The London Philarmonic and freedom of expression

January 19, 2012

David Renton

A guest post by David Renton, author of the forthcoming Struck Out: Why Employment Tribunals Fail Workers and What Can be Done and barrister at Garden Court chambers in London.

The Guardian reported on Friday the case of Sarah Streatfeild, a violinist of 25 years’ standing with the London Philarmonic Orchestra (LPO), who was suspended after signing an open letter calling on the Proms to cancel a performance by the LPO’s Israeli counterpart.

It appears from the reports that the case has been framed in terms of Ms Streatfeild’s rights as a humanist, not to suffer discrimination. But it will be interesting to see whether (assuming her case does come to court) Ms Streatfeild goes further and relies in her case on the protection on freedom of expression provided by article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Convention has until now made relatively little dent in employment law. One obvious area of contrast is the policing of terrorism suspects, where in 2004, the House of Lords defied the government in holding that the European Convention outlawed the indefinite detention of foreign nationals in Belmarsh (A and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department).

It is the same picture in family law, where judges relying on the Convention overturned a decades-old convention against cross-examining children who accused adults of physical or sexual harm (Re W). In housing law, meanwhile, the Convention has been used to give tenants protection against eviction, even in cases where legislation seems to have been written with the intention that certain kinds of tenant would have no defence to claims for possession (Manchester v Pinnock).

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