'Delighted' Oxford professor returns to work after forced retirement tribunal win

  • Video report by ITV News Meridian reporter Mike Pearse

An Oxford university professor who won a landmark legal case after being forced to retire say he's "delighted" at being able to return to work.

Professor Paul Ewart has now returned to his research in the atomic and laser physics department following a tribunal, three years after he was told he must retire.

But the university says it stands by its retirement age policy and is appealing the ruling.

Professor Ewart said he's "delighted" at the ruling that was the "first step in an important battle."

"It's something that my colleagues and myself have been fighting to get the university to change its policy on forced retirement."

Professor Ewart has been working at Oxford for more than 30 years when he was first told that he would have to retire in September 2015.

He appealed that decision under the university's employer justified retirement age (EJRA) policy, and was allowed to stay on until 2017.

As that date approached, he asked for another extension which was denied - beginning what would be a three year battle to get his old job back.

Professor Ewart said: "It's important that people are allowed to continue to work as the law allows.

"Some of my colleagues are doing very important work that will come to an end if they're forced to retire."

  • What is the law on 'forced retirement'?

Under current employment law, employers are generally not able to force their employees to retire at a certain age, unless they can justify why it is necessary.

This is most commonly seen in sectors like emergency services or the armed forces, where health or physical fitness would directly impact operations.

The university argues that its EJRA policy is necessary because it allows the university to continue to provide more opportunity to younger academics, which will also improve diversity among their academic staff.

"Each of us are fully supportive of those aims," Professor Ewart said.

"The problem is the policy makes almost no difference to achieving those aims."

"I was able to prove using data during the tribunal that the policy hadn't improved any of those areas."

Barrister Andrew Sugarman says he hopes the ruling will be significant for other academics in a similar position

Professor Ewart's barrister Andrew Sugarman said he was pleased that he was allowed to return to work.

Mr Sugarman said: "Reinstatement is a very rare remedy at an employment tribunal and it's certainly a very rare remedy at Paul's age.

"He's 72 now and I would suspect he's probably the oldest person in the county ever to be reinstated into his role."

Oxford University said in the statement: "The University has reviewed in detail the 2019 Employment Tribunal decision regarding Professor Paul Ewart and Oxford’s EJRA policy.

"This decision followed an earlier Employment Tribunal, on a separate case but of equal legal weighting, which ruled in favour of the Oxford EJRA.

"The University has decided it does not accept the more recent tribunal’s ruling and will be appealing against it.

"The EJRA policy remains in place and will continue to be applied as normal."

The appeal hearing is due to take place over the next few months.