust (“the Trust”). Several patients made complaints that she had initiated unwanted religious discussions. The matron raised concerns with the Claimant about her preaching and the Claimant assured her that she would not initiate discussions about religion with patients again.

However, not long after the discussion with the matron, further complaints were made about the Claimant. The complaints included allegations that the Claimant had given one patient a Bible and said she would pray for them, made another patient uncomfortable by preaching to her and gripped the hand of another patient while saying a prayer and asking him to sing a psalm with her.

The Trust commenced disciplinary proceedings against the Claimant for:

  • failing to follow management instructions;
  • inappropriate behaviour resulting in complaints; and
  • acting in breach of the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code (“the NMC Code”) which states personal beliefs should not be expressed in an inappropriate way.

She was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct and brought a claim for unfair dismissal.

Decision

The Claimant argued that the NMC Code had to be interpreted in a way that was compatible with her rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). The Employment Tribunal rejected this argument as the Claimant was not prevented from manifesting her beliefs, she had been dismissed for inappropriately proselytising them.

The Claimant’s appeal was refused by the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the basis that it had no reasonable prospects of success. She appealed to the Court of Appeal.

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