Judge sues over lack of protection for whistleblowers

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Oct 18, 2017
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Claire Gilham became a full-time district judge 11 years ago

Alan Weller/The Times

A judge is suing the government over allegations that she was bullied after she complained about overwork and poor courtroom facilities. 

Court of Appeal judges will begin hearing claims today from Claire Gilham, who argues that the judiciary should be covered by whistleblowing protections.

Gilham, 58, a former deputy director of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, was made a full-time district judge 11 years ago. She was transferred from Runcorn county court to Warrington in 2008 after the former was shut as part of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) court closure programme.

She claims that she informed a senior judge of her concerns over high workloads and poor accommodation and facilities at Warrington, but that instead of her issues being addressed, she faced bullying and was put under additional pressure with longer hours and additional work.

Gilham left the bench in 2013. She lost her first instance case in the employment tribunal and a subsequent appeal. Her claim today will be heard by the appeal court judges Lady Justice Gloster, Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Singh.

Gilham is now suing the MoJ under the Employment Rights Act 1996 for the alleged denial of her whistleblowing rights. Lawyers at the London law firm Bindmans, led by the firm’s partner Emilie Cole, will tell the court that her attempts to raise concerns with the ministry about dangers faced by those working in courtrooms due to an under-resourced justice system were ignored.

The judge says that she wrote to the MoJ with evidence of incidents she claimed to have witnessed during her time as a judge in the family courts system, including death threats, violent defendants and hostage-taking.

Ministry officials have denied that Gilham was subjected to disability discrimination or that she was victimised as a result of making her complaints.

They also argue that because judges do not have contractual relationships with the government, but are instead appointed by the Queen, the lord chancellor and the lord chief justice, they are not covered by whistleblowing legislation.

Gilham’s case is supported by Public Concern at Work, a group that campaigns for the protection of whistleblowers.

“The danger of not affording judges … with access to whistleblowing protection is that they can be ignored when raising genuine concerns and then silenced or discouraged from ever speaking up again,” Roger Easy, head of legal services at the group, said.

“When we consider the important role played by district judges in the administration of justice, excluding them from whistleblowing protection is unacceptable.”

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