District judge ‘overworked and bullied’
A district judge says she suffered a nervous breakdown because of budget cuts affecting her workload.
Claire Gilham (pictured) brought a claim citing disability discrimination and whistleblowing under the Employment Rights Act 1996, after exposing alleged miscarriages of justice and heavy workloads following the closure of a neighbouring court.
An employment tribunal found she could not bring the claim on the grounds she could not be considered a worker. A subsequent ruling found she could be considered a worker, but a decision on her case has yet to be made.
Former solicitor Gilham, previously head of the personal services legal team at Cheshire County Council, was appointed a full-time district judge in February 2006, sitting in Crewe. She transferred to Warrington in 2009.
Following the closure of Runcorn County Court in 2011 and the transfer of work to Warrington, Gilham, represented by Bindmans, said she became gravely concerned by the lack of courtroom accommodation and potential workloads.
Her grounds for complaint record that she told her bosses they were breaching legal obligations, endangering her health and potentially causing miscarriages of justice.
Since raising her concerns about the government’s cost-cutting drive, she claims to have been ‘overworked, bullied and sidelined’, causing stress, depression and anxiety which ultimate resulted in a nervous breakdown in late 2012. She has not worked since January 2013.
The grounds state: ‘As the only judge without other professional responsibilities, the claimant would often be left sitting alone. She was frequently the only judge in the building and always the last to leave, with some weeks regularly sitting past 6pm.’
The Ministry of Justice denies Gilham has been subject to disability discrimination or suffered through her whistleblowing.
A spokesman said: ‘The lord chancellor and lord chief justice make sure policies are in place to protect the welfare of judicial office-holders.’
Meanwhile, the MoJ has confirmed that incidents of members of the judiciary receiving threatening correspondence increased in 2015.
Of the 20,000 judges and magistrates in England and Wales, 31 reported receiving threatening correspondence related to hearings last year, compared with 18 in 2014. The number was as low as 12 in 2012, according to a written parliamentary answer in response to a question from shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter.
The MoJ response added: ’We have a robust security and safety system in place to protect all court users. Any threats to judges or magistrates are taken extremely seriously and within Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, there is a security team to co-ordinate effective judicial security and incident investigation, working closely with senior judiciary and police agencies to provide the necessary support.’