Court of Appeal holds expulsion of the appellant from university for expressing religious views on homosexuality to be disproportionate


Re: R (Ngole) v University of Sheffield [2019] EWCA Civ 1127

This appeal concerned the decision of the respondent university in its Fitness to Practice Committee that comments made by the appellant on Facebook relating to same-sex marriage breached professional requirements under the Health and Care Professions Council code of conduct and guidelines. The appeal was against the dismissal of the judicial review of the decision to expel the appellant due to these breaches.

The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the appeal.

The Court held that the positions adopted by both the appellant and the respondent were untenable. The respondent took the view that any expression of disapproval of same-sex relations on a platform which could be traced back to the person making it, was a breach of the professional guidelines, despite this not being in accordance with the HCPC professional code and guidelines. The appellant took the view that the University had no business in interfering with his freedom of expression and it was his right to express his religious views, despite this also not being in accordance with the relevant professional code and guidelines.

The Court considered that the University failed to make it clear to the appellant that it was the manner and language in which he had expressed his views that was the real problem. It formed the view that the appellant was ‘extremely entrenched’ and therefore concluded that a mere warning was insufficient and rather his fitness to practice was irredeemably impaired. The Court held that it could be said that it was the respondent and its processes which could be said to lack insight in failing to appreciate that a blanket ban on the expression of views was not in line with the professional code.

It concluded that the respondent wrongly confused the expression of religious views with the notion of discrimination, and that its approach to sanction was disproportionate in imposing the extreme penalty of dismissing the appellant from his course. The Court of Appeal remitted the case for a new hearing before a differently constituted Fitness to Practice Panel.

Sarah Hannett was involved in this case.