District judge takes claim for whistleblower protection to Court of Appeal

Court of Appeal: two-day hearing

A district judge who claims she was denied protection as a whistleblower when raising her concerns to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) about the detrimental impact of austerity on the courts, takes her case to the Court of Appeal today.

Public Concern at Work (PCaW), a whistleblowing charity and legal advice centre, has been allowed to intervene in the case, which is set to last two days.

Claire Gilham is appealing against the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which upheld the original tribunal ruling that, as a judge, she was an office-holder, but not a ‘worker’ for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which contains protections for whistleblowers.

The judge sued the Ministry of Justice after whistleblowing about excessive workloads whilst working in Cheshire, which she claimed damaged her health and well-being, and led to potential miscarriages of justice due to under-funding in the justice system.

She said she tried to raise her concerns to the MoJ about dangers faced by those working in courtrooms due to an under-resourced justice system.

DJ Gilham wrote to the MoJ to detail the death threats, violent defendants and hostage-taking which she had witnessed during her time as a judge in the family courts system.

However, rather than acting to combat her concerns, the judge claimed that no changes were made and she faced bullying and was put under extra stress with longer hours and additional workloads.

DJ Gilham, formerly deputy director of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, claimed for unlawful disability discrimination and over the denial of her whistleblowing rights. She is represented by Bindmans.

PCaW, represented by Leigh Day, said it would argue that to deprive those who hold judicial office from whistleblowing protection was incompatible with article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (the right to freedom of expression without interference by public authority) and article 14, which it said allowed the right to whistleblowing protection without discriminating against certain groups of people, such as judges, because of their status.

Roger Easy, head of legal services at PCaW, said: “In our history as an organisation, many of the whistle-blowers PCaW has spoken to have been office-holders like Claire Gilham. School governors, elected officials, non-executive directors, members of the judiciary, club officials, trustees and members of the clergy are all classed as office holders.

“Police officers, who are also office holders, have access to most statutory employment rights, including whistleblowing protection, so it is unclear why these other comparable groups do not.

“Office holders occupy positions of responsibility and are likely to have access to information about an organisation that could show serious wrongdoing.  It is essential people in these roles are protected.

“The danger of not affording judges, for example, 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.

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

An MoJ spokeswoman said the department was unable to comment while court proceedings were ongoing.

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