The ruling of a judicial review at the High Court in London this week means the University of Sheffield will now have to reconsider its decision to remove Felix Ngole, 40, of Birdwell, from the social work course.
He had posted ‘homosexuality is a sin’ as part of a discussion thread on a Facebook post in 2015 and had argued university bosses unfairly threw him off the course after a committee was required to consider his fitness to practise as a social worker. The decision was upheld by the university appeals committee but he won the right to mount a High Court challenge.
Felix believed that his rights to freedom of speech were breached when he was thrown off the course and the university acted against the European Convention on Human Rights Article 10.
In 2017, a judge ruled against him after a high court trial in London.
Judge Collins Rice, who analysed the case following the High Court trial, ruled the university had acted within the law and Felix lodged a judicial review against the ruling, which was heard in London in March. On Wednesday, Lord Justice Irwin, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Sir Jack Beatson had considered Mr Ngole’s appeal at a Court of Appeal hearing in London and ruled in his favour - although only in one of six elements of the appeal.
“It was great to hear,” said Felix.
“I am delighted that the judges were in my favour and recognised that what the university has done was wrong.”
The university must now reconsider its decision to remove Felix from the course. In March, judge Collins Rice said freedom of religious discourse was a public good of great importance but social workers had considerable power over the lives of vulnerable people and trust was a precious professional commodity.
Felix said: “It’s now up to the university to decide what step they would like to take next. I’d love to go back and study, but I don’t know if the university will allow me to. It’s something the university will need to address but I forgive them. As a Christian, I recognise when I do wrong I ask God for forgiveness, so they must do the same. I’m just going to relax and wait to hear from them and enjoy the happy news from this ruling.”
A spokesperson from the University of Sheffield, said: “The University supports the rights of students to hold and debate a wide range of views and beliefs. However, for students studying on courses that lead to professional registration, we have a responsibility to look at how any concerns raised could impact a student’s fitness to practise once registered.
“Fitness to practise committees use national professional guidance and often need to consider a student’s insight and consideration about their chosen profession. This case was therefore not part of the university’s standard disciplinary procedures or about its support of freedom of speech.
“The court dismissed the majority of the appeal submitted by the applicant and has only upheld one aspect to do with early procedural processes. The University will be considering its response.”