The BMA has secured an important legal victory after the Ministry of Defence conceded that its policy preventing a BMA representative for Armed Forces doctors from speaking to the media without prior consent was unlawful and interfered with his human rights.
In a consent order approved by the High Court1, the MoD accepted that its media policy “lacked clarity” around trade union activities, and asking the BMA representative to comply “constituted an unjustified interference with his rights” under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) – the rights to freedom of expression, and the freedom of assembly and association.
The consent order, filed in September, also included a commitment to produce a new media policy that complies with Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR to be ready for the new year. The policy is yet to be published, and the BMA is asking for the opportunity to have input into its production and hopes that this will pave the way for a more constructive relationship that allows representatives to speak freely on behalf of Armed Forces doctors.
The BMA supported a judicial review from Dr Glynn Evans, the former chair of its Armed Forces Committee and a reservist in the Army. Following news articles in 2018, in which Dr Evans raised concerns around poor IT systems used in the care of servicemen and servicewomen, and the shortage of mental health professionals treating armed forces personnel, he was prevented from making any further public comments, including speaking at the BMA’s annual representative meeting in 2019.
Dr Evans raised a service complaint about these restrictions, and his concerns that his comments in the media were being used as grounds to force his resignation, which was dismissed by the MoD. The High Court also quashed the MoD’s decision not to uphold the complaint.
BMA interim representative body chair Dr Latifa Patel said:
“This is an important victory for our members, underlining how crucial it is for trade union representatives to have the freedom to speak up and advocate for the profession.
“Working with the media is just one of a number of ways the BMA supports members in raising areas of concern and pushing for positive changes – and our representatives must be able to do this free from the fear of reprisals from their employers.
“In speaking with the media, Dr Evans was highlighting important issues affecting our Armed Forces members – and in turn the very health and safety of servicemen and servicewomen across the country. Forcing him to stay silent would have been a great injustice and we are glad that the MoD has committed to review its media policy, which we will be happy to contribute to.”
Dr Evans said:
“After more than two years of fighting to defend my right to speak out on behalf of my profession and fellow trade union colleagues, it is a huge relief to be vindicated in the courts.
“I’m grateful to the BMA for its support in my case and hope that this order paves the way for a more constructive relationship between the MoD, trade unions and the media, so that representatives are able to speak freely on issues of vital importance to members.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.