Employment Cases Update

Watkins v British Medical Association UKEAT/0125/20/JOJ

Date published: 20/04/2021

Appeal against the decision of the Respondent’s Certification Officer, dismissing complaints brought by the Appellant, in particular alleging breaches of its trade union rules. Appeal allowed in part.

The Appellant faced disciplinary proceedings, for posting a message on the Respondent's List Server which expressed criticism of the Respondent's newly elected Deputy Chair, and he was suspended from all committees and other elected roles with the Respondent for 12 months. He made various complaints about the process to the Respondent's Certification Officer ("the CO"), some of which were upheld. The Appellant appealed on a number of grounds, including that the CO should have ruled that the appeal panel was wrongly constituted and that the disciplinary panel had wrongly had regard to prejudicial material to which the Appellant was not given an opportunity to respond, and also that the Respondent wrongly allowed the disciplinary process to be used to stifle debate, contrary to Principle 17 of the Respondent's "support and sanctions process" accompanying its code of conduct.

The EAT held that all of the grounds of appeal failed, apart from the CO's finding that Principle 17 was not engaged unless there was an intention to stifle debate or deter candidacy. The EAT considered that Principle 17 was comparable to provisions such as Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which can be engaged when public authorities take enforcement action of a kind which could affect freedom of expression. Accordingly, the Principle 17 issue would be remitted for the CO to make a new decision.

Read the full text of the judgment on BAILII or download the file by clicking the link below.