Judges are not workers, Court of Appeal rules

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By Katie King on

District Judge fails in claim Uber drivers continue to win

Worker status — the apparent panacea to all our employment law woes nowadays — has been denied to a district judge this week, the Court of Appeal ruling an employment contract cannot be derived from judges’ “unique position”.

In a case that bears striking resemblance to the Uber case also currently running the gauntlet of the UK courts, appellant District Judge Gilham had argued judges should be classified as workers. But, unlike the Uber case, Gilham wasn’t hoping to garner worker status for national minimum wage and working time law purposes.

Instead, the case boils down to whistleblowing legislation that protects workers against detrimental treatment if they blow the whistle on the organisation for whom they work. Gilham raised concerns to a senior judge about, in the appeal court’s words, “poor and unsafe working conditions and an excessive workload in the courts where [she] worked”. She alleges that as a result of this, she was bullied and subjected to undue stress.

The case made it to the Court of Appeal, where Gilham was represented by Rachel Crasnow QC, from Cloisters Chambers. Defending the government was Ben Collins QC of Old Square Chambers.

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Unfortunately for the appellant, who is a family judge, yesterday spelled yet another blow for a case which has so far lost at every instance.

The Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that judges are not entitled to the same benefits as workers largely because of a lack of employment contract, which Gilham has tried to argue existed between judges and the Lord Chancellor. The court acknowledged there were “some superficial indicia” of this, but ultimately the relationship is extremely limited and dependent only on the holding of a statutory office. The judgment says:

“[T]he essential point appears to us to be that the core rights and obligations of a judicial office-holder derive from statute and not from any relationship with the Lord Chancellor (or indeed any other member of the executive). At the most profound level, a judge’s obligations derive from the office itself, symbolised by the taking of the judicial oath.”

Lady Justice Gloster, Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Singh unanimously dismissed the appeal. A decision regarding permission to appeal is awaited.

Uber drivers are doing far better on the ‘we are workers’ front. Two, Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, have successfully argued before two tribunals that drivers are entitled to the employment law rights afforded to workers.

While Uber’s application to leapfrog to the Supreme Court has been refused, an appeal to the Court of Appeal is expected sometime in the next year.

Read the full Gilham v Ministry of Justice judgment here:

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