A hearing in the Supreme Court scheduled for 24 March could set a precedent to allow partners protection under whistleblowing laws.
The hearing is between international firm Clyde & Co and former partner Krista Bates van Winkelhof, who alleges she was sacked by the firm in 2011 after making allegations against the managing partner of the firm’s Tanzanian operation.
Bates van Winkelhof brought a complaint against the firm under section 47B of the Employment Rights Act 1996, on the grounds that she had made protected disclosures.
In September 2012 the Court of Appeal ruled that members of LLPs are not ‘workers’ under employment legislation. But last year the Supreme Court granted Bates van Winkelhof permission to appeal.
If the Supreme Court rules in Bates van Winkelhof’s favour, her allegations of unfair dismissal due to whistleblowing will be heard in the Employment Tribunal in September, along with allegations of sex discrimination.
Clyde & Co said it strongly denies all claims made by Bates van Winkelhof.
Joanna Blackburn, employment head at Mishcon de Reya, which is acting for Bates van Winkelhof, said that if the court rules in her favour, partners will gain protection under whistleblowing laws and legal redress.
She said as the law stands partners are in a double bind, as they have a regulatory obligation to report wrongdoing, but without legal protection risk losing their jobs if they do so.
Blackburn said: ‘This is an issue that the profession should be incredibly concerned about. We are the most disadvantaged category of people in this respect. And we are also the people most likely to become aware of wrongdoing, both in the firms we work for and our clients' firms.'
She said it is in firms’ long-term interests to have whistleblowing protection in place, as partners have collective liability.
Mishcon de Reya is instructing Tom Linden QC from Matrix Chambers and David Craig from Essex Court Chambers.