One of the UK’s biggest trade unions has formally established a branch for judges as it demands answers from the lord chief justice over a ‘toxic work environment’ reportedly leaving some members feeling suicidal.

At a meeting this week, attended by shadow justice secretary Steve Reed MP, the GMB formally constituted the GMB Judges’ Branch. A motion concerning the treatment of judges, discrimination and so-called ‘secret soundings’ was passed. If the motion is passed at GMB Congress in June, it will be adopted as national policy.

GMB senior organiser Stuart Fegan described the official establishment of the branch as a ‘historic moment’. He has written to the LCJ Lord Burnett expressing concern about an allegedly ‘toxic work environment’.

The letter says: ‘Our members have informed me that initiatives advertised internally purporting to address wellbeing, are at best tokenistic with recent published diversity policies not containing any plan to improve workplace experience or culture.

‘The judicial leadership have attempted to introduce an ill-health policy that would, in the view of our members, operate unlawfully to diminish their rights in the workplace which is encouraging low confidence in the ability or willingness of the judicial leadership to address the welfare of judges.’

The union is particularly concerned about the ‘significant’ number of judges who have reported bullying and harassment in their courts.

‘A significant number of judges have reported feeling suicidal because of treatment at work. I understand this is particularly prevalent on the Midland circuit, where we have many GMB judges seeking advice. A significant factor appears to be largely absent management [operating]outside of required standards with the perception of impunity,’ the letter says. Fegan goes on to ask what action has been taken to ensure judges’ physical and mental wellbeing.

Last month the judiciary published a ‘statement of expected behaviour’ after research found allegations of ‘bullying, harassment and discrimination’. Judges will also receive training on avoiding inappropriate behaviour.


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