District judge ‘overworked and bullied’

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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.

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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.’

Readers' comments (27)


  • The poor dear, having to work beyond 6pm...Outrageous!

    The fact that she used to work in house for a County Council says it all - she was probably used to clocking off at 4.30pm (and 1pm on a Friday) under 'flexi-time'.

    I wonder whether she realises just how crass her whinges will appear to the vast majority of private practice lawyers - none of whom will have her gold-plated pension and sick pay entitlements...

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  • I think it is easy to be dismissive of a "public sector attitude" in these circumstances, but think you should probably have a word with yourself Marshall Hall. Clearly, Claire Gilham has been through some difficult times. Perhaps others have managed to deal with it better, perhaps some have struggled through and tried to sweep it under the carpet?! I think it would be naive to suggest that the whole system hasn't been left the poorer as a result of the cuts - I doubt many disagree with that! However, I think a little compassion for somebody who has suffered a breakdown, would cast you/the profession in a better light, rather than complaining that she has something you don't. Service as a district judge is open to you, if you want shorter office hours and a "gold-plated pension and sick pay entitlements..." go and get it!
    As a private practice solicitor, I'd much rather be in a profession that was supportive of one another/those we work with, than trying to knock them down at every opportunity. C'mon Marshall, I think you should be a better member of the profession, a better person even, than your last comments.

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  • I agree, above.

    It can easily be seen that the DJ's are overworked and under supported administratively at the moment.

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  • personally I think that it may work out to be to the professions advantage as a whole, if it can be validly seen and proven from ALL angles, the devasting affects that all these knee jerk reaction policies, that are coming with no proper consideration, are having on the Judicial System etc and those who are left to try and work with it.

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  • Marshall Hall, shame on you. I pray you never suffer a breakdown yourself, but you should NEVER EVER belittle anyone who has had to struggle through one. Without knowing the facts of the case, how can you even purport to pass judgment. Disgraceful.

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  • I would be more sympathetic if I had ever met a DJ or DDJ that any sympathy for practitioners. They trat those that appear before them contemptuously simply because they can get away with it.

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  • Anon @ 1.09pm has nailed it.

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  • I can't understand the aggression towards DJ's ? Some are a danger to themselves and to others but very much the minority in my 33 years of experience. Let those who criticise have a go themselves. Imagine a day of the whole range of things between dealing with very simple people and really quite complicated areas of the law. Imagine doing it under the severe pressure of listing which you don't control. No one is going to want to do this job, and it is going to get more and more vital.

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  • There's a sound point within Marshall's comment in that many features seen in the public sector re pensions, sick pay, compassionate leave, flexi-time, generally protected by the threat of industrial action, are now rare in the private sector.

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  • Anon @ 01.09pm absolutely, some people have no shame. And Marshall Hall was right. Too often being asked to do your job is "bullying". With everyone being bullied these days it leaves no one left to do the bullying

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