Ethnic minority judges sue Ministry of Justice over alleged race bias

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Dec 21, 2017
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Peter Herbert claims he was discriminated against in a disciplinary process investigating his criticism of another judge

Lewis Whyld/PA

Three judges from black and Asian backgrounds are suing the Ministry of Justice for race discrimination and victimisation.

Peter Herbert, a barrister and recorder, has been involved in a long-running case against the ministry over a speech he made saying that racism could be found in the judiciary. He lodged proceedings this week.

The cases come as the MoJ has rejected a recommendation from a report written at the request of the prime minister to set diversity targets in the judiciary. However, the MoJ has agreed to take forward most of the recommendations in a report from David Lammy, a Labour MP and barrister, on the variation in treatment and outcomes for those from black and minority ethnic communities in the justice system.

It is understood that one of the others accusing the ministry of discrimination is Patrice Wellesley-Cole, a retired immigration judge. The name of the third judge bringing a claim is not known, but it is understood that he is a sitting district court judge in London.

Herbert’s dispute relates to a speech he made at a rally in Stepney, east London, in April 2015 in which he was critical of a decision to bar Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, from holding public office for five years and claimed that racism was present in parts of the judiciary. A disciplinary panel recommended he be given “formal advice” for criticising the judge in Rahman’s case and for inappropriately telling the rally that those with ethnic minority backgrounds “should not place their faith in a justice system that had not been designed for them”. He said in the speech: “Racism is alive and well and living in Tower Hamlets, in Westminster and, yes, sometimes in the judiciary.”

Wellesley-Cole’s claim involves allegations of victimisation, discriminatory remarks and unfair distribution of work. The third case is brought by a male district judge of Asian origin, who was sitting as a social security panel chairman when a complaint was made about him for repetitious and oppressive questioning.

The complaint was treated as a misconduct matter, although the allegations of misconduct were withdrawn after he lodged proceedings in the employment tribunal alleging race discrimination. He said he had not received an apology for treatment that he described as distressing.

A fourth case has been lodged in the employment tribunal over a lay tribunal member, Daniel Ibekwe, of African origin. He was dismissed when he was sitting at Croydon employment tribunal. Ibekwe claims he was treated less favourably because of his race and victimised for making allegations of discrimination.

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