LONDON (CN) – A U.K. judge who says she faced retaliation after blowing the whistle on toxic management styles pushed the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to rule that judges qualify as workers.
“The fact that there is a position of office does not preclude there also being an employment contract,” Karen Monaghan, an attorney with Matrix Chambers, argued in court today on behalf of District Judge Claire Gilham.
When Gilham complaints about bullying, overwork and other poor working conditions in 2013, she had been a sitting judge with the Warrington County Court for four years. She says the court not only ignored her complaints but treated her unfavorably as a result, leading to a mental breakdown that nearly forced her into retirement.
Gilham brought a claim for whistleblowing detriment in 2015 but her case has been largely unsuccessful. In 2017, the Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment against Gilham from the Employment Tribunal that judges are considered office-holders rather than workers.
Pushing the Supreme Court to reverse Wednesday, Monaghan argued that the ability of judges to resign, their remuneration and their work requirements are all indicative of an employment contract.
Lord Brian Kerr undercut this point, however, by noting that the judges cannot necessarily be called workers because of employment-contract parallels. Kerr suggested that those who appoint judges might be forced to omit such terms and conditions to avoid the judges being classed as workers.
Sir Declan Morgan asked Monaghan, “What would they have to add to make her an office holder only and not a worker?”
“An explicit provision,” Monaghan responded.
Questioned on the definitions of the terms employee and worker,, Monaghan said judges should necessarily be included within the worker category otherwise they would be left with no protection for making public disclosures.
She argued that there was a public interest in ensuring that public disclosures can be made.
“A judge ought to be able to disclose matters relating to the justice system where there are real problems, and they should be protected from the consequences,” Monaghan said.
A whistleblowing charity, Protect, took interest in Gilham’s case and made submissions at the hearing as an intervener.
“Here the issue is who should have protection and our view is that the law is too narrowly drawn if judges are excluded from protection when they identify concerns,” Bob Matheson, the head of advocacy and advice at Protect, said in a statement. “We want the government to conduct a wider review of U.K. whistleblowing legislation, but until then, the courts can shape the law.”
Gilham went on sick leave to deal with depression and anxiety in 2013 but has since recovered and returned to work. Attorneys for the judge at Irwin Mitchell said she managed to raise £5,590 through crowd funding to cover the costs of her five-year legal battle.
“Anything that stands in the way of an individual expressing concerns about health and safety and breaches of the law can’t be in the public interest or benefit wider society,” Irwin Mitchell attorney Emilie Cole said in a statement.
Gilham said she is determined to get legal protection for fellow judges.
“The oath I took encourages transparency for the public good,” Gilham said in a a statement.