Partner, Irwin Mitchell, London
Who? Emilie Cole, partner, Irwin Mitchell, London.
Why is she in the news? Represents district judge Claire Gilham, who took her fight to be classed as a worker to the Supreme Court this month in a case that will clarify whistleblowing rights for judges. After a two-day hearing, the court reserved judgment.
Thoughts on the case: ‘Judge Gilham’s case made a huge impact on me both professionally and personally. I have been humbled by her bravery as a whistleblower. Her stories about the devastating impact of the government’s cost-cutting measures, resulting in the large-scale closure of county courts, coupled with the dangers of removing legal aid funding, resonated due to my background of human rights and legal aid work. My client felt that it was her public duty to blow the whistle about the government’s desire for efficiency and cost-cutting at whatever cost, which created an impossible tension in her ability to conduct cases in accordance with the judicial oath and article 6. Judges swear that “they will do right”, “without fear or favour, affection or ill will”. How can they be expected to properly discharge that duty without protected status as a whistleblower?’
Dealing with the media: ‘Fundamentally, this case relates to freedom of speech. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority. The media recognised this, and as one of the biggest advocates of freedom of speech, the press has been a big supporter of the case. Sadly, my live BBC Radio 4 interview was cancelled at the last minute when it was “trumped” by president Trump’s visit to London.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘I liked helping people and animals. I wasn’t academic enough to be a vet or doctor, so doing law seemed a good idea. I enjoy helping people and fighting for justice. I’m lucky to wake up every day and say that I’m making a difference to people’s lives.’
Career high: ‘Hearing leading QCs and the Supreme Court debating the finer legal points of worker status, Crown employment, article 14 and constitutional law. Taking an employment law case from initial grievance stage right through to the Supreme Court on a point of law so significant that its consequences will outlive me is beyond my wildest career aspirations.’
Career low: ‘Living through the erosion of access to justice and legal aid. The need for legal protection is increasing, not diminishing. As a society, our wealth should be judged on how we treat the vulnerable. We must all take action to prevent the catastrophic result.’