A former education union leader sitting on the panel deciding the appeal case of a Christian teaching assistant has been asked to recuse himself over a potential conflict of interest.
The President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, asked for Andrew Morris, former Assistant General Secretary of National Education Union (NEU) to recuse himself on the grounds of apparent bias.
It follows an urgent application by lawyers representing Christian mother Kristie Higgs to have Mr Morris removed from the panel.
Former pastoral assistant, Mrs Higgs, who is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, is appealing against her sacking for raising concerns about how transgenderism and compulsory sex education was to be taught at her son’s Church of England (CofE) primary school in 2019.
Mrs Higgs lost her job because she shared a petition on social media opposing the introduction of ‘relationship education’ in primary schools and an article criticising certain books aimed a primary school aged children for promoting such ideas a ‘transgenderism’ and ‘gender fluidity’.
During Mr Morris' time at the NEU between 2017 and 2022, the union was in favour of making both relationship and sex education mandatory in primary schools and encouraging teaching children at primary schools about same-sex relationships and transgenderism.
Lawyers for Mrs Higgs said he was therefore an active participant in the societal and political debate which was central to the facts of her case.
Lawyers argued in the recusal application this morning that Mrs Higgs made social media posts which argued the opposite views to those of the NEU, which were seen by her employer as misconduct, leading to her dismissal.
Mrs Higgs’ lawyer, Richard O’Dair, said in court:
“A reasonable bystander might have a reasonable cause for concern that the lay member has been for some time living and working within an institution which has adopted very forcefully a particular set of ideas and has made those ideas very much the forefront of its work. That is precisely the context in which unconscious bias takes root. If one lives and works and breaths a particular set of ideas in working life it is very difficult to step outside them, and that is the difficulty the lay member faces in this case.”
Handing down judgment, President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Judge Eady agreed she would recuse Mr Morris and would have to proceed with the hearing ‘judge alone’. She said:
"Whether or not he agreed, as a senior officer he associated with the views expressed by NEU. Many unions express views on matters of current issues, but NEU took a particular interest in the issues in question. Difficult to see how Mr Morris as Assistant General Secretary can be dissociated from those views in the eyes of an impartial observer.”
In July 2022, Mrs Higgs’ appeal was postponed after Judge Eady, had also been forced to recuse trans activist, Edward Lord from the presiding panel.
Speaking after Mr Morris was recused, Mrs Higgs said she was “deeply saddened” by the developments but relieved that the appeal will continue and will not be further postponed.