The GMB union has opened its first branch for judges – a sector not usually associated with trade union representation.
In 2021, the union wrote to the Lord Chief Justice claiming judges should be allowed to join a union to protect themselves from discrimination.
The letter came after a number of complaints from judges saying they had been bullied or did not feel safe in courts. The Ministry of Justice had previously claimed that the employment status of judges meant they were not entitled to whistleblowing protections afforded to other workers.
In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that judges are workers and are entitled to whistleblowing protections. This came after a district judge, Claire Gilham, raised concerns about her treatment but an employment tribunal and appeal tribunal had claimed she was not a worker.
In 2021, the Judicial Appointments Commission gave evidence to the House of Commons justice select committee after allegations of “systemic discrimination” by eight anonymous serving judges.
Supreme Court to hear ‘judges are workers’ case
GMB hopes the creation of a specific branch for judges will help ensure appointments are transparent and that judges can seek protection for their working rights, safety and welfare.
Stuart Fegan, GMB senior organiser said: “Judges are workers and are subject to the same rules as any other worker in the United Kingdom.
“Accordingly, they can be subjected to the same treatments, such as bullying, harassment and discrimination and are entitled to the same advice, support and assistance from a trade union.”
He added that there is a “perception that judges are treated like kings and queens”, which leads to an assumption they should deal with poor terms and conditions as part of their role, but “that is simply wrong”.
“These are workers who are funded by taxpayers and as such if we want our judiciary to be the best in the world we need to ensure that our judges are treated fairly.
“As the only trade union branch dedicated to workers in the judiciary system, this is a historic moment and GMB looks forward to working with members new and old to make work better for those who seek to uphold the law for the rest of us.”
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