Our employment Partner, Emilie Cole, helped Judge Gilham secure whistleblower protection for all UK judges and statutory office holders in a Supreme Court human rights case.
In 2010 there were cost cutting changes that affected the courts in Judge Gilham’s area. She complained about the effects these changes had. This included the lack appropriate court-room accommodation, the increased workload and lack of correct administration in the courts. At the time she was also experiencing bullying which Judge Gilham raised concerns about too.
After she complained, Judge Gilham faced extreme bullying and was ignored and undermined by other judges and court staff. This led to Judge Gilham having a nervous breakdown and going on stress leave in 2013. Shortly afterwards, she was nearly forced into early retirement because of her poor health. Luckily her health improved and she returned to work.
How We Helped
Judge Gilham decided to take legal action against the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for her treatment and their failure to investigate her grievance. She made a claim through an Employment Tribunal for whistleblowing detriment. This means that because she raised concerns about changes in the courts, she faced damaging treatment by her colleagues. The MOJ argued that as a judge, she didn’t qualify for whistleblowing protection like a worker did under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Judges are classified as office holders. Office holders are people who hold specific political or business related positions and usually don’t have an employment contract. The MOJ argued that Judges are statutory office holders and did not have the same whistleblowing safeguards that other workers had under the Act. The Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal all agreed with the MOJ.
Judge Gilham contacted Emilie Cole to represent her and help prove that judges should also benefit from whistleblowing protection. Emilie worked with Karon Monaghan, a high-profile barrister specialising in equality and human rights law. Emilie took Judge Gilham’s case all the way to the Supreme Court to help her achieve justice.
We argued that that Judge Gilham faced a violation of her rights to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The failure to protect her as a whistleblower was also a breach of Article 14 of the ECHR. Article 14 states that the rights that people have under the ECHR, such a freedom of expression, should be protected without discrimination. When Judge Gilham expressed her concerns about the cost cutting within the court system, she faced discrimination from her colleagues and senior management.
The Supreme Court, led by its president, Baroness Hale of Richmond and 4 other Justices all agreed with us. They said that Judge Gilham was treated badly because she blew the whistle and this led to serious health problems.
Lady Hale ruled that judges also need protection when whistleblowing. She also said that the point of whistleblowing is to give people confidence to raise concerns going on in any organisation, including law courts.
Lady Hale’s judgment went further to say that protection should also extend to all office holders, not just judges. Office holders include registered company directors, trade union secretaries, religious ministers, Trustees and board members. People in these positions should also receive whistleblowing protection.
This was a landmark decision because it meant the Employment Rights Act would need to be amended to extend whistleblowing protection to include office holders, such as judges, in future.
After seven years of legal battles, this was a hugely successful outcome for Judge Gilham. Her case could go back to the Employment Tribunal so she could get the whistleblowing protection she finally deserved. It also meant that anyone else working as a judge could now feel safe to speak out against any wrongdoings in the courts.
Judge Gilham said:
“I knew my point was right . . . you can’t have justice without independent and unafraid judges and if judges can’t speak out to protect the court system, then justice suffers and the people . . . in the system suffer too”.
Emilie Cole said:
“[Judge Gilham] has fought hard for many years to achieve recognition for whistleblowing protection. Widening the scope of whistleblowing protection is fundamentally in the public interest and benefits wider society. . . This is a massive step forward in equality law and will have wide implications for the greater good.”
If you’re facing bullying or unfair treatment because you blew the whistle against your employer, we could help. Contact our solicitors today on 0370 1500 1500 or fill out our online form and we’ll call you back.
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