A judge who was accused of humiliating a ‘deeply vulnerable’ litigant has failed in his claim that he was racially discriminated against after a complaint was made about him. 

Nawal Kumrai, a district judge who describes himself as ‘non-white’ and of Indian ethnic origin, claimed he suffered race-related harassment, direct race discrimination and victimisation during an investigation by two judges into his conduct.

While the employment tribunal concluded that the procedural handling of the complaints against Kumrai had been ‘deficient’, it dismissed claims that he suffered discrimination, harassment or victimisation because of his race.

The incident arose when Kumrai, sitting with a medical member, heard an appeal against a decision to refuse a claim for a particular social security benefit. The tribunal allowed the appeal, but the appellant made a complaint about the way in which Kumrai had conducted the hearing, which was supported and/or corroborated by others who had been present.

The appellant, who suffers from a sensitive medical condition, said she was reduced to tears by the judge after being ‘interrogated persistently on extremely delicate matters’.

According to the employment tribunal’s judgment, the medical member said it was ‘one of the worst days of her professional life’ and that she was 'in tears at the end of the day'.

An investigation was subsequently conducted by Hugh Howard, then a regional tribunal judge, pursuant to authority delegated to him by John Aitken, president of the Social Entitlement Chamber, and the complaint was referred to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office. The complaint was subsequently dismissed and Kumrai received informal advice about the benefits of training courses covering how to handle difficult situations in court.

In judgment, employment judge Anthony Martin Snelson said ‘the core logic of Mr Kumrai’s case on discrimination does not withstand scrutiny’.

‘Stepping back and reviewing all the evidence before us we are unable to identify anything suggestive of any element of racial bias underlying the behaviour of Mr Howard or Mr Aitken. There is nothing pointing to their treatment of Mr Kumrai having been different to the treatment that would have been accorded to any other judge of different race in like circumstances.’

However, the employment judge refused to make a costs order in favour of Howard and Aitken, concluding that Kumrai was not unreasonable in bringing his claim.