The UK Supreme Court held on Wednesday that Warrington District Court Judge Claire Gilham is a “worker” entitled to whistleblower protections under Part IVA of the Employment Rights Act, allowing her case to move forward in the Employment Tribunal.
The issue stems from austerity measures implemented over the course of several years, which resulted in the closing of several local courts. Gilham initially raised a number of concerns to local leadership judges and senior managers, “in particular about the lack of appropriate and secure court room [sic] accommodation, the severely increased workload placed upon the district judges, and administrative failures,” eventually leading to a formal grievance. Gilham reported, among other things, “being seriously bullied, ignored and undermined by her fellow judges and court staff,” resulting in a “severe degradation” to her health. Ultimately, Gilham experienced a four-year sabbatical due to the alleged abuse.
In February 2015 Gilham filed a two-part complaint with the Employment Tribunal alleging “disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010,” and the “‘whistle-blowing’ provisions in Part IVA of the 1996 Act.”
The court explained that the discrimination part of Gilham’s complaint was safe regardless of the Wednesday outcome because it had previously adopted EU law in holding “that tribunal judges were “workers” for the purpose of discrimination on grounds of sex.” However, the definitions in the whistleblowing provisions of Part IVA, having not derived from EU law, were ripe for analysis.
In deciding in favor of classifying Gilham as a worker, the court noted that the appointment of judicial office-holders was “classic offer and acceptance” and therefore “clearly protected” by the employment protections within the Equality Act 2010. The court held that this case fell squarely in the “category of social or employment policy” and that the Ministry of Justice failed to show “how denying the judiciary this protection could enhance judicial independence.”
The unanimous decision of the five judge panel means that Gilham’s case can now proceed to the Employment Tribunal for adjudication.